Earnest Flowers owns a supermarket that supports other Black small business owners in Southeast Queens. Photo courtesy of Earnest Flowers

As a teen growing up in Long Island, Earnest Flowers recalls reading a news article about a young Black man who opened a supermarket. The man lived in the Midwest, but the memory lived in the back of Flowers’ mind for years.

“It was just remarkable to me that, in all these huge cities, you’d never had a supermarket that was minority-owned,” Flowers said. “And I said, ‘we should at least have something that we own, that we can trust, and that we’re sure is gonna do the best for our community.’”

Flowers was able to provide that in 2021 when he opened Earnest Foods in Jamaica, Queens, where he had lived as a young child.

The making of Earnest Foods

Flowers credits his upbringing for the motivations to start and run a grocery business with mostly Black- and locally-owned products. And his appreciation of diverse natural ingredients stems from his own dual heritage: his mother was Jamaican and his father African American from Alabama. 

“I have the best of both worlds,” Flowers said. “I would always say I grew up eating callaloo and collard greens … and eating peas and rice and rice and peas.”

The son of a Seventh-day Adventist minister, Flowers also ate healthy food in moderate amounts. 

“In that faith, the health message is probably the strongest we have,” he said. “It was just ingrained in you about eating the best possible foods and that your body is a temple.” 

A kaleidoscope of peppers at Earnest Flowers. Photo courtesy of Earnest Flowers

Apart from the occasional Pop-Tart growing up, Flowers mostly stayed away from fast food. Same for Seventh-day Adventist dietary restrictions like pork and shellfish. Apart from the Jamaican and soul food, his family’s diet was largely made up of fruits, grains, vegetables, nuts, and water. 

“That [discipline] really colored everything that I saw in life going forward, not just in food, but in every other aspect of life,” he said. 

At Oakwood University, a historically Black Seventh-day Adventist university in Alabama, he encountered a different kind of discipline that would help him on his path to Earnest Foods: meeting other Black people his age serious about religion and subjects like chemistry. 

“The confidence you have that you can really achieve anything … no matter what I’ve ever gone through in life, I always found a way to serve the community,” he said.

Elizabeth M. Madison, a registered dietician who collaborates with Earnest Foods on nutrition education. Photo courtesy of Earnest Flowers

After earning a bachelor’s degree in economics, Flowers returned to New York City to get an MBA from St. John’s University. Back in New York, he mentored youths in churches across Manhattan and the Bronx, where he learned the power of showing up. 

“If you’re going to take on a project, whether it be a grocery store or mentoring … you’re gonna make mistakes, but you have to be consistent,” Flowers said. “If you’re consistent, and if you have a foundation of compassion, that will make up for a lot of mistakes.” 

Flowers later served as the small business director for Senator Leroy Comrie, who represented southeast Queens from the early 2000s to 2013. In his role, Flowers tried to get healthy-brand supermarkets like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods to move into the area, which faces what food policy experts call a “grocery gap.” He was unsuccessful. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Flowers began to seriously consider opening his own grocery store. He and neighbors were selling organic produce under a tent measuring 10 feet by 20 feet at the Laurelton Farmers Market (now Sovereign Markets). His tent was flanked by those of other Black small-business owners. Among them: Sassy Sweet Vegan Treats and Agamems Beauty, whose products he would ultimately stock in his supermarket. 

Earnest Flowers with Celeste Sassine and Jean-Andre Sassine of Sassy Sweet Vegan Treats. Photo courtesy of Earnest Flowers

“People really gravitated toward [our tent] — it was like our litmus test,” Flowers said. “And we said, ‘hey, if we open a real store selling these high-quality, organic fruits and vegetables, would you come?’ 

They said yes. 

Earning a loyal base at Earnest Foods

In November 2021, Flowers opened Earnest Foods on Merrick Boulevard in Jamaica, Queens. 

At first, there was a trickle of customers, neighbors of the Flowers, or those who saw it in local newspapers. 

One customer, Tamara Ambrose, used to drive to other neighborhoods, some as far as downtown Brooklyn for organic produce that won’t trigger her body’s immune system. 

“When I learned about Earnest Foods, I was through the roof because now I don’t have to go so far,” Ambrose said. 

Earnest Foods’ ribbon cutting was in November 2021, with employees and unofficial business partner Tiffany Cooper. Photo courtesy of Earnest Flowers

The business soon cemented loyalty by going beyond standard customer service. For Ambrose, who suffered from anxiety about driving after a car accident in 2022, it meant a lot that an employee would drive her and her groceries home. 

Flowers has also introduced customers to new foods. He exposed Ambrose to the unprocessed cacao and organic parchment paper that led her to experiment with chocolate-covered Brazil nuts to create a cross between a Twix and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup — but much healthier. 

“Earnest is extremely courteous — something you don’t really find nowadays in the stores,” said Rosalie Mcallister. When the store is out of frozen coconut water for Mcallister’s mother, who is ill, he stacks up on it for her next visit. 

Earnest Flowers with former NYC Small Businesses Commissioner Jonnel Dorris. Photo courtesy of Earnest Flowers

“The biggest change is the consistency of my customers coming to the store and seeing them develop, seeing them change eating patterns, or seeing them happier about having this access within walking or driving distance,” Flowers said. 

Several customers told Epicenter NYC that shopping at Earnest Foods means they’re not just supporting one Black-owned small business, but many.  

“Seeing we have over 45 Black-owned items in the store, from detergent to honey to ice cream, we have a Black farm Upstate that gives us eggs every other week — them seeing that and being proud of supporting that [matters],” said Flowers.

Earnest Foods

123-01 Merrick Blvd, Jamaica NY, 11434

(718) 928- 5511

Read more of our small business stories here.

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