This article is the second in a series exploring the joys and challenges of running a family-owned business.
Eleven-year-old Barron McDaniel loves helping his mom run their food vendor stalls. It was because of him, after all, that chef Kamesha McDaniel developed her catering company's healthy ethos.
McDaniel had noticed how processed foods affected her son's behavior and decided things needed to change. So McDaniel and her sister, Dannesha Jackson, launched Detroit Green Carrot
to provide healthy eating options not just for their own families, but for hungry consumers throughout Metro Detroit.
The initiative paid off. Now the family business is booming, catering for events all over the city.
McDaniel and her sister started out as a delivery service in Ypsilanti, supplying lunches for workers at manufacturing plants, auto repair shops, and beauty salons. They realized that their clients had poor diets, and the two chefs found a business niche providing healthy fare.
"They were tired of eating McDonalds and Little Caesars," Jackson says. "So we saw a chance."
Barron McDaniel assists at local events and says he gets a kick out of providing people with good food. "It makes me feel good inside," he says.
He can't get enough of McDaniel's spicy jambalaya and says his favorite market experience so far was serving at the Detroit City Distillery, where people showed up to support the business.
"He loves greeting our customers and sharing conversations with them," McDaniel says.
McDaniel believes her son will benefit from working in the family business by learning how to run a company from a young age. Part of that is giving him responsibility. "I allow my son to make real decisions in our business," McDaniel says.
Kamesha McDaniel working with her son Barron at a recent popup at Detroit City Distillery
A key component in the direction behind Detroit Green Carrot's plant-based approach was because McDaniel noticed how processed foods were having a negative effect on Barron when he was a young child.
"He struggled with focusing, following directions, and academics," McDaniel says. "After consulting with a holistic doctor we decided to change his diet a to plant-based one, removing items like food colorings and processed foods. I learned to treat my son with healthy, real food instead of medications."
A strict vegan diet allowed her son to improve his grades and focus during class.
The plant-based approach wasn't just popular with McDaniel’s boy. Now running pop-up events, private upscale dinners, graduation parties and brunches, McDaniel and Jackson are busy. The company's next big project, a creative vocational program for Southeastern High School, will share healthy eating options with students. McDaniel also wants to help youth develop skills for potential employment in the culinary arts.
While working with family has its joys, there are challenges to combining family life and entrepreneurship. "Due to long hours, we often miss out on extracurricular activities that the children would like to participate in," McDaniel says.
Barron isn't able to join the football team because the family can't commit to practice five days a week and games on Saturday.
The silver lining is that, by including their family in their work, they are able to bond in a way they wouldn't be able to otherwise. "We get to spend time together because I'm always working," McDaniel says.
Working with his mom has given Barron McDaniel an insight into his mom's work ethic, one that he says he's very proud of, even if it means he doesn’t get to joke around with her when they are at work.
"She's all about business," he says.
Both McDaniel and Jackson hope their business will give their children the confidence to pursue their own entrepreneurial dreams in the future.
"We talk to [our children] honestly about our failures, goals, and success," McDaniel says.
McDaniel says working with family members keeps her honest. Jackson agrees, explaining that the benefit of being able to completely trust your business partner is sometimes countered by knowing what each other's "best" looks like, and knowing when they're not at the top of their game.
"You can't slack," Jackson says. "Even though we are going to have each other's back, you can't get caught slipping."
Matthew Bihun, senior loan officer at ProsperUS Detroit
, says McDaniel has been very successful at figuring out the logistics of catering, understanding how to meet the customer needs and deliver a quality product each and every time. He also thinks that McDaniel is at a turning point for her business and could look to develop further.
"Whether that's a physical location, or making the catering component more robust, I think that's where she currently is," he says.
It's a daunting prospect for McDaniel and her family, but one she is excited about.
"We don't want to grow too fast," she says. "It's more important to us that our food quality is high, mostly organic, and tastes the same each time our customers order."
This article is part of Michigan Nightlight, a series of stories about the programs and people that positively impact the lives of Michigan kids. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Read more in the series here.
Photos by Nick Hagen.