"Cookies are okay, cupcakes are all right...but I love brownies," said Charlie Fyffe, an African-American entrepreneur who started a line of gluten-free brownies in Los Angeles. NBC4's Chuck Henry interviewed Fyffe for the "Life Connected" special, "Celebrating Black History Month." It aired on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013.
A Loyola High School graduate, Charlie Fyffe, 24, is the CEO and executive pastry chef of the cleverly named Charlie’s Brownies.
"Cookies are okay. Cupcakes are alright," he said. "But I love brownies. I focus my whole company on just the brownie."
In addition to loving brownies, Fyffe loves running his own business.
"Entrepreneurship is a way to channel art and creativity into profit, meaning you get to do what you love every day and make a living," he said.
He started selling sweets while he was still a student at Berkeley and social media made all the difference for him.
"I didn’t have a website for the first three years of this business even though I had a contract with a coffee shop," he recalled. "I would put up coupons and promotions and pictures through Facebook so that’s what created my initial buzz and kind of got me on the map."
As he started selling his sweets, Fyffe found more and more customers who wanted gluten-free options. He said you have to listen to what customers want and so he began to tinker with different flour combinations so he could make a wheat-free product.
"A lot of time, gluten-free products have an imbalance so they come out gritty or like sandboard. People have tried GF products and they haven’t been good," he said. "With mine, I think I have achieved a balance that mimics wheat."
Fyffe said his custom blended flour mix is what makes his brownies "stand out."
As an ambitious young businessman, Fyffe had a nearly complete recipe for success. First ingredient: encouragement.
"My mom has been a huge, huge, huge support in all this," he said, laughing as he added, "No, she didn’t teach me any recipes, that was all me."
He had a commercial product (he said the biggest seller is the s’mores brownie).
And he had the drive.
"I want Charlie’s Brownies to be the number one brownie brand in the world," he said.
But what Fyffe didn’t have was money.
"I don’t come from a family with a lot of money," he said. "My dad lives in another country and my mom is a single mother. That’s been the biggest hurdle for me is just getting immediate access and having experienced business people around to just help me along the way."
Those missing ingredients would come from a non-profit called 100 Urban Entrepreneurs, which Fyffe said was pivotal in getting his company off the ground.
"It’s been a huge blessing," he said. "100UE is my family for sure."
The organization gave Fyffe $10,000 in start-up funding, and more.
"It got me a website. It got me a brand new logo. It got me new materials. It got me shirts," he said. "It got me everything I needed to make the next push into becoming a full-time entrepreneur."
Fyffe had a very busy holiday season. Thanks to California’s Home Made Food Act, he has been able to bake out of his apartment. His business remains online-based, but he is hoping to get into local gourmet shops very soon.
And he welcomes the hard work. Even with the struggles, he is enjoying the ride.
"From day to day, small victories keep me motivated," he said. "Like when I have a new flavor that is completed and I get to release it – that is fun."
Fyffe hopes to be an example to other young entrepreneurs. His message to them is one of perseverance.
"Have no doubt, have no fear because something’s going to happen," he said.
"If you keep putting time into it, something’s going to happen. Either it’s going to grow or it’s going to fail and when it fails, you learn so much that all of that’s going to go into your next project, so just keep pushing."