Khadija Wallace is using her love of baking and entrepreneurship to help others launch their businesses with her Ypsilanti Township-based nonprofit, Joyful Treats Community Development Corporation.
Wallace grew up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., watching her grandmother cater events for her church and the University of Alabama, but she didn't get into the food business until after she had spent many years working in finance and payroll.
After moving to Michigan with her husband, she launched the for-profit company Joyful Treats Catering 17 years ago as a way to leave a legacy to her children.
While she was waiting for the catering business to grow to a full-time job, she took some part-time jobs, including one at Eastern Michigan University. It was there that she met and talked to people of varying ethnic and religious backgrounds, and realized that a sensitivity to those cultural differences could be a valuable asset in the catering business.
Her vision for a nonprofit began to grow, and she added an educational component to her plan after serving as an official caterer for Super Bowl XL in Detroit in 2005. During that time, she had a few children packing food or making favors for her.
"I thought it would be great to be able to show kids what we were doing, teaching a life skill in the food sector," Wallace says.
She established the nonprofit arm of the business in 2012 but didn't acquire her 501(c)3 status until 2015. Now, with a move into a 4,400-square-foot space at 103 Ecorse Rd., she has the space to teach multicultural etiquette classes, run a weekly food bank supported by Ypsi nonprofit Food Gatherers, and offer a licensed commercial kitchen and business incubator-style office space for rent to other small businesses trying to scale up.
Wallace plans to invest the money raised from the rental space back into running her nonprofit. She already has many corporate clients through the for-profit arm of her business and also hopes some of them will help sponsor events run by the nonprofit arm.
Classes will range from multicultural food and wine tastings, like a recent "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" class pairing traditional Irish food with wines, to a class about etiquette for "High Tea."
Wallace's next big project is a Sept. 1 back-to-school event with the theme "Cool food for cool kids," encouraging kids to eat healthier during the school year. To continue with the school lunch theme, she will give away school supplies in lunch pails to participants.
Wallace also intends to continue the tradition of giving away free Halloween costumes and hosting a Halloween party. Last year, her nonprofit passed out 400 costumes to kids who couldn't afford their own.
"My current vision is sharing space with other mom-and-pop businesses that don't have a commercial location," she says. Wallace says she's open to any type of small business tenants but dreams of creating a hub for businesses that provide services related to catering, such as event planning or decor.
Joyful Treats is currently open by appointment only but Wallace says she is usually in the store from 1-5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. She hopes to expand hours as more tenants start leasing office space.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Khadija Wallace.