Writer: LeKeisha Edwards
Ebony Austin, owner of the popular Nouveau Bar & Grill, is on a mission to not only create extraordinary culinary experiences, but to empower HBCU students through scholarships–a cause that comes with deep reverence and value to the visionary. Born and raised on the westside of Chicago, the restauranteur, serial entrepreneur, and philanthropist has traveled a poignant personal and professional road, that has taken her from the corporate world of Godiva Chocolates, to an impressive portfolio of successful ventures, including Nouveau Bar & Grill restaurants and its three locations in Georgia, a thriving food truck business, and a multi-million dollar real estate portfolio. Most endearing is Austin’s development of Nouveau Creations by Nouveau Bar & Grill, and the grits line initiative that aims to support HBCU students by contributing 100% of all proceeds to scholarships. Upscale Magazine talks with Austin about her commitment to making higher education more accessible to aspiring HBCU scholars, and her $15,000 scholarship surprise to a Howard University student on Good Morning America.
Upscale Magazine: Your professional story after college, began with Godiva Chocolates. How did that come about?
Ebony Austin: Like most after college, I was trying to figure out what my next steps would be. One day, I walked past a Godiva store and decided to go in and taste some of the chocolates. I had a great conversation with the associate that was assisting me and she said, ‘I really like you, I love your energy!‘ She then asked me to role play and sell her an item in the store. I had absolutely no sales experience, but I picked up an item, read the available information from the tag, and found a creative way to sell the product to her. There were five or six other customers that were listening, and they ended up buying the product after my sales pitch. She immediately offered me a management position. When I tell you that God will lead you where you should go if you pay attention and listen, He surely will!
Upscale: Incredible! So a piece of chocolate and faith, ignited your journey?
Ebony: Yes! From management to a corporate position, my work with Godiva laid a foundation that helped me learn how to successfully run my restaurants and other businesses. I know what good budgeting looks like, what good training looks like, and efficient operations look like, because of my experience with Godiva and of course, God’s guidance. It all set me up to be where I am today.
Upscale: Another layer of your foundation came from your mother and your own HBCU college experience, right?
Ebony: My mother owned a taco stand when I was younger and she would have me help out with the long lines of customers and community members that came out to buy the food. My mother taught me what serving looks like and what a blessing it is to have the ability to serve others. She really cared about the overall experience we gave to customers and how we supported the community. My HBCU college experience at Langston University was no different, as I learned so much and was blessed to have someone pour into me, which is why it’s so important for me to pay it forward and pour into others.
Upscale: Why did you choose an HBCU instead of a PWI?
Ebony: I love my blackness and my culture. My name is Ebony, which means ‘black.” I wanted to be on campus with other Black students that were also there to get an education and become the next group of doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, marketers. It was never a question for me to go to an HBCU. The Black community has already had it so hard throughout the centuries, so Black excellence and seeing Black people win, is everything.
Upscale: What stands out to you most from your HBCU days?
Ebony: There was a time I needed money to pay tuition. I decided to go and talk to one of the dean’s and he was empathetic to my circumstances, and offered me a plan that would allow me to pay only $50 a month so I could remain in college. That gesture meant the world to me–it changed my life. It’s a huge reason I do not take education for granted and want to do all I can to support HBCU students as much as I can.
Upscale: Following the success of Nouveau Bar & Grill, you launched Nouveau Creations with a unique grits line that gives 100% of all proceeds to HBCU student scholarships. 100%?
Ebony: Yes, 100%. I don’t just talk about supporting HBCU students, I put action towards it, every step of the way.
Upscale: The grits have such a unique design and delectable flavors too!
Ebony: The look, quality, and taste of the grits was extremely important to me and my team. Customers are able to have a hearty and delicious serving of Garlic and Herb, Original, or Jalapeno Cheddar grits, all while supporting the future of an HBCU student with their purchase. The grits can be purchased online and are also available in 45 Food Lion stores throughout Georgia.
Upscale: We saw the heartwarming scholarship surprise you provided to a Howard University student, Michael Wright, on Good Morning America. How did you make the decision?
Ebony: When I heard this young man speak, and I learned of how he helps other students on the campus; I became aware that he had a scholarship to Harvard, but decided to remain at Howard University. He is passionate about helping the community and so many other students spoke so highly of him. For example, I learned of how he set up a pantry to support students that were food insecure. He deserved that scholarship for so many reasons.
Upscale: You have supported other HBCU’s too, like Savannah State University and Benedict University, correct?
Ebony: Yes, and it has been more than rewarding. I have helped with providing food and meals to students at schools like Morehouse and Spelman that may not have meal plans. There were some students at Benedict University that did not have anywhere to go for the Thanksgiving holiday, so I rented out Airbnb’s to give them a sense of home and togetherness. I do not want to only write a check to support, but if I have to roll up my sleeves and pull up to a school with a tractor-trailer filled with food and other important items to help students, I will.
Upscale: Aside from scholarships, you gifted 3,100 families at your annual toy drive, with cash, gift cards, gaming systems, electronics, and more. You also gave away two homes to families in need and presented $5,000 to HBCU students at the event. There was also a Thanksgiving season where you teamed up with actress Naturi Naughton and TV personality, Marlo Hampton, to hand out 600 turkeys to needy families in the Jonesboro, GA area–and another Thanksgiving season where you partnered with CeeLo Green to provide turkeys for metro Atlanta families.
Ebony: If it wasn’t for my team and everyone that I work with, I would not be able to support the families, communities, and students I hope to serve. Everyone has played a significant part in their sacrifices for me, which allows me to sacrifice for others. Even the decision to develop and launch a grits line came from my grandmother’s love of grits and love for others. I launched the line on my grandmother’s birthday in honor of her, and I hope every HBCU student we support, or community member we serve, feels the love and God’s blessings from everything I do.