The more Shantelle works on her business, That Brown Bag, the more she realizes the need to connect underserved and underrepresented businesses to the community.
What started as a $5.00 pamphlet of Buffalo, NY, Black-owned businesses has evolved into something completely unexpected: a life’s mission for owner Shantelle Patton.
And now, in its 7th edition, That Brown Bag just happens to be a self-sustaining and growing business too.
Originally hoping to simply cover her printing costs, Shantelle’s publication is now a go-to resource of and for Black-owned businesses in western New York, central New York, and Toronto. It includes a business directory available for purchase in hardcover, paperback, or as a digital download, a website, and guidance and connections from Shantelle herself.
Her passion project, as Shantelle refers to That Brown Bag, originated from a Facebook post: “Someone posted that we need a list of all the Black businesses in Buffalo. But when I read the post … it was like it was written directly to me. I read it as ‘Shantelle, you should start a list of all the Black-owned businesses in Buffalo,” she says. And so she did.
And the more she worked on the concept, the more real the need became to Shantelle. “Every year, one out of five Black-owned businesses closes. Usually, it’s due to lack of capital or lack of exposure,” she says. An affordable, practical way to connect businesses with community on a larger scale was desperately needed.
Shantelle is also president of Buffalo’s Urban Chamber of Commerce, an organization that was dormant and is currently being revitalized. “It’s a role that works in perfect alignment with my mission and what I'm currently doing with That Brown Bag,” Shantelle notes. In both roles, she helps area businesses with just about anything they need, whether it’s space to host an event or photo shoot, a contractor to create marketing collateral, or even funding.
“Being able to locate and source proper information is sometimes troublesome, sometimes cumbersome. What Black business owners are looking for isn’t handouts but some assistance in getting from surviving to thriving. From being a ‘small business’ to just being called a ‘business.’”
It’s the same type of support that Shantelle has received from the "Buffalo Wings" peer group of Entrepreneurs Forever.
“Entrepreneurship is lonely. But to be able to go into my peer group meeting and say, ‘This is what's happening in my business right now.’ And have at least one person say, ‘Hey, I went through that last quarter!’ and talk about it and do a deep dive into those issues … it’s game-changing. A lot of entrepreneurs don't get to develop a tribe of other entrepreneurs. But with my group at Entrepreneurs Forever, I know that I can pick up the phone and call anybody from my group. Right now. And they'll answer, let me vent, and then point me in the right direction.”
What's next on Shantelle’s to-do list: Expanding into other markets.“This is not a trend!” she says. “Supporting small business, and specifically Black-owned business, is definitely an integral part of diversifying purchasing. Being in alliance with communities that are often underserved and underrepresented ... I know I can be the voice for them,” Shantelle says. “I will talk to and about them for as long as they want me.”