Considering how much his surrounding community has given to him- literally it comes as no surprise that Robert H. Brown, Jr. gave back through a business committed to providing a legacy of excellence in funeral service.
Robert, a lifelong resident of East Orange’s Fourth Ward, owner and Executive Director of Chapels of Eden Funeral Home, located at 110 South Munn Avenue in East Orange. Mr. Brown brings more than two decades of licensed experience in the funeral service industry, but his career almost didn’t happen … that is until the citizens of Essex and Union County stepped in.
Bob had been accepted to Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, alma mater of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Unfortunately, the HBCU annual tuition was too steep for the Brown family. That’s when a concerned school teacher got involved and started a grassroots campaign that ultimately helped raise the tuition through individual, civic and small business donations.
Robert went to graduate from Morehouse college and decieded he would further his education in the field of Mortuary Science after completing the curriculum at the School of the American Academy of Mcallister Institute of Funeral Services. Bob passed the NJ and NY National State Mortuary Board exam and went to gain valuable experience during his internships.
Robert conceived the idea for Chapels of Eden in 2004, with the intention of opening a community funeral home providing funeral service to the many New Jersey family and friends of Essex and Union County and Harlem and Brooklyn NY that helped support him in his adolesents.
The dream of starting a funeral business meant the world to the young funeral director but the task of building a business had many challenges. There were no funeral homes available to purchase at the time. So Mr. Brown decided to establish a stately location, just blocks from where he grew up and the headquarters of the grassroots fundraising effort at 110 South Munn Avenue, East Orange, NJ, 07018. He took on a task to renovate a blighted former mansion and rescued it from an uncertain future that may have included abandonment and vandalism.
Robert had forward thinking, he believed in the City of East Orange and took the necessary steps to get the needed variances to change the use of the building and getting the approvals to open Chapels of Eden. Though this process was extremely costly and time consuming it was an important step needed to be zoned as a funeral establishment. He worked as a licensed funeral director in New York until he finally was approved to open in 2006. Robert says It’s my way of paying it forward to the very citizens and family who believed in me and only asked that I someday use my academic training to help others.
Fast forward to about 20 years of providing cremation and funeral service, Covid- 19 Pandemic hit the country extremely hard. After being on the frontlines as a first responder for more than two years he has considered retiring. Mr. Brown and his funeral home faced many other challenges and he almost decided to close his doors and sell His land and building to the developeres that saw the opportunity in redeveloping his site as a potentional luxurious high rise apartment building.
Due to the explosive growth in the community and genrefication the City of East Orange received a grant for redevelopment of 1.4 billion dollars which attracted many investors. However, Brown was not given the opportunity to purchase a sizable lot to build a new establishment to serve the community. After much consideration, this did not deter his ambition of opening another location.
In 2021, His thinking was full circle, Bob rebranded the business and was on a search to purchase and expand his current location. Although he attempted to purchase several locations no one wanted to sell him a property and those that did over inflated the cost of purchase. This only forced Brown to look harder for the opporitunity he knew existed to expand Chapels of Eden to members of his community that moved from East Orange to the surrounding communities.
In 2022, Robert attended Rutgers Newark Business School program allowing him to rebrand his business model: Reaffirming what was important to him, giving him the business tools to take the next steps, and giving him the answers to why the risk made sense.
Celebrating over 19 years of service, Dr. Brown understood his narrative about himself and business using (SWOT) analysis - understanding where he had come from and where he wanted to go. The kinds of stories we tell make enormous differences in how well we cope with change. He understood a good story is essential for making a successful transition.
Telling our story lends meaning, unity and purpose to our lives. We need a story to reassure us that our plan makes sense- that , in moving on, we are not discarding everything we have worked so hard to accomplish and putting family and livihood at risk. I have encouraged my families when making funeral arrangements that a story gives us motivation and helps us endure frustration, disappointments, stuffing a lost and hard work.
Robert recounts, It all came together really fast. This was the essence of his turning point in his funeral career. In 2022, collaborated with Best and opened Chapels of Eden funeral home, 1100 Pine Ave, Union, NJ, 07083. At his core, he is the same person- yesterday, today and the same caring professional he will be tomorrow. Bob was ready for the new challenges in his role as an Executive Director. He connected with the right professional to make his dream possible.
Bob not only sits high, he works side by side in the trenches with his staff, the diverse group of professionals who assist with managing the daily operations of the funeral business. Robert’s 00 business accuman makes a huge difference. Building a substainable funeral business in today's market takes courage, strategy and the understanding of culture that fosters growth, encourages teamwork and improves the customer experience.
Our goal was to have people Say “ That was the Best Funeral they Attended” Brown’s background as a chaplain, adjunct professor, and minister brought him the awareness of an Organizational Culture. It’s a powerful dynamic in my company. Culture cements employees' confidence in their work and keeps them motivated and inspired to do their Best. I have a diverse staff. Culture is a set of beliefs and attitudes about the ways things are done in the workplace.
Dr. Robert Brown takes time to get to knowall his employees, their familys’ and the Clients he serves. Chapels of Eden funeral home is family owned and operated for approximately 20 years. Robert prides his locations as having a boutique type of atmosphere which address the values of the Clients. He posses a special gift which allows him to listen with a open heart as he provides his best to deliver a very unique personal and memorable funeral experience to families and thir guest.
Change for the Better, he connects with my families by standing in their shoes from the moment a family contacts the funeral home. He also encourages the familes to share their personal story of the deceased family member and explain that it helps in the healing process. Robert realises that a great service depends on proactive communication and trust building. Bob has the insight to keep costs down while improving the clients' experience. Robert is an experienced leader who knows when to focus and when to pull back.
Bobby understood while improving his daily operations at the funeral home he had to keep the end in mind as he developed a succession plan and still be present to groom his business culture to sustain future growth. While paying it forward Brown mapped out his growth plan in the desired territories before taking action allowing him to open his third funeral home located at
299 Morris Avenue, Summit, New Jersey 07081.
All 3 locations East orange, Union and Summit are minutes from each other which allow me to serve a diverity of 46 communities, 15 religions and traditions as they grow and relocate around a changing demographic.
In closing, what I learned is to focus on what's important to your familys’, not just what is urgent. When you realize that you no longer serve the same clients, it will be too late. This skill helps me to see the big picture and be there for my familys in today's changing community and times. Active listening is the process of understanding what a family is saying verbally and nonverbally, these skills are an essential quality for a funeral director. Both explicitly and implicitly. Listening enabled me to hear what was most important for our families to have an exceptional funeral experience.
As the only African American Funeral Home in Union and Summit, I know that I have to be better than all my colleagues. As a person of Color I understand the unique differences among my Black and Brown clients traditions and cultures and I look forward to educating, defending and proctecting my market share. Asking tough and engauging questions about my family traditions and business strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and the eats is an ongoing process that allows insight to better address building a strong culture. I realize 3 constants in life are Death, Taxes and constant change in the Funeral Industry.