Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
BALTIMORE – Valentine’s Day is nearly synonymous with chocolates but LaQuicha Brown never imagined that her joy of decorating strawberries with chocolate for family and friends during the day of romance four years ago would turn into a bustling business.
“Just knowing I can do different things with strawberries made me passionate,” said Brown, who opened her first Berries by Quicha store three years ago, one year after she discovered her talent on Valentine’s Day of 2013.
Creating strawberries as a hobby from her Rosedale home, Brown said she could barely keep up with requests for such popular treats as toffee, white chocolate swizzle and bacon berry. As the demand for the strawberries increased and as more people began to hear about her, she outgrew her kitchen.
Now, as a small business owner, she fills customer requests from two stores. Brown said she saved all the money she made at home and invested those dollars in her first store that operates inside the Best Western Hotel at 5625 O’Donnell St. Brown opened a second location at 920 Light St. last year.
“Selling my own product is the best part of owning my own business,” said the 36-year-old Brown. “We make it, produce it, and you know its history and worth from beginning to end.”
Berries by Quicha offers a menu of about 16 different flavors of strawberries. Other favorites are sundae, snickers and Ciroc berry. A half dozen strawberries on the menu are $14.97 and a dozen customized berries can start at $34.98.Brown said she works with a team of six employees to create the strawberries at the stores. The strawberries are locally grown and the chocolate is bought wholesale, she said. The stores also offer a delivery service up to three miles away from their location. In addition, customers can place online orders that can be picked up in the stores, she said.
“We don’t use preservatives plus the presentation of our strawberries and how they’re decorated makes them stand out,” said Brown, explaining why her businesses either trumps or complements similar operations.
Brown’s stores depend on foot traffic so she has strategically set the hours of operation at each location. Within a one-mile radius of her Light Street store are 211 private and public businesses that sell food. These small business establishments employ from a few workers up to nine. Berries by Quicha at Light Street operates mainly in the morning to attract the business crowd.
The O’Donnell location opened near the Baltimore Comedy Factory. So the hours of operation for Berries by Quicha in this area are in the evening to attract the traffic from the comedy shows. Based on how many tickets are sold at the shows, Brown said her business can attract nearly 3,000 customers on the weekend.
“The success and failure of your business depends on your location,” Brown said.
Brown’s understanding of business comes from both experience and education. Shortly after graduating from high school, Brown married at age 19 and had three children. When her children completed nursery school, she began attending Morgan State University. In 2013, Brown graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, and a 3.9 GPA.
“If I would have gone to college right after high school, I would have never gotten a 3.9 GPA,” said Brown, who is separated from her husband. “God does everything, you never really know what your path is.”
A typical day in Brown’s life includes taking her 11-year-old daughter to school in the morning, receiving and making the orders of the day and making certain they are delivered. Brown said her daughter helps her around the store sometimes. Her two sons do not help in the store, she said.
“We sell at least 500 strawberries in a day and on the weekends its more,” said Brown, who keeps her phone in hand as she takes orders directly from her personal phone so as not to miss a potential customer.
Over the years, Brown has found unique ways to promote the businesses. Brown said she sets up a station every year at Morgan State’s homecoming.
“I tried Berries by Quicha just recently,” said Mary Lloyd, a Morgan State student who explained that “one of my friend’s mom let me try one.” “I was amazed by the craftsmanship of the strawberries. They were so different.”Tyrone Shaw, a store customer, raved about the strawberries.
“I’m definitely ordering these strawberries for Christmas,” said Shaw. “I’ve never seen anyone decorate strawberries with chocolate in this way before I had come here and I love the overall atmosphere of the store.”
Looking back, Brown acknowledged that “the risk was worth it,” when she decided to go into business “because of how many people wanted these strawberries.”
Berries by Quicha has never been at risk of shutting down, said Brown, noting that her businesses have been featured on major local news stations, including Fox 45 and ABC2, and have captured the attention of such celebrities as comedian and actors Mo’Nique and Marlon Wayans.
“I see us having more locations in the coming years,” Brown said. “I want to be in a tourist area such as New Orleans or Las Vegas. I love the crowds.”