Teen entrepreneurs grow cooking class into bakery business

It’s not every day you come across a dedicated group of teenagers who are interested in creating healthy snacks and engaging in developing business and marketing models. It’s not every day where a Black-owned North Minneapolis business receives funding to provide nutritious food in communities where they live.

Green Garden Bakery (GGB), a group of young entrepreneurs from Heritage Park in North Minneapolis, recently won the youth division of the annual Minnesota Cup entrepreneur sweepstakes, earning a $10,000 prize plus an extra $1,000 for the best pitch to the judges. The Minnesota Cup is the country’s largest statewide new venture competition; it is powered by the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. The award did not come easily — it involved a seven-month process requiring a 15-minute presentation, a 10-page business plan, and a video about the group.

Jy’Mar Mitchell (Courtesy of GGB)

CEO Alfonzo Williams, 16, said the business has evolved from “a bunch of middle school kids” bowled over with the success of their first pop-up sale in 2014, to a more sophisticated-but-still-fun enterprise that has attracted many loyal customers, including a growing online business.

GGB is supported by the nonprofit organization Urban Strategies Inc. Elana Dahlberg, community liaison for both Urban Strategies (the nonprofit for Heritage Park) and Heritage Park, says the group of students is connected to Heritage Park. “They all grew up together and are like a family. They are all accountable to each other. They all have one another’s backs.”

Dahlberg told the MSR that Urban Strategies was instrumental in hiring education specialists to assist the students in designing positions for GGB. This was helpful in connecting the business to school work such as class projects and presentations. “Their teachers are recognizing their…work on class projects related to their business.”

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“We allow people to choose what they want to pay for our goods, and we actually make more that way.”

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GGB is a vegetable-based dessert operation that uses mostly locally grown produce. GGB grows vegetables in their urban garden to bake into healthy desserts for various diets that are vegan, gluten-free, and sugar-free.

Leensa Ahmed, chief financial officer (Photo courtesy of GGB)

The venture began as a cooking class for the kids in the neighborhood and expanded. “[In that class] they learned about healthy eating and nutrition,” said 17-year-old Leensa Ahmed, chief financial officer.

It was also a way for a group of friends to come together to celebrate and support a loved one. “Our friend Amarya got into a car accident. We wanted to find a way to help her,” Ahmed recalled. “We got help from master gardeners who gave us an idea to sell green tomato cakes at a local farmer’s market festival.”

They ended up earning $500, three times as much as they projected. The profit was invested back in the business.

The menu includes beet brownie bites, carrot pumpkin bread, and jalapeno chocolate chip cookies (all vegan). They also sell gluten-free zucchini muffins and the item that founded GGB — green tomato cakes.

“We purée the vegetables from our garden and cook them into the desserts. You usually can’t taste [the vegetable],” Ahmed stated.

Student workers sell products at farmers markets, community festivals and online. After wages and operating costs, a portion of the gross take is donated to community charities selected by the youth leaders.

The prices are reasonable as well. “You pay what you can,” said Ahmed. “We allow people to choose what they want to pay for our goods, and we actually make more that way. It’s creating accessibility and affordability to our customers. The lemon zucchini muffins are the customers’ all-time favorite”

GGB has merchandise to brand their company. Jy’Mar Mitchell, co-production chair and chief graphic designer, has made t-shirts, buttons and belt buckles. “My mind just races,” Mitchell said. “The ideas usually come up during the meetings while we’re brainstorming.”

Mitchell reports they also travel and display their business techniques in other cities and communities through Urban Strategies. “We went to Miami last summer and visited a community very similar to ours [Heritage Park]. We spoke with the teens about business and told them our story about who we are.”

“A site in Sacramento wants to do the same thing,” said Dahlberg. “Another one of our goals [is] to do summits around youth leadership and social enterprise.”

 

Green Garden Bakery operates primarily online. For more information or for deliveries, go to https://greengardenbakery.weebly.com.

For pick-up at Heritage Park (1000 Olson Memorial Hwy, Minneapolis), contact Green Garden Bakery at 651-230-5255 or visit their Facebook page at Facebook.com/greengardenbakery.

Ivan B. Phifer welcomes reader responses to ivan.b.phifer@gmail.com.

 

 

About Ivan Phifer

Ivan B. Phifer is contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at iphifer@spokesman-recorder.com

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