Friday, April 12, 2024

Meet the faces behind some of Lansing's Black-owned businesses

February 27, 2024
<p>Marcus Leslie Sr., owner of Mr. Leslie’s Cheesecakes, standing in front of a board promoting his business in Lansing on Feb. 23, 2024.</p>

Marcus Leslie Sr., owner of Mr. Leslie’s Cheesecakes, standing in front of a board promoting his business in Lansing on Feb. 23, 2024.

Photo by Donté Smith | The State News

Lansing is home to a wide variety of Black-owned businesses, from cheesecake connoisseurs to skincare specialists

Mr. Leslie’s Cheesecakes is one of these businesses. Located in Lansing, this business has been up and operating as a wholesale bakery for five years.

Owner of Mr. Leslie’s Cheesecakes Marcus Leslie Sr. said he is “blessed and fortunate” to own and operate his business.

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Marcus Leslie Sr., owner of Mr. Leslie’s Cheesecakes, standing outside of his business location in Lansing on Feb. 23, 2024.

Leslie said his business began by taking his passion for baking and monetizing it since he originally did it at no cost to his friends and family.

Black-owned businesses have been important to Leslie for a long time, he said

“I didn't see a lot of small business entrepreneurs that look like me, particularly doing the things that I'm doing and excelling to the level that we are,” Leslie said. “So for me, I'm a representation of what I needed then, I can be there for someone else, some young kid like myself.”

However, Leslie said that being a business owner is “not for the faint of heart,” due to the difficulties of owning and getting a business off the ground.

Leslie’s cheesecake business does have some local competition. Everything is Cheesecake is also a Black-owned business in the area, but Leslie said they are much more of friends than foes. 

“I have a lot of support from people who are Black business owners within the same field. I sell cheesecake, she sells cheesecake and we don't fight. Matter of fact, she's my go-to for cheesecake, and she'll tell you the same thing for me,” Leslie said. “Yes, while you have some that don't get along, or might have some that don't see eye to eye, we do support each other in our community.”

Also based in Lansing is Skin Studio 211, owned by esthetician Lorin Cumberbatch since 2019. Cumberbatch’s studio provides lashes, waxing, sugaring and facial services.

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Lorin Cumberbatch, owner of Skin Studio 211, standing inside of her business in East Lansing on Feb. 22, 2024.

Cumberbatch said she wants to provide a diverse place for people to get services “no matter their skin tone.”

She said she lived in Lansing before but began her business in New York. She moved back to Lansing in 2020 and said the representation of Black-owned businesses has greatly improved since the first time she lived here. 

“I felt like before, I didn't know anything Black-owned here and I promise you I did not know. This time around, I feel like because I'm a business owner, I feel like I know everything Black-owned. Like I can get clothes, I can get water, I can get almost anything here in Lansing Black-owned and I'm really happy about it.”

Cumberbatch said there is a lack of recognition for Black-owned businesses in the community, and sometimes can lack of resources in the community. She said Black-owned businesses have a “slow headstart.”

While being a Black-owned business is important to her, Black History Month in itself holds a lot of importance as well.

“I feel like we pay a lot more attention to a lot of other racist holidays, religious holidays and things like that, but we try to put Black history on the back burner, or we're kind of forced to somewhat forget,” Cumberbatch said. “So when it comes to Black History Month, it is a time for us to celebrate. It's time for us to learn more about history, it’s a time for us to support each other, and it's almost like a major holiday for us.”

Another Lansing Black owned business is Lavacious Boutique, a plus-size clothing store catered “strictly to curvy women.” Owner Takeia Redden began the business in 2014 and it was fully started in 2016. 

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Takeia Redden, owner of Lavacious Boutique, standing inside her business location in Lansing, MI on Feb. 25, 2024.

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Originally, Lavacious Boutique was a completely online business, but in 2022, Redden got a storage space for her business. Redden said her studio looks similar to “a nice walk-in closet.” She also said her studio is a safe space for plus-sized women to have a good time.

Redden said she is grateful to be a Black business owner and for Black-owned businesses to get the recognition they deserve.

“It's very important because it's something that's not seen. It's getting seen now. But it's not something that has always been going on,” Redden said. “So I love to support different owned Black businesses. I am forever grateful to be a Black business owner and I just think that it's something that is going to continue to grow and grow and grow and I'm excited for it.”

Redden also said owning a business is tough but also rewarding. She said she continues to grow and learn and it is always exciting.

She said her relationships with other Black-owned businesses is strong, and she constantly makes connections with other owners. She said it is important to recognize all of the Black-owned businesses.

“You may never know who may hear about your business, it can take one person to highlight your business and blow your business up,” Reddens said.  “So that's why I think it's important to highlight businesses, especially during Black History Month.”

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