We’re fortunate to partner with amazing people and businesses in our communities who are both incredibly successful and sources of inspiration for the next generation of entrepreneurs.
They have excelled by embracing their passions, honing their products, and innovating at every turn to help them succeed. The stories below of four Black-owned businesses, which were originally shared during Black History Month, are shared again here with added wisdom from each leader, so that we may continue to learn from and be inspired by the path they have charted.
Bold Spoon Creamery
Rachel Burns, Founder of Bold Spoon Creamery
“My entry into the ice cream business was actually because I made a mistake.”
The “mistake” Rachel Burns referred to was growing far more mint in her garden than she hoped to use. Rather than waste the herb, Burns had another idea: to make mint chocolate chip ice cream! What began as a fun treat for summer pool party guests quickly became a hobby and passion project.
“It got to a point where I needed to either make this a business or drop it,” recalled Burns. “I was spending way too much time for it to be just a hobby!”
From there, Bold Spoon Creamery was born. Burns’ initial plan was to start a wholesale business targeting restaurants, but she had to shift due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, she set up a website with online ordering capability and set out to the streets of her St. Louis neighborhood to promote the product.
Bold Spoon Creamery’s Mixed Berry flavor
“I remember dropping off samples on my neighbors’ doorsteps, ringing the bell, and running back into the street so I could keep 6 feet of distance,” Burns said. “It was the only way I could think of to have people try my product without making close contact.”
From there, orders began rolling in, starting with neighbors but slowly growing to include people that Burns didn’t know.
“That’s how you know it’s good, right?” she posited. “If it’s spreading through word of mouth like that, people must enjoy it.”
Since then, the business has grown rapidly, moving from a shared commercial kitchen to a 57-acre farm, which includes a barn converted to a commercial kitchen and gardens growing the fruits and herbs that are used in their ice cream. Along with grocery store locations all around St. Louis, St. Louis City SC fans will also be able to find Bold Spoon Creamery products at CITYPARK for the club’s inaugural MLS season. Asked about her role as a Black-owned business owner, Burns expressed optimism for the future – with an important caveat.
“I truly feel that there has never been a better time to be a Black-owned business in America, but your product has to be on point, and your customer service has to be on point. I put a great product out, and I have a lot of pride in it, and ultimately that’s why Bold Spoon has been successful.”
Rich Bloomfield, Greg Williams, and Zack Day
Dating back to their time together at Grambling State University, Rich Bloomfield, Greg Williams, and Zack Day have always loved sharing a beer. However, the reason these three childhood friends co-founded Funkytown Brewery together goes much deeper.
“We’ve always had that desire to do something for ourselves and see where we could take it,” said Bloomfield. “Beer was a natural choice for us because we’re big craft beer drinkers, it’s just something we love to do.”
In 2017, the three began home brewing, experimenting with different flavors and processes before introducing their beer to the public. In October 2021, they finally hit their big break: a partnership with brewery incubator Pilot Project to officially launch Funkytown Brewery. They set out to create a brand that would make everyone feel welcome, especially the Black community, traditionally underserved in the craft beer market.
“Thanks to a feature in the Chicago Tribune, we had over 200 people at our launch event,” remarked Bloomfield. “It was a great coming out party for our business but also proof that Black people, women, and other underserved groups will congregate around beer if inclusion is part of the messaging.”
Assorted beers from Funkytown’s offerings
Once launched, Funkytown received immense support from the community and enough positive feedback to make it clear it was a winner. Funkytown has already made a major impact on the local beer scene in an industry where Black owners are few and far between. Along with building something entirely their own, the trio is driven by their position as role models for other aspiring Black entrepreneurs.
“The craft beer industry is less than 1% Black-owned,” Bloomfield reflected. “So there really isn’t a roadmap or guidance from our own community on how to do this. But we’ve still been able to find a way. So now, we’re able to be transparent and share that knowledge forward, and hopefully empower others who are looking to do something similar to what we’ve done.”
Steve’s Hot Dogs
A signature frank from Steve’s Hot Dogs
After a successful run in a popular band called The Urge, Steve Ewing moved back to his hometown of St. Louis to pursue a solo career. One night after a show, he came to a stunning realization.
“At the end of the night, hundreds of people flooded out of the bars, but there was no food,” recalled Ewing. “So I thought to myself, I need to find a way to feed all these people. Immediately, a hot dog cart came to mind.”
Shortly after, Ewing purchased the cart and set out to build his business. He found great success targeting late-night post-concert crowds and the mid-day lunch scene, but eventually, the company hit a snag: the chilly St. Louis winter. From there, Ewing knew that the only way to grow Steve’s Hot Dogs into the neighborhood staple he wanted it to be was to move into a brick-and-mortar location. He would soon decide on a space located on The Hill, a bustling part of St. Louis, paving the way for the business to become one of the “hottest” spots in town.
Due to its immense popularity, it should be no surprise that Steve’s Hot Dogs will be featured as part of the vibrant local food scene represented at St. Louis City SC soccer matches during the 2023 season. Ewing sees his success as a springboard for other aspiring Black business owners and hopes that population will continue to grow.
“To me, running a Black-owned business gives other folks the idea ‘I can do that, it’s possible’,” Ewing asserted. “We need Black owners in every single neighborhood.”
J’s Sweet Treats
A designer cake creation from J’s Sweet Treats
Juana Williams never expected to get into the cake business. Her mother was always the baker in the family, whipping up decadent pies and cakes for holiday celebrations, making sure that everyone got a taste of something sweet. When the load became too much on her, Williams decided to step in and carry on the legacy. Soon, friends and family were requesting cakes and spreading the word to others that Williams was the best person to deliver a showstopping treat for any gathering. Finally, she hit a point of make or break.
“I got a request to bake a two-tier cake. At that moment, I knew I had to either turn this into a business or cut back and limit it to just a hobby,” recalled Williams. “I consider myself to be pretty fearless, and I knew that I could bake as well as anyone, so I figured why not take the chance?”
And with that, Williams launched J’s Sweet Treats to share her designer cakes with the Columbus community. She credits the success to her commitment to her craft and willingness to go above and beyond to ensure that customers’ needs are met.
“Any time you get a cake from us, you’re gonna get a quality product,” asserted Williams. “It’s going to be fresh, it’s going to be homemade, it’s going to be decorated by us, and we’re going to customize it to fit your needs. You’re not going to get a cookie-cutter cake”
In March of 2020, she opened her first brick-and-mortar location in Columbus, just weeks before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with that massive obstacle, she still managed to get noticed by a fixture of the Columbus community: Ohio State University. A member of Levy’s OSU Athletics team happened into J’s Sweet Treats one day and immediately knew it was something that would elevate the hospitality experience at the location. Williams, a die-hard Ohio State fan, jumped at the opportunity.
“We started working at Ohio State for the 2022 season and it’s been such an exciting time. As huge OSU fans, it’s something we truly look forward to week after week.”
Through her success, Williams takes great pride and responsibility in being a resource and an example for her community.
“Being a Black entrepreneur is a lot of pressure. I understand the role I play, and the position I’m in as someone people look up to. It’s my job to reach back and help the next person because I know what a strong impact that can have.”