At the Ulmer home, the American Dream appears alive and well, with a white picket fence and foliage nestling the family inside, two parents and two kids working together to thrive. At the center of BeeSweet, and of the home this evening while her 6-year-older brother rests, is Mikaila, who pops out from behind the door smiling and saying, “Welcome!” before perching lightly on the sofa ready to talk lemonade with eyes dancing.
“When it’s allergy season, you can warm the lemonade, and the honey and lemon are so good,” she says, pausing at times to make little sounds that are evidently petite sneezes.
“And also there is this really good BeeSweet punch that we built off a punch recipe, and there’s a Bee Sizzler, with carbonated water like Topo Chico. And there’s a Bee Sweet cake that is the best cake I’ve ever had, and actually, the one we made with boxed lemon cake mix, vanilla pudding and BeeSweet was better than the one we made from scratch!”
By now, many Austinites know well the BeeSweet story: About four years ago, Mikaila participated in Austin Lemonade Day, a program that teaches kids how to be entrepreneurs through planning and operating their own lemonade stands. Around the same time, bees stung Mikaila twice in a week, and her parents, Theo and D’Andra, were helping her research bees to overcome lingering fear. Events merged when Theo’s grandmother, Helen, handed down a vintage recipe book that included a flaxseed lemonade recipe calling for honey. Mikaila now knew that local honey is the best honey, so she added it to Granny Helen’s lemonade recipe, along with mint from the family garden.
“When Granny noticed how I used her cookbook, she was really, really proud, and she always wants me to bring her some,” Mikaila says. Mikaila’s brew does taste like lemons, but without being too tart and while leaving space for the flavor of the honey and mint. It’s super-drinkable.
D’Andra adds, “Her Granny Helen is almost 90 years old. She gave us the recipe book and when we came back with these bottles and she saw her name on them, she was impressed. She lives in a small town in South Carolina. It has one stoplight and one post office. It has no Wi-Fi, so we couldn’t show her Mikaila’s videos until we put them on a disc.”
Austin Lemonade Day is the local version of National Lemonade Day, which began in Houston in 2007 and is now in 36 cities around the nation. According to its website, “National Lemonade Day is a strategic 14-step process that walks youth from a dream to a business plan, while teaching them the same principles required to start any big company.”
After the successful debut at Lemonade Day, Mikaila took her recipe to Acton Academy’s Children’s Business Fair. Then the family began bottling the lemonade with labels featuring something like a Folk-Art Deco portrait of Mikaila drawn by the mother of a friend who had been in Mikaila’s preschool class at Athena Montessori. They began selling to East Side Pies.
Mikaila’s recipe won Most Creative Lemonade in Austin’s 2011 Best Lemonade contest. The Austin Chronicle named BeeSweet Best Kid-trepreneurial Biz, and the Capital City African American Chamber of Commerce named Mikaila 2013 Teenpreneur of the Year (though she was in third grade at the time). Mikaila also recently spoke at the 2014 City Director Conference, saying from the podium that she enjoys reading, arts and crafts, gardening, playing outside and “making BeeSweet Lemonade.”
In one of the videos on BeeSweet’s company page, D’Andra notes that Austin has been ripe for entrepreneurs. “Austin is a great city, if not the perfect city, for entrepreneurs. They’re just more in the attitude of, ‘What can we do to help?’ Or, they may say, ‘Oh, I wish I would have started earlier. I wish my mom and dad would have helped me start the business.’”
But for the Ulmers, the entrepreneurial spirit is present from an early age, and it’s a family affair. Mikaila says her 6-year-old brother, Jacob, gets paid 10 cents for each lemonade box he puts in the car. “He always says, ‘mom, you owe me 80 cents, you owe me 120 cents, you owe me 50 cents. My mom says he’s my biggest fan,” she says. D’Andra smiles and nods in agreement.
Mikaila divides her personal earnings from BeeSweet into three categories: giving, saving and spending, in that order. She gives 20 percent of what she makes to church, the Texas Beekeepers Association, and Heifer International. The rest she saves for college or spending when she’s older, and she spends some on “fun stuff for me and my brother.”
Like most girls with big hearts, Mikaila has dreams for the future. “I want to make my business bigger, and I also want to be a doctor or someone who helps animals because I just like helping things she says.” Apparently, the lemonade business is but a branch of Mikaila’s parents’ love and support, which are both firmly planted down at the roots.
Mikaila says that aside from the lemonade business, she’s learned about Ruby Bridges, from Tylertown, Mississippi, who was the first Black child to integrate a public school in the South, amidst crowds of people throwing things and shouting at her. Bridges wrote the book THROUGH MY EYES and is now a philanthropist.
“One thing that I’ve found that was cool was that Ruby Bridges—every day before she went in the classroom, she would ask God to forgive the people who were really mad at her. I was kind of surprised she would do it. I think she was just thinking of their side and wanting to be helpful.”
BeeSweet Lemonade is presently sold at East Side Pies, Pretty Thai for a White Guy, Quickie Pickie and most recently, at Whole Foods at the Domain, where they will be giving out tastes during a demonstration this Sunday, Jan. 19.
BeeSweet’s plans for the future include rolling out to other Austin Whole Foods locations and launching two new product flavors. Judging by samples of the new lemonades Theo prepared for soulciti, they are both different from the original, but just as good.