BATON ROUGE, La. — The past three years have been sweet for Leroy’s LipSmack’n Lemonade.
The business started in 2012 when Leroy Hayward III, then six years old, participated in Lemonade Day Louisiana, an annual event that teaches children to be entrepreneurs.
Sherilyn and Leroy Hayward Jr., Leroy’s parents, had just found out he was autistic and wanted to find things their son could do. They decided to set up a lemonade stand in their front yard, let Leroy sell drinks, and give some of the profits to his doctors at Children’s Hospital New Orleans.
“He loved the idea of handing out his lemonade,” Sherilyn Hayward said. “And then he really liked taking the money to the hospital. … It made him feel good about himself.”
After several years of selling drinks out of tents at festivals and in front of stores, the Haywards started selling lemonade by the gallon three years ago. Leroy’s lemonade can now be found in 36 local stores, including Rouses, Tony’s Seafood, Hi Nabor, Calandro’s, and Bet-R.
The business also has kiosks in Tiger Stadium, the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, and Alex Box Stadium.
“I had Tiger Stadium on Leroy’s vision board,” Hayward said. “We were like, ‘If we get in there, think of all the money we could give to the people at Children’s Hospital.’ So I sent an email out.”
Hayward didn’t have any contacts with LSU; she just sent an email to the concessions department. A few months later, she got a call from the concessions director, asking for a meeting.
“They asked us if we had a kiosk,” she said. The Haywards dipped into Leroy’s college fund to buy a kiosk. They’ve grown from one location in the stadium in 2017 to five.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the family started selling 16-ounce bottles of lemonade.
“We had to stay afloat,” Hayward said. “Gallons are expensive, so we figured if we could do something inexpensive, people could get it and go all of the time.”
The family now sells about 300 gallons and 500 cases of lemonade a week. All of the drinks are made, bottled, and stored in a small office off Industriplex Boulevard in Baton Rouge that’s decorated with pictures of Leroy and houses all kinds of items with lemon prints.
Leroy’s lemonade is all-natural, made with water, sugar, and fresh-squeezed lemons. The quality of the drink, along with the business’s purpose, is what has allowed it to grow.
“We donate to Children’s Hospital. We help children like Leroy with special needs,” Hayward said. “Lemonade is the thing we are using to make this happen.”
The business has grown from about $30,000 in revenue in 2019 to $213,000 in 2021, Hayward said. They’re on track to do $660,000 this year. The business has grown from being staffed just by the family to 12 employees.
“We do a lot now trying to inspire parents with special-needs kids,” Hayward said. “I do a lot of speaking to different organizations and tell a mom that has a special-needs child or a child on that autistic spectrum to never give up on them. I never would’ve dreamed I’d be doing that.”
The success of the business has brought opportunities to the Haywards. The family was invited to participate in a small business pitch competition sponsored by the National Urban League. Hayward won the event last month and collected a $10,000 cash prize.
The plan is to use the money as a down payment on two refrigerated trucks. This will enable Leroy’s lemonade to be sold in New Orleans and other states, including Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas.
“We’ve already got some grocery stores that want it in those locations,” Hayward said. “Rouses has given us a list of some locations as well.”
That would enable the business to double the amount of lemonade it sells. Hayward said she hopes the expansion will happen early next year. Plans are also in the works to move Leroy’s to a new location in north Baton Rouge.
Leroy has also been helped by the business. Hayward said he’s now open to talking and interacting with people. One of the big moments was when he first went to see the kiosk in Tiger Stadium and had people approaching him.
“The crowd of people didn’t treat him like he was different. I believe that’s when it clicked in his mind that he said he was just like everybody else,” she said. “The business has done wonders for Leroy, and if nothing else happened, that would be enough for me.”