Ezell’s Famous Chicken Launches Grant Initiative for Black-Owned Businesses 

by Mark Van Streefkerk 

Ezell’s Famous Chicken is the first to credit their success to community support. Now the beloved Seattle-based chain of fried chicken restaurants is giving back. Partnering with DoorDash, Ezell’s new Rudd’s R.U.B.B. (Raising Up Black Businesses) Initiative will offer 20 Black-owned businesses or organizations in Washington grants of $2,500. The window to apply for the grants opened Aug. 30 and will close Sept. 20. At the time this article was written, there were already more than 220 applicants. 

The grants will be given with no strings attached to selected businesses or organizations (nonprofits are also welcome to apply) to sustain or grow their operations as they see fit. Grants can be used for upgrades, to make repairs to equipment, marketing and promotion, or other investments that benefit the company. To apply, or learn about becoming a Partner in Prosperity to help grow grant funds, visit the official Rudd’s R.U.B.B. site. Grant awardees will be selected within 30 days after the application window is closed. 

“We have been around for 37 years and we’re only here really because of the support that we’ve gotten from the communities that we serve,” said Ezell’s co-founder Lewis Rudd. “It’s always been a part of our DNA to give back to the community … This is the least we can do is give back.” 

Ezell’s is proudly family-run. Co-founders Darnell and Lewis Rudd (on the left and right, respectively) and their sister Fay Stephens launched the Rudd’s R.U.B.B. Initiative with partner DoorDash. Photo courtesy of Ezell’s Famous Chicken.

Rudd was keenly aware of how small Black-owned businesses were struggling over the last year. Black communities already face discrimination in obtaining capital and loans for their businesses, and the pandemic made it that much worse. Even with federal or local relief through grants or loans, some businesses were still falling through the cracks. Rudd gave some theoretical examples of small businesses — like a food truck, landscaping company, or restaurant — which face more difficulty getting back on their feet if the pandemic disrupted their income stream. It would be a disappointing loss to the community if these businesses were forced to shutter over only a few thousand dollars, he says. 

“A small grant like the ones we’re talking about, $2,500, could really help businesses like that, to get back into the business cycle,” Rudd said.

The idea for the “R.U.B.B.” acronym came from Rudd’s childhood in east Texas. “Growing up … if something was hurting or ailing, a headache, stomachache, or [injury from] a fall, the first thing my dad or mom would say is, ‘Come here son, let me rub that for you.’ Just a gentle touch would relieve the pain of that headache or that feeling,” he said.  

Ezell’s was able to successfully weather the pandemic thanks to quick pivots to pandemic protocols like takeout-only service, so they turned to offering a healing touch for others. When DoorDash approached them last year with the idea of a promotional campaign, co-founders Lewis and Darnell Rudd, and their sister Faye Stephens, suggested the idea of the Rudd’s R.U.B.B. Initiative instead. At that time, a lot of corporations were looking for ways to support BIPOC businesses, Rudd explained, and DoorDash was soon on board as the charter partner, making a $40,000 contribution. Since then, other corporations and companies like Pepsi, and restaurant suppliers Sysco and Bargreen Ellingson, have joined as contributing partners to grant funding.

Another reason to love the Seattle-based fried chicken restaurant chain: the new Rudd's R.U.B.B. Initiative will provide grants to small, Black-owned businesses and organizations in Washington. Photo courtesy of Ezell's Famous Chicken.
Another reason to love the Seattle-based fried chicken restaurant chain: the new Rudd’s R.U.B.B. Initiative will provide grants to small, Black-owned businesses and organizations in Washington. Photo courtesy of Ezell’s Famous Chicken.

Entrepreneur, mentor, and consultant Debrena Jackson Gandy is the project manager for the initiative and helped write the grant requirements and other processes. Eligible businesses or organizations must be at least 51% Black-owned, officially registered with the State of Washington, and have been in business for at least one year. 

“We were anticipating maybe 75 applicants,” Rudd admitted. “That’s been exceeded, and they’re still coming in. It highlights and magnifies the level of support that is needed out there. That just means we need more partners, right?” 

Rudd hopes the initiative will be part of a legacy project for Ezell’s, attracting more partners to fund even more grants, increasing opportunities for Black-owned businesses and organizations in Washington. 

“I just can’t overemphasize the importance of having a vibrant, Black business community,” he said. “There’s a lot of benefits to everyone by supporting initiatives like this that help Black-owned businesses to become successful. It [creates] generational wealth opportunities. There’s opportunities for better education and healthcare … it’s a benefit for everyone.” 

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist, freelance writer, and the Emerald’s Arts, Culture, & Community editor living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. He often writes about specialty coffee, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Instagram at @markthewriter

📸 Featured Image: The location that started it all: Ezell’s first location across from Garfield High School opened in 1984. Photo courtesy of Ezell’s Famous Chicken.

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