As a little girl in the Bronx, Gay Wheeler-Smith loved watching her mother, grandma and Momma (great-grandmother) bake every kind of southern baked good you could name. Peach cobbler, apple pie, bread pudding and sweet potato pie are some that came to her mind recently.
“All the grandchildren were always in the house but I think I was the one that really liked being in the kitchen with them to watch them cook and bake,” Wheeler-Smith said.
Decades later and Wheeler-Smith, along with her friend and business partner Kecia Palmer-Cousins, have created a business based off of Momma’s sweet potato pie that they feel is an extension of their family values and traditions.
Their business, G&K Sweet Foods, Legacy Licious, sells canned sweet potato filling and pies to various bakeries throughout Westchester and at many special events in the region.
“We are mompreneurs,” said Palmer-Cousins, a Peekskill resident, who is a mother of seven and nine-year-old sons. “And we are doing this to build additional wealth and savings for our kids.”
“There are many traditions and celebrations that families have that usually die once the elders die and I didn’t want that to happen,” said Wheeler-Smith, who has a 20-year-old daughter in college.
When her Momma moved from her home state of North Carolina to the Bronx, she brought her recipes with her and kept cooking southern food to keep the tradition alive, she said. “I want to hold on to it because they are cherishable memories and they have helped me form into who I am today. It’s a way for me to say to them, and to my mom, ‘thank you. Thank you for passing this richness down.’ I didn’t let it go.”
Wheeler-Smith and Keisha met about 25 years ago when both lived in New Rochelle and they became fast friends.
“We were both groomed by our mothers. We share values of being independent women, caring about family, being focused on education and giving back to the community,” Palmer-Cousins said.
On Mother’s Day weekend five years ago, Palmer-Cousins invited Wheeler-Smith to a Women’s Enterprise Development Center annual luncheon. Inspired by the many minority business women and entrepreneurs Wheeler-Smith asked her friend if she’d help her do what she had wanted to since she was a teenager, can her Momma’s filling.
Palmer-Cousins has a background in business and marketing and comes from a small-business family. She was ready and willing to partner up with her friend. The two got to work and now sell hundreds of pies every year.
They created and have grown the business both while working full time jobs and raising their families. Palmer-Cousins is a Senior Project Mananger at Verizon and Wheeler-Smith is a professional registered nurse. They started the business baking pies out of Wheeler-Smith’s kitchen and now make all pies in a commercial kitchen. They are working to expand, offer more baked Southern goods, and to sell their pies in large universities, schools and other places.
You can find their “Grandma's Momma's Legacy ‘Licious Sweet Potato” pies at be in Peekskill and at Chocolations/Lola's Tea House in Mamaroneck. They also sell their pies online at gksweetfoods.com.
“My cousins are elated,” Wheeler-Smith said of her family’s reaction to her business. When they saw their Momma and grandma’s photos on the website they could not believe Wheeler-Smith had actually turned their childhood favorite dessert into a business.
“And my mother is tinkled pink,” she said.
What would Momma and grandma say about G&K pies?
“I really feel that they are smiling down on me, and that they are very happy, and happy that I paid attention, that I thought enough, and think enough, of my legacy that this is something we could turn into a profitable business and pass this on.”