We had the good fortune of connecting with Catarah Coleman & Shoneji Robison and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Catarah Coleman & Shoneji Robison, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
We are from Florida. Catarah is from Green Cove Springs and Shoneji is from Sarasota. We both grew up in small southern towns filled with a lot of family. Our grandmothers lived around the corner from our parents, we had lots of cousins and a host of aunts and uncles nearby. Growing up in a very close and tight knit community impacted the way we see and treat people. When you grow up in a small southern town you learn that there are no strangers. You also get to learn skills from those you’re close to and even though we didn’t know each other growing up, we were raised with similar values and experiences. We both learned to bake from our grandmothers which have directly impacted the people we are today. Because of those moments we shared with our grandmothers we have the skill of baking and now own our bakery of 13 years here in Los Angeles.
What should our readers know about your business?
We are proud to be Los Angeles’ first full service southern inspired bakery. As Floridians we moved to Los Angeles to pursue careers in the enterntainment industry but our connection to family and desserts of our childhood took us both into a totally different direction. In 2007, I (co-owner Catarah Coleman) founded Southern Girl Desserts in my apartment in Inglewood, CA. Co-owner Shoneji Robison joined the team just six months later and since then we’ve been creating southern desserts for nearly 14 years. During the infancy of our business we noticed that there weren’t a lot of southern dessert options outside of red velvet and peach cobbler here and there, but that was the extent of it. It was also the height of the cupcake boom. Our thought was to join the trend but create flavors that reminded us of home. We created flavors that would set us a part from our competition such as pecan pie, peach cobbler and our signature sweet potato pie cupcake. Early in our business we competed on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars three times. The third attempt we won and that exposure catapulted our business to populariy. In the beginning of our business it seemed easy. We had challenges here and there, but nothing to stressful. However the addition of employees and a brick and morter proved to be a challenge we had not experienced before and had to make many mistakes before we could get a full understanding and grip on how to manage these new responsibilities. Enrolling in educational opportunities like the Goldman Sach’s 10,000 Small Business Program and the UCLA MDE Program gave us the tools to overcome these challenges as well as finding mentors in our industry to give us the advice and point us into the right direction. In these 13+ years we’ve learned a lot of lessons and have made a lot of mistakes. We are grateful that we’ve learned how to be kind to ourselves, every employee is different and you have to manage them accordingly, not to let everyone’s opinions take us off course, follow our gut, ask lots of questions, always have a plan and hire professionals that know more about a subject than we do. Surrounding ourselves with sjmart people has been the best decision we’ve ever made. What we’d like the world to know about our brand and story is that it was started to create generational wealth and to share our personal experiences with desserts and baking through our baked goods with others. We are a family focused business with good intentions and a heart to serve and make people happy. At the end of the day we just want to make our ancestors proud.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
We are experts when it comes to giving family and friends a tour of our version of Los Angeles. Day One: The first stop is Southern Girl Desserts because those that don’t live here are always eager to visit our bakery and try our desserts. We can’t help but to show them one of the famous scene’s from the movie Boys in the Hood that took place in the mall our bakery is located parking lot. While in the area we take them to see Issa Raye’s character on Insecure apartment nearby and ride through View Park/Baldwin Hills neighborhoods which are two of the most expensive and affluent African Amerian communities in the country. Once it’s time to eat we head to Tammy’s Tacos on MLK to enjoy the best tacos in Los Angeles. Before heading back home we visit the memorial for Nipsey Hussle, then for dinner we grab a table at Hot and Juicy Crawfish or Kickin Crab (depends on the wait time). Day Two: Beach Day at Zuma Beach in Malibu. We either pack a lunch or grab salads from Simply Salad on Centinela. Grab a light dinner from Oki Doki Sushi or Sage. Day Three: Breakfast at Panns or Coffee Company, Bike riding starting in Marina Del Rey that has a bike path that takes you along the coast. Grab lunch at the Cheesecake Factory then head to Venice Beach. Day Four: Breakfast and Coffee at Hilltop Cafe in Inglewood, a tour of Beverly Hills (Rodeo Drive), a little shopping at the Beverly Center and lunch and drinks at the Grove. Then we head to dinner at Mastros Beverly Hills or Malibu. Day Five: Take a hike through Kenneth Hahn Park, stop by In-and-Out Burger for lunch and take a tour of downtown and visit the Staples Center etc. Day Six: Breafast at Rusty Pot in Inglewood, tour new Inglewood stadium and the Forum, then head to the Redondo Beach Pier and have lunch on the pier. Day Seven: Brunch at PIPS on LaBrea, relax at Burke Williams Day Spa then take a relaxing walk through Santa Monica, visit the pier and do some shopping.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Although we could write a book on the many angels that have supported the growth and survi al of our business, family is the foundation to our story and family is who deserves recognition. Our parents (Clarence and Felecia Hampshire, Dr. Luis Robison and Ms. Patricia Blake) and my spouse Carlos Coleman have been the rock of this entreprenuerial journey from day one. They have supported finanically, physically worked inside of the business, extended a weatlh of knowledge and advie and shouted the loudest on our behalf for every win and consoled us when we didn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Without our family we wouldn’t be where we are today. They are our biggest cheerleaders and have sacrificed the most to allow us to live out our dream of being business owners. Weather is missed holidays, birthdays, family reunions, dinner, date night, they have endured the brunt of this life we’ve chosen to live and we can’t thank them enough for who and what they have been to our business and most importantly us.
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Maya Darasaw (pecan and sweet potato pie photo and photo of catarah and shoneji) Leroy Hamilton (Sweet potato cupcake photo) Carlos Coleman (all others)