This is part of our series, “Banking on Change,” which showcases local entrepreneurs who are creating a positive impact in their community. The series spotlights one local business each month.
Junita Flowers is a case study in the roller coaster ride of fate experienced by most entrepreneurs.
In 2018, she launched Junita’s Jar, with a mission to make delicious cookies. But as the survivor of domestic violence, Flowers also wanted to use the company’s proceeds to fund important conversations about domestic violence.
“Food and conversation are two things that naturally go together,” Flowers explained. “Food disarms people. It brings people together.”
Her “Cookies ‘n Conversation” events take place on college campuses (and now, virtually), where Flowers partners with campus organizations. These events provide education surrounding relationship violence.
“They bring the group together and I bring in a panel of experts: a therapist, a nurse practitioner and a survivor,” she explained.
Proof of Flowers’ concept came in 2019, as Junita’s Jar enjoyed steady sales growth. She was even invited to participate in the Finnovation Lab – an incubator for social ventures that was founded by Finnegans Brew Co. CEO Jacquie Berglund.
Flowers had every reason to believe that her childhood dream of being an entrepreneur was finally coming true.
Covid-19 Takes a Big Bite
But with the arrival of COVID-19 in 2020, things took an immediate turn for the worst.
“When COVID hit, I instantly lost 75% of my revenue,” Flowers recalled.
Worried that she wouldn't be able to support herself and her two children, Flowers applied for a day job. Even though she was well qualified, she didn’t get it.
“That was heartbreaking,” Flowers said. “But I gave myself a week to be sad…and then I got to work.”
Flowers immediately contacted her customers, asking for their support. “I need you guys to buy! We are in trouble and may have to close our doors,” she told them.
Fortunately, they came through, which bought Flowers some time and hope.
“That was a validation that if you ask for help people who are really invested in you will come through,” she said.
But not long after the coronavirus hit, more tragic news came.
Monday, May 25th, 2020, is a day that changed Minneapolis forever. George Floyd was killed by police – across the street from Flowers’ business.
“I remember getting up that morning not knowing what to do. Should I go to work or stay home?” she said.
Once again, Flowers faced a crisis.
The Kindness of Strangers
Yet another twist of fate occurred only three days later.
“I woke up that Thursday and I heard that little cash register sound that goes off whenever there’s a sale,” Flowers recalled. “And it kept going off. I thought my website was hacked.”
In fact, it was people from across the country looking to support the city of Minneapolis.
“They were searching out black-owned businesses to support,” Flowers explained.
Amongst the surprise supporters were employees of a local business where Flowers’ brother worked. The company’s 1,500 employees were each given $100 to support Black-owned businesses in recognition of Juneteenth. Her brother mentioned Junita’s Jar and what followed was a flood of orders.
If surprise orders helped right the ship, what happened next confirmed for Flowers that she had charted the right course in the first place.
In August, Flowers was named a winner of the Stacy's Rise Project, a grant program created by Stacy's Pita Chips to support female entrepreneurs. She was among 15 finalists selected from more than 1,600 applicants. The prize was $10,000, one-on-one mentorship and advertising support from Stacy's parent company, PepsiCo.
“I started to cry,” Flowers said. “The grant money would not only help save the business, but allow me to add a part-time staffer and focus on launching in retail stores.”
Gotta Have Faith
After a year that was equal parts harrowing and rewarding, Flowers remains optimistic.
“In March I was literally going to quit the business,” she said. “But I told myself: you’ve got to believe it will work out, even though it hurts and it is hard.”
Flowers offers hope for not only the women she supports through her Cookies ‘n Conversation initiative, but also for fellow entrepreneurs, reminding them that “even in the smallest of crumbs, goodness still exists.”
Illustration by Justine Lecouffe