LUBBOCK, Texas – One woman in Lubbock is defying the odds that her Black predecessors could have only dreamed of doing decades and centuries ago- odds that they fought to make happen. Even today, Dorothy Lee, the owner of three successful restaurants in town, continues to overcome setbacks brought on by lengthy history of racial violence, oppression and systemic inequities.
KLBK News celebrates and recognizes Dorothy Lee’s accomplishments during Black History Month, a time to celebrate triumphs happening in the Black community. It’s about recognizing the people of color who came before us today and who will come after us tomorrow.
Lee shows us that even in the face of adversity, you can and should follow your dreams.
“If you’re young and you have a dream, go for it. Don’t wait too late because then you’ll be trying to play catch up and it’s harder to play catch up,” Lee said on Monday.
She would know. She raised 7 children before ever taking the first steps toward her childhood dreams.
“I had to struggle and raise those kids. I had to work three or four jobs in the meantime,” Lee reflected.
Today, Lee is making history as the only person of color in the Lubbock community to own three uniquely special restaurants.
“We ended up combining restaurants into one location on Milwaukee: Royal Seafood Shack and Lee’s Cafe. In that location, you can do seafood or southern food,” Lee explained. “And now we have Bucket of Love that opened in September and that’s southern fried chicken.”
Lee’s Cafe sells homemade meatloaf, pork chops, chicken fried steak, smothered liver, oxtails, alligators and neck bone, she explained. At that location, you can also find jalapeno corn bread and crab legs.
“And then we have collard greens, cabbage, black-eyed peas, potato salad, pinto beans, green beans mashed potatoes, mac and cheese…” Lee continued.
For as long as she can remember, Lee has always wanted to open her own restaurant.
“I liked to cook. I like cooking at home,” she said.
Lee never doubted her ability to achieve her childhood dreams. That is, until she struggled to get loans; a hurdle unique to Black business owners.
“It’s so hard to go out and get loans – to try to get that boost of help. Me and my husband, we didn’t get that when we started,” she explained.
A fall 2020 survey by the Federal Reserve Banks found that Black business owners were less than half as likely to be fully approved for private loans than white business owners, even in the same low credit risk category.
“It was kind of discouraging, but it didn’t stop me,” she shared.
Lee got a job in a cleaning business and worked hard to become more than financially able.
Her advice to Black entrepreneurs?
“Work for somebody else. Get their finances in order first, so they’ll have their own money to work with,” she suggested.
Not only has Lee faced financial and systemic inequities, but she has also experienced the hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to disproportionately affect Black-owned businesses.
Already short-staffed, her next move is crazy to some and courageous to others.
She opened her third restaurant, Bucket of Love, last September – a year and a half after the pandemic began.
“People still gonna eat. Regardless, they’re gonna eat. So no, I wouldn’t say it discouraged me any. [I] just went for it and we’re doing good. I enjoy it,” Lee shared.
However, when she does feel discouraged, she thinks about her family and history.
“That’ll make you work harder… because you don’t want to go back there. Why get that far up and then you have to turn back and go back?” she questioned, adding she refuses to go backward.
When it comes to following your dreams, Lee said, “Nobody can fail you but yourself.”
“I get a lot of young Black people, even other colors of race, come and get advice from me on different stuff. I don’t mind giving advice on what they need to do, because I want to see everybody grow and have things and reach their dreams,” Lee told KLBK News. “If you’re young, Black… Go for it. Don’t wait. Just go for it.”