In October 2019, as Khadija B. Wallace’s grandkids candied apples that would be delivered as a “thank you for your business” gift to several clients of Joyful Treats – Wallace’s Ypsilanti-based catering service – the original vision for the company was made manifest.
“The idea was, this would be our legacy for our kids,” Wallace said.
Occasionally helping out with cookies and candied apples helps Wallace’s grandkids start to “see (Joyful Treats) as theirs, and gives them the mindset for ownership, and shows them this can be a good job they can rely on,” Wallace said. “But I’m a big promoter of entrepreneurship, too. The whole reason for starting it was for them – so they could have it in their life.”
For Wallace, food has always been linked to family. She grew up watching her own grandmother catering events at her church and her place of employment, the University of Alabama. (Wallace moved back and forth between Michigan and Alabama throughout her childhood, and attended both Ypsilanti High and Eastern Michigan University.)
“I pride myself on my Southern heritage, because we’re known for good food and Southern hospitality,” said Wallace. “When I was growing up in Tuscaloosa, my grandma was always doing ice cream socials, and putting fancy plates and napkins and hankies out – all that stuff people don’t even use anymore – and what I remember is that my cousins and I would help Grandma for a while, then we’d sneak a treat and go out and play.”
Joyful Treats, launched in April 2001, started by catering weddings and graduation parties, but positive word of mouth helped grow the company, and marquee corporate clients (like NFL and Google) soon followed.
“Secretly, I am a numbers girl,” said Wallace. “ … Before this, I’d worked for Standard Federal, so I also have a banking and finance background.”
This came in handy once she learned, early on, the importance of contracts.
“And business is always business,” said Wallace. “We gave a lot of food away in the early years. Not that that was wrong, but I learned fast to make sure the contracts are correct, and that there’s an agreement in place. A lot of people think it’s easy to cook food, and a lot of people question the billing, but to me – this is our nineteenth year in business. … I have this down to a science now. If you tell me you’ll have fifty people at an event, I’ll make food for fifty, not for one hundred.”
Along the way, Wallace has also contributed to the local community in several ways. She served a five-year term on the Washtenaw Food Policy Council; was the co-chartering chair and president of the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Black Chamber of Commerce (the Michigan BCC recently merged with the National Business League, so AAYBCC has been dormant during the organization’s transition); and in 2012, she launched a nonprofit arm of her company – called Joyful Treats Community Development – that offers a food pantry, and food baskets and toys to local families in need during the holidays. But the nonprofit primarily aims to teach young people about working in the foodservice industry and entrepreneurship.
“I want to have social impact through the charitable arm,” said Wallace. “ … When I can, after I teach these young people, I try to hire some of them so they can gain real experience working a corporate event.”
When asked about why she ultimately chose to put down roots in Ypsilanti, Wallace said, “I feel like I have too much invested to leave. … And I just have a special love for the region. I’ve done some work out of state, too, but I’d love to invest more here and pass down my knowledge to those who are up and coming now.”
What are some of Wallace’s favorite local restaurants, when she’s got a night off?
“I don’t have those,” Wallace said, laughing. “And I’ll be honest. I’m very partial to my own food, so I don’t eat others’ a lot. But MAIZ in Depot Town – I do like them, because it’s like how we approach our food. … And Tower Inn. I love their pizzas and stuff. … But if I’m not cooking, usually one of my kids will be cooking – Joyful Treats’ second generation – and I can just go grab a plate when I want to.”
Wallace said that when she does cook for herself, she has some go-to comfort food favorites.
“My macaroni and cheese is to die for. And even though I’m kind of getting away from pork, my barbecue pork ribs, … collard greens, black-eyed peas, and then banana pudding for dessert,” said Wallace. “I don’t get birthday cakes, I get banana pudding. When I was a kid, my mom started making banana pudding for my birthdays, so I can probably count on one hand how many times I’ve gotten a cake.”
And the people who inspire Wallace include “some of my cohorts in the minority-owned business community. Yodit Johnson – the COO of NEW (Nonprofit Enterprise at Work) – she inspires me a lot. She’s just an amazing person, a trailblazer, … and she serves on the board of United Way. … And Cheranissa Roach – she works with the Ann Arbor Independent Living Center and does business consulting. She inspires me, also.”
These selections are very much in line with Wallace’s unflagging enthusiasm for entrepreneurship – despite its sometimes grueling demands.
“That’s why they say you have to really love the business,” Wallace said. “I know I put way more hours into it than I should, but because I love it, it doesn’t seem like work. … I love the business, and I love the feel of people liking our food.”