Welcome to Trep Talk! Trep Talk features some of our city’s compelling entrepreneurs who are boldly building what is uniquely Memphis. The spotlight series is curated by Elizabeth Lemmonds, Director of Talent Programs for the EPIcenter.
If you’ve been reading Trep Talk you have no doubt sensed the common thread that my favorite entrepreneurs to spotlight have unique business concepts, but are also deeply passionate about both their businesses and the community. As we talk today with Brandon Thomas of Guilt Free Pastries – home of the Mid-South’s first and original avocado brownies – you may pick up on another one of my favorite things: chocolate. We kicked off the series with Phillip Rix and his decadent edible works of art, and I’m already returning… BUT this time around we focus on treats that are both decadent and guilt free!
To back up a moment, I first became familiar with GFP because I started hearing about Brandon. His personal story in inspiring, dramatically shifting his lifestyle in order to gain control of his health. His entrepreneurial journey is fascinating, as well! I’ll let him share the details below, but his three university degrees are all in the social sciences. During his efforts to shift to a guilt free lifestyle he longed for a healthier sweet treat… and when he couldn’t find one that suited him, he set out to create one by adapting his years of self-taught culinary experience to a new purpose. Talk about a perfect example of problem solving entrepreneurial hustle!
I finally got to experience these guilt free treats at a Memphis Urban League Young Professionals Empowerment Conference. I happen to love everything about the concept of organic and butter-free decadence – and brownies at under 100 calories – but I promise that no matter your typical diet you will find his avocado brownies positively addicting (including the vegan version)! And psst… both small and large sampler trays are available to order from the website!
I know that once you read his Q&A you’ll want to go see Brandon on South Main! Try a brownie, cookie or muffin. Ask him about the Guilt Free Lifestyle. You can even ask him about the collection on his bookshelf of The Walking Dead series… Enjoy!
Give us your elevator pitch! What sets you apart? Guilt Free Pastries (GFP) is a health and wellness company specializing in Avocado Brownies™ and pastries that are organic, grain-free, gluten-free, butter-free, refined sugar-free and vegan products all under 100 calories.
What – or who – was your inspiration? Living a DRUG FREE life was my first inspiration. While I have never utilized “recreational” drugs (alcohol, tobacco, narcotics, etc.) being born with bronchitis asthma and living within a culture that’s geared around “quick fixes” led to the first 16 years of my life being highly doped up (medicated) on physician issued medications. Those medications (drugs) span from five different varieties of steroid based drugs taken daily, a weekly allergy shot, and a weekly asthma shot for the first 16 years of my life.
The combination of being given drugs on a weekly basis and living a stereotypical Southern diet led to me weighing 300 pounds at 16. On my 16th b-day I decided to make a change in my life and not become a product of the environment or another member of my family with high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, or any other self-given disease. May 2001 I stopped all drugs (medications) and started focusing on what I put in my body, started moving (exercising) everyday and by August 2001 I weighed 175 pounds and have been maintaining that weight for the last 15 years. That journey began the Guilt Free Lifestyle™.
What lured you to entrepreneurship? Growing up my parents told me that you must consciously follow to learn how to be an honest leader and that you should always strive to work for dreams and become your own boss. I did not always know I was destined to be an entrepreneur but I did always know that I wanted to help those who are truly ready to help themselves and create my own little road in life– in hopes that it could help my family and those it impacts.
In the winter of 2013 I discovered that I was allergic to Gluten and that consuming anything with gluten in it caused extremely serious medical issues. My love for sweets did not leave with the 125 pounds I shed back in 2001 and practically all sweets contain gluten. After searching for local places within the Mid-South area for great tasting and CLEAN gluten-free pastries and not being able to find it I decided to create my own. After 3 months of trial and error my Avocado Brownies™ were a success, and were not only free of gluten but of grains, refined sugar, hydrogenated oils, butter, non-gmo, and made with organic ingredients. This creation led me to continue to create more and more variations of pastries.
Employees at the grocery store noticed my basket full of avocados, inquired about what I was creating, and 3 months later I had all required paperwork, website launched (delivering locally and shipping nationwide) and Guilt Free Pastries was on the shelves of one local grocer. Within 6 months they could be found within 5 different locations around Memphis.
I started cracking eggs (more shells in the bowl than yolk) at the age of 7 and never left the kitchen since. I have always loved to cook what I eat more so than find it outside my home. I have over 20 years of self-taught culinary experience and I also obtained 3 degrees in Social Sciences: B.A.in Psychology, Sociology and a Masters degree in Clinical & Applied Sociology. All of my past experiences with the culinary arts and within academia have provided great experience with understand people and how food can be one of many tools towards enlightenment.
What are the most rewarding parts of owning this business? One of the most rewarding aspects of Guilt Free Pastries is the ability to help someone understand that they are in control of their own health and wellness. This understanding is one of the main core values of the Guilt Free Lifestyle. Also the joy of seeing someone understand that just because a food item is free of all the “normal” ingredients (sugar, gluten, butter, artificial flavors and colors) it can in fact taste better than or the same as items containing those unhealthy ingredients.
How do you maintain the elusive work/life balance? When one truly loves what they do there’s really no time that it does not consume them, so work/play are one in the same.
What should be on every entrepreneur’s bookshelf? A book that makes that individual think OUTSIDE of whatever box they allow themselves to be within. Books should educate, enlighten, entertain, drive, create, and inspire the reader. My personal bookshelf includes practically everything from the complete collection of The Walking Dead graphic novels to works by DuBois, Bell, Burnell, Marable, and others.
Who’s on your playlist right now? I honestly don’t have a playlist; there are just loads of music on my phone that I randomly jam to. I simply listen to whatever moves me. But there’s certain artist that can always be found on any device I own: Earth, Wind, and Fire, Big Mama Thornton, Willie Hutch, Bobby Womack, Gramatik, Alina Baraz & Galimatias, DJ Strooly (Local Memphis cat aka Future-Everything), Betty Wright, BJ The Chicago Kid, Con Funk Shun, and this list could go on for days but that gives you the gist.
Got any guilty pleasures you’re willing to share? Hmm… Nope. 🙂
What are some of your favorite local businesses and Memphis-made products?
**Croshayme: Our go-to for all things marketing and events based.
**Amor Aromas Candles: One of our featured vendors within our storefront and one of the best local made wood-wick candles.
**Replenish Juice & Tea Bar: Our suburban go-to for all things CLEAN and yummy. The best juice bar in town!
**Phillip Ashley Chocolates: This is one place I go to at times when I feel like eating the Rolls Royce of fine chocolates. Chef Obi-Wan Ashley is a Master at what he does.