Farmington

New pop-up program in downtown Farmington makes space for Lekker Chócó Treats

Downtown Farmington’s latest attraction hadn’t even opened for the day and already there was a customer poking her head in the door, hoping to walk away with a box of sweet treats. The dark chocolate-flavored chocolate bombs would be ready tomorrow, said proprietor Nakija Mills, but try this peppermint-flavored one in the meantime, on the house.

“For me it’s all about leaving an impression,” says Mills, “because people remember the good, you know?”

Lekker Chócó Treats is located at 33314 Grand River Ave. in downtown Farmington.Nakija Mills is the owner of Lekker Chócó Treats, a “pop-up shop” that opened in the waning weeks of 2021. Located in the dormant Browndog Parlor & Restaurant storefront in downtown Farmington, Lekker Chócó Treats makes and sells freshly-made chocolates and other sweet treats, drinks, and more. She’ll be there through the end of February, the result of a unique partnership between the Farmington Downtown Development Authority and Paul Gabriel, co-owner of Browndog Barlor & Restaurant.

Like many a small business, Browndog Parlor was forced to close in the beginning months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Staffing shortages have prevented the ice cream shop and restaurant from reopening since then, although there are plans to eventually reopen, and hopefully sooner than later. In the meantime, however, the Farmington DDA has found a novel way to fill the downtown storefront, and all the while providing a budding entrepreneur like Nakija Mills the opportunity to get her foot in the door as she seeks to build a customer base big enough to fill her own storefront one day.

“We have to start incubating food businesses more creatively. During COVID-19, it’s still a tough landscape for food entrepreneurs” says Kate Knight, director of the Farmington DDA. “How do you lower those entry costs and pave the way for new food entrepreneurs? Luckily, we found an experienced proprietor in Paul Gabriel to help.”

Edible bouquets and chocolate-covered strawberries are available for Valentine’s Day.Mills met Knight while Lekker Chócó Treats was serving as a vendor at the city’s Harvest Moon Celebration last year. It’s been her dream to open a storefront in downtown Farmington, says Mills, the city she calls home. And now she’s here.

Her conversation with Knight led to what could become a new paradigm for downtown, finding closed storefronts to offer temporary leases for new entrepreneurs to get established. The DDA is leasing the storefront from Browndog for 90 days and, in turn, subleasing it at a discount to Mills. They even helped her with business planning classes and more.

“This program has been great; I love describing it as a lab. She’s getting the full Main Street immersion — all the costs of running a physical store, with all the joy of customer interaction,” Knight says.

“We know we have demand. We just need space to do it.”

‘This is actually happening’

Nakija Mills’s own story is one that’s as abundant in experience as her chocolate is rich. Born and raised on the Caribbean island of Dominica, Mills would move to the Netherlands when she was ten years old. It’s there where she learned how to bake, including poffertjes, a traditional Dutch pancake that Mills calls puff puff cakes to help her American friends with the pronunciation. The name of her business, Lekker Chócó Treats, reflects her Dutch background; Lekker means ‘delicious’ in the language.

Mills would move to New York at 22, starting a family with her then-husband. She would eventually move to Farmington to raise her two boys.

“We know we have demand. We just need space to do it,” says Kate Knight, director of the Farmington DDA.As a single mom, Mills was searching for ways to make some extra money. She began making chocolate-covered strawberries, cupcakes, and puff puff cakes to sell to local salons, paving the way for the eventual opening of Lekker Chócó Treats. As her sweet treats grew in popularity, Mills started vending at local festivals. Last year’s Arts, Beats, and Eats festival in Royal Oak was especially formative. Her booth was so busy, she says, that she slept for a total of one hour between Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, a quick catnap in her car before she had to start making more treats to keep up with the demand.

“I remember at one point, I stepped back and stepped outside of the booth. And I just looked at the business and I was so filled up with emotions because I couldn't believe it,” she says. “I was just like, oh my God, this is actually happening, I'm actually doing it. That's when I really said to myself, You know what? I really, really think I can make this a real thing. Like I can actually do this.”

Ready for the next step

Lekker Chócó Treats will be operating out of the Browndog storefront through the end of February. Mills hopes the experience will help her raise the funds necessary to open her own storefront one day — and hopefully in downtown Farmington, if she has her way.

A box of Lekker Chócó Treats chocolate-covered strawberries.Patrons can order treats and drinks and sit inside the cafe, or take them to go. She makes and sells a variety of products, including chocolate-covered strawberries, edible bouqets, and chocolate bombs to make hot cocoa. Drinks include her “fluffy coffee,” a sweet and light, chilled coffee drink, and sweet tea. With Valentine’s Day coming up, she’s especially excited to offer her chocolate-covered strawberry boxes and edible bouquets, ideal offerings for such a holiday.

“The goal for me is to try to make and save as much money as I can from here and put that down as a down payment to get a loan for a brick-and-mortar. So that's my goal, and that's why I'm taking business business classes online through Oakland County,” Mills says. “I'm trying to just give myself that knowledge of what I need for the next step.”

Lekker Chócó Treats is located at 33314 Grand River Ave. in downtown Farmington.

Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.