Christopher Vernon Stewart comes from a family of entrepreneurs. He watched his grandparents build businesses to support the family, and also saw his father and other relatives open small local businesses. It became quite obvious for young Stewart that he was being groomed to also become a business owner.
“Subconsciously, it was embedded in me. Just seeing them do things and take chances while encouraging me to do the same,” Stewart told KCUR. “There are some long days. But I work for myself and I make my own schedule. That is the highest form of freedom in the Black community.”
After graduating from Raytown South High School, Stewart established his own business, Stew’s Harwood LLC, where he is the sole owner and operator. He is also the co-founder of KCS Culture, a real estate investment and home rehabilitation company.
According to him, the latter company seeks to make housing accessible and affordable to underserved communities east of Troost Ave., the metro’s historic racial dividing line.
“Rent for a two-bedroom home is now $1,300 a month,” he said. “That is steep for properties that have been left mostly unrenovated since the 1970s. We do not want to be the slumlords of the past. Our goal is to provide modern living at an affordable price for our community. It does not have to be extravagant. Just up-to-date instead of living in squalor.”
Like the experiences of several entrepreneurs, Stewart said the first few years were extremely tough for him. He notes that he fell into financial hardships in addition to struggling to build a clientele. Despite the challenges, he remained focused.
“It was rough the first couple of years and I went through some serious financial hardships,” he said. “The hardest part about starting a business is building the clientele. But I stayed focused on making the quality of my work the highest priority, which built my reputation. Now, 98% of my business are referrals.”
So far he has refurbished more than 1,000 floors and completely remodelled six homes. His home restoration mostly happens in properties that haven’t been renovated since the 1970s.
“Everybody defines success differently, but I feel like I have been pretty successful since taking a chance opening a business 11 years ago,” he said. “My family is proud of me. I know my grandfather was. So that’s success right there to me.”