April 21, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Diverse businesses could make extra money with Super Bowl

Jeanette Bolden-Pickens’ legacy should be solid gold. She won a gold medal for the United States as a sprinter in the 1984 Olympic Games, a victory for the home team.

Bolden-Pickens struck gold on the track at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. From there, head east on Martin Luther King Boulevard, then turn north on Central Avenue until reaching the corner of 27th Street. The drive takes about 10 minutes, and it takes Bolden-Pickens back to her childhood.

She grew up at the 27th Street Bakery. Her grandparents sold baked goods in the front of the store and lived in the back. If she was not in school or on the track, you could find her at the bakery.

The bakery opened in 1956, two years before the Dodgers arrived in Los Angeles, four years before the Lakers. It’s still there, and still in the family, with a website that embraces a different kind of legacy.

“What’s your family legacy?” the website asks. “Ours is making Homemade Sweet Potato Pies!”

After 24 years coaching at UCLA — her alma mater — and Central Florida, Bolden-Pickens now is a third-generation proprietor of the beloved bakery, faithfully producing peach cobbler, red velvet cake, pecan pie and the signature sweet potato pie.

Her mother, Alberta, was known in the neighborhood as “the pie lady.” Bolden-Pickens, 61, is training a fourth generation of family bakers.

“It’s really a godsend to have the bakery in our family for such a long time,” she said. “I have a grandson, and he’ll be the fifth generation. We’re really trying to make sure it stays alive.”

Jeanette Bolden races at the The Times Indoor Games at the Forum in February 1986.

The NFL could provide an assist. With the Super Bowl scheduled for SoFi Stadium next year, Bolden-Pickens has signed up for a league program established to promote diversity among businesses bidding for a share of the corporate dollars surrounding the game.

The Business Connect program, administered locally by the Los Angeles Sports and Entertainment Commission (LASEC), links small companies owned by minorities, women, veterans and members of the LGBTQ community with Super Bowl business opportunities — not directly with the NFL, but through events associated with the game.

For instance, a VIP party might need food, drinks, entertainment, tables, chairs, tents and staffing. Bolden could pitch the party planners on pie.

“You can go to the Super Bowl and have your hot dogs and your cotton candy,” Bolden-Pickens said. “But most of us are going to go over to the line with the barbecue and the large turkey drumsticks. Turkey drumsticks and barbecue do not go with cotton candy. Pie goes. And what kind of pie? Sweet potato pie.”

Pitching pies is a piece of cake for Jeanette Bolden-Pickens, who was the head coach of the U.S. women’s track and field team at the 2008 Olympics.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

LASEC president Kathryn Schloessman said her group plans to create a similar program for major events headed to town this decade. That calendar includes the 2022 baseball All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium, the 2023 national college football championship game at Sofi Stadium, the 2023 U.S. Open golf tournament at Los Angeles Country Club, and the 2028 Olympic Games.

“This is not a one-and-done for us,” she said.

The Business Connect program provides exposure, networking and training. Neither the NFL nor the LASEC promises that companies chosen for the program actually will generate business from it.

“We can put you in the room with the right people,” Schloessman said. “We can’t guarantee you business.”

Jeanette Bolden-Pickens, left, delivers pies order to Clarence Ellis, a longtime customer from Sylmar.

Jeanette Bolden-Pickens, left, delivers pies order to Clarence Ellis, a longtime customer from Sylmar.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

In these pandemic times, Bolden-Pickens needs all the opportunities she can find. Her bakery delivers to mom-and-pop restaurants, and those orders dried up as people stopped eating out. She had to lay off some workers and reduce hours for others. She partnered with delivery services like DoorDash and GrubHub, and set up a curbside pickup area.

“What do we do when we’re all at home?” she said, laughing. “We eat!”

Public speaking comes easily to Bolden-Pickens. She was the head coach of the U.S. women’s track and field team in the 2008 Olympics. As a college coach for two dozen years, recruiting comes easily, too.

But pitching pies in a pandemic presents a peculiar problem. In person, she can hook potential customers with a taste of pie. On a Zoom pitch, all she can do is hold up a pie and throw out talking points.

Surely, she will talk about the difference between pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie.

“Sweet potato pie,” she said, “is like having a little bit more of an attitude.”

For information, visit the Super Bowl Business Connect website.