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Heart & Soul

Jeffrey Campbell

Jeffrey Campbell defies all expectations. A soul food restaurant in Des Moines, Iowa? A successful entrepreneur with end-stage renal failure on dialysis? An African-American veteran denied access to a loan fund established for minority-owned businesses? Yet, despite all the unlikely circumstances, Jeffrey made Soul City Café one of Des Moines most beloved neighborhood institutions. His sour cream pound cake, red beans and rice, and sweet corn bread became so popular that Jeffrey hosted his own cooking show on the local cable station for nearly four years.

Jeffrey served four years in the U.S. Coast Guard as a subsistence specialist, where he honed his cooking skills. After being honorably discharged, he dreamt of one day operating his own heart-healthy restaurant in the historic River Bend area of Des Moines. Campbell became fascinated by the culture of the neighborhood and discovered the Berstein Malin Grocery, a Jewish delicatessen that was in need or renovation.

After raising nearly 85 percent of the capital he needed to start his dream restaurant, Jeffrey won a grant from the State Historical Society to help with the costs of restoring the building. He utilized every funding avenue- from grants to personal funds to the Department of Rehabilitation to the Small Business Administration's low interest loan fund. Jeffrey has the single most important attributes of a successful small business owner- never take no for an answer.

Jeffrey's efforts to raise capital were not without barriers. The Department of Economic Development Revolving Loan Fund for Minority-Owned Businesses was not only skeptical of a man on dialysis's ability to run a restaurant, they actively tried to block his ability to obtain funding from other sources. This is when Jeffrey met Patti Lind from the Abilities Fund. Patti stood up for him and convinced them that their claims were discriminatory and the two ultimately ended up training the Department on disability issues to the benefit of countless others that have followed Jeffrey's example.

In 1998 when Jeffrey started Soul City, the Department of Veteran Affairs was as equally doubtful about Jeffrey's ability to take on the demanding role of restaurateur. Once again, Jeffrey and Patti teamed up to train the VA on disability issues. While Jeffrey was unable to secure funding assistance from the VA, he did receive a great deal of "in-kind" help from other local veterans. One man, a local printer, donated free take-out menus.

Jeffrey has since moved on from his Soul City adventure, yet he does still miss the customers the most. His advice to other budding entrepreneurs is to first do your homework. Find out what local resources exist and don't be afraid to ask questions. Mostly importantly, Jeffrey believes with all his heart that you have to follow your dreams and never let anyone tell you that your disability is a barrier- a disability is what you make of it. Jeffrey Campbell is proof that with a lot of heart and soul, you can achieve your dreams.

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