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More Than Food: This Successful Entrepreneur is Dedicated to Authenticity and Community Building TrueMan McGee always aimed to grow his business while remaining authentically himself and in the neighborhood where he grew up. Today, he's poised to expand his line of frozen foods nationwide.

This story originally appeared on U.S. Bank

Funky Fresh Spring Rolls

It's Thursday evening at 5 p.m. and TrueMan McGee is getting ready to teach math to a group of students. But it's not your average math class. This one is funky. McGee struggled with math in school but now he uses it every day in his business, Funky Fresh Spring Rolls.

Tonight, he's sharing with the kids how he prices the cost of goods and how he determines the percentage of labor compared to sales. And the kids eat it up. For them, seeing someone from their central Milwaukee neighborhood become a successful businessman is inspiring. Plus, making the math apply to something the kids love — and they do love the spring rolls — brings relevancy to their learning.

"Things like this are why the community rallies behind us," McGee says. "We try to stay as authentic and as part of the community as possible."

Wrestling to get started.

McGee remembers always being inspired by the love of food from his mother. When he started wrestling in high school, he learned about the importance of healthy eating, so he would make meals for himself and his teammates. Years later, he started a personal training business, and McGee would make meals for his clients.

He made "mean green" salads with kale, stuffed turkey burgers, and wraps. But it was the sweet potato and black bean wrap that really stood out. He seasoned the sweet potatoes with paprika, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and sea salt and slow roasted it until it was tender and smokey. Then he added black beans and cilantro. "It was a great mix that I didn't see elsewhere," he says. So, he started putting it in other things, like in a taco, or a spring roll wrapper which was the best.

One day his dad tried it. "My dad is straight up, he's a Vietnam vet, steak and potatoes, man's man, American dad. And you know what, he loved the spring rolls!" McGee says. "Some of my training clients would even skip their workouts but still come for the food. That's when I said, 'This is going to be it!'"

A Phoenix rising.

That encouragement was what McGee needed and so he started selling food items at farmer's markets and festivals. He started to gain traction locally and he wanted to expand. By 2015, he opened a business account with U.S. Bank. "The initial bankers I met gave me service as if I was a long time customer," McGee explains. "Even though we were small they offered me resources at every level of our growth."

McGee's concept was taking off. Later that year he open a commercial kitchen and was making 25,000 spring rolls. In 2018, McGee got his first store in downtown Milwaukee. Later that year, he moved into the newly completed Sherman Phoenix shopping mall, where his award-winning business continues to thrive today.

The Sherman Phoenix area was where McGee grew up, and it was known for being one of the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods in America. But it was also a place for rejuvenation. As if rising from the ashes two local women reopened a burned down bank and raised money to fund dozens of businesses for people of color, many first-time business owners. Along with McGee's store at the new mall, a hub of entrepreneurial inspiration, health, wellness and community grew.

"I wanted to show people there a different way," McGee says. "For me it was important for other kids who look like me to see entrepreneurialism and to see positivity in their neighborhood, that's where it has to start. It has to be from the inside."

A blessing in disguise.

By 2019 McGee was selling close to 100,000 spring rolls. He had 10 people on staff and he just got funding for a food truck. Then Covid-19 hit.

"At first I thought it was over, this is it," McGee says. "But then I thought, hey I've got a lot of spring rolls in my freezer. So, my son and I packed up a cooler and drove around the city using Facebook and Instagram Stories to find people to buy the spring rolls. It was a huge success. Literally the frozen food business saved our business during Covid. Without the frozen spring rolls, we wouldn't be talking today."

Lessons learned.

The doors at the Sherman Phoenix store are open again and the future is bright. If fact, McGee just partnered with a company to help him expand his frozen foods into grocery stores across the country.

Looking back on his path, McGee says the easiest part of the business was selling the product because, "the product is good. It sells itself."

And McGee is a self-described character, so he enjoys coming up with goofy ways to engage with customers on social media, like telling customers that if they order food in a pro-wrestler voice, they get 10 percent off; if they do 10 pushups, they get 10 percent off; if they battle-rap the owner they get 10 percent off. "One of our sayings is, 'interaction before transaction,'" McGee explains. "You can engage and be goofy and I'm not afraid to make fun of myself."

The hardest part was the finances, he says. That's why working with the team at his local U.S. Bank was such a big help, especially the financial flexibility of their business credit cards. "I am looking to get accounts for some of my staff, bigger lines of credit to help grow as my business grows, and I'm interested in U.S. Bank's POS system to see if they can give us more options for better service than our existing systems," he says.

Another lesson he learned was about pricing his products. He learned that you can't look at how other people price their items because you might have different costs for ingredients, or staffing, or cooking techniques which might cost more. So, figuring all that out was the hardest part.

But having people to help you, whether it's your family, your neighbors or your local bank, has made all the difference. to help you manage and grow your business.

Click here to learn more about U.S. Bank and how they can help your small business find success.