When Aneesah Smith founded The Kupcake Bar, she noticed there wasn’t a lot of collaboration among small business owners in the food industry.

“Running The Kupcake Bar taught me lot but also showed me where the discrepancies were in support for small business owners mainly in the food industry,” said Smith, whose mobile business specializes in alcohol-infused cupcakes.

“People in the industry were kind of marching to their own beat and the advocate in me said, ‘What happens if we all combine our resources?’”

She also noticed Black bakers and chefs weren’t getting into some of the larger food expos.

What that in mind, Smith hosted her first Black Food and Dessert Expo in November 2017. She started out with just eight chefs and bakers, and sold 75 tickets. This weekend, she will host her eighth expo, and it will feature four retail merchants and 29 Black bakers and chefs.

“When I first started, this was just an idea to bring us all together and have an event and it’s so much more than just an event now,” Smith said. “It is a brand, a network and a movement in which we support each other and the expo is just a celebration. I’m just so glad that it has evolved and will continue to grow.”

Lynette Smith, owner of Nutz About Popcorn, looks forward to showing off her gourmet popcorn during the upcoming expo.

“To have everyone come to you be able to taste your product — it sort of opens the doors to a broader audience,” she said. “I enjoy participating in events like this because then I get to sell my product and open people’s minds who didn’t even know that a Black woman owns something like this.”

She gained new customers who traveled to her Hatboro-based store after they sampled her products at a previous expo.

This weekend marks the second time that Ke’anna Brown, the owner of Philly Phruitt juice company, will participate in the Black Food and Dessert Expo.

“As a company we definitely love it because it allows small businesses — businesses that people have never really heard of — to come out and get some kind of exposure, connect with each other and build their brand,” said Brown, whose company is based in North Philadelphia.

“Even if you don’t make as much as you expect, you still come out on top because of the networking opportunity.”

She’s been in business for a year and aspires to expand her line of juices to retail locations throughout the city.

Aneesah Smith has spent the last few months working with each of the participating vendors — to give them assistance with becoming insured and getting certified, and to give them tips on branding and marketing.

“We not only put on the expo, but most importantly, we’re helping people beyond the scenes grow their business,” she said. “We really focus on business goals.”

Smith said Black bakers and chefs don’t usually get into larger food expos and events “and we aren’t allotted a lot of opportunities simply because we don’t have someone supporting us and telling us what we need to get into those places.”

She added, “In any industry, you should have mentors and you should have people who have traveled the road before you and then you can learn from them and in turn help people who are coming after you and that is certainly what we are doing here.”

Smith, a Philadelphia native, is a graduate of West Chester University. She has worked as a diversity consultant.

She hopes her expo can bridge a gap between Black consumers and entrepreneurs.

“There are different expectations and stereotypes that are out there about what our businesses are like — about customer service and things like that — and I really want to change the narrative about our businesses,” she said.

The culinary showcase will be held July 20 at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, 100 Stanton Ave., Oaks, Exhibit Hall E. The first session will held from 1 to 4 p.m. and the second from 7 to 10 p.m.

Get ticket information at http://bit.ly/BlackDesserts

ajones@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5747

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