African-American artisanal foods: Black fine food producers mix quality, community and commerce

City ‘Lasses is the Brooklyn-based beverage start-up of Dynishal Gross and Laura Carroll. It was born from their shared love of blackstrap molasses. Before City ‘Lasses was conceived, the two women had been friends for over a decade and had worked together at education-related non-profits. They both had entrepreneurial ambitions and dreamed up their business together in early 2010.

“A friend had returned from the southwest extolling the virtues of blackstrap molasses,” Gross, a self-described “country girl” who grew up gardening, crabbing and fishing in Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay region, told theGrio. Molasses, a byproduct of creating white sugar, is full of iron and nutritious minerals. “We became obsessed and began dreaming up ways to help folks get this amazing ingredient into their diets. Our research led us to a historic drink called ‘switchel’ and after months of recipe testing and focus groups, Switzel was born.”

All drinks from City ‘Lasses — based on their basic Switzel concept — are made with organic, unsulphured, fair trade blackstrap molasses made from sugarcane from Paraguay. They come in several variations, such as Switzel Energy with black tea and ginger, and Switzel Fizz, a handmade soda. For now, distribution is limited to their home region. Yet, Gross and Carroll get a huge sense of satisfaction from close interactions with their clientele.

“Introducing our drinks to new customers at outdoor markets around New York City is such a thrill,” Gross said. “We love watching the expressions on their faces as they taste something bold and new, yet familiar. And seeing fans return for refills week after week is just amazing.”

While they love what they do, both women acknowledge the challenges of the artisanal food business. “Having a great recipe is just the beginning,” Gross concluded. “The administrative and regulatory barriers to entering this field are considerable, and scaling up profitably is even harder.”

Interested in getting into the artisanal foods biz?

“Our best advice is to talk to other food entrepreneurs. They are your most reliable source for industry specific, local information,” Gross recommends.

For more information on City ‘Lasses, check out their website. If you are intrigued by their refreshing blends, follow City ‘Lasses on Facebook and Twitter.


For more information on these black artisanal food producers, please contact:

Slow Jams: Shakirah Simley shakirah@biritemarket.com

Brooklyn Bell:  Kati Duncan katiduncan@yahoo.com

Nothin’ But: Jerri Graham jcg@nothinbutfoods.com

Boxcar Grocer: Alison Cross alison@boxcargrocer.com

City ‘Lasses: Dynishal Gross dynishal@gmail.com

Suzanne Rust is a writer, lifestyle expert, on-air talent, and a native New Yorker. Follow her on Twitter at @SuzanneRust.