Launching a business during a pandemic may seem daunting, even risky. Yet, here are three budding entrepreneurs who aren’t afraid of a challenge. Meet Lyrica, Zaira and Nadira Leo.
What’s even more remarkable about these three: They are aged 13, 12 and 9 (respectively). Their business — selling plant-based food and natural products — is called Bourne Brilliant and it pretty much describes this trio of talented sisters.
“They’re amazing,” said Tallahassee chef Shacafrica Simmons, of Chef Shac Catering, who has mentored the girls for years. “I’m super impressed with their vigilance, their passion, their conviction for what they do.
“And I’m super impressed with their mom and her commitment to helping them fulfill their dreams and goals,” she said.
Their dreams and goals for now are to help people, and to “grow the business,” said Zaira, who is entering seventh grade. “We have the idea that we want to carry it on in our family for generations.”
Originally calling themselves the “Baking Ballerinas,” the sisters formed their business several years ago — in fact their father, Jahlion Leo, gave them their first $50 loan to get started. The girls catered and sold their food at festivals, farmers’ markets and events.
They launched their first brick-and-mortar eatery/market on July 25 in one of the small, colorful nooks that line the Breezeway Market at Railroad Square. They said they still give a portion of their proceeds to charity.
Their shelves are lined with baked goods including cupcakes, cookies and breads (like banana or coconut raisin); herbal teas and fruit juices; and their nonnie Ella’s preserves (pickled okra, squash relish and jams). A vendor handcrafts natural hair products.
On Saturdays, the Leo girls cook several hot dishes, with the menu posted each week on their Facebook page.
Legally, the shop is leased by mom, Syrheda La Shae, and their father, but the girls take a lot of the responsibility for running Bourne Brilliant, both the business and their nonprofit efforts.
It all started with a young Lyrica and her mom’s commitment to a homeschool curriculum that jived perfectly with cooking and reaching out to the community.
“At six years old, Lyrica had a knack for that,” said Syrhed, whose own career background is as a set and costume designer and a teacher in the theater department at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.
“Lyrica had an opportunity to bake and help others,” she said. “Every year I thought she would want to stop but she became even more passionate than before.”
Now her sisters have solidified that commitment with great results. They’ve won several awards and in February, they were recognized at the 2020 Trailblazers awards by The Oasis Center for Women & Girls.
“My parents always taught me to give back to the community,” said Lyrica, who is entering the eighth grade. The girls would donate food to classmates who were hungry, to nonprofits, charitable events.
“Wherever we saw people in need,” added her mother.
All the while, they worked on the business side of Bourne Brilliant as well. They’re the youngest members of the Big Bend Minority Business Chamber of Commerce, said Syrheda. They’re also members of the Capital City Chamber of Commerce.
While they work hard, “it’s kinda fun,” said Nadira.
“And we get to meet a lot of people,” added Lyrica.
To get a sense of their fun approach, take a look at their Facebook page, like this entry with a picture of scrumptious-looking cupcakes:” We just chatted with your diet… It said you may have just one! The extra large cupcakes are ready for purchase. See you in 2 hours…
When you see the girls at the shop they are friendly and professional — and they sure can cook.
My husband and I stopped by the Bourne Brilliant eatery on a recent Saturday for a takeout meal. We savored generous hot dishes of pepper steak, made with textured vegetable protein, cooked with onions and bell, aji and Scotch bonnet peppers, giving the dish a pleasant kick. The “chicken curry” is a meatless dish flavored with their own sauce. Both delicious.
You have a choice of one protein with one starch and one veggie for $10 or two proteins with one starch and one veggie for $14. We ordered the islandy rice and pigeon peas with one dish and the fragrant fried rice with the other as well as a side of steamed collard and sweet potato greens with chunks of steamed white potatoes — all flavorful and fortifying.
Their menu changes each week, offering other options like roti, the Indian flatbread; the Caribbean vegetable callaloo; and mac ‘n cheese. A shout-out for using mostly paper packaging.
We also took home a scrumptious pound cake and cinnamony carrot cake brites.
When the girls began baking they had to learn how to convert recipes for vegan baking, said Lyrica. “A lot of baking needs eggs and dairy but you can use applesauce for eggs and coconut milk or almond milk.”
While they work as a team, their mom has helped them to realize “that each of them bring something unique to the business. I like to encourage that uniqueness. They’re working together as one business entity but they have their individual skills.”
Syrheda describes Lyrica as a “natural leader. She plans menus and she’s the head chef. She’s the one I started in the kitchen.”
“Zaira is good with numbers,” said her mom. “She balances the books and handles the inventory. We talk about how much money we spent for supplies compared to how much money we project to earn.”
Nadira enjoys “being the taste tester,” said Syrheda. “She helps set up shop, making sure the shelves are restocked.”
At home, the girls all participate in foraging for culinary herbs, plants, fruits and vegetables.
“Not only do we have different dandelions, but we have lemongrass, pinecone ginger, wild lettuces, blueberries and edible flowers,” said Syrheda, who gave up teaching other students to focus on her daughters. She homeschooled them in South Carolina for three and a half years.
For the past three years, the sisters have attended the Tallahassee School of Arts and Sciences in Tallahassee. During school, they often baked and cooked before and after classes. They still start their day at 6 a.m.
Concerned about the coronavirus, particularly because Lyrica has an immune disorder, the girls will likely take digital classes this fall, but the family is confident opening a business now was the right thing to do.
“We felt positive about the decision to open at this time,” said Syrheda. “”We traveled in South Carolina and Georgia this summer and looked at small businesses and retail to see what they were doing and what was working for them. We feel good about our safety practices.”
The girls all wear masks (I asked them to pull them off briefly for a picture and they quickly put them back). They’re only allowing five people at a time in the shop and customers are required to wear masks.
“Everyone has respected our wishes,” said Syrheda. “We haven’t had any problems at all. Everyone has been patient.”
One positive impact of the virus may be that it has helped families “zone in on each other,” she said.
“I hope that Covid has made people realize that a lot of the outside noise and extra activities may not be conducive to the family as a whole.”
What’s crucial is for families, Syrheda said, “is just spending more time together, being together.”
That togetherness has been a boon for the Leo family.
“To have this kind of drive, and to accomplish so much at this age,” said Chef Shac. “It’s impressive.”
Photo at top of page: Zaira, Nadira and Lyrica; Photo Credit Bourne Brilliant
When you go …
Bourne Brilliant, Railroad Square Breezeway Market, 618 McDonnell Dr.; 850-391-8541. Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday to Saturday.