This spring, ioby and Eastern Market are partnering to present the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge. We’re offering 17 awesome local food entrepreneurs the chance to double the donations made to their projects on ioby’s website between now and April 3—dollar for dollar, up to $250 per donation, and up to $3,000 total. Here’s a closer look at one of fabulous projects getting underway now.
Lush Yummies Pie Company makes delicious “lemon butta” pies using founder Jennifer Lyle’s grandfather’s recipe, fresh ingredients, and lots of love. But she thinks there’s another reason Detroiters go gaga for the velvety citrus treats: they’re reminders of home.
“A lot of people who live in Michigan aren’t from here,” she explains. “In particular, a lot of African Americans, like my granddad, moved to Detroit from Alabama to work for Chrysler when the automotive industry was booming. People like him have southern roots, and you can’t get all the same food here; people miss it. These kinds of creamy lemon pies are native to the south—up north, they’re more like Jell-o. No thanks!”
After spending a couple of post-college years in Atlanta with Teach for America, Jennifer decided to follow her first passion—food—and enrolled at the Pâtisserie and Baking Certificate program at Le Cordon Bleu in Miami. She returned to Detroit about five years ago and experimented with making and marketing a number of dessert types, from wedding cakes to granola candy bars. “After all that, I came back to my granddad’s recipe that he made with his mother in the 1940s on their farm in Birmingham. I came back to the basics.”
Jennifer currently has two employees (not including her husband, who handles the majority of Lush Yummies deliveries—in addition to holding a full-time job). Her long-term goal is to grow her accounts so she can hire more kitchen staff (Detroit locals preferred) and eventually take herself out of the production process. “Oddly, I think getting out of the kitchen is what most food entrepreneurs want to do!” she says. “Being there 24-7 just wears you out. I want to focus on building my brand, and eventually securing my own production facility.”
Lush Yummies is currently stocked in 15 stores, and will be adding Whole Foods to their roster starting in May. Jennifer would love to expand further, into outlets like Kroger and Wal-Mart nationwide. In the meantime, she’s set her crowdfunding sights on one important upgrade: a commercial-grade citrus squeezer that will save her and her staff the many hours a week they currently spend squeezing hundreds of lemons by hand!
While her company is poised to go far, Jennifer recognizes that there’s no place like home. “Eastern Market is wonderful,” she says. “They really treat you like family. I support them and they support me.” Jennifer participates in the organization’s vendor gatherings, and has enjoyed visiting the market herself when she’s not working. “There are always families here,” she says. “I’ve pulled my kids down here in their wagon. They have music going, high school bands, you can smell the barbecue from down the block… It’s like New Orleans!”
She also appreciates Eastern Market shoppers. “The market is really diverse, and has put me in front of a lot of customers who wouldn’t otherwise see me,” Jennifer says. “The people who shop there want to support Detroit: they like meeting the farmers, they really interact with their produce. It’s ideal.”
Jennifer grew up in a family of entrepreneurs, and spent time working in their businesses. Her powerhouse grandmother, for example, was the first female president of Michigan’s Booker T. Washington Business Association, an African American Chamber of Commerce, as well as the first woman to run the state’s Liquor Control Commission—and she founded her own network of Detroit-area adult education facilities. “Honestly, it was sometimes difficult working with her,” Jennifer says. “The dynamics of a family business can be intense, and her expectations were very high. When something is yours, it’s different from when you’re a manager or director: your heart and soul is in it.”
Eventually, Jennifer had to explain to her grandmother that she had dreams and aspirations of her own, and didn’t want to take over the family business. Now, her two small kids are growing up with a strong entrepreneurial caretaker, too. “When I’m able to have my own commercial kitchen, my own sustainable company with my own name on it, when I’m able to hire all the Detroiters I need: that will give me ultimate pride in my business. I want my kids to say, ‘This is my mom’s company.’ I want them to know this is something their mom did.”
Learn more about Lush Yummies Pie Company on their campaign page, and check out all the Eastern Market Growing Communities Matching Grant Challenge winners! If you see something that moves you, remember your supporting dollars will go twice as far until April 3.