Debra Allen owns Sweet Delights Bakery in Florida City, where she remixes the classic key lime pie and bakes specialty cakes.
It’s a booming bakery Allen, a former nurse, says was birthed from a family emergency.
In 2007, her son Ricardo was seriously hurt in Iraq.
“I had to just leave my work, give up my work because I had to take care of him,” Allen said. “His wounds were very extensive. We didn’t know if he was going to survive.”
After leaving her job, she started baking.
“Part of my healing process in dealing with my son is I bake, and I bake cakes,” she said.
In 2010, she and a friend opened a bakery in Goulds, but it didn’t last.
“It was the height of the recession,” Allen said. “It didn’t go well. I was extremely despondent. I felt let down.”
Allen says she also had to overcome hurdles being a Black, female business owner.
“It’s hard for us to get to that next level,” she said.
Allen says getting funding was hard.
“We find it very hard in terms of the fact that we don’t have the access to the working capital,” she said. “And that has always been an issue."
"They don’t see you as sustainable, she added, despite Black women making up about 42% of new businesses, according to Forbes.
But Allen never gave up, and she decided to sell fruit, key lime pies.
In 2014, she used her retirement savings and opened her own shop, moving to Florida City a few years later.
“Yes, some days are discouraging,” Allen said. “But you pick up yourself and you keep going.”
The determination has paid off. Allen has a long list of awards, including being voted America’s No. 1 pie in 2017 by The Business Insider.
“Prayer works that’s all I can say,” she said. “You invest. You do the hard work, you learn, you read.”
Allen plans to expand her business beyond the Florida City location and eventually wants to start a chain of bakeries across the state.