Black History in the Making: Meet Warren and Latrice
The small business owners we support are creating Black history every day. Their stories of triumph will inspire future generations of business owners. Learn how Warren and Latrice wrote entrepreneurship into their own life stories.
Meet Warren: Finding inspiration in baking
Adaptability is a hard-won business skill, and Warren Brown has become the king of the pivot.
After graduating from George Washington Law, a prestigious Washington, D.C., university, and working as a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, he realized that an office job wasn’t even close to what he wanted for his future.
“I was like ‘I’ve got to look for something else that’s going to inspire me and push me,” Warren said. “At the time, ‘inspiration’ or ‘inspiring’ weren’t words in my life—they didn’t mean anything to me. People would ask ‘What’s your passion?’ and I didn’t think like that at all.”
He had experimented with baking and created some treats that made a splash with coworkers and friends. Feeling stuck, he decided to pursue his New Year’s resolution: direct yourself to greatness, answer your calls, and answer to yourself. He made his resolution happen in 2002 when he opened CakeLove, his first brick-and-mortar bakery in Washington, D.C.
The business was wildly successful, gaining media attention from Oprah and expanding to seven locations by 2008. Then, came the global financial crisis. Sales plummeted overnight and Warren was forced to close CakeLove locations to make ends meet. The rise of social media posed another obstacle, as did declining shopping trends at local malls where Warren had established a steady clientele.
After holding focus groups and doing market research, he developed and launched the first cake in a plastic jar concept in 2014 and moved operations away from storefronts and into a commercial kitchen. Using plastic jars allowed him to freeze the cakes and distribute them to various buyers, and in 2022, about 1,200 retailers now carry his Don’t Forget Cake delicacies.
In 2019, he created Spark Bites, vegan and gluten-free prebiotic energy bites in unique flavors. He had just secured an order with a large grocery store chain when COVID-19 hit. The pandemic was “an exercise in serious crisis management,” and Warren had to exhaust his funds to stay afloat and continue to pay his employees.
Warren only received a small amount of Paycheck Protection Program funding. He was among the thousands of restaurant owners who were denied the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Restaurant Revitalization funding they had been promised, after a judge ruled in favor of several white men who filed lawsuits saying that the fund’s prioritization for women and people of color was discriminatory.
“In June of 2021, I was scraping together funds for payroll and I’d used the last of any savings, maxed out on all the other lines of credit, and drawn down on everything,” he said. “I talked to a bankruptcy attorney.”
Then, he found Accion Opportunity Fund (AOF) and was able to quickly secure a $100,000 loan through the Southern Opportunity and Resilience Fund (SOAR), a lending collaborative that serves small business owners and nonprofits across 15 southern states. AOF is a founding partner in the SOAR Fund.
“It was the lifeline we needed,” Warren said of the loan, which he used for payroll, vendor contracts, supplies, and freight costs. Now, he says, he feels prepared to look forward to a bright future.
Meet Latrice: Navy veteran-turned-entrepreneur supporting other woman-owned businesses
Latrice Prater has always viewed herself as a “multipotentialite.” The Navy veteran, wife, and mother of three has a master’s degree in education and has held a wide array of jobs, ranging from selling life insurance to running an online boutique to working as an executive assistant.
“I don’t like authority—I knew at one point that I had to figure out how to work for myself,” Latrice said. “I don’t like being told what to do.”
She knew she had found her niche when she started The Digital Solutions Team, which offers services such as ongoing tech support, website design, and innovative systems solutions to women-run businesses. Since she forged her own path as an entrepreneur in February 2020, she’s quickly grown her company and met her goal of having 15 people on her team.
She began looking for her first business loan when she was planning to hire a full-time operations manager, which would be her largest-ever expense. She found AOF after working with other loan providers that didn’t offer the flexibility or terms that would make financial sense for her business.
Her $25,000 Small Business Progress Loan, provided by AOF in partnership with American Express, gave her the necessary financial cushion to hire her operations manager and to continue to scale her business. “It gave me comfort having a cushion if my business income was lower the first month or two of paying a full-time employee … it gave me peace of mind,” Latrice said of the loan she received in December 2021.
For Latrice, in business and in life, authenticity is key. She encourages other entrepreneurs to lean into their strengths and trust themselves. “Transparency is the new currency,” Latrice said. “If you want to start a business you are the secret sauce. There is no one-size-fits-all in business. Just be you and you will figure it out.”