Brothers Build Bustling Business Amid Pandemic

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Two young entrepreneurs launched King’s Lemonade in 2020

lemonade business brothers
Corey Clay Jr. and Amir Lyons

By Ben Crosbie | Photography by John Michael Simpson

When COVID-19 forced Amir Lyons and Corey Clay Jr. into virtual learning, the brothers found their daily routines suddenly dominated by a repetitiveness that became familiar to many during quarantine. They tried to think up creative ways to escape the boredom, and so when life gave these plucky kids lemons, well, you know how the saying goes.

Their lemonade venture started with four flavors – original, strawberry, orange and lime – which they sold to their East Durham neighbors and at Corey’s football practices. They moved to Chapel Hill’s Pine Knolls neighborhood in 2021. Amir, 17, notes that the development of the business alongside his now 10-year-old brother was not without its setbacks, but that he’s proud of how they persevered.

“It definitely took some time trying to get the proper mindset,” says Amir, who’s a senior at Chapel Hill High School. “It was mostly a thing of pushing each other, saying, ‘We know we can do this, we know that we can be great, we can keep striving forward.’”

This message of determination, especially in pursuit of a budding passion, is among the main lessons that Erica Clay, the business’s ever-busy “momager,” hopes her sons learn from this experience.

“A lot of people … have so many creative things in their mind – things that they love to do and passions – but are so scared to go all in and to give it your all,” she says. “That’s been the biggest thing, to tell my kids: ‘Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared to give it your all for what you want, for what you believe in.’”

She went on to describe how her own experiences as a single parent shape the values she wants to instill in her children. “I understood what it was like to struggle, and I didn’t want my kids to struggle,” she says. “I wanted them to start young and build a legacy for themselves now, so by the time they get to my age, and their grandfather’s age, and even further, they don’t gotta struggle.”

lemonade business bottles
Each bottle of King’s Lemonade includes a QR code for customers to donate to the business. Brothers Corey and Amir hope to expand their startup by purchasing a concession trailer in the near future.

Now, two years since its inception, King’s Lemonade has swiftly grown to produce 27 different flavors. It now sells between 200 and 250 bottles every month at pop-up events and through its website.

Erica spends about $175 every week on fresh lemons, strawberries, blueberries and other fruit from Aldi and Harris Teeter. Amir is usually responsible for squeezing the fruits by hand after they are cut by Corey, a fifth grader at Northside Elementary School. They then boil the juice in order to sterilize it, and mix it with purifying water, sugar and a secret special ingredient before refrigerating it in several 6-quart containers. Erica estimates that they spend about 48 hours per week producing the lemonade – the total time varies based on the volume of orders and events. This rigorous process, which takes place entirely in their home kitchen, ensures purity and prolonged freshness in the final product.

The brothers discovered that working with family has its advantages – and also its challenges. “I think with family in general, it’s just that everyone knows how to push [one another’s] buttons in a way that no one else can,” Amir says with a good-natured grin. “Everyone knows that if you’re put under a high-stress situation, people are going to start getting manic.”

But he describes the overall experience as being ultimately gratifying. “I love seeing them smile when we’re doing well,” he says. “I love seeing them smile when they’re in a good environment, and that really just brings joy to me.”

Amir plans to eventually study computer engineering and start another small business – he’s already gaining valuable lessons and experience in business management through this project. “The most useful thing that I learned was not only how to manage your product but also how to put yourself out there, how to sell your product to the people, how to make yourself stand out,” he says.

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