After the city health inspector examined the downtown cafe, after he walked out the front door of the building, Carleen Goodridge pulled in her son, Elijah, for a hug and cried.
For Goodridge, the path to opening her own small business has been “a journey and a half.” It’s a trip that’s brought the Liberian-American entrepreneur from Texas to Baltimore, around the U.S. and back to Charm City.
With the launch of The Stand, Goodridge will join a surge of Black entrepreneurs, many of them women, in opening a business in the city’s downtown business district, helping revitalize the area at a time when other companies are leaving and many restaurants have closed.
LaShauna Jones, owner of Sporty Dog Creations, sees businesses like hers as bringing new creativity to the downtown area, as well as revving up the local economy. “It’s something that Baltimore needs,” she said.
Like her, many of the recent business owners are Baltimore natives, who she says are more willing to persevere with the city through its various challenges. And business owners like Goodridge have found here a community of likeminded entrepreneurs to help them weather life’s ups and downs.
Goodridge, 44, started her beverage company, Le Monade in Baltimore in 2015. She also owns the traveling restaurant Col Bol, which serves Liberian dishes at pop up events around the city. Though Goodridge was born in Staten Island, she grew up eating Liberian staples — jollof rice, fufu and palm butter stew, and makes those dishes for Col Bol.
Things were going well until late 2019. “I was doing too damn much,” she said. She was hosting pop ups and special events, and it was taking a physical toll. Despite having been physically active for years, she was suddenly having trouble walking. She found herself needing to use a cane on and off. One day she couldn’t walk at all; her son helped her back into bed.
After a few emergency room visits, a nutritionist helped her realize that her diet could be playing a role in setting off an autoimmune disorder that she was diagnosed with years ago. She decided to take a break from the grind, even before the pandemic shut down restaurants.
And then she hit the road.
In 2020, Goodridge packed up a gutted Fedex cargo van converted into a roaming home with a kitchen and sleeping area. Together with her partner Shawn and son Elijah, she made it as far west as Colorado and as far south as Florida. Her son’s homeschooling lessons happened in the great outdoors. They camped out in forests and farms. “Any where people weren’t.”
They might still be traveling if it weren’t for one frightening experience. In late 2020 while traveling through the Florida Everglades, Goodridge suffered heart spasms that she thought was a heart attack or even a stroke. It felt like time to come home.
As she recovered in Baltimore and reconnected with friends, she realized that peers had not only made it through the pandemic, they’d discovered ways to expand their business. At a women’s empowerment event hosted by Tonya Thomas of H3irloom Food Group, entrepreneurs shared their pandemic pivots and how they’d made it work. To see this kind of success of so many Black business owners like her was inspiring. “We all say that it was a night that we all needed. It was motivating.”
Entrepreneurs friends like Amanda Mack and Jasmine Norton had both opened new stalls at Hampden’s Whitehall Market. Chef Catina Smith was preparing to launch Our Time Kitchen, a shared kitchen in Old Goucher. It came down, she said, “to that sense of community that Baltimore carries,” Goodridge said. It filled her with a sense that “It can be done.”
Goodridge signed a five-year lease on a space downtown, in the ground floor of a historic apartment building at 211 St. Paul Place.
The neighborhood, Goodridge said, was formerly Preston Gardens, a home for Black families before a so-called “slum clearance” program destroyed many homes in the 1930s.
Not far away, in Fells Point, some of her own ancestors left the United States in the 1800s, in a ship bound for Liberia. Her great grandfather, William V.S. Tubman, Liberia’s longest serving president, is related to Maryland’s Harriet Tubman.
It’s stories like these that she’ll share with customers at The Stand as they stock up on mixers like Le Monade’s “Pretty Pretty,” or snack on cassava chips and dips made from “butter pear,” the Liberian name for avocados. A small drink will be a “pekin,” the Liberian word for a child, while a large drink will be “small small,” which is a Liberian way of saying “a little bit more.”
She plans to feature plenty of gluten-free options, particularly in light of discovering that gluten can contribute to flare-ups of her own immune disorder. One staple: rice bread like the kind she grew up with, made from ground rice and bananas. “Gluten free, but amazing,” she said.
Inside, big windows let in tons of natural light to The Stand. Walls are decorated minimally with masks and artwork from East and West Africa that was mostly donated from friends.
Wood furniture reminds her of the camping trips she and her family made during the pandemic, and the time they spent outdoors. The family’s couch makes it really feel like home. After years working in other people’s kitchens, she gets choked up at the prospect of hosting other small business owners and seeing the community of Black business owners grow.
For Goodridge, the road ahead is still paved with unknowns. She’s concerned about staffing as well as hitting the company’s sales targets. “There’s always that little drop of doubt: how will we make it happen?”
But she’s confident things will work out. “I’m doing this with my heart,” she said. “My heart can’t really lead me down the wrong path.”