“Sweetie Pie, you in business!”
Those were the words Cynthia Foreman heard from one of her mentors Lonnie Bates after he sold out of 100 of her sweet potato and pecan pies in 15 minutes.
Now years later, Cynthia Foreman’s Signature Products – a branch of Cynthia Foreman’s Sweetie Pies established in 2006 – can be found in Walgreens stores nationwide.
The story of how this ambitious businesswoman went from selling out dozens of pies to close friends to selling her popular shortbreads across the country started in Foreman’s hometown of Houston, Texas. She started selling pies after church to benefit a fundraiser for her daughter and the youth choir, and she knew then that she was on to something.
“It became a micro-business,” said Foreman, who recalls selling between 150-250 pies in less than 30 minutes every Sunday.
“I didn’t realize I was really in business. As a divorced, single parent, it ended up being another source to supplement what I was doing as a single mother,” she said.
After relocating to Oakland, Foreman’s pies became a hit as she built her customer base through her friend Oakland Raiders legend Clem Daniels, and mentors Ruth “Ms. B” Beckford and businessman Lonnie Bates.
Her most famous customer was NBA legend and McClymonds alumni Bill Russell, who would order four to six dozen pies for his trips from Washington to Oakland.
Foreman says Bates helped build up her confidence as a business owner and welcome competition. Before getting stocked at Walgreens, Cynthia Foreman’s Signature Products were sold at the local grocery store, Berkeley Bowl, her biggest contract.
When she approached Walgreens three years ago, Foreman saw a greater opportunity for her business.
“I saw one of my competitors in Walgreens; we made the same product and I was outselling this person. Mr. Bates always said competition is good, so I thought, let me try to get in this Walgreens,” she said.
“When I went into the first store, the manager said we already have that product. I said, well do you just have one brand of cookies?”
She said, “Rejection is not always bad; it’s a time to reflect on how can I do it differently.”
She persisted, going to another Walgreens the next day and meeting with the district manager, who wanted her products in the store the next week.
Now thousands of Walgreens locations throughout the country sell Cynthia Foreman’s Signature Products, including her sweet potato pies, shortbread cookies (traditional and gluten-free in 8 flavors), and frozen cookies.
“It didn’t happen the orthodox way. I’m very aware that it was not me, it was the support I had, it was people believing in me because that fueled me to keep going. I had some doors closed in my face but none of that stopped me. Everything started falling in line,” Foreman said.
“The idea started to be able to offer something that came from me with my hands. Aunt Jemima’s been on a box for 125 years plus, Uncle Ben’s been on a box, but [they] never owned the company. It’s a new age – we’re owning [businesses],” she said.
“Sometimes, women we really dream small or we compromise because we are nurturers by nature. I learned from people like Mr. Bates who kept telling me competition is good. What it showed is to give your best.”
Check your local Walgreens store for Cynthia Foreman’s Signature Products. For a list of all her products, visit. www.cynthiaforeman.com.