Felicia Evans Long discovered the best way to cope with a sweet tooth—turn it into a thriving business.
“I felt like an MBA would be a good vehicle to help me understand the mechanics of business ownership—using statistics, crunching numbers and leadership skills I knew I already had, without the formal training. ”Felicia Evans Long, MBA ’08
She buys gooey chewy nostalgic candies—Mary Janes, Pop Rocks, Zagnuts and Bit-O-Honeys—in bulk to fill clear acrylic bins in Sweet Candy Café, a candy store with bright red walls and glowing chandeliers, where the scent of fudge and warm popcorn wafts through the air. The café’s grand opening celebration was last November in downtown Lumberton, North Carolina, and today it’s a hip hangout for kids of all ages, from 1 to 92.
“One of my greatest moments is hearing kids say, ‘This is the coolest place ever,’” says Long, an event planner who also owns Sweet Events and Planning based in the Chevy Chase, Maryland, area.
But success meant taking the bitter with the sweet: Just two months before Sweet Candy Café’s opening, a fire raged in downtown Lumberton and threatened to consume her entrepreneurial dreams in black billowing smoke.
Life lessons as a latchkey kid
Long grew up in Lumberton as one of two children of a single mother who worked two eight-hour shifts as a lab technician at a local factory to make ends meet. As a latchkey kid, Long shared household responsibilities with her brother at a remarkably young age. At 8 years old, she was packing her mother’s lunches, helping prepare meals from a step stool and getting ready for school on her own, always giving her mother a quick call before heading to the bus stop. At times, her mother’s to-do lists and instructions felt like a heavy burden for the young girl. “Back then, I never knew I was exemplifying leadership or taking on leading roles,” says the 41-year-old entrepreneur. “But I’m grateful for the experience now.”
Looking back, she sees how growing up with so much responsibility set the stage for her success as an entrepreneur. It became natural for her to throw herself into event planning—from planning snacks for vacation bible school outings in elementary school to decorating for proms in high school. “By the time we did all the major high school events during senior year—the picnic, prom or yearbook committees—someone would always say, ‘call Felicia.’”
A matter of degrees
After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1994, Long worked in various roles for George Washington University, American Sociological Association and the federal government, while never losing sight of her long-term goal. “I knew that I wanted to open up a business—be it a candy store or an event planning company,” says Long, who saw earning an MBA degree as a steppingstone. “I felt like an MBA would be a good vehicle, she says. “It would help me understand the mechanics of business ownership—using statistics, crunching numbers and leadership skills I knew I already had, without the formal training. On another note, an MBA degree gives you another level of validation. It lets people know you’re serious about what you’re doing.”
She enrolled in the University of Phoenix MBA program in November 2006, just two months after getting married. On another fast track, she launched Sweet Events and Planning in October 2008, just four months after completing her MBA in June.
How sweet it is!
As an event planner, Long manages everything from corporate events and graduation parties to weddings and baby showers. She’s carved out a niche as a creator of “frugal and fabulous” events by managing each client’s budget like it’s her own, “making a dollar out of 15 cents.” Her events reflect her characteristic Southern hospitality, charm and sweet tooth, often featuring her signature candy parlor. She fills large and small old-fashioned Apothecary jars with colorful rock candies, chocolates and taffies whose familiar wrappers spark childhood nostalgia. Guests receive festive bags to load up on as many candies as they please.
The sugar maven created another sweet spot with her own confectionery store in Lumberton. The official ribbon-cutting of Sweet Candy Café last November marked a professional and personal triumph for Felicia and her husband, Tim Long. Less than two months before, her original confectionery store’s ceiling collapsed under the weight of water used to extinguish a blaze that ravaged the building next door. Because she hadn’t purchased renter’s insurance yet, she lost $10,000 in inventory and supplies—all from her hard-earned savings. “I was devastated; I was in total shock,” she recalls. “But at some point, there’s no more tears. It’s time to hustle. It’s time to rebuild. I had so many people cheering me on. That energy did so much for me—knowing there are so many people who believe in my store.”
With Sweet Candy Café’s opening, Long aspires to bring more visitors to downtown Lumberton, a place where she loved growing up. “My goal has been to bring something sweet—a little fun—to downtown,” Long says. In the future, she’d love to turn her candy store into a franchise, with the downtown Lumberton location as the flagship, she says, adding, “We think our second time around will be even sweeter than the first.”