The all-natural, fresh-squeezed lemonade made by 11-year-old Tre Glasper and his family in a Manhattan commercial kitchen is making its way to Kansas City thanks to a tart partnership with one of the Midwest’s leading grocery chains.
Tre typically sells about 100 bottles of Tre’s Squeeze — an amount that takes two to three hours to produce and package — a week in Manhattan, he said. The lemonade often sells out quickly at the Manhattan Hy-Vee, where the boy’s product has been stocked and sold for the past year, added his mother, Sheila Ellis-Glasper. After restocking, 100 to 150 bottles often sell out over the course of a weekend.
“The same thing happened in Kansas City, which we were a little bit surprised,” she said, noting the lemonade is already available in the metro with plans to add more local store locations. “We have a lot of friends in Kansas City and just people that have followed his journey on social media. So when we announced that he was going to be selling there at the Liberty store, we intended on leaving at least 100 bottles there. We came prepared with 150 bottles, but they sold out in an hour.”
With Tre’s mother and father on board, the business is a family affair. Even the boy’s 5-year-old brother, Jeremiah, gets in on the action as the official taste tester and bottle runner, Ellis-Glasper added.
Thanks to revenue from Tre’s venture, the family purchased a machine that squeezes about 25 lemons per minute — juicing expansion efforts that brought Tre’s Squeeze to Hy-Vee stores in Liberty and Grandview.
Click here to shop Tre’s Squeeze merchandise.
Tre’s Squeeze offers three year-round lemonade flavors — original, strawberry, and Wildcat punch — and a seasonal watermelon flavor. The Wildcat punch gets its purple color from butterfly pea flower powder.
Ellis-Glasper said the purple lemonade is a hit with Wildcats fans in Manhattan — and Kansas City — and even with the K-State men’s basketball team and coach Jerome Tang.
“He calls it the juice,” she continued. “He loves Tre’s juice. So Tre has been able to go up to the sports complex and deliver lemonade to the basketball team and the coaches there.”
Tre’s Squeeze first arrived in Kansas City after Tre entered the pitch competition at the Hy-Vee OpportUNITY Inclusive Business Summit in September, where Ellis-Glasper also pitched her business in a different category. In his first pitch competition, the youngest participant — whose favorite TV show is “Shark Tank” — was awarded $1,000.
Tre also participated in the StartUp MHK pitch competition in November, Ellis-Glasper added, where he made it to the final round but didn’t receive any funding.
“He did receive high marks from the judges,” she continued. “That’s really, I think, what we are trying to do is just expose him as much as possible to pitching. Understanding that sometimes you win some and sometimes you just gain experience or connections to people that can help you in the future with your business.”
In the market for inspiration
While helping with his uncle’s BBQ business at the Manhattan Farmers Market a couple summers ago, then 9-year-old Tre noticed a lack of drink vendors at the hometown bazaar.
Inspired, he set out to quench the thirst of market attendees.
“I asked my mom if I could make a lemonade stand,” recalled the young owner of Tre’s Squeeze, now 11. “She said yes, so we just went from there.”
Tre’s father, Jermaine, realized early on that this wasn’t going to be the typical kid’s lemonade stand, said Tre’s mother, Ellis-Glasper.
“His dad was like, ‘Well, can you just set up at the end of the street?’” she continued. “‘Do we have to do the farmers market? That’s a process. We’re gonna have to get a business license, tax ID. It’s not just a lemonade stand.’ And Tre was like, ‘No, I want to go to the farmers market because that’s where the people are. There’s people there (that) I know they will buy my lemonade. If I’m at the end of the street, I’m just not going to have as many people.’”
Two years later, Tre’s Squeeze — with the motto of “squeeze into your dreams” — has gone from the farmers market to events — like Third Thursdays and the inauguration lunch for Kansas State University President Richard Linton — to the shelves of Hy-Vee stores.
“I’m just in awe,” said Ellis-Glasper, the founder and CEO of SEG Media Collective. “I’ve never seen support like this for any type of business that I’ve worked with. It’s really amazing how people have rallied around Tre and want to see him achieve his dreams.”
Tre’s entrepreneurial mindset comes naturally, said Ellis-Glasper, as he’s been watching his mother as an entrepreneur all of his life. Her entrepreneurial journey started when she was on maternity leave with Tre and she started a side jewelry business. That turned into her quitting her full-time journalism job and freelancing before she started her marketing business with her husband.
“He’s seen this firsthand,” she said. “So it’s just been really incredible for me and his dad to kind of see how he processes things differently than when we were his age. When I was 11 years old, you couldn’t get me to pitch a business with all adults pitching. I always think of the quote, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’”
Tre agreed that his parents have been an inspiration.
“I grew up with a family of entrepreneurs, so that definitely has helped,” he added.
While Tre has big plans for Tre’s Squeeze — expanding nationwide and appearing on “Shark Tank” — the family is now focusing on raising money for their Kickstarter campaign and finding a co-packer, Ellis-Glasper said.
Through the Kickstarter campaign, they hope to raise $8,000 to buy a trailer to take to events and store equipment. As of early January, about $1,500 remains left to raise.
“It’s also brand awareness because we’d be driving it around and people could see it,” she added. “And just for future events, it’s a lot of hauling a tent and tables.”
Click here to support Tre’s Kickstarter campaign or to learn more.
Finding a co-packer has been a challenge, she said, as the lemonade is made with fresh ingredients and not a concentrate — and Tre won’t compromise the taste for convenience. But they do have several leads.
”The process in which he makes the lemonade, we hot bottle it,” she explained. “So there’s just not a lot of places that do hot bottling for beverages that are in our area that actually would take a lower minimum.”
While they plan to continue to expand into more Kansas City-area Hy-Vee stores as they can keep up with demand, Ellis-Glasper noted they are also working with another national retailer.
“Tre got accepted into their diverse supplier program,” she added.
On top of all of that, Tre mentioned he is also working on writing a book about his entrepreneurial journey.
“It’ll just have things about my business and my goals and inspire other kids to be entrepreneurs,” he explained.