HARLEM — Charmaine DaCosta had some hiccups before achieving her dream.
After the nonprofit company she worker for shuttered in 2012, she aimed to get into the food industry — but without the resources to go the traditional route.
“Going into food for me meant a restaurant and I realized I don’t have the funding for a restaurant,” she said.
“There were not many great options out there.”
So she started to think outside the box, focusing on creating a Caribbean-inspired juice that was completely natural.
She spent that year figuring out “how to get a natural product to the market without preservatives, without boiling it and without artificial colors.
Eventually she came up with Limation, an organic limeade.
She then entered the Harlem Business Alliance’s business plan on a fluke.
“And I won,” she said, “which really took me in a-whole-new direction.”
Now she is one of 11 local businesses and entrepreneurs selected to have their products featured on the shelves of Harlem’s new Whole Foods Market when it opens on West 125th Street next year.
The store announced this week the first of the Harlem-based businesses whose products it will stock. Ten of them are food-based and one is a personal grooming company.
Through the Harlem Local Vendor Partner Program, which is a partnership between the company and entrepreneur network Harlem Park to Park, the 11 companies beat out 360 applicants.
The businesses include some familiar faces such as the iconic Sylvia’s Soul Food Restaurant, which will sell its organic seasonings, and some newcomers such as Limation.
Others include Bo’s Bagels, Clean Plate Co., Danny Macaroons, Ginjan, Harlem Chocolate Factory, Leela Ryan Dog Biscuits, Snacks of Africa, Sol Cacao and Ultimate Shaving Experience.
For DaCosta, getting into Whole Foods was a tough road.
In 2015, she hired a sales person who got her product accepted by online grocery store Fresh Direct and A&P supermarkets, which would have put her in 290 stores in the northeast, she said.
But the supermarket filed for bankruptcy when her first shipment was ready.
“That really set me back,” she said. “I was also not ready to give up on the business, so I just pressed forward.
“I decided I needed to grow some cojones.”
She sold her apartment and poured more money into her business. She worked with Harlem Park to Park and applied, for the third time, to get her product picked up by Whole Foods. This time she succeeded.
“It’s just really been a series of learning experiences for me, learning a lot and growing a lot,” she said.
“I’m excited about what this relationship with Whole Foods will bring. I believe that we’re in a good place.
“I did not want to wait for someone else’s permission to do what I love to do. My future is now and I have to build it now.”