WATERLOO — Akisha Hill didn’t set out to open up her own storefront in Waterloo.
Dipping fresh strawberries in chocolate, drizzling them with icing and lavishly decorating and displaying them was something she did for fun, for friends or to spice up centerpieces at events — not something she thought would ever be a business. She just liked learning about the craft from Google and YouTube, or her online “support groups” for decorating, as she called them.
“I’ve liked interior design since I was little — it’s just natural for me,” Hill said.
A friend asked for a dozen of her custom-made strawberries one day, and Hill made up a box of pink- and white-dipped ones, arranging them just so, and snapped a photo for social media for good measure.
“I posted it on Facebook, and it blew up,” she said.
The orders started pouring in, with friends and family sharing her Facebook and Instagram photos of berries decorated to look like elephants or unicorns, naturally spreading the word far and wide.
“I thought, ‘Well, if it’s that easy, I’ll make a business,’” Hill said. “It’s just meant for me to do.”
A year and a half later, with enough orders coming into her home-based business to quit her job at Hawkeye Community College and the Iowa Workforce Development Center, Hill opened up Boujee Berries at 621 Sycamore St., Suite B, on Sept. 7 — and sold out on her first day.
“Everybody was excited about it — ‘Oh, we don’t have anything like this!’” Hill said.
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Boujee Berries carries her signature strawberries, both individually and by the custom dozen, but Hill makes more than berries — she dips and designs pretzels, apples, Oreos, marshmallows and Rice Krispie treats in store, displaying them in a cooler or on tables inside the store next to mini candy boxes.
Soft colors and light fill the space and an essential-oil diffuser freshens the air near the entrance, while a solitary bistro table and chairs sit near the register and cooler, leaving plenty of room for a line of walk-ins and regulars.
“My vision is to have it look like a bridal boutique,” Hill said, noting she’s looking to begin taking appointments for weddings and other events. Her hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, as well as by appointment.
Hill runs the business by herself — for now — but noted she’s had help both from family and friends as well as several local business owners who helped show her the ropes and encouraged her.
Rodney Lewis, owner of of Rodney’s Kitchen across the street, was one example. On Tuesday afternoon, he was inside Boujee Berries, shooting live video to promote her on his own Facebook page.
“This whole area is so supportive,” Hill said.
A large canvas photo on the wall of her store — that first pink-and-white strawberry box — and a motivational poster she used to have at her desk at her old job, “She believed she could, so she did,” are reminders of how far she’s come, and how far she could go.
“I’m still trying to figure everything out, and wrap my head around actually being in a storefront,” Hill said.