A Recipe for Hope
Alumna is building a national cookie business that sparks conversations around intimate partner violence.
As one of eight children in a
close-knit family, Junita Flowers
(B.I.S. ’96) spent the best times
of her childhood in St. Paul
baking in the kitchen alongside her mother.
As she grew up, Flowers envisioned the
type of marriage her parents had—loving,
supportive, and steadfast. Instead, she
spent years in a toxic relationship.
“In abusive environments, nothing is
yours,” she says. “You walk on eggshells all
the time. Baking was my own mental escape
to relive my childhood. I began baking
cookies for friends’ baby showers. Baking
became this thing that was just mine.”
Flowers registered Junita’s Jar as a
business in December 2006, selling her
cookies at area farmers markets and slowly
building a clientele. But with her marriage
unraveling and her safety in danger, she
found herself walking away from the
business every time she filed an order of
protection against her husband.
“It was hard starting and stopping,”
Flowers says. “I wanted to hold on to the
business because it was all I had left. When
I finally got divorced in 2015, it was the
lowest point in my life. I lost my marriage.
I walked away from my house. I thought,
‘Well, I can’t lose anything else.’ That’s
really what made me decide to take a
chance on my business.”
Following the divorce, Flowers went
through a nine-month period of depression, where she would wake up to put her
two kids on the bus and then crawl back in
bed to lay there all day.
“I was so broken,” she says. “There were
times where I wished I could just cut out
my heart and put it on my nightstand to
separate myself from my feelings.”
While lying in bed one day, she
thought “What if there is something more
to life than this for you?” Flowers realized
the cookies that represented her best
childhood memories had offered her an
escape during the toughest years of her
married life. She wanted to build on that to
create a mission-driven company that starts
conversations to educate and eliminate
relationship violence against women.
A 2018 fellowship through the Finnovation
Lab, which offers support for early-stage
social enterprise entrepreneurs, helped
Flowers develop a business plan. In it,
Flowers outlined the foundation of the company—an opportunity to use food as a tool
to connect people and spread a message
of hope—which became the social mission
that is part and parcel of her business.
Junita’s Jar partnered with the Alpha Chi
Omega sorority at the U of M to hold its first
Cookies ’n Conversation event in February
2019, where students gathered to hear from
a panel consisting of a domestic violence
survivor, a therapist, and a nurse practitioner, addressing relationship violence against
women. (In addition to hosting additional
Cookies ‘n Conversation events in the
future, the company is committed to giving
back 5 percent of its profits to support education and awareness initiatives dedicated
to ending relationship violence.)
“Young women ages 18 to 24 are three
times more likely to be in an abusive relationship,” Flowers says. “We want to normalize
the conversation around domestic violence
so when women recognize they are in abusive relationships, they can get help sooner.”
Junita’s Jar started to pick up momentum—holding more conversation events and
selling cookies in volume for corporate gift
boxes. Then, when the Covid-19 pandemic
led to sheltering-in-place in March 2020,
the company lost 75 percent of its revenue
overnight. Two months later, George Floyd
was murdered across the street from the
Junita’s Jar production facility.
“I didn’t know what to do as a Black
woman, as the mother of a Black son,”
Flowers says. “Nobody tells you what to do.
The next day, I drove to a local nonprofit
and spent the day filling bags of groceries
for the owners of vandalized businesses.
Seeing the community come together was
another little dose of hope.”
In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, people
sought out Black-owned Minneapolis
businesses to support and sales poured in.
It was the boost Flowers needed to keep
going. Soon, Junita’s Jar cookies were
available at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. On June 5, the company
launched in 320 Target stores nationwide.
The company sold 90,000 units last year—
which translates to over a million cookies,
and employs five people, still at the same
production facility in George Floyd Square.
“Our sweet spot is the gifting industry,”
Flowers says. “To go from zero grocery
stores to Target shelves, that is not the
norm. It’s been a wild ride.”
Through the ups and downs of that wild
ride, Flowers has remained commited to
uniting others through food.
“I have a responsibility to share my story
because someone else’s life depends on
it,” she says. “I owe it to the other women
within our community. They need to know
there’s hope for them as well.”
Kat Braz is a freelance writer based in Lafayette, Indiana.