GameChangers

Software Engineer Turns Childhood Passion Into a Thriving Business

By Curtis Bunn 
Karen Young and daughter Issa Clark hold Gourmee Bar lollipops.

Urban News Service — A Division of Zenger News

Karen Young always believed she was following her passion during a long successful career as a software engineer. Then, at age 50, a chance opportunity ignited a fresh business idea that took her back to her childhood.

Her inspiration occurred in 2015 when a close friend asked her to coordinate a dessert bar at her wedding reception. Young tapped into a creative side that she generally suppressed by recalling her youth in South Central Los Angeles where lollipops were soothing treats in an environment that often was uneasy and besieged by gangs.

Then, she added a twist. She infused them with libations she already had at home.

The adult version of her childhood favorite was a success. The guests enjoyed them so much that Young took several orders for the unique treat at the wedding. And thus, the idea for Gourmeé Bar was born.

But Young knew that a business requires more than just a good idea. Over the next four years, she conducted research and experiments in her Atlanta home,learning about and sampling edible fruits and flowers. She mixed herbs and spices in multiple combinations and used friends as taste-testers.

Young sampled more candy than she cares to remember to get where she is and went to school on mixing elements with sugar.

“It was important that I learned the chemistry of creating candy,” she said. “If not done properly, hard candy can turn out grainy or too soft. So, I had to learn through trial and error what happens with the ingredients while they are cooking and to understand how slight variations of cooking temperatures or adding flavorings could completely change the result. Those were my challenges.”

All the while, she continued working her day job.

“Mom, this is your passion.” her 23-year old daughter Issa Clark, told her last summer as she eagerly mixed dessert concoctions over her stove. Young, who had just finished an eight-hour day at her regular job, was startled by the comment.

“I hadn’t thought about it that way,” Young said. “But she was right. I would do my job at work, but every free moment, I thought about getting into the kitchen and making lollipops. The mere thought of it excited me. So, the next step was natural.”

Her hobby turned into a passion, which turned into a business that has earned loyal fans who find in her treats a sweet mix of both nostalgia and flavor.

“I created more than 1,000 lollipops of different flavor pairings, testing to see if the ideas I had in my head would create both beauty and flavor that adults would enjoy displaying and eating,” she said.

They did.

“The sentiment I hear most is that the lollipops are works of art,” Young said. “I put a lot of time and effort into researching to make them look worthy of a display while also tasting good.”

Young markets Gourmee Bars to people holding weddings or birthday parties and to companies hosting events. The pops can carry a logo or message because they are infused with edible paper and can be customized using edible ink. Some are layered with edible flowers and glitter.

Additionally, for adults only, she makes margarita lollipops that are infused with tequila, lime zest, and are topped with margarita salt and mango or habanero peppers.

Young said she has managed to make the treats in her kitchen and fund her business through her savings, but as word of her “suckers” spreads, she knows production costs and bandwidth to produce in bulk will require partnership.

She often makes 500 lollipops each week in her home to meet demand. However, production becomes a challenge during busy periods when outstanding orders can call for 5,000 candies.

“Future expansion includes partnering with florists to include as an option with floral arrangements and also joining forces with a candy manufacturer that has a track record of mass production,” she said.

In the meantime, she and Clark carry on. They take orders via their website,www.gourmeebar.comor word-of-mouth, and business has been steady. But there has been an immeasurable gift out of creating the business.

“It’s rewarding to work side-by-side with my daughter. And as an African American mother, it’s important for me to leave a legacy for her,” she said. “I feel that way about my nieces and nephews, as well. We have to build businesses to create generational wealth for our families and communities. Then, they can leave it for their children. It’s the only way we can carry on a legacy in business and overcome the institutional racism that often holds us back.”