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How Kristal Bryant gave birth to the ‘Mother of Milkshakes’

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — The quaint establishment bustles with customers eager to purchase milkshakes in 14 different flavors.

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Kristal Bryant, owner of K&J's Elegant Pastries in Alabaster, is among a growing number of small business owners in the Birmingham metro area-- many of whom are African-American-- operating and succeeding with their own establishments. (Provided Photo)

By Erica Wright

Kristal Bryant, owner of K&J’s Elegant Pastries in Alabaster, has been down but never out.

“Every time I felt like I was getting closer and closer to what I wanted to do, I would always get kicked back or knocked back,” Bryant said, during a recent interview. Kristal Bryant, owner of K&J’s Elegant Pastries in Alabaster, has been down but never out.

Nonetheless, the 36-year-old persevered and today is owner of a business that has won Taste of Birmingham for Best Sweet Treats, and has been named Best Bakery, Best Milkshakes, and Best Sweet Treats in Shelby County for the last two years.

K&J’s sells custom cakes for any occasion: birthdays, gender reveals, weddings, baby showers, and more. The shop also sells other sweet treats like cinnamon rolls; cupcakes in an array of flavors, such as Strawberry, Cookies and Cream, Sweet Potato, and Chicken and Waffle; and milkshakes, including the popular “Kolossal” milkshake—named “Mother of Milkshakes” by Birmingham Magazine—which comes in 14 different flavors.

Bryant is among a growing number of small business owners in the Birmingham metro area – many of whom are African-American—operating and succeeding with their own establishments.

Business hasn’t always been easy for the Ensley native and Birmingham City Schools graduate. Her very first online customer called the health department to report that Bryant was making cakes at her residence.

“I had to take down my website and all my social media pages, and I couldn’t take orders. I was just distraught,” said Bryant, who explained that the customer was angry because Bryant got caught in Highway 119 traffic on the way to deliver a cake.

Bryant asked the health department what she could do to make her cakes from home and was told she needed to have a separate entrance and separate kitchen, which she couldn’t afford. That meant she needed a job, so she went to work at a bar and bistro in Homewood.

Unexpected Gift

Bryant held that position for about six months, and then she got an unexpected gift from her parents.

From left: Jaliyah, Jonathan, Kristal and Ja’Kaiya.

[/media-credit] From left: Jaliyah, Jonathan, Kristal and Ja’Kaiya.

“My mom was getting ready to retire at the time and … wanted to do something to help my business, so she gave me $15,000,” Bryant said. “I found a little spot on Kent Dairy Road in Alabaster, … and my husband and I did everything ourselves [to set up the shop], from painting the walls [to] building our own counters [to] getting used equipment.”

The store was small and didn’t have any seating, but customers could come in to get cupcakes and order cakes. Bryant stayed at that location for three and a half years, until she found out she had been paying the water bill for the entire complex, not just her store.

“I struggled because some of the bills would be like $500 or $700,” she said. “We finally figured out what was going on, … and got out of there as soon as possible.”

Bryant left that store and moved into her current location in February 2017. Business has been booming since.

“I feel like everything that has happened has always been a blessing, God has blessed us so tremendously,” she said. “One Saturday, I was slammed with people who had never even been here before. It’s just a God thing for me. I’m a big Christian. I love to spread love. I love to help other people. One of the girls that I mentor told me, ‘I think of all the ways you’ve helped other people, and that’s why you’re so blessed.’”

Welcome to K&J’s

Upon entering the pastry shop, one is greeted by the sweet smell of pastries permeating the air, the whizzing sound of milkshakes being mixed, and a cheerful, pleasant voice saying, “Welcome to K&J’s Elegant Pastries! How can we help you today?”

The quaint establishment bustles with customers eager to purchase milkshakes in 14 different flavors, including the K&J Original, Strawberry Shortcake Crunch, Cookie Me Crazy (cookie dough), Love Shake (red velvet cheesecake), and Salted Caramel. When it comes to cupcakes, K&J’s offers more than 40 flavor combinations: every day, the five standard flavors are available—Vanilla, Strawberry, Red Velvet, Sweet Potato, and Cookies and Cream—as well as 10 to 14 different flavors that typically change daily.

“It’s fun to do something you actually love to do and actually want to do. It’s easy for me to get up. Even when I’m super-tired, I can get up and come to work every day,” Bryant told one visitor.

Bryant, who has two daughters, runs a family-oriented business. Her sister and husband work with her. Sometimes her oldest daughter, Ja’Kaiya, 16, can be found working the register; her parents help out on Saturdays.

“The name [of our shop is a combination of our family’s names]. I’m the K. My husband, Jonathan, and our daughters, Ja’Kaiya and Jaliyah, are the J’s. … K&J’s Elegant Pastries described our family, and we wanted it to be a family business. … That’s how I came up with [the name].”

Ensley Native

Bryant is an Ensley native who went through the Birmingham City Schools system, attending Councill Elementary School, Daniel Payne Middle School, and P.D. Jackson-Olin High School.

“A lot of kids from that area and [in the city of] Birmingham think, ‘It’s so run down, and you can’t do anything,’ … and [they] don’t really get a chance to see anything outside of that,” she said. “That’s why I love to tell people I’m from Birmingham, and I’m a product of Birmingham City Schools, just really a girl from inner-city Birmingham. I love it.”

Bryant set her mind on attending the Art Institute of Atlanta and got accepted, but she never got a chance to attend after she graduated from high school in 2001.

“I couldn’t go to Atlanta,” she said. “My dad lost his job, so my parents were unable to get me a car. [Also], … the Art Institute didn’t have dorms and [my parents] would have had to [help me rent] an apartment.”

Bryant enrolled in Virginia College, where she went to school for savories, meaning she learned about preparing whole meals. Every day in school was something new for Bryant: she learned about different herbs and spices, how to break down a cow carcass to make steaks, and even how to make ice sculptures. She completed every semester of school except for her very last semester before graduation which was her internship but she did have her job at the restaurant to fall back on.

Bryant believes that working at a restaurant may have been her best education because she had the opportunity to work at every single station in the kitchen: pizza and pasta; boiled, grilled, and fried foods; and appetizers.

“You have to learn all the recipes,” she said. “Everything is made from scratch, so you have to know the recipes; you get tested on them and everything. Every time you learn a new station, you get a raise. I started out making $9 [an hour], and everybody else was making $15 or $16 [an hour]. I didn’t know anything, so it was like, ‘If you want a raise, you’ve gotta learn all these stations.’”

More than a Side Hustle

Bryant held her restaurant job for about eight years, during which time she also started making cakes for friends and family. Eventually, she attracted a clientele beyond her family.

“I started asking my bosses, ‘Hey, can I be off maybe this Friday or Saturday? I have a couple of cakes I’m going to do.’ After I started [baking] as a side hustle, the next year I was doing six or seven cakes a week. So, it was like, ‘Whoa, you’re doing a lot of cakes and working full time,’” she said.

She started baking cakes full time in 2010, making cakes from home for about five years before she got her first store. Shortly after she started baking at home, she and her family moved from Birmingham to Alabaster in 2011. Bryant’s husband had worked for Norfolk Southern Railroad for about 16 years, so when a position opened in Alabaster, he took the job.

“People didn’t want to drive all the way to Alabaster for a cake,” Bryant said. “I still had a few customers that would come out, but I had to generate new customers and new business in my area. My girls were dancing, so I would reach out to dance moms or people I knew from school. I had little cards I would pass out, and I did that for almost two years.”

In 2012, she created a website to reach more customers, and that’s when she encountered the customer who called the Shelby County Health Department. After the incident, Bryant decided to donate the cake and put it out on social media. She eventually gave the cake to a family whose house had burned down in a fire and had a baby that had just turned a year old.

Bryant has been in her current location for almost two years. When she first set up shop, she thought of a new treat to add to her menu of cupcakes, cookies, and cakes.“Mother of Milkshakes”

“We thought about the ice cream because I had worked [for a popular ice cream company] before, and … I realized that we don’t have [many] ice cream places [locally],” she said. “My husband was like, ‘Yeah, let’s add the ice cream.’ We added the ice cream and milkshakes, and business skyrocketed. We did 200 or 300 percent more than what we were doing at the other location.”

Bryant’s goal is to expand her business beyond Alabama—and she would love to build a store in her hometown. To start shipping outside of the state, however, she would need two full kitchens; her current location has one kitchen.

“We’re looking for a location we can grow out of,” she said. “I really want to be able to ship all over the U.S., … so I would need a full on [additional] kitchen to run a shipping process, and we’ve seen some sites in Birmingham.

“That’s where I’m from. I feel like if I were in Birmingham, [our sales] would triple. There’s nothing like this downtown Birmingham.”

K&J’s Elegant Pastries is located at 236 First St. S., Alabaster, Ala.; they also have a food truck. Store hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays; food truck locations can be found on Bryant’s social media platforms: @kjselegantpastries on Instagram and K&J’s Elegant Pastries on Facebook. For more information, call 205-663-4827 or visit www.kjselegantpastries.com.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times. 

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AUTO REVIEW: 2019 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross SEL: The Brand’s Sporty Hatchback-Like Crossover

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The nicely equipped Eclipse Cross is priced to undercut its competitors, with a starting price just shy of $25,000. While it might be slightly more than compact crossovers, this Mitsubishi definitely undercuts similarly equipped midsize crossovers. A well-equipped Eclipse Crossover tops off at around $33,000. This is well below the competition in which some cases tip into in to the $40,000 price range.

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The Eclipse Cross has become the brand’s third best-selling vehicle. Its available in a variety of trims, at a price point that could easily undercut the competition by close to $10,000, depending upon if the vehicle is going head-to-head with the compact or midsize crossover segment.

By Jeff Fortson of JeffCars.com, NNPA Newswire Contributor

Highlight: Love it or hate it, the vehicle offers a Lexus-like touchpad controller.

Test Vehicles MSRP: $32,610(Base MSRP: $24,690)

Seating Capacity: 5

Standard Safety Features: airbags; ABS; traction control; fog lights; heated power side mirrors; rear wiper; a rear-view camera; a hill start assist system; a tire pressure monitoring system; and a temporary spare tire

Standard Equipment (Base ES Model): 16-inch wheels; front-wheel drive; halogen headlights; front bumper center; black lower door trim; a rear privacy glass; electric power steering; roof spoiler; a single zone automatic climate control system; cloth seats; manually adjustable front seats; a sliding rear seat with a recline feature; a manually operated tilt/telescopic steering wheel; and a variety of driving modes

Standard Equipment (SEL Model): 18-inch wheels; all-wheel drive; LED headlights; chrome grille; paddle shifters; an 8-way power driver’s seat; heated front seats; a rear seat center armrest with cupholders; a leather wrapped shift knob; a 7-inch infotainment screen; SiriusXM radio; Apple CarPlay and android compatibility; automatic off/on headlight feature; a 360-degree camera; a heads up display system; power folding side view mirrors; illuminated visor vanity mirrors; a dual zone automatic climate control system; an electronic parking brake; an automatic hold brake feature; center console box compartment tray; and blind spot warning with a rear cross traffic alert system and a lane changing assist system

Options: Red Diamond exterior color; a tonneau cover; a dual pane power panoramic sunroof; a premium 9-speaker audio system; a forward collision mitigation system; a lane departure warning system; a radar activated cruise control system; a forward collision mitigation system; a lane departure warning system; a radar-activated cruise control system; automatic high beam headlights; a heated steering wheel; rear heated seats; automatic dimming rear view mirrors; and roof rails

Other Trim Levels: LE, SP, SE

Standard Audio on Test Vehicle: a 6-speaker AM/FM/HD audio system

Bluetooth Connectivity: Standard

Apple CarPlay/Android Compatibility: Standard

USB Connectivity: Standard

Bumper-to-Bumper Warranty: 5 years or 60,000 miles

Powertrain Warranty10 years or 100,000 miles

Standard Engine/Horsepower: 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder turbo engine/152-hp

Recommended FuelRegular

Standard Fuel Mileage: 26-city/29-hwy

What’s New: After joining the lineup last year, the vehicle is virtually a carryover for the 2019 model year. In 2018, the product planning team at Mitsubishi resurrected the Eclipse name, a once sporty two-door model.

Why: The stylish compact crossover is available in a variety of trims. In fact, in terms of crossovers, the vehicle slots between the compact and midsize segments. The hatchback-like design mimics that of BMW’s popular X4 and X6 models. The spacious Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross is powered by a front wheel drive or an all-wheel drive configuration. With the exception of the base ES model, an all-wheel drive configuration is standard on all of the trims.

We spent time behind the wheel of the higher end SEL trim. The vehicle offered a premium interior and loads of amenities normally reserved for pricier vehicles. Our vehicle included everything from a touchpad controller to a power driver’s seat to a dual panoramic roof, which included two power operated sliding covers. However, the front roof is functional, while the rear seat roof is fixed. In our review vehicle, the rear occupants also had access to heated seats and a center armrest.

The Eclipse Cross, which also offers great road manners, rides more like a midsize vehicle as opposed to a compact crossover. Mitsubishi’s compact crossover also incorporates the latest safety designs. Those safety aids range from electronic blind spot mirrors to a radar-activated cruise control system to a lane keep assist system to a 360-degree camera.

Furthermore, the optional 9-speaker Rockford Fosgate, 710-watt audio system, is one of the best radios we’ve heard in a vehicle in this price point. The system delivers a crystal-clear concert hall sound. In fact, the audio system could easily rival those we’ve experienced in BMWs, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Volvos, which offers more speakers.

The nicely equipped Eclipse Cross is priced to undercut its competitors, with a starting price just shy of $25,000. While it might be slightly more than compact crossovers, this Mitsubishi definitely undercuts similarly equipped midsize crossovers.  A well-equipped Eclipse Crossover tops off at around $33,000. This is well below the competition in which some cases tip into in to the $40,000 price range.

Lastly, Mitsubishi offers one of the best warranties in the industry.

But: The swanky design and the flashy color did not translate into the engine department. The turbo power vehicle is underpowered, lacking the punch that should complement the design and heritage of the Eclipse name. Mitsubishi should strongly consider adding a GT version, which could offer more horsepower to the vehicle.

Also, a front wheel drive configuration is only available on the base model. This configuration should be available on the other trims. Not every region of the country requires continuous all-wheel drive. Adding a front wheel drive version could lower the price point of the vehicle, making it a more eye-popping offer.

Moreover, the touchscreen audio system should add knobs to the screen, making it easier to locate stations and the like. Ford had a similar knobless touchscreen a few years ago and realized from a customer satisfaction standpoint it was better to reincorporate it back into their system.

Lastly, the horizontal rear bar, which connects two widows, could slightly impede the driver’s view. And, in order to improve the driver’s rear vision, the rear seat headrests should always be lowered, when not in use.

Verdict: Since joining the line-up, the Eclipse Cross has become the brand’s third best-selling vehicle. Its available in a variety of trims, at a price point that could easily undercut the competition by close to $10,000, depending upon if the vehicle is going head-to-head with the compact or midsize crossover segment.

Despite the standard turbo engine, for those not seeking a performance-oriented crossover that breaks speed records, the Eclipse Cross is worth placing on the shopping list!

Competition: Chevy Equinox; Ford Edge; Honda CR-V; Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue; and Toyota RAV-4

About Jeff Fortson and JeffCars.com: Jeff Fortson is the host of SiriusXM Channel 141 Auto Trends with JeffCars.com. The show airs on Fridays at 12 PM ET. It’s a weekly multicultural automotive show, which includes in-depth conversations with today’s influencers and pioneers. For additional air times, a new-vehicle pricing configurator, used car-buying tips and more, cruise over to JeffCars.com.

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AUTO REVIEW: 2018 Hyundai IONIQ Electric Limited: An Autoganic Delight

NNPA NETWORK — The IONIQ Electric rolls on chunky 205/55R16 Michelin tires wrapped around eco-spoke alloy rims. The package was pleasantly impressive during driving periods in extreme wintry conditions in the Northeast part of the country. HID Xenon headlamps with Dynamic Bending Lights (DBL) and LED taillamps enhance the IONIQ’s technology capabilities.

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The IONIQ Electric Limited was additionally enhanced with Blue Link Connected Services and Blue Link Connected Care. For safety and convenience Hyundai empowered the EV with Smart Cruise Control featuring start/stop technology, a proximity key and push button starter, Vehicle Stability Management, Lane Keep Assist System and Automatic Emergency Braking to name a few.

Experienced by Kimatni D. Rawlins

My perspective on alternative energy sources is quite simple. I absolutely love electric vehicles (EV) and the potential they have for impacting and reducing human reliance on crude oil. Global Warming is not a myth folks, so we have to absolutely do all we can to sustain Mother Earth’s future by righting many of the wrongs committed through pollution.

Therefore, I become enamored when automotive brands like Hyundai commit to resolutions that help rectify the quandary by way vehicles running off our electrical grid such as the 2018 IONIQ Electric Limited we recently tested.

Our midsize sedan came in a Symphony Air Silver exterior hue and black on black interior which was rather roomy and designed with recycled and ecologically-sensitive materials. In the backrow the kids had all the legroom needed for their daily antics without complaints and the headroom for my 6-foot frame was more than adequate. Moreover, to reduce battery usage, Hyundai’s climate control system can be switched to ‘Driver only’ mode.

The IONIQ Electric rolls on chunky 205/55R16 Michelin tires wrapped around eco-spoke alloy rims. The package was pleasantly impressive during driving periods in extreme wintry conditions in the Northeast part of the country. HID Xenon headlamps with Dynamic Bending Lights (DBL) and LED taillamps enhance the IONIQ’s technology capabilities.

EVs are fun to drive being that their electric torque creates instantaneous acceleration. I experienced the IONIQ Electric Limited in the city, on longer highway stretches and in smaller community neighborhoods and enjoyed each manner of maneuverability. Keep in mind the IONIQ (as with most EVs) decelerates just as fast as it takes off when you let off the accelerator. Even without mashing the brake pedal the vehicle will feel like you mashed the brake pedal unless constant pressure is kept on the e-gas.

The autoganic Korean darling features a 118-horsepower 88kW electric powertrain, 28 kWh 360V lithium-ion polymer battery, 6.6 kW on-board charger and DC Fast Charging capabilities. The typical drive selector is replaced with individual push buttons and regenerative braking can be actuated through the steering wheel control paddles. Get this, the flat-bottom steering wheel is just as sporty as some of Hyundai’s other sedans.

2017 Ioniq Electric Vehicle (EV)

The mindset of an EV driver is unique. You want to give back to the planet by rewarding it with consciousness but simultaneously do not wish to be inconvenienced. With a fully-charged driving range of 124 miles Hyundai’s EV is perfect for in-town errands and short roundtrips to the grocer and picking up the kids.

Yet, in my opinion the household will need to own at least one other vehicle due to the time it takes to charge and the unpredictability of life events. For example, I wanted to use the IONIQ for every stop I needed to make in a 14-hour span but had to come home to juice when the e-miles were counting down. My daughters would have lambasted me if I stopped at a station to charge after their long day of school and practices.

In my garage using the normal AC 120V the IONIQ needed an entire day and night for rejuvenation. If I were an EV owner I would have installed an AC Charger 240V so that the re-ups would only take 4 hours or so. Some popular charger models are the ClipperCreek, Juicebox Pro 40 and the AeroVironment TurboCord.

As well, at Home Depot you can pick up a ChargePoint charger for $778 or a Siemens for $433. According to Home Advisor the national average for the actual installation of a standard 240V EV charging station ranges between $425 and $978.

2017 Ioniq Electric Vehicle (EV)

Thankfully the IONIQ’s onboard Energy Information computations provided me with the time allotments each energy source required to charge. The fastest at 30 minutes is the industrial DC Fast Charger that supplies Direct Current (DC) to an EV without the need for a rectifier. You’ll find these at airports, dealerships and large retailers. The AC Charger (Alternating Current) requires conversion to DC power utilizing the EV’s onboard charger (rectifier). Since spacing is limited they are usually small, which in turn requires more time to charge the EV.

With my loaner I took a drive to Electrify America (EA) to learn about the company’s EV station rollout. Our IONIQ Electric was thrilled to be receiving fresh juice after the hour-long trip down to Reston, VA from Silver Spring, MD.

EA is devoting $2 billion over a 10-year period to expand the Zero Emission Vehicle infrastructure, educate curious consumers and increase access to their nationwide charging network.

Millions of Americans will become enlightened by the advantages of electric driving stemming from 17 metropolitan locations and high-traffic corridors in 42 states including two cross-country routes. Owners and vehicle manufacturers can also expect more than 2,000 EA chargers across 484 stations sites in the U.S. by July 1, 2019.

2017 Ioniq Electric Vehicle (EV)

Thus, I’m looking forward to seeing EA populate shopping centers so EV lovers can become more secure with their daily routines without worrying about range anxiety which is that expressed emotion when running low on power without a charging station in site. Mike Moran in communications explained that Electrify America will place stations — in clusters of 4 to ten chargers — at more than 100 Walmart stores.

Just because your vehicle is electric doesn’t mean it will be basic, especially if we’re referring to the iconic IONIQ. For $36,885 my ride was adorned with a power tilt and sliding sunroof, 8” touchscreen navigation system and rearview camera, SiriusXM, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats and wireless phone charging which I used often.

The IONIQ Electric Limited was additionally enhanced with Blue Link Connected Services and Blue Link Connected Care. For safety and convenience Hyundai empowered the EV with Smart Cruise Control featuring start/stop technology, a proximity key and push button starter, Vehicle Stability Management, Lane Keep Assist System and Automatic Emergency Braking to name a few.

The world is advancing through innovation quicker than a blink of an eye, and rightfully so. We must all begin adapting. Gasoline-powered autos still rule the land but it’s inevitable that electric vehicles will become our future, and in time their reign will increase precipitously.

Pros

  • Quick electric charge
  • Extensive multi-media features
  • Roomy interior

Cons

Range anxiety still kicks in

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