Towards the end of a 13-month deployment, Lt. Cmdr. Thereasa Black, a Navy reservist, found herself wondering how she would juggle civilian life, motherhood, and a career. Long working hours were not what she wanted for her and her daughter. She knew there had to be a sweeter way.
While still in the desert Black began to brainstorm business ideas that combined her love of baking with her desire to start her own business. She combed her background for inspiration and bounced ideas off of friends. Fueled by the need for a balanced lifestyle, a gelato business and the brand Bon AppéSweet were ultimately born.
Black now enjoys churning out creamy goodness for her customers in flavors like Pistachio Swirl, Banana Pudding, and S’mores, all made with organic ingredients and natural sweeteners.
She grew up in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, close enough to the famous Hershey Park that the aroma of chocolate filled the air. As a child she stood out from the others, working hard to create her own success and developing a unique drive and fiery spirit that continued throughout her college career. She held down as many as four jobs at once, keeping her college debt low and allowing her to pay off her loans by the age of 23. She joined the Navy after college and served for five and a half years as active duty before transitioning to the reserves and studying law at George Washington University Law School.
“I always wanted to go to law school,” said Black. “When I was in eighth grade, I was assigned to debate against the death penalty. I learned pretty quickly that the criminal justice system was messed up, and I made a promise right then, that when I grew up, if these things were not fixed, I was going to fix them.”
When her daughter was born, Black began to shift her focus and consider a life they would both enjoy.
After spending 13 months away, she knew it was time to transition and launch her own business. She opened Bon AppéSweet in Arlington, Virginia, in December 2019.
“While you may think, ‘Oh, it’s only ice cream,’” said Black, “the answer to why it’s so special is on all of my pints.”
Each pint has a ‘Stay Woke’ fact about the injustices of the cash bail system and underfunded public defenders printed on the side. Black continues to be committed to social justice even if she’s not actively involved in the justice system.
In 2020, Black earned support from major names like Stacy’s Pita Chips, Beyoncé’s BeyGOOD Impact Fund, and the Washington Football Team’s Shop Black Initiative. She was forced to close her brick-and-mortar store due to recent COVID-19 restrictions but quickly pivoted to e-commerce sales of her artisanal chocolates and both dairy and oat milk gelato.
While currently searching for a new location, the Bon AppéSweet brand is still available at select grocery stores. Black has added date-sweetened, paleo-friendly chocolate bars to the line-up. Flavors are high in protein, gluten-free, and, most importantly, available for shipment anywhere in the U.S. as well as bases overseas.
Black said that when transitioning out of active duty, the best thing a person can do is research. She recommends using resources like BunkerLabs and PenFed for financial help and advice.
“Do your homework on what you want to do, research the trajectory of the field that you want to enter, and figure out what is going to make your business or product unique,” she said. “Do not wait until you get out to make your plans. Think of it like any mission that you go on. You don’t wait until you’re in the landing zone to start figuring out what you’re going to do — you plan, go over the plan, run the plan by others, modify it, approve it, then execute. The same should be true in your life.”