Myriam Jean-Baptiste had a jet-setting management role with Cirque du Soleil, until the pandemic catapulted her from the entertainment arena to entrepreneurship.
Today, she is co-founder with husband Stevens Charles of LS Cream Liqueur, inspired by a traditional Haitian beverage known as cremas or kremas. The drink is made with ingredients including condensed milk, spices, and clairin, a clear moonshine-like liquor derived from Haiti’s native sugarcane.
“Stevens’ late grandmother left her handwritten cremas recipe, and saved it in a Ziploc bag,” said Jean-Baptiste, whom like her husband is Canadian with Haitian roots. “We felt the love.”
“Every family has their own cremas version that is cherished and passed from generation to generation,” added Charles. “It’s part of our island roots and instilled in our heritage.”
While many Haitian households typically make cremas from scratch for the holidays and special occasions, the couple found it difficult to find a shelf-stable version in stores. So, they embarked on a journey about a decade ago to launch their own liqueur, officially rolling out the product in 2015.
When the global pandemic struck, Jean-Baptiste made the decision to quit her job and devote herself full-time to their venture. Her husband had already taken the leap.
“Although I was always involved with LS Cream and started this journey with Stevens, I was in a position to either continue in the corporate world or turn this into an opportunity to commit fully to the business and join forces with my husband. With faith and a common vision, I then embarked on this journey with him 100 percent.”
The pair who are in their late 30s and have two young children, had to downsize and change their lifestyle. “We were living a very comfortable life and had a nice house in the suburbs,” Jean-Baptiste explained. “We made the decision to sell our house, move in with my mother-in-law, and invest our savings in the business.”
There was a learning curve, too. While both partners had corporate experience (she was formerly a business development manager; he was a mortgage specialist for a major bank) neither one knew much about the alcohol industry.
Attending a networking function hosted by the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America yielded information and provided inroads. “We shook hands, made connections, and basically asked for help while explaining to people what we were trying to do,” said Jean-Baptiste.
Such efforts helped them locate suppliers necessary to produce, bottle and distribute LS Cream. Later, they submitted a formula for government approval, a process that alone can take up to a year. Meanwhile, they dipped heavily into their savings.
That wasn’t the only challenge. The pair encountered skeptics who thought they were “crazy” to give up their stable 9-to-5 gigs, and has encountered racial bias.
“As a Black-owned business with a particular culture and heritage behind the creation of the brand, it is sometimes hard to make distributors understand the potential. We were told once that the marketing for the product was “too Black.” They persisted nonetheless. “We believed in LS Cream so much that we were willing to sacrifice to see it come to fruition,” said Jean-Baptiste.
Like millions of working mothers, she also knows the stress of juggling multiple roles.
“Stevens and I sometimes have to be gone at the same time in different states, but we have an incredible support system – `our village’ as we call it--and we try as much as possible not to be gone at the same time so at least one of us can be there with the kids.”
Their myriad sacrifices are bearing fruit. LS Cream is now among the few Black-owned spirits brands on the market in its category. The Montreal residents have turned their focus to the U.S. –even packing up the children and spending this past summer in New York–to meet growing demand.
They have pivoted the business model to online sales with home delivery. That's led to expansion: the product is now available in 38 states– including New York, California, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, and New Jersey, as well as Washington D.C., either on shelves or on their own website.
Influential players in the spirits industry are lending their expertise to the couple. One investor is Kenny Burns, a lifestyle guru and entrepreneur.
“I knew I wanted to invest in LS Cream Liqueur when I first tasted the cremas-inspired spirit,” said Burns, who has helped grow such brands as Cîroc Vodka, DeLeón Tequila and Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey. “Then the added value was the dream team behind it. Myriam and Stevens remind me of my wife and myself. Black love and business -- who’s not rooting for that?”
Burns made a prediction. “I think LS Cream Liqueur is the new champagne and it’s going to redefine the category. It's a spirit that’s actually delicious.”
The award-winning cordial marries fresh cream and neutral grain spirits, blended with coconut, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s touted as gluten-free, low lactose and made with all-natural ingredients.
Meanwhile, the brand’s packaging has been refreshed to appeal to luxury-seeking consumers. The sleek black bottle features a bold logo and a design that incorporates elements of Haiti’s national flag.
Indeed, beyond creating an authentic product that spotlights Haitian culinary traditions, the couple seeks to uplift the first Black Republic in the Western Hemisphere.
In 2020, LS Cream Liqueur and Hope for Haiti–a global humanitarian organization–partnered to improve access to clean water for hundreds of families in southern Haiti. Besides providing water filtration systems for the home, the campaign sought to increase health and mortality outcomes by educating communities on sanitation, communicable disease prevention and more.
“Giving back to Haiti is very important to us,” said Charles. “While traveling there for the first time, it was an eye-opener.”
More recently, LS Cream has also supported educational initiatives via Hope for Haiti, and donated partial sales proceeds to benefit the Caribbean nation.
The people of Haiti are close to their hearts. “It aligns with our values of giving back to our community,” said Jean-Baptiste. “We want to shed positive light on this island that has so much love, legacy and heritage.”
The couple is excited that their version of cremas is gaining in popularity, to be enjoyed during the holiday season and beyond in “everyday” moments. They’re excited about what the future holds for the brand.
“Although it was not an easy decision, we had a vision and knew that sacrificing to work towards that goal was nothing compared to everything that we knew we could gain out of it,” said Jean-Baptiste. “We were aiming to build a legacy – not only for our family, but also for everyone who looked like us.”