Tammara McCollum, 29, is the owner of Smoothie Queen, a successful shop that operates out of the Allen Neighborhood Center’s Accelerator Kitchen. McCollum lost her home and lived in her car after she left behind the day-job grind to be her own boss. McCollum worked day and night on her dream, serving smoothies out of friends’ apartments and tirelessly promoting her new business on social media. While it would’ve been easy to find another 9 to 5 job and call it quits on Smoothie Queen, she didn’t give up.
How did you discover your passion for making smoothies?
Smoothies actually kind of found me. I’ve always liked to cook and create new things, but back then I noticed there wasn’t a place to get smoothie bowls here in Lansing, at least to my knowledge. So, I wanted to make a smoothie bowl and see what it was like. I went out and bought a blender, got some fruit and made one. It was one of the best things I had ever had. I was like, ‘I’ve got to tell people about this!’ I put it on Facebook, and it gained a lot of attention. I thought I could probably sell them and make some money, because at that time I wasn’t employed. I lost my job and was trying to figure out what was next for me.
Before you found success with Smoothie Queen, you experienced some hard times. What was that time in your life like?
I was trying to make it happen just by selling smoothies. I didn’t know the right way. I didn’t have my license, and I was just selling smoothies out of my apartment. That wasn’t really feasible, and I learned that the hard way. In January 2020, I lost my apartment and I had to live in my car. It wasn’t a sustainable business, and I didn’t have the right resources around me. That’s how I ended up at Allen Neighborhood Center, and now I have a lot of great people surrounding me and helping me every step of the way.
What kept you motivated through such a hard time?
A lot of people were trying to convince me to go back to a regular job. I was already miserable living in my car, I didn’t want to be more miserable doing something I hate and feeling like I gave up on myself just because it got hard. People thought I was crazy, and I would have thought I was crazy too. Like, girl, you’re living in your car! You’ve got to do something. It was this strong internal belief in myself, I knew that if I kept going it would get better. I don’t know how to explain it better. I still have that belief, even when we have zero sales or there’s a real cold day and roads are bad. I know it’s going to get better, and the sun will shine again.
How did you get connected with the Allen Neighborhood Center?
I realized that I needed a real licensed kitchen to do my business. I did a quick Google search for ‘licensed kitchens near me’ and Allen’s website popped up. The Allen Neighborhood Center offers tours where they walk you through their kitchens. I called to set up a meeting and a tour. Then, once I could get enough money for a food license and all of the certificates I needed, I was able to start there. When we got started at Allen, my numbers were like I had never seen before. I was reaching new demographics and getting way more opportunities. I was getting new customers from the farmers market, and all of the press and articles I was getting helped boost my business and get more eyes on me. It happened really quickly, all of a sudden everybody knew about Smoothie Queen, and I had to hire employees.
What advice would you give to people thinking about starting their own business?
First, have a plan. I didn’t have a plan; I just went for it. So, write out a business plan. Make sure you have some savings to get you through the harder start-up phase. This is going to sound cliché, but you really have to believe in yourself and persevere. It’s not always going to be an easy, straight route. There’s going to be ups and downs, and you have to be just as mentally prepared for the downs as you are for the ups. If people really believe in themselves, they can do it.
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