By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
Veterans owned more than 1.9 million businesses and employed more than 5.2 million Americans in 2018, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA). As they have devoted their lives to serving their country, it’s only right that the country in turn patronizes their businesses.
“Veterans are sometimes forgotten about even though they put their time in. People who serve in the military make up less than 1 percent of our population,” said Garrett Irby, veteran and owner of Smoke-N-Wheels BBQ. “Bringing light to veteran-owned businesses and veterans themselves is a great thing because they sacrificed themselves to keep our nation safe and allow everybody to have these freedoms.”
Below, the AFRO put together a list of several Black-veteran owned businesses in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.
Irby, who currently serves in the Maryland Air National Guard, opened Smoke-N-Wheels BBQ with his friend and business partner, Carl Shipp, in 2023. The pair met nearly five years ago while Shipp was working as a chef at a lounge. Shipp cooked for Irby and his wife, and the two have been friends ever since.
Smoke-N-Wheels BBQ is a food truck serving classic BBQ dishes, like slow-smoked pork, chicken and brisket, ribs and sausage. Irby revived the business after his father decided to sell the food truck, which is furnished with a smoker.
“We hit the ground running. The people love the food, and if the people love the food, they’re going to come and buy it,” said Irby. “The other aspect of it is networking and getting your brand out there. That’s the hardest part because there are so many food trucks out here, and they already have their foothold in the business.”
Recently, Irby and Shipp acquired a contract with Sodexo USA, which provides food services to various workplaces, universities and hotels. Through the contract, Smoke-N-Wheels BBQ will serve lunch at federal facilities at Fort Meade. The business partners urged interested diners to head to their Facebook to book catering or find out where the food truck is heading next.
“I definitely appreciate Garrett’s service to the community, but it doesn’t just stop at service on the front lines. We still serve the community everyday, providing delicious food,” said Shipp. “It’s something out there to bring people together.”
This fitness company was created in 2014 by Juan Biddix Jr., a retired Army master sergeant. After retiring from the Army, Biddix was frustrated with how much time he was spending going to the gym to workout. He was also displeased with some of the gym’s equipment.
Subsequently, the veteran invented and patented a multi-functional exercise rack called the FITT Rack. It is freestanding, adjustable and portable and can accommodate individuals with varying ages, heights, sizes and physical abilities.
The FITT Rack is designed to help individuals with muscle strength, muscle endurance, weight loss and endurance.
Marine Corps veteran Joshua Dew worked as a competitive barista before opening his own coffee company in 2017. Vagrant Coffee is a mobile specialty coffee brand based in Baltimore. The company has a retail store and offers specialty coffee roasting, as well as mobile espresso bars that individuals can book for private events.
Vagrant’s beans come from throughout Central America, including Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica. Vagrant Coffee also engages sponsors to fund a coffee program at local schools, providing teachers with access to free coffee pop-ups.
D.C. native Marcia Smith started HGC Apparel, an online clothing brand that celebrates Black culture, a few years after her 2010 enlistment in the Army. The Howard University graduate knew she wanted to own an e-commerce business, but at the time, social media was taking off.
However, Smith didn’t give up on her business. She continued to grow the business while she served as a military IT specialist stationed in Germany, Virginia and Hawaii, until 2017 when she decided to run the brand full-time.
In 2021, HGC Apparel launched Foot Locker, Footaction and Champs Sports nationwide. The clothing line features joggers, sweatshirts, T-shirts, cardigans and hats with bold colors and statements that are tied to Black activism and social justice.
“If we don’t tell our story, who will? If we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will? We cannot wait for anybody else to do this. If we have a message and brand, we need to understand that we need to have a look,” she said. “Mixing activism with a look and a presentation is so important.”
Megan Sayles is a Report For America Corps member.