The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Boluwatife Ishola
The Lockdown Economy, an international non-profit social-economic and educational initiative started by the Think Tank AlterContacts in May 2020. The objective is to help small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic and reactivate the economy. The initiative has been registered by the United Nations as an Acceleration Action for the Sustainable Development Goals.
In this interview, we meet Adija Greer-Smith, the founder and owner of Confectionately Yours, a bakery and dessert business in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US. Adija learned her baking skills from her grandmother and enjoyed baking as a hobby, preparing desserts for family and friends and for occasions like graduations and weddings. When a friend introduced her to a husband and wife entrepreneur team who lived in the neighbourhood, she began to realize her passion to own her own bakery and dessert shop.
What does your business do?
Adija: Confectionately Yours is a retail hometown bakery right here in Milwaukee Wisconsin. We specialize in love, art, and dessert so we marry those three components together to create this magic for people. It’s a place where kids can come and grab their favourite cookie, a place where the older generation can come and get that old-time dessert they were used to having in their time, and a place for your everyday person who is craving something sweet. From the bride and groom to your everyday person who is looking for a nice snack with a cup of coffee, it’s a place for everybody. We definitely have had an opportunity to grow since we opened our doors so we are now also meeting the needs of wholesalers.
Can you please tell us more about the Sherman Phoenix? What I like about what I read is about community sharing where you’re able to share part of your business with other businesses that you partner with to bring down your own expenses. For example, you’re sharing dining tables. It’s a community where you don’t have to worry about creating your own bathroom because it is a community bathroom that the whole group uses. Can you tell us how that came about and the whole concept of community sharing where there’s a whole bunch of businesses at this location and you’re working together?
Adija: It was established as an opportunity to bring small businesses together collaboratively under one cohesive facility and also just bringing a place for the intercity of Milwaukee so they can be better. After the shooting, the intercity was very damaged. With a co-developer, we could truly rise from the ashes. That’s the whole story of the Phoenix. There was a lot of rioting with a lot of looting. Places were burned and this facility was a very structural facility that has been in our community for over 100 years. What those developers decided to do was try to create a place of unity by showing people from different walks of life interest to come together and show growth, development, and solidarity under one unit and again overall it is just showing togetherness.
That’s how the Sherman family was originally born. We have about 29 minority-owned businesses under one roof where you have Confectionately Yours bakery, there are several different eateries from Funky fresh spring rolls, Spicy pizzas, there is popcorn. We have collaboratively co-work which is a community of different crafters and people who specialize in health and wellness, herbs, and different things like that. We have barbers, beauty salons, yoga studios, massage therapy, and nail salons. We have so many different businesses under one roof and the togetherness shows the unity that we offer. It allows us to work together because many of us were first-time business owners and were very new to the entrepreneurship realm so coming into this project together definitely allowed us to grow together, learn together, help each other during the process.
Then the togetherness utilizing this space, we’ve had the opportunity to collaborate and help each other grow. Myself along with other businesses, we’ve done things together, where we partner food and dessert, or you have some businesses that partner health and wellness with yoga studio and therapy, you know, different things of that nature so it gives us a really good opportunity to really be creative. That’s really one of the hidden gems in Sherman Phoenix as a whole and I think it’s what makes us different from other places.
So it sounds like this collaboration/teamwork has become really helpful in the time of the pandemic where everybody has been thrown a curveball and the whole idea of running a successful business has dynamically changed with the structure and lockdown restrictions. Tell us about a couple of the things you had to, on the fly, change or rethink so you could still stay in business, be there for your customers and operate it successfully.
Adija: Well you know, when COVID hit the world like a storm, no one was prepared. No one had seen it coming. We were immediately closed down for business. We were not able to have people come into the building for safety reasons. Our staff had to be away from the facility as well. Again, like everybody else in the world we were caught blindly with this thing so we had to quickly adjust to the new norm, what we see now.
When this all started we had no idea what adjustments to make, so after a quick short few weeks into the pandemic, I really had to think about strategizing how I would be able to faithfully meet the needs of my customers and also remain relevant. The truth is a lot of people were being laid off from their jobs or just let go completely and finances were not what they used to be. The priority to support small businesses was not necessarily there and that I had to completely understand. We had to give it a little bit of time and we had to be patient with our customers which afforded me the opportunity to really sit back and think about what I could personally do to help my community and not really worry about the business.
I knew I needed to be really patient in the end so what I personally did because I was used to running a business, I had an influx of inventory, I decided that I needed to do something to put a smile on the face of people if I could do so and so I rallied my team. I knew we couldn’t have customers then but that did not mean we could not go out. I thought, ‘what can I bake in large quantities with the inventory that I have so I can reach the most people with the little bit’. I took all the inventory up and I started baking a lot of cookies and going around houses.
I started seeing how the doctors and nurses and the medical staff were being affected by this thing and people were dying every second. Nurses and doctors were working 16, 18, 20 hours shifts without getting breaks and wearing full of gear. They were emotionally, physically, mentally drained, and exhausted so I thought, ‘what can I do to help them in any way shape, or form?’ I’m a firm believer and my grandparents and parents have always taught me that the smallest thing can make the biggest impact and I asked ‘what is that small thing that I can do that can make a big impact.’ So I thought of the smallest and sweetest thing I know and that was cookies. So I started baking and I had a team that was ready to help even though I couldn’t afford to pay them. They said they wanted to help the people so we came around and packaged them and I started to reach out to my supporters telling them, ‘I know you can’t come out to the store to support my bakery but can you support the bakery by buying a cookie for a doctor and when you do I’ll bake you another one from my own resources’ and that’s what we did.
We started baking cookies and 15,000 cookies later, we had touched hospitals throughout our entire city and surrounding cities. I was driving with my personal car, meeting medical officers at their front door saying ‘I know this is a little bit but give it to whoever you think could use it right now and I’ll be back with more as soon as I bake more’. I would take 400–500 cookies at a time and we would write notes on the boxes saying ‘we’re praying for you, we’re thinking about you, stay strong, you’re doing a great job’. I realized that that little thing made a really huge impact. So we started getting letters and in 18hours, I didn’t have any sleep, any lunch and I walked into the break room and I saw a huge box of cookies with words of inspiration and it gave me hope. I can’t help but be emotional.
What are your next steps as we move into a new year, as we hope that we’re getting to some sort of finish line in some number of months? What are your next steps because I understand that something big happened for you at the beginning of January and all the good that you did is coming back to you in some sort of Karma way? Were you able to open up a new store?
Adija: In the midst of this, so much has happened. It came as a true blessing because so many people in business have not been able to sustain themselves during this time and for whatever reason, it may be. Some people just said ‘you know I gave this business my life and in a second it was gone and I don’t know how to rebound’. I believe I come from a family of resilience and I just believe it in my heart that God brought me this far to say this was it. Again, I did worry about the business. I kept doing what I felt was necessary for the people and now I’m in position, Confectionately yours is still thriving, is still moving and we are still serving our customers. I truly believe because of the favor God has over me and over my life, we had an opportunity to expand in another avenue and open another location. We’ve been working with a central kitchen even in a pandemic. This movement is important, to work with the program, to help them financially. My partner and I are extremely excited about that, I mean who opens up a business in the middle of a pandemic but I believe the favor God has over me is absolutely fair and we believe it is appointed and we are going to keep running. We were on a fast pace when we opened up but we had to slow down but we didn’t stop and that’s the difference. Sometimes you could be running, sometimes you could be walking, sometimes you gotta crawl but you have to keep moving, you just can’t stop. So we’re not stopping.
You changed how you were moving because the circumstances changed and you still went for it. That’s such an inspiring story. My last question is, I just want to make sure that I didn’t forget to ask you something that you might want to share with other businesses and entrepreneurs that are tuned in, something you want to make sure you get out there as a final thought.
Adija: I will probably say really just evaluate what it is your heart desires. Has your passion and your purpose met because if it has, you know when you do things out of passion and purpose, the profit of those things will come to you but when you reverse those things, it can be a hard challenge for you. I don’t go in an endeavour with a profit in mind. It’s about the purpose for me. It has to meet my passion. I am passionate about things that are purposeful and very intentional about what the goal is. We want to touch people, we want to help people, we want to employ people. People have lost their jobs, they’ve lost homes. People’s livelihood has been gravely affected during this time. How can we help people rebuild, how can we build people up?
With those things in mind, doing things with the right intention is extremely important, I encourage people. All those things in your business, you have to strategize, you have to move with the things going on. That’s definitely something you have to do but our passion and purpose never change. You might have to make some adjustments but you just gotta keep moving. Just don’t stop. This is what I would like to tell small business owners, especially during this time. It’s hard for everybody, it’s hard for us all but I think that just in general, especially with everything our nation is experiencing, if we come together with the thing we share in common, we will do better.
About the Guest
Confectionately Yours is owned and operated by Adija Greer-Smith. The Greer family has been providing high-quality southern style desserts and modern confections in Milwaukee for over 10 years. Whether you’re treating yourself to a mouth-watering caramel cake, fresh-baked peach cobbler or a dessert station for a special occasion, Confectionately Yours is sure to make it sweet!