Springfield entrepreneur to students: ‘It’s not about where you start, it’s about where you finish’

Kareem Crossley, the owner of Bubby's Chicken & Waffles, talks to a group of Springfield High School students about the rewards and struggles of starting your own business Thursday as they enjoy the chicken and waffle meals he brought for them. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

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Kareem Crossley, the owner of Bubby's Chicken & Waffles, talks to a group of Springfield High School students about the rewards and struggles of starting your own business Thursday as they enjoy the chicken and waffle meals he brought for them. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Springfield High School program offers students chance to build job development skills

For Bubby’s Chicken and Waffles owner Kareem Crossley, the secret ingredients to the growth of his business were two things: hustle and Fruity Pebbles.

The 2004 South High School graduate spoke to Springfield High School students on Thursday about the steps a young entrepreneur can take to start a business as a part of the school’s career and internship team programming.

“Crossley’s Springfield chicken and waffle business started off in 2019 as the products of a foodie and his food cart. The new business owner at that time worked with local businesses – O’Conners and Coffee Expressions, for example – to get permission to set up shop near their businesses to sell food to passersby.”

In the colder months, the business featured a tent with heaters as Crossley and a handful of helpers passed out chicken and waffles.

A lot goes into starting a food business, Crossley told students: getting proper permits, gathering insurance, acquiring equipment, and more.

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Next is having a product people want. What sets apart Bubby’s waffles, Crossley said, is their signature ingredient: Fruity Pebbles. He decided to add cereal to his waffle batter as a nostalgic nod to his childhood.

“If I smell that stuff, I remember myself as a kid riding along in the house, getting in trouble,” Crossley said.

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Bubby's Chicken & Waffles

Bubby's Chicken & Waffles

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Bubby's Chicken & Waffles

The business later took up space in the shared kitchen at the Bushnell building in downtown Springfield and saw people pour in for late night snacks.

Crossley said the week of the business owner is packed: the shop may be open Thursday through Sunday, but the days prior are packed with ordering ingredients, prepping food, and other tasks he must complete prior to taking food orders.

“It’s pretty much chaos, but it’s fun chaos,” Crossley said.

The business owner is no stranger to busy schedules, however; even as a child he picked up any opportunity he could to take on a new job, whether it be at a chain restaurant, at a barber shop he rode to on his bike, or even mowing lawns of people in his neighborhood.

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“I’ve always had that hustle,” Crossley said. “But everyone’s hustle is different.”

Aside from networking, Crossley said brand exposure is essential to business growth. His business uses social media platforms like SnapChat and Instagram to post videos of his kitchen to keep Bubby’s on followers’ minds.

Crossley also said flexibility is important when managing a business, especially during a pandemic. He crafted his new walk-up style shop with the pandemic in mind. His business also grew to the point where he was comfortable signing on with meal delivery services like DoorDash, Ubereats and GrubHub, another tactic that benefited him during a time of physical distancing.

Although the pandemic has restricted his business in ways, Crossley stressed to Springfield students the importance of taking risks and not getting discouraged when pursuing goals.

“It’s not about where you start, it’s about where you finish,” Crossley said. “Don’t let anybody ever shut you down on your dreams and your thoughts… their energy may be different than yours.”

Springfield High School’s career and internship coordinator Sarah Lemon and assistant principal Kathy Lee have been working for the past few years to boost the school’s career programming to include an annual career fair featuring 20 companies, mock interview opportunities, and also talks with business owners like Crossley to give students a glimpse into businesses in their city.

Aside from Bubby’s, the school has hosted businesses like Southside Squeeze and The Envelope Date.

Lee said that many students have voiced to her and to Lemon that they feel they are not “skilled enough” to get jobs in the area. The school has partnered with multiple businesses in the county across business sectors – ranging from finance to IT to manufacturing – to connect employers with a large pool of potential employees.

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Springfield High School students enjoy the chicken and waffle meals that Kareem Crossley, the owner of Bubby's Chicken & Waffles, brought for them as he talks about the rewards and struggles of starting your own business Thursday as they enjoy the chicken and waffle meals he brought for them. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Springfield High School students enjoy the chicken and waffle meals that Kareem Crossley, the owner of Bubby's Chicken & Waffles, brought for them as he talks about the rewards and struggles of starting your own business Thursday as they enjoy the chicken and waffle meals he brought for them. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

caption arrowCaption
Springfield High School students enjoy the chicken and waffle meals that Kareem Crossley, the owner of Bubby's Chicken & Waffles, brought for them as he talks about the rewards and struggles of starting your own business Thursday as they enjoy the chicken and waffle meals he brought for them. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

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The program also works with students to help them develop career skills like interviewing and networking. This year, roughly 15 students have been connected to jobs through the school’s career and internship program.

Lee and Lemon said the program allows students to see themselves in the shoes of a local business owner, often a graduate of an area school who stayed in the community.

“They’re able to build awareness surrounding all the opportunity in Springfield,” Lemon said.

Community is a big part of Crossley’s approach to his business: really, it’s in the name, he said.

“Bubby’s” was inspired by a friend who often used the word as a term of endearment. Crossley said he now calls everyone “bub” or “bubby” as a way of welcoming in customers.

“‘Bubby’ is personal, it’s contagious,” he said.

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