This month, we are showcasing three of our African American vendors who have totally upped the bar when it comes to the kind of exciting artisan fare we look to bring to you, our guests, every day. Enjoy and support!
Culinary Creativity & Community — Pittsburgh PowerBites!
Creativity and community are themes that have threaded themselves through Sharif Rasheed’s life and career. He tried the old 9 to 5 for a while post-college but, finding himself nonplussed and increasingly fascinated by the art and science of food, he entered culinary school. “I knew two things,” says Sharif, “1. health and wellness are important and elusive, and 2. the food industry asks consumers to choose between healthy foods and great tasting foods, and something needed to change.”
Pulling together a few resources and an abundance of enthusiasm, Sharif founded Safi Health. His first products were a line of elaborate juices. With a shop on Penn Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh and a major corporate clientele, he was off to a great start. The business, however, experienced an unexpected setback and like many entrepreneurs, Sharif experienced the rollercoaster ride that would ultimately lead to closure.
Into the Mouths of Babes
In the meantime, however, “I was enjoying my greatest job, fatherhood,” says Sharif with a smile. “As the parent of a toddler with discriminating tastes, I was constantly seeking a healthy snack Malcolm would like.” The accidental creation of PowerBites! was the culmination of this search.
Sharif tried his hand at creating a soft granola bar that Malcolm could enjoy while teething (ambitious!). He wanted to break the mold with healthy ingredients that would actually taste good. Sharif’s first batch naturally broke into squares and Malcolm devoured them in a heartbeat — score! After eating the leftovers, Sharif realized he might be onto something.
Ingredients for Success
Flavor is the cornerstone of PowerBites!’ popularity, all about balancing the blending of Fair Trade dark chocolate, dates, maple syrup, cacao, oats, almonds, sea salt and almond butter. Consistency is achieved by never cutting corners or sacrificing flavor for speed. Reasonable sized batches with high-quality ingredients keep every bite as good as the last.
While still running the original juice shop, Sharif integrated PowerBites! into the menu to see how they would do. With Malcolm’s approval and positive feedback of others, he decided this was the product he wanted to champion. Vegan, non-GMO, power-packed energy bites, these crunchy little snacks were like nothing health-conscious foodies had seen before.
Almost as serendipitous as the development of PowerBites!, an early juice patron, Derric I. Heck, urged Sharif to send a sample to celebrity vegan food critic, Tabitha Brown. Her rave review garnered the attention of tens of thousands of viewers and all of a sudden they had online orders; PowerBites! was born.
Derric, who also valued creativity and community, soon became Sharif’s business partner. Combining their networks and energy, they quickly grew to serving 40 independent retailers across 12 states of which we are more than pleased to be one.
“Our product is set apart by the balance of great taste, high quality ingredients, and nutritional value” says Derric. “Customers soon realize that a choice between either of these factors doesn’t have to be made, but that they can enjoy all three.
“The community support for PowerBites! is encouraging and, in turn, encourages us to give back,” explains Sharif.“ We believe that snacktime should fuel you nutritionally so you can change the world. So, a percentage of all our sales are donated to good causes and we decided to begin with public school teachers. We call it #snacktivism!”
The PowerBites! team also keeps an eye toward sustainability. They locally source ingredients and packaging to keep their footprint as light as possible. “We are also trying to make all of our shipping be of high value,” explains Sharif, “meaning we don’t sell individual units online but look to bundle as much as possible.”
“Although relative emphasis is currently placed on the spending power of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) markets, too little attention is paid to the ability and presence of African Americans on the creative and production side of consumer packaged goods,” says Derric. “We believe in the quality of our products and do not shy away from offering them within a highly competitive market. Additionally, we don’t shy away from what it means to amplify both our product and our story.”
Leaders in product development and marketing, Safi Health and PowerBites! set a valuable example for what can be achieved when creative culinary minds work with the community. “Our ideas for future products are daily generated by our own curiosity and our consumer desires,” explains Sharif. “I also do daily, intentional meditation to reflect on my personal journey and the company’s progress overall. And, of course, I draw upon my training in culinary school to have a good understanding of what flavors will work well together while still remaining healthy!
“We hope to serve more and more friends who are looking to ‘make a delicious decision’.”
Look for PowerBites! in popular Almond Butter Crunch and Salted Peanut Butter Crunch varieties.
Akron Honey — Mind-blowingly Good
A Lot of Thought
So, you’re walking in your neighborhood and there is a vacant lot. Every day, it just sits there, calling you, whispering. One day, you buy it, knowing only that in your mind, there is some way for that lot to contribute to the community. But just how?
Akron Honey began when Brent Wesley (Wesley the Keeper) bought this lot down the street from his house and began researching its potential. First thoughts go to urban farming, maybe a community garden, but Wesley had a sweet tooth, and eventually, a sweet idea. Having visited Berlin, OH, home to the Amish, Wesley tasted raw honey—warm—for the first time. He was intrigued and delighted. Then, a friend gave him a jar of homemade honey that was super-raw; he didn’t want it, it had bits of honeycomb in it. But, man was it good.
Up until that time, Wesley’s relationship with honey was like most: put it on toast, maybe in tea. Throw it out two years later when it crystalizes. Maybe taste it out of the jar. Now he was thinking of honey as food. As a signature flavor, as a brand, as an ingredient.
“Mostly, I wanted to do something cool for our community. People always want to go to Cleveland, but Akron is super cool. As we founded the apiary, learned about beekeeping and honey, it was something we wanted to share. We spend a lot of time going to local schools to teach kids about the bees, environment, sustainability and how honey is made. They tend to think it just ‘comes from’ a store, but here they can see it being created. We teach them how the environment—the trees, the wind, the dirt, the rain, the flowers—affect the flavor and ultimately result in a mind-blowing flavor profile that was our Urban Pollinated honey at the time.”
“It is all about time and place,” explains Wesley. “The environment is signature and how we harvest is crucial.” Wesley doesn’t strain or filter his Urban Honey and never mixes batches.
After success with the West side lot, Wesley created the Akron Honey brand, got a tax ID number and began selling honey locally at markets. Then, he took a big jump by buying another lot on the east side of town to see how the flavor profiles would differ. Boy, did they.
It was around then that is became super clear to Wesley that flavor was the focus of everything: the flavor of the honey and the flavor it can add to everything.
“I feel like a bit of a mad scientist at times (insert the wring of hands and ‘mwaaa-haa-haaa’ here). I love learning and trying new things, so figuring out how to not ‘add’ flavor, but to create flavor by infusing honey is exciting.”
Currently, Wesley works with a local distillery partner, Cleveland Whiskey, to make his Bourbon Barrel Honey, infused with pieces of the actual oak barrels that aged the bourbon. For his Habanero Honey, habaneros are chopped, put in mesh bags and submerged. Same with his brand new Vanilla Bean honey being made, as we speak, with vanilla beans and pods.
The Best That It Can BEE
“We are innovative, experimental and some might say disruptive, but in a good way, says Wesley. “I keep a spreadsheet with all of our experiments. It details, with a batch ID, the time and place the honey was harvested, what happens 10 minutes, 20 minutes after infusion, temperature, everything. To maintain consistency, we need to have control of so many variables. We are process and quality driven and thankfully, still small enough to do this.
And, the tastes are unreal,” says Wesley (have we mentioned mind-blowing?) “Our goal is not just to create, but to educate on how to use honey as an ingredient in all your favorite foods, including steak, salmon, meatloaf, veggies, pizza, you name it. The possibilities are endless and we discover new uses every day. Mix our raw, Wildflower Honey with mustard, mayo and paprika for an amazing sandwich spread. You just have no idea.”
Oh, we have an idea, and that’s why we are so excited to bring you Akron Honey this month as part of our Black History Month celebrating black-owned artisan food vendors.
Look for Wesley’s Raw Wildflower, Habanero Hot, Bourbon Barrel and Vanilla Bean flavors in all our stores!
Art & Ice Cream — Millie’s Homemade Blackout Brownie
This year, Pittsburgh’s Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream is celebrating Black History Month with a new, limited-time-only flavor: Blackout Brownie.
Crafted with gluten-free brownies from Pittsburgh’s own Wild Rise Bakery, it’s a true collaboration. Oliver Pinder, owner of Wild Rise, started baking gluten-free goods when he lived in South Africa in 2013. His African and Caribbean roots play a part in everything he creates from breads and rolls to cookies and tarts. And, as a black-owned business, his goals fit nicely with a joint effort to raise the profile of the African American contributions to our culture. Oliver is currently just taking orders for delivery now, but hopes to grow funding for a brick-and-mortar facility where he can thrive and serve a larger community.
So, you’ve got Oliver’s brownies in the mix and now, add to that, the fact that black Pittsburgh artist C.B. Perry designed the packaging for the ice cream and you’ve got a trifecta. An educator by day, and artist by night, C.B. Perry is an enigma.
A Pittsburgh Brashear graduate, he has decided not to define his role as an artist in Pittsburgh. Growing up in Manchester, Perry didn’t fit in. Too street for the artsy and too artsy for the street kids, he hid his artistic visions for a more “approved” path. But it didn’t last long. By age 30, Perry was questioning his future and turning to art. With the urging of those around him, he decided to take it head on.
Over the years, Perry has sold 200+ paintings without confining himself to a genre. His media includes canvass, murals, body-painting and “live painting” events that allow people to watch as he creates.
Clearly Perry was the perfect fit to design the Millie’s Black History Month packaging, a look that would add art and ice cream to African American efforts in Pittsburgh. Profits from the sale of Blackout Brownie do just that. We are proud to carry it and join hands with this amazing Pittsburgh collaboration.
“My art isn’t for the safe, level-headed, boring, single-minded person. It’s not for the practical, rational person. It’s not for the calm, businesslike, no-nonsense crowd. I want my art to speak to the wild, creative open minds who dare to express themselves. The minds who aren’t afraid of fun, I want to excite the untamed and untapped creative parts of the mind.” - C.B. Perry