We had the good fortune of connecting with Tanyech Yarbrough and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tanyech, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I am from Kingston, Jamaica. I was there until I was eight years old. From the time I can remember, it was always imbedded into me as a small child, opportunities are not given. “You have to work hard to be seen and if you don’t have education you will be passed over”, so from I was five years old I can remember having this fear in me. I also grew up seeing everyone working towards taking care of their family. If you didn’t work you were looked down upon. You know the saying “Jamaicans have ten jobs”? It’s a real ting. I came to this country with my brother and my mom a single mother. She took on any and multiple jobs to support my brother and I at the age of eight. Seeing my mother worked hard would bring tears to me because I knew she wished she could give us a better life, with her time and a life that American kids had. Coming to America was not something I wanted. I remember crying not to leave Jamaica. I didn’t understand why we came here for her to work so hard. She would always tell us, “we’re given the opportunity to come here and make a better life”. I couldn’t see it then. Especially, being an immigrant child you’re faced with kids rejecting you, telling you, go back to your country on the banana boat. From that point I had to grow a thick skin from all the name calling and fights I got into from not being of this country. I was raised by a tough Jamaican mother so no one was ever going to break me. In Jamaica we have a firm belief in our spiritual faith and life is a gift. We know each day we wake up we have to give thanks to the Most High because we are not promised tomorrow so you have to seize opportunities and work harder than the next person. This is why so many great people have come out of Jamaica and there’s many great individuals there that are seeking the same opportunities as I have been blessed with. In my mind I’m still reaching to be the best at anything I put my hands on because I am a proud Jamaican and “ We likkle but we Tallawah”. (We’re small but do great or big things)
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I like to think I’m a creator of bringing people together through food to experience culture. I opened a Jamaican/Nigerian Restaurant in 2019. Yes, during a Pandemic. My decision to leave my previous job was pre-pandemic 4 months prior. It was not a easy decision to leave a job and a career I’ve know for over 20 years and one company for 13. You meet so many people along the way that become like family. However, I had to make the move because I felt burnt out and was no longer happy with me and who I’ve become. I’m the process of opening the restaurant and dealing with a pandemic a lot of negative thoughts went through my mind, like self doubt and the uncertainty of the restaurant industry. There were so many challenges along the way that it’s hard to believe I pushed through it all. I also had family and friends that were rooting for like I was running a marathon. I always believed I’m a survivor in any circumstances but what I’ve learned in the process is there are people in your circle that want to see you succeed and there there to give a helping hand if you just ask. This journey has thought me no one can do it all alone and it’s so much better to bring others into your tribe. I hope when people walk into Wah Gwan they are walking away with the taste and memory of home cooked meals that we all grew up on and the stories that were told at the table. Instead, I’ll share stories of our rich African culture that paved the way for many of the dishes we eat today. My purpose in life is to serve others in communities. If you walk into Wah Gwan and your unable to pay, we turn no one away. We experience that often because where we’re located. I hope I inspire others to make changes in their lives their not content with.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Even though I’ve lived in Kansas City for the past five years, I am still discovering its beauty. I will share KC is a little gem with its historic homes and artsy community. I would definitely share the historic West Bottoms, that reminds me Brooklyn’s Dumbo area back in the days. KC has so much more that I am exploring.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I believe my mom created and molded the fighter in me. I’ve met many people in my life that has supported me in my career., but there comes a time when someone see you for more than what you see in yourself. My life partner saw my potential, and saw that I could do so much more that he said “ quit your job to pursue opening up the restaurant because, I got you”. Hearing those words made me realize how much faith he had in me and what I can do. My shout out goes to John Allagh.