By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
The first time Marcia Taylor served her white chocolate coated popcorn was at a wedding. From there she started selling it at farmer’s markets and festivals. Taylor and her partner realized quickly that chocolate doesn’t hold up well in the heat. So, they started creating other flavors inspired by Milwaukee’s enthusiasm for drinking like beer caramel and maple bourbon. Four years later, Taylor has her first brick and mortar, Lush Popcorn, at Sherman Phoenix at 3536 W. Fond du Lac Ave. which opened earlier this month.
Sherman Phoenix is one of several locations across Milwaukee including the Bronzeville Collective that features predominantly black and minority entrepreneurs. To celebrate and encourage “shopping black with intention,” Ajamou Butler of Heal the Hood and Lilo Allen of Papyrus & Charms decided to create a Buy Black Bingo card.
The card features 24 businesses. The yellow spaces like Lush Popcorn, are from Sherman Phoenix while the green spaces such as Beelegant are located at the Bronzeville Collective at 339 W. North Ave. The remaining white spaces are for the Heal the Hood Ujamaa Ceremony at 5020 W. Vilet St.
“I actually had this idea for a while,” Allen said.
Allen explained that she wanted to encourage people to shop local and also highlight the businesses of black and minority owners. When she started approaching people about the idea, they were enthusiastic.
“Folks are very happy and they’re excited,” she said. “It’s discounted shopping for free.”
People can pick their bingo cards up at the Bronzeville Collective. The cards will be available through the Kwanza season, Butler said, which ends Dec. 29. Butler said one of the things they tried to do was incorporate different types of business.
Butler and Allen wanted people to hit as many stores as possible on the list. Maybe people need to go to the gym or they’re shopping and need a bite to eat, they can find a discount coupon on the card, Butler said.
“Our goal was to keep it diverse,” Butler said.
Taylor said she was excited to be included on the card. Everything at Lush Popcorn is made on site, she said. Before opening Lush Popcorn, Taylor worked full-time as an engineer. It’s been an easier change than she suspected. Lush Popcorn allows her to get innovative with flavors and strategy.
One of their first flavors was maple bourbon. It took a while to get it right and her friends and co-workers often taste tested for her.
“When I came up with the maple bourbon I would go around to my co-workers and offer them popcorn shots,” she said. This helped her advertise her product and get valuable feedback.
Funky Fresh Spring Rolls is another square on the Buy Black Bingo Card also located at Sherman Phoenix. Trueman McGee started the business four years ago when he realized people were craving healthy food options. McGee said a card like this is important to the community because it highlights businesses but also shows them working together to support one another. It makes for a great holiday shopping experience, he added.
“It’s unique and it’s fun,” he said. “I don’t think something like this has been done before.”
Funky Fresh began through McGee’s work as a physical trainer. After a while, people decided they wanted to eat his fresh cooking rather than workout with him, so, McGee decided to pursue a different avenue. Sherman Phoenix has allowed him to pursue his dream and show the next generation what it means to be an entrepreneur.
“[Sherman Phoenix] was something that was initially tragic, and it turned into something so amazing,” he said.
The bingo card gives people especially younger kids an opportunity to see how different entrepreneurs operate, he said. By default, the card is giving people an opportunity to not only shop local but to be inspired by all the work.
Allen said that a lot of these businesses have been around for a while, but business owners haven’t always had access to the right platforms. Things are starting to change, she said. People are gaining access to the tools they need to succeed.
“There’s so much enthusiasm about small businesses coming together,” she said. “It gives the generation behind us and young folks something to look forward too.”
Although the card hasn’t been out for long, Butler said he’s seen a few people using them already. Next year, Butler and Allen hope to reach out to other vendors. One of Allen’s ideas is to create a bingo card for summer. It would include vendors, but also art walks. People need to see the art being created by black artists, she said. In the meantime, Allen implores people to utilize the Buy Black Bingo card to shop local and support black entrepreneurs with intention.