Pamela Patton

Walking away from a successful career in corporate America is hard enough — but when you do it to open a restaurant during a dried-up economy with zero industry experience — well, it’s easy to imagine what a loan officer might say.

That didn’t stop Pamela Patton, an African-American woman from Columbus, GA who has spent her lifetime exceeding expectations.

“It was one of the scariest things I ever did — walking away from security for a complete unknown,” says Patton, who made the career change in 2009.

Patton credits her great grandmother, Gussie Hayes, with instilling in her a can-do attitude and passion for creating delicious food and sharing it with others. “My mother would pack all of us up and we would go to Big Momma’s house in rural Alabama during the summer,” says Patton. “Everyone would stay for a week or so but I stayed all summer long.”

Those summers were pure bliss for Patton, who says Gussie was always about love and sharing that love by feeding others. “My great grandmother always had people coming to her house. I considered her the perfect example of what a public servant should be and it became part of who I am today.”

Patton, who was the first one of her seven siblings to graduate college, has always been a public servant. After moving to Des Moines, IA to marry Stanley Patton and raise her family, she began her career in the Iowa Department of Human Services where she worked with people who needed assistance transitioning to nursing homes.

“I don’t think there was any job I ever had I didn’t like because I was always able to help other people,” she says. Ultimately, after leaving government and joining the corporate world at Principal Financial Group, she received her Master’s Degree in Public Administration with a concentration in human resources management from Drake University.

Patton loved her job but as time went by she always wondered if she could make a real go out of the catering business, which she started out of her home while at Principal Financial.

She remembers sitting at a business conference in California when lightening struck. “The speaker was giving career advice and someone asked him how to figure out what to do when you’re just not sure. He said: ‘Examine the gifts that God gave you in the order that he gave them to you.’”

Channeling Big Momma was always something that came easy for Patton so she decided to take a leap of faith. “I had started my catering business while I was still at Principal Financial, but it was so hard to leave,” she says.

When Patton first thought about opening a restaurant it seemed all the cards were stacked against her and there were not many local female role models. Today Iowa ranks 51st in the nation for female owned businesses, behind Washington DC, and last in the nation for minority owned businesses.

Despite the odds, Patton managed to secure a $30,000 loan to launch her business and chose a diverse neighborhood so that she “could help elevate the community.”

She opened Patton’s Restaurant & Catering on Martin Luther King’s birthday in 2011 after quitting her job two years earlier at Principal Financial.

When Patton’s opened the country was wading through an ugly recession but she persevered and kept asking questions. “I had never worked in a restaurant, not even when I was young,” says Patton. “I found out what I didn’t know very quickly, but if you ask a lot of questions, people will help you.”

Now in its fourth year the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and is widely embraced for such staples as Southern fried chicken, Southern fried fish, cornbread dressing, collard greens, red beans and rice, Cajun Creole, grilled pork chops, BBQ ribs, beef brisket, and jerk chicken. The catering business is also still thriving.

“People in this neighborhood support us and they are telling other people about us,” she says. She responds in kind by hiring students and offering people their first jobs, especially people from the neighborhood, some of whom are struggling. “We have to support each other,” she says.

Moving forward Patton and her husband, who also works in the business after finishing with his full-time job, would like to place some of their products in a large, local food market, preferably this year.

Clearly the odds are in her favor. “I didn’t set out to open a restaurant but sometimes God has a bigger plan than you can possibly imagine. This is the American Dream and I am so grateful.”