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SBQ Ruth

March 29th, 2024

Ms Ruth Robinson

Ms Ruth Robinson

She is introducing Ms Ruth Robinson of Birmingham, who holds the secrets to hearts in how she caters to the bellies.

Ms Ruth's life started on the island of Jamaica. She was influenced by her aunt before joining her parents, who migrated to the UK in the 1960s. It is said that 'Black don't crack,' and Ms Ruth is surely an example of that fact. Go on, have a guess at her age!

From a typist to a Restaurateur

Ms Ruth has a philosophy she sticks to when it comes to work, 'I only do things I enjoy'. Though she enjoyed her role as a Clerk Typist, it afforded her time for a side hustle; weekends found her catering for parties, weddings, and community functions. She recalls a part of the journey to becoming a Pioneer Black female Business Owner:

“People started telling me I should be a cook. One night I had a vision and woke up and went to a site, where my hairdresser operate,. Next door was a cafe. I went in and asked the Irish owner about possible rental. I had one intention, and that was to ask if I could rent half of the shop. After I told her my plan, she told me the property was actually up for as she was the owner, she told me to go see the said estate agent and take it from there. and they confirmed I could try and buy it. After some challenges, I got a mortgage. I already owned a property but getting a commercial mortgage wasn't easy in those days, especially for a black woman. I believed that once I got my foot in the door, I’d get results. I had to negotiate through a paid financial advisor, or I wouldn't have got the property, to turn it into my business.”

And when we asked Ms Ruth for some tips on being a successful business owner, especially in the field of catering, she shared:

“I have been involved in cooking food and cake making within and for the community for decades. When I started in the 90's it was very rare for a black woman to have a commercial mortgage. I am a versatile person, with a good sense of humour, I am loving and kind. Knowing your customers and catering for them has to be a priority. Also, I only serve quality food and believe in being consistent with great customer service. I actually didn't find the 25 years as a Black businesswoman a strain. When you have a vision and you love what you do, it’s not a strain. Those of the Muslim faith in the area where the shop was, embraced me overtime and some of them even called me ‘aunty’, as a sign of respect, probably because I made sure I used halal meat. Some of the youngsters, have fed back “she looked after me like I was her own son.”

For Ms Ruth, being a Black businesswoman was an intergenerational undertaking—as they say, it was a family affair. She found that her four children were inspirational drivers in developing ideas and servicing the business, and she knew from the beginning that she could rely on her family, including her nieces and nephews, for ongoing support.

They say that life is made up of seasons, and many of what is described as the Windrush generation are in the later seasons of their lives. In several cases, this means their children and grandchildren are navigating their care. It had to take something significant to take Ms Ruth away from the business she birthed and developed. For her, it was the love and desire to care holistically for her mother. She recalls:

“I gave up the shop in the end, to look after my mother. I couldn't balance the business and care, I wanted to give to her. And, I had no regrets because I’d done my time. It’s not like I’ve given up cooking, I still do my community cooking weekly for elderly and make cakes for functions. I still love it. My grandkids say, you love everything you do…and that is sooooo true!”

She is very proud of her decades of service, predominantly serving Caribbean food to the wider community. She was fearless; she pushed on doors knowing there was a great possibility that they would slam in her face, yet she pushed nonetheless and often, because of her persistence, they would swing open eventually. She is talented, driven, and focused; she values people and all people and took the needs of the whole community into account when she started her business. Though she was a Black businesswoman, she knew that success would mean she had to reach out to the broader community. Here, she shares three of the foundational principles for her business success:

“Consider what is important to your customers. I believe I gained acceptance from Asian Muslims because I made sure I served them Halal food. Treat Young People with respect, no matter what age they are. Cater for all nationalities, Black. White and Asians, this means you need to diversify your menu, taste, and presentation.”

So, Ms Ruth has clearly told us that she only does what she loves, and she loves music, even managing to meet singer, actor and civil rights activist, Harry Belafonte in person at a concert. However, Ms Ruth is not only an appreciator of music; she sings, too. She smiles as she recalls:

“People are always surprised, when I open my mouth, I can sing. I love gospel.”

So, we are delighted to have the honour of presenting Ms Ruth Robinson.

This feature is part of the Seasoned UK Black Queens series celebrating Black women throughout March, a fantastic project led by Yvonne Christie. Read more here




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