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Detroit native went from “lemonade girl” to business leader with family’s Jamaican tea

two bottles of Ellis Island Tea
Courtesy of Nailah Ellis-Brown
Ellis-Brown's grandfather requested that the recipe be "sold and not told," which gave the Detroit native the idea to take the Jamaican drink to market.

Most entrepreneurs start small and dream big. 

And for Nailah Ellis-Brown of Detroit, those dreams came true. 

She started selling her family's sweet tea out of her car, and ended up with a national deal with Sam's Club to sell her Ellis Island Tea.

Now, she's the first black woman to own and operate a beverage manufacturing plant in the country.

Ellis-Brown joined Stateside to tell us about the business and the journey it took to make it big. 

"They used to call me the 'lemonade girl' because I started out making tea while living in my mother's basement. And then I would put the tea in bottles every morning, and then load up my cooler, put them in my car, and drive around the city," Ellis-Brown said.

She said she sold her tea that way for years before getting deals for distribution in markets, including the national distribution deal with Sam's Club. 

Listen above to hear where the idea to bring the family-recipe tea to market came from, how the business has grown, and why Ellis-Brown is committed to Detroit.

Stateside's ongoing series "Beyond the Coney" highlights the growers, entrepreneurs, and culinary experts behind Michigan's diverse food economy.

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