Three women help lead the Sherman Phoenix, a tour de force.
It’s shortly after noon on a weekday and the Sherman Phoenix – home to almost 30 locally owned businesses, focused on food, culture or health/wellness – is humming. Almost every table is filled with people chatting, sipping coffee and smoothies or nibbling on everything from vegan chicken wraps to grilled spring rolls to avocado toast. Some folks have their kids in tow, amplifying the community feel of the development, which opened a year ago this month. It is warm and welcoming, the spirit of hope and positivity that inspired its creation, and a very needed entity in its neighborhood of 35th and Fond du Lac. It’s a dynamic example of what can be.
The Sherman Phoenix is the platform for, among others, a strong group of women entrepreneurs – developer JoAnne Sabir, baker Adija Greer-Smith and snack food creator Marcia Taylor – to not only build a sustainable brand but to spark the change that helps strengthen and nurture a community. At the Phoenix, Sabir wears different hats. She is part of the team responsible for building the development and handpicking the roster of businesses, and she’s the co-owner (with her husband, Maanan) of Shindig Coffee and Sauce & Spice pizzeria. At Shindig, you can follow your rousing espresso drink with a centering fresh-squeezed juice like the Purple Haze, a tart-sweet blend of beet, apple and pineapple. Sauce & Spice makes crispy, thin-crust, build-your-own pies – the aroma from which wafts through the space.
Sabir sees herself less as a mentor to the Phoenix’s other business owners and more as “part of the thread. I get to shine because of all of their efforts,” she says. Her proudest moment in the Phoenix journey is “every time I come in the building. A love energy radiates there. I feel the warmth and feel the tenants that are thriving.” In Greer-Smith and Taylor, she sees fellow examples of what’s possible, part of the support system they all lean into and help nurture.
The animated Greer-Smith learned to bake from her grandmother. “I studied her a lot. I was not the girl who carried around dolls. I wanted to set up a stand to sell brownies,” Greer-Smith recalls. She did not foresee a career in baking, but that changed when she had her first son and decided to give up her police dispatcher job to focus on motherhood. Looking for something to fill the void, she started baking many of her grandmother’s most revered desserts, but the recipes weren’t written down; Greer-Smith had to replicate them from memory. “I messed up and messed up,” she says of those early efforts. “But then I got into the groove.”
This christened Greer-Smith’s dessert and candy catering career, but it wasn’t until two things happened – an episode of the Food Network’s 2018 “Christmas Cookie Challenge” and the vendor opportunity at the Sherman Phoenix – that things really fell into place. Although she didn’t win the reality TV show challenge, it raised her confidence level and elevated her brand.
Confectionately Yours by GGG is a goldmine source for classic baked goods such as sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, caramel cake, rich and dense pound cake, and custom-designed sugar cookies. A standout among her candies is the terrific salted pecan turtle she calls a Marley Paw.
The Lush Popcorn counter is adjacent to Greer-Smith’s sweet shop. Taylor isn’t exaggerating when she says she feels like she’s been on a roller coaster. She balances a full-time job as a biomedical engineer at GE Healthcare Systems with her entrepreneurial effort, Lush Popcorn, which she founded in 2014. It started simply, with Taylor making the crunchy snack for herself: What she popped and seasoned far surpassed the quality of the products she could buy. By the time she was asked to create a popcorn bar for a friend’s wedding, she knew her tasty snacks held promise as a viable startup. Flavors include white chocolate, Wisconsin cheddar,
vegan chile lime margarita and boozy varieties like maple bourbon pecan.
Farmers markets, special events and a website (lushpopcorn.com) have helped grow the brand. But securing a space at the Sherman Phoenix has been the evolutionary catalyst; Taylor estimates that Lush’s business has grown by five times since setting up shop.
Of the other women business owners of color at the Sherman Phoenix, Taylor says it’s “a great honor and responsibility” to work alongside them and “build something strong.”
Continued growth is in Taylor’s five-year plan. Opening a second location is one of her goals. A loftier one, perhaps, is to be the popcorn company of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Milwaukee Bucks, but she isn’t afraid to dream big.
That’s a vision all of these women entrepreneurs share.
Mon-Sat from 7 a.m.-8 p.m.
3536 W. Fond du Lac Ave.