When life gives you lemons, make cheesecake?
That’s what two Maryland sisters furloughed by the government shutdown in December decided to do, and they haven’t looked back.
Nikki Howard and Jaqi Wright created their “Furlough Cheesecake” business to help pay their bills during the partial shutdown that extended into late January. With the help of social media and word-of-mouth reviews, their cheesecake business quickly took off and they began to receive hundreds of orders.
The demand for their product only grew after a delightful appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in January. But the Furlough Cheesecake Sisters aren’t done — the pair’s tasty treats will soon hit Walmart’s shelves this summer.
Two other black women played a crucial role in helping Howard and Wright land the sweet Walmart deal. The sisters say they were contacted by Mahisha Dellinger, founder of the organic hair-care line CURLS, who then connected them with Kinna Thomas, a senior buying manager for cakes and pies at Walmart.
“We got a phone call from Mahisha Dellinger, who wanted to mentor us in the beginning stages of our business and be there for us anytime we needed some advice or guidance,” Howard, 48, told HuffPost. That conversation, she said, led to “a surprise call with” from Thomas, “who was responsible for getting Patti Pies into Walmart.”
“For us to have an opportunity to speak with Kinna and then be invited to Walmart for them to taste our cheesecakes, that was amazing.”
Their cheesecakes will be available in various Walmart stores throughout the Washington, Maryland and Virginia area beginning on Aug. 18.
Nikki Howard (left) and Jaqi Wright.
While the Walmart deal is obviously exciting, the sisters, who live in Oxon Hill, are most blown away by the positive response they’ve received from their community and on social media, which the 50-year-old Wright called “humbling.”
“We weren’t trying to make a statement. We were trying to survive,” Wright said. “It’s beautiful that in us, doing what we needed to do, that people saw something that they could be proud of. It’s one of the most rewarding things about this whole thing.”
Wright worked as an analyst for the Department of Justice, Howard had a human resources job at the Food and Drug Administration. They briefly returned to their posts, but with the success of their business, “we furloughed the government in March,” Wright said.
For those looking to similarly strike out on their own, the sisters have some advice.
“Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith,” Wright said. “Fear could have kept us waiting for the government to make up their mind about our pay, but when we realized that we had something special, we decided to just go for it. At some point, you just have to step out and believe in yourself.”