When life gave Beatrice Wolnerman lemons, she made lemonade — literally. As the owner and CEO of lemonade company Bea’s Squeeze, Wolnerman talks about being an entrepreneur and the challenges she overcame along the way
By Alexandra London
Feature Photo via Bea’s Squeeze Facebook
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background. I am the owner and CEO of Bea’s Detroit and Bea’s Squeeze. I graduated from the University of Michigan and moved around until I finally realized my true passion, entrepreneurship. I started out by creating my own corporate gifting company and the rest is history!
2. How did you come up with the idea for Bea’s Squeeze? When we purchased an old Eastern Market meat-packing building and discovered it needed to be almost completely torn down, we were heartbroken. We were so excited to get started on the co-working space of our dreams but unfortunately the project was going to take much longer than expected. Because our rebuild was looking like years, not months, I wanted to find a way to still get our name out there and connect with the community, now.
The idea for a lemonade stand immediately popped into my head when we discovered the smallest parcel of land for sale right on the Dequindre Cut. Positioned upon a six-foot retaining wall and covered in weeds, it’s no surprise that this little piece of land sat on the market for months. We turned a lemon piece of land into lemonade, literally, when we installed an adorable lemonade stand with a bucket and pulley system to send the drinks down to customers. My plan was to use this platform to tell people about Bea’s, our new co-working space + event space + café in Eastern Market, enticing them to chat with me with the promise of an ice-cold lemonade. Better yet, by calling it Bea’s Squeeze, people would be walking around with the Bea’s logo on a bottle and building brand recognition. I love out-of-the-box marketing, and I thought this would be a fun and unique way to market Bea’s!
We were thrilled to have received such an instant and positive reaction to our lemonade stand, being embraced by everyone from families, joggers and bikers, and even just people going out of our way to find us. In our first summer, we were featured in local and national news articles, participated in the USA Wine and Food Festival, and even won the Detroit Foodie Find of 2019! By the end of the summer, we knew that this marketing installation had turned into much, much more. What was intended as a summer pop-up for Bea’s was quickly growing into it’s own company, so we took this concept and ran with it. We are now bottling our delicious natural lemonade in two flavors, classic and pink rose, and distributing our beverages all over the Midwest. We’re currently in 11 states and counting!
3. What makes your lemonade stand on the Dequindre Cut so unique? Like I mentioned above, our little piece of land was not so desirable. It was up a wall, only measured 600 square feet, and was a complete mess. We completely transformed the lot and built a unique lemonade stand, complete with a bucket pulley system. What was created last summer to overcome the height challenge has made even more sense this summer to maintain social distancing!
As one of the only stops along the Dequindre Cut, we are a welcomed stop for a cold drink and a short break. Our lemonade stand is our interpretation of childhood nostalgia with some modern twists, just like the lemonade itself. It’s eye-catching, it’s innovative, and most importantly, it’s a destination for the whole community. We created a lemonade stand that we wish we had as children, and we’re so thrilled that we were able to make these childhood dreams come true.
This year, we also added the Small Business Art Garden on the Dequindre Cut to give other businesses the same exposure that we had last year with Bea’s Squeeze. Right next to the stand, you will find a sea of beautiful 3 x 3 square signs, highlighting local brands in a new and artistic way. We know first-hand what being on the Dequindre Cut can do for your business and wanted to give other entrepreneurs the opportunity to market themselves during this challenging time.
4. You also own Bea’s Detroit, a co-working space in Detroit. What inspired you to start this business? How you are handling the impact of Covid-19? My entrepreneurial journey started in 2017 when I launched a premium corporate gifting company, Open Me When. We specialized in unique gifts that would really make an impact on each recipient, finding a way to incorporate branding in new ways and utilizing as many locally made goods as possible. I began this company as many young entrepreneurs do, out of my home. My orders would be quite large, facing the dilemma of storing materials, accepting pallet deliveries, and assembling hundreds of gift boxes in my home. When it got to the point where the hallways were blocked and my dining room table was buried in ribbon and supplies, I knew it was time to move out. I began my search with other local co-working spaces, finding that my only offerings were tiny offices, defeating my purpose for moving out in the first place. I immediately knew I wanted to create a place for other growing businesses facing the same predicament – too large for their home, but not yet ready to take on their own large facility.
In November 2018, my husband and I purchased an old meat packing building in Eastern Market. Unfortunately, the building had been abandoned for many years and turned into a much bigger project than initially anticipated – it needed to be almost completely demolished, with only one exterior wall able to be salvaged. Fast forward to a year and a half later. We finished construction! We had our Grand Opening celebration on February 27 , 2020, and finally opened to the public during the first week in March. The timing definitely was not on our side, and we had to shut down a few short weeks later, only to stay closed until the beginning of June. Regardless, we were just happy to have our building complete, finally. Our unique concept has a café with fresh pastries, coffee, and lunch options open to public, along a large picture window leading to the back co-creating warehouse where the community can take a peek to see the magic happening. Our small business members are able to rent different parcels of the warehouse back here to manufacture and produce their goods, as well as ship it out of the large overhead door and sell it on our retail shelves in the café. Upstairs you will find a variety of private offices, conference rooms, and personal work booths, as well as the gorgeous co-creating lounge and rooftop patio. This also doubles as an incredible event space for everything from weddings to corporate events!
I have always been a positive person, and truly believe that everything happens for a reason. But being completely honest, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit us hard. It’s always challenging opening a new business, but it’s especially challenging opening up a business during a global pandemic. When the shutdown initially went into place, we pivoted and created a virtual entrepreneur group called The BeaHive. This has been a great way to continue our momentum and still stay true to our mission of helping small businesses grow and succeed, now more than ever. Bea’s is now back up and running, continuing the BeaHive and looking to gain more in-person coworking members, along with event guests and café customers. We’re staying strong and working harder than ever, pushing forward to make our business a success.
5. What is your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur? I love being my own boss. Sure, it’s tough knowing that at the end of the day, all of the responsibilities and difficult decisions fall on my shoulders. But I also love having the power to create my destiny, knowing that my success will be a direct result of my hard work.
6. Can you share some of your career highlights or moments you are most proud of thus far? One of my biggest highlights was winning the Crain’s 20 in their 20s award this past year. I was so honored to sit alongside so many amazing, ambitious Detroit entrepreneurs. Everyone had such an incredible story to share and I felt humbled to have been included. It was the validation I needed to hear that other people really understood and believed in my vision, too!
7. What was your biggest mistake or failure and what did you learn from it? I learned the hard way that you should always be completely honest with your thoughts and feelings. My go-to approach for any relationship is sweet and nice, wanting to please everyone and not cause any problems – but at the end of the day, your business is your baby and you need to do what is right. By trying to always keep the peace and avoid hurting any feelings, the situations have escalated to the point of no return, having to completely sever ties. I now try to always lead with an open and transparent dialog so there are no surprises or miscommunications. This makes the working relationship easier on both sides.
8. What is one piece of advice you would offer to someone who is looking to start their own business ? Don’t be afraid to take risks. Some risks will work, others will fail, but at least you will know that you did everything you could to make your business successful.
9. What flavors of lemonade do you offer? Do you have a favorite? We have two flavors, classic and pink rose. Both are made with all natural ingredients and no artificial preservatives or colors, with one third less sugar than leading brands. Our classic lemonade captures that tart, fresh squeezed taste in a bottle, while the pink rose has a botanical twist with real rose extract. It is hard to pick a favorite, but I would have to go with pink rose!
10. If you weren’t an entrepreneur, what would you be instead? That is a tough one. There is truly nothing else I would rather be!
Now onto some fun…
11. What was your first job growing up? I was a junior sailing instructor at the Detroit Yacht Club, teaching young children how to sail in Optimist dinghies on the Detroit river. It was so challenging but very rewarding.
12. What’s currently on your playlist? I’m more of a podcast person. My favorite right now is the How I Built This series.
13. What was your favorite TV show as a kid? I loved Full House. I always wished Danny Tanner was my dad, too!
14. Three things you can’t live without? My family, my pets (2 pugs + 1 cat), and Chef Jenn’s unbelievable Chocolate Chip Cookies (found at The Café at Bea’s!)
15. Dream vacation destination? Wishing I could go back to Copenhagen, where I studied for a semester in college. A trip around Denmark + Sweden sounds like a dream right now.
Local Love Questions…
16. Your current favorite local spots for breakfast, lunch and dinner? There are so many amazing restaurants around the city. Wish I could name them all!
Lunch: Spread Deli in Midtown (and The Café at Bea’s, of course! We have a lot of great salad and sandwich options, paired with sweet treats like bumpy cake pops for dessert)
Dinner: El Barzon in Mexicantown
18. Your go-to for a good cup of coffee? I’m a little biased, but we really do have the best coffee at The Café at Bea’s. We have partnered with Populace to create some really tasty drinks.
19. Where is Bea’s Squeeze lemonade available in Metro Detroit? We are in quite a few local stores. Here are some of the most popular ones!
Better Health (All Locations)
Holiday Market (Royal Oak)
Market Fresh (Berkley)
Meijer Woodward Corner Market (Royal Oak)
Nino Salvaggio (All Locations)
Plum Market (All Locations)
Randazzo’s (All Locations)
Village Market (Grosse Pointe)
Vince and Joe’s (Shelby)
Westborn Market (Berkley)
20. What do you love about Detroit? Everything! I feel so blessed to call this city home. Everyone here has been so supportive and encouraging, and I truly couldn’t imagine starting a business anywhere else. Detroiters are some of the best, most loyal people out there and I can’t thank this city enough. We love you!