- Associated Press - Saturday, March 4, 2017

GARY, Ind. (AP) - Lashun Taylor gives all her praise to God.

And, these days, to milkshakes.

“Yes, God and milkshakes,” she said with a chuckle.

The 47-year-old Merrillville woman owns Z’s Donut Bar and Bakery in Gary. Her small shop has become a destination location for hundreds of out-of-town customers and sweets-lovin’ Gary residents since earlier this month.

That’s when Taylor began serving her special kind of customized milkshakes at her business, which opened in 2015 at another location in downtown Gary. Business was steady there and at her current location, but nothing like it’s been the past three weeks.

Taylor found herself at a crossroads in life, and she prayed for guidance. Her prayer was answered through a random Instagram photo of a milkshake, she believes.

“I can do this milkshake,” she told herself. “And I can sell it.”

She experimented with one and posted photos of it on Facebook. Social media “likes” turned into “shares” almost overnight. Her sweet webpage went viral. Two days later, she didn’t know what hit her little shop of milkshakes and bakery goods.

Customers converged there in droves. From out of town. From out of state. From the furthest reaches of Gary, which hasn’t seen such a business boom for bakery items in a long time. Not just any bakery items, these are pricey, high-quality bakery items.

Cupcakes sell for $3. Cake slices sell for $4.50. And those milkshakes, each one topped with an entire slice of cake, dripping with high-caloric goodness, cost $12. (Yes, you read that right.)

“We just take something they like and build a shake around it,” Taylor explained.

Only the mouth-watering aroma here is free. A sign behind the counter states: “If you LOVE me.if you truly SUPPORT me. don’t ask for ANYTHING FREE.”

Customers have been waiting in lines wrapped around the shop for an hour, or two, to buy these milkshakes. In the cold. In the rain. In Gary. It’s a sight to see, I tell you.

The milkshakes are something to see, too, adorned with your choice of cookies, candy, cake, cookies, you name it. A sign on the shop’s front door warns customers about the massive size of the shakes: “Not Responsible For Shakes Once They’re Out The Door! Hold Tight!”

Taylor, a Gary native who’s more of a businesswoman than a baker, has been struggling to hold tight to her newfound surge in business. Her shop is understaffed, with only three employees. But more are on the way, she promises. Also, some online reviews of her shop have been less than favorable, typically written by customers who wondered why they waited an hour or two for a shake.

The first day of ridiculously long lines took Taylor by surprise. She knew it was a busier day than usual, with supplies running out, but it took a customer to tell her the line was wrapped around her shop. Taylor, in disbelief, went out the back door to check.

“I saw all those people waiting in line, and I just started crying,” she told me between customers Thursday morning, before the milkshake rush started at 1 p.m.

Taylor braces for it by prepping in advance while selling bakery goods to a steady line of patrons. Everything from glazed doughnuts and bread pudding to brownies and turtle cheesecake.

One woman enjoyed her treats so much that she returned 10 minutes later to buy more and take photos to send to relatives out of town.

“To make them jealous,” she told me.

When customers ask for prices of some of the goods, Taylor doesn’t hesitate to tell them. Surprisingly, most of them don’t hesitate to reach for their wallet or purse. (My slice of bread pudding cost $3.50.)

“What I found out is that no matter how bad the economy gets, people find a way to eat, especially sweets,” Taylor said during one break.

The breaks don’t last very long here, though.

“I just came here to say congratulations!” one customer told Taylor. “You just got such a buzz going since I was last here. God bless!”

Z’s Donut Bar stands out at 19th and Broadway like one of its fancy new milkshakes in a bakery case of plain old doughnuts. A storefront Baptist church on the other side of Broadway sells salvation to passers-by. Abandoned homes litter the neighborhood behind it. A water tower across the street reminds customers where they are: “GARY.”

“The Gary Chamber of Commerce is delighted that this business chose to locate in our community,” said Chuck Hughes, executive director of the Gary Chamber of Commerce. “It constitutes an investment and demonstrates a commitment to the city of Gary. The chamber looks forward to welcoming them and assisting them in any way to be successful.”

At this point, it appears that Z’s Donut Bar is assisting the city to be successful.

“The nation is built on the shoulders of small businesses, and no business is too small,” Hughes said. “Communities, neighborhoods and a tax base are built primarily by business.”

Even Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson patronizes the shop, though she doesn’t have time to wait in line for those milkshakes.

“Great doughnuts,” she said.

Taylor thanks her milkshakes idea for her business explosion.

“It’s the shakes,” she said while preparing for her daily customer barrage for shakes at 1 p.m. “I think it’s just something different in Gary. We don’t have anything here like it. And people don’t mind paying for it, no matter the economy or their budget.”

Another customer popped into her shop with a sweet tooth and even sweeter charm.

“What are you putting in those shakes?” asked the charismatic middle-aged man. “I’ve got to have one right now.”

“Just good things,” Taylor replied.

“I drove past here the other day and saw that long line. That day was shake day here, huh?” he asked Taylor.

“Every day is shake day,” Taylor replied with a humble smile. “I tell ya, it’s a blessing from God.”

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Source: Post Tribune, https://trib.in/2lsk1OE

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Information from: Post-Tribune, https://posttrib.chicagotribune.com/


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