Like any mother, Shalonna Burnett-Haynes has always wanted the best for her two daughters, Breana and Brittany, so there was only one “option” when creating a vision for the family’s future.

Shalonna started cooking at a very young age with her grandmother. “I remember being in my grandmother’s kitchen with all the other women and preparing meals for the family.” Shalonna shared. Shalonna comes from a large family and has several memories of being in the kitchen with her grandmother, so she carried on the tradition when she had children.

Shalonna Burnett-Haynes
Shalonna Burnett-Haynes worked with Communites Unlimited's Entrepreneurship and Lending Departments to open her Memphis-based restaurant, "Options"

Through the years, Shalonna has worked in fast-food restaurants. She was employed as a General Manager for Dixie Queen in Memphis until the owner sold the business. Her life took her on a different path when she accepted a job as a Probation Parole Manager for the Tennessee Department of Corrections, but she did not stop cooking. Shalonna continued to prepare meals for her friends and family, and her daughters pushed her to not give up on her dream.

A local non-profit owner introduced her to MEMShop, which creates partnerships to activate vacant and underused storefronts to help build local businesses. After reaching out, she started working with Communities Unlimited (CU) Senior Management Consultant Rhett Douglas from the Entrepreneurship Team, and he explained how MEMShop could help Shalonna with her vision. Shalonna and Rhett worked on her business plan, and he guided her through the steps of owning a business.

“I was inspired by Shalonna and her daughters’ work bringing Options to life. As we moved through the financial projections, they took ownership of every step: not content with having me explain the concept to them, but wanting to learn by doing. We were able to model a scenario that made sense to everyone, and I’m happy I was able to assist them in preparation for receiving capital.” Rhett explained.

“It’s been a success ever since, and I can’t think Rhett enough,” Shalonna stated.

After getting Shalonna through her business plan, Rhett introduced her to CU’s Lending Team so they could assist her with the next phase of her family’s dream. Shalonna worked on a loan with CU’s Small Business Lender, Chris Tillman, to purchase and start a food truck in Memphis. She closed on her loan on September 6th, 2023.

“Chris (Tillman) was amazing, and to have that kind of support from someone you don’t even know was awesome”

— Shalonna Burnett-Haynes, Options Restaurant

Options Restaurant Food Truck will officially open soon and will be open for lunch and dinner, plus late-night hours on weekends. However, Shalonna and her daughters have already started selling pre-ordered plates prepared at a rented kitchen and will continue until the food truck is in operation. The menu will be based on popular food in the area and offer several options. Shalonna and her daughters have an acquaintance in the Memphis area who is advising them on locations for operations.

Although the vision of creating a family-owned and operated food service establishment began long ago, Shalonna now understands the level of detail and consistency required to run and operate a restaurant. Her experience has paved the way to where she is now, and with the help of CU, Shalonna and her daughters can do what they love: make people happy.

Shalonna’s dream has come full circle. She is now the leader of her family, just like her grandmother was years ago. She hopes to inspire her daughters the same way her grandmother inspired her. There will be obstacles, but Shalonna is determined to make those obstacles more like opportunities and grow from them.

women packing food from Options Restaurant in Memphis
Shalonna and her daughters Breanna and Brittany are working together to create their dream restaurant in Memphis

The business will continue to be a family affair. Her daughter Breana will oversee all financial responsibilities, and her daughter Brittany will do all the marketing while Shalonna continues to cook. Shalonna plans to continue working as a Probation Parole Manager for now but looks forward to the day that she can make people smile with her food full time.

It’s good to have options, whether it’s choosing what to eat at a restaurant such as Shalonna’s or choosing how to make your business dreams a reality. Shalonna, her daughters, CU’s Entrepreneurship and Lending Teams worked together to find the best “Options” to make Shalonna’s dream come true.

Options Restaurant website