Mahogany's: In the Dark

News of the recent financial woes dogging Mahogany’s co-owner Liz Rogers are not surprising, shocking or even new.

Feb 12, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Word of mouth kept me away.

News of the recent financial woes dogging Mahogany’s co-owner Liz Rogers are not surprising, shocking or even new. They date back to 2012 when City Council was color struck and split by the very idea of a black-owned business along the otherwise all-white stretch of The Banks development.

Some wanted to give Rogers a $2 million package for a bigger space; others questioned Rogers’ spotty financial past, one which she said included identity theft.

They settled on a $684,000 grant and a $300,000 loan. Rogers is now behind two and a half months, or $6,000, on that loan and in arrears by $12,424 and by $9,671 in worker’s compensation payments and unpaid sales tax, respectively.

When a business owner cannot pay those fundamental operating costs it is usually a telltale sign of larger problems, and in this case Mahogany’s larger problems are ones afflicting many black-owned businesses not only in Cincinnati but across America: service and loyalty.

Being a black business owner may be the only realm wherein blacks pander in entitlement; as in, black business owners feel entitled to the financial support and patronage of not just customers but specifically of black customers.

If I am black and if you are black you should come.

This, despite the fact that black business is delivering shoddy service, substandard product and is generally unprofessional — all traits no reasonable patron would ever tolerate from any other business.

In fact, I have seen black folks act out like toddlers in white restaurants and businesses, claiming everything from racism to slow service, but those same folks return time and again to places like Mahogany’s whose management, owners and staff have demonstrated they are either unprepared for the rigors of big-time ownership or they’re used to barely getting by on some half-assed business principles trickling down to service and food preparation; and somehow this is all OK for some black folks when what they’re ultimately doing is rewarding bad behavior.

During its brief, tempestuous and black-owned life span, news of bad service and unprofessional business practices at Mahogany’s was epic.

And these were not whispers.

These were oft-repeated bad service sagas ripe for the annals of the history of restaurants.

Friends early on told me about the time they went to Mahogany’s for dinner and nothing they asked for on the menu was available.

When they finally decided on something — after finally just asking the server, “What do you have?” — the order arrived wrong and ill prepared.

That means it was naaasty, in black parlance.

They were there so long trying to get their order right, they told me, they ordered a dessert to go, allegedly a Mahogany’s specialty, and when they got it home it, too, was wrong and not what they’d ordered.

By now undeterred and downright bemused by the comedic proportions of a dinner/desert order, they called Mahogany’s to politely complain and to let them know how bad their dining experience was, and their complaints weren’t met with any solutions equal to the “Who’s On First?” dining gaff they’d endured.

Then there was the time when a family rented out the place to hold a watch party so friends and family could watch and celebrate their daughter, who was appearing on a reality TV show.

Mahogany’s staff was not only late arriving — the family sat waiting in their cars while workers pulled up — but half the program was missed because staff did not have the television properly cued up ahead of time.

As usual, most of this is our own black fault.

I’ve never understood why black folks, who still earn less on the dollar than whites (and all women still earn less than men), could throw good money after bad chasing and “supporting” bad black businesses all in the name of having someone in the game.

This is partly why blacks have a universal reputation among white businesses for not tipping. We equate our bad (black) experiences with all other (white) experiences and, therefore, everyone must pay by not getting paid in tips.

The other black fault at play here is desperation.

It’s true that in 2014 in the middle of the second term of Barack Obama blacks are still waiting for economic crumbs and wholly dependent on set-aside programs that would put “one” of us on the playing field.

To make things appear okey-dokey, entities like Cincinnati City Council wrongly anoint the wrong Black One for the sake of appearing fair and inclusive and, invariably, that Black One makes colossal mistakes thereby making it twice as hard for Black Ones who would’ve been better ones but who may never get the city grants and loans because they don’t know how to play The Race Card, that ’ol song an’ dance done to the tune of racial guilt.

And Cincinnati has a history rife with Bad Black Choices: In 2002, fresh off the April, 2001, riots after Stephen Roach shot and killed Timothy Thomas, the city gave Lashawn Pettus-Brown $184,000 based on fraudulent bank documents to renovate the crumbling, 90-year-old Empire Theater in Over-the-Rhine. In short, Brown fled the country with the money he spent promoting concerts and wining and dining women. The theater was demolished. Brown was recently arrested in a Los Angeles airport and brought back here to face those old charges, and he’s now in the Justice Center.

And the city is still embarrassed.

But it would never have to live through this kind of embarrassingly guilt-ridden racial relationship again if the city did its due diligence, identified black and minority business owners whose products and services we need but who could benefit from a slow walk through an incubator program with rigorous entrepreneurial training instead of merely throwing them head first into surefire failure for the sake of padding “diversity” numbers in order to get federal tax breaks.

So when a black business fails, everyone benefits but blacks, who remain in the dark.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]