Profiles in Black entrepreneurship: Building a family business

August 25, 2021 : H&R Block

Ronald Smith stands outside GiGi's storefront

Ronald Smith stands outside GiGi's storefront

Photos by Kenney Ellison

Ron Smith’s idea for GiGi’s Bait and Tackle came from equal parts passion and problem solving. A fisherman himself, he knew the nearest bait shops for local clientele were a 30-minute drive from his home in Olathe. Since he didn’t enjoy adding the drive to his recreation time, he could imagine that others didn’t either. Thus, GiGi’s was born.

“God put it on me,” said Smith. “I just woke up one morning and we had been stuck in the house for [coronavirus] and…the bait shop came to my head.”

A Black- and veteran-owned business, GiGi’s is a family business to its core. It’s named after Smith’s daughter, and Smith’s mother, father, and fiancée are all partial owners. His sister Cece Lawson serves as its general manager. They’re all first-time business owners who are learning as they go.

The capital to start the business even came from family. It started as an idea launched by his aunt during the big family Christmas dinner one year—anyone in the family who wanted to start a business would invest $50 a month, and at the end of the year, they’d select someone’s name out of a hat. Since Smith’s mother is one of nine siblings, he figured his chances were slim. But out of everyone, his name was chosen.

By March, Smith solidified his idea for the bait and tackle shop and got his business license. But the pandemic certainly impacted the opening, and it took months to find a building that was suitable for the bait shop’s water tanks in Olathe.

And it had to be Olathe. Even before he lived there, Smith visited family there since he was a child, spending his summers in high school working. He always knew he was going to live there—so it made sense to start his business there as well. When he did find the right spot for it, it ended up being only a few minutes from his home in Olathe.

“I love it here, there’s so much opportunity. I always knew this was going to be my home,” said Smith.

Before Olathe became home, Smith spent four years in the U.S. Navy stationed in Everett, Wash. A week before September 11, Smith was assigned to the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier, and deployed soon after. Before he launched GiGi’s, he worked in restaurant restoration for another small business, JK Sales, where he worked under the owner and learned lessons about being a business owner.  

“He always told me that’s the hardest part about it, especially a small business, you have to make a lot of sacrifices. You gotta be willing to [make sacrifices] if you want to be successful,” said Smith.

Smith has learned this firsthand with GiGi’s. While he founded the business as a bait and tackle shop, a few months after opening things were slow. He decided to pivot and add a restaurant, cooking up wings, like their special caramel wing recipe, and Cajun cuisine using his mother Jackie’s gumbo recipe. Now, the restaurant is drawing in about 75 percent of the business and in addition to bait shop regulars.

Although GiGi’s opened too late to be eligible for PPP loans, the business was referred by a friend to the Urban League of Kansas City program in partnership with H&R Block for additional resources and opportunities for help, including grants. One thing the program is helping with is taxes. As new business owners, Smith and his family have not yet filed their small business taxes. Through the Black business owner program, they’re receiving advice from a Block Advisors small business certified tax pro and help in understanding what documents they’ll need to file by the extension.

Smith just celebrated GiGi’s first year in business in June 2021.

“The year went by so fast, I didn’t even realize until I saw the memory on Facebook saying it’s your anniversary,” said Smith.

For now, he’s leaning into the counsel his former boss shared—that it’ll take sacrifice and a few years to really get rolling. Smith already has eyes toward growth and hopes to be able to move to a new location with a larger kitchen to support the restaurant. When asked about the growing pains, he said, “It gets overwhelming sometimes but it’s a good problem to have.”

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