The best tasting lemonade in Houston? It's all business for kid entrepreneurs inLemonade Day build up
What makes the best lemonade?
I tend to be more of a purist, choosing to keep things simple: Lemon (with pulp), just enough water and a touch of sugar. It's how my grandmother made it, squeezing lemons, one by one by hand, without the use of any gadgety tools, sometimes allowing a seed to escape into the big glass jar she used. No frills and slightly tart so that on first taste, you couldn't help but pucker a little.
Lemonade Day's Best Tasting Contest at the Children's Museum of Houston Saturday took me back decades to a time when the simplicity of homey goodness triumphed over the complexity of adult responsibilities, where family time trumped technological distractions and where learning was active, fun and engaging.
Now in its fifth year, the Best Tasting Contest precedes Lemonade Day this Sunday, where 38,000 registered children will practice their salesmanship skills at Discovery Green and all around the city.
What I thought was going to be a simple task of identifying good, better and best turned into a lesson in maturity, thoughtfulness, creativity and teamwork. Along with local media celebs, including Houston Press culinary mamma Katharine Shilcutt, KTRK reporter Miya Shay, HoustonPBS anchor/producer Ernie Manouse and KPRC sportscaster Randy McIlvoy, I had a daunting assignment of identifying my favorites from the kids' lemonade.
There were 29 booths — comprised of children ranging in age from 3-years-old to teenagers, their siblings, friends and family — competing for recognition in three categories: Best Taste, Healthiest and Most Unique. Each had taken great care to fashion a colorful stand that matched their product, story and selling strategy.
Before I could even settle into a tasting routine, an eager little entrepreneur demanded my attention by pulling on my shirt dragging me insistently and assertively to his storefront. Alejo Roqueni, along with his younger brother Patricio and sister Isabela were enthusiastically working the Children Museum's "streets" exercising their adorable sales skills, revealing experience beyond their years.
Cuteness sells. And so does maturity and strategy.
"We offer home delivery for $4.99 and that includes a free pitcher," Alejo explained. "Also, if you like it, we are selling our secret recipe for only $1.99."
He handed me a cup of lemonade and watched me drink it while explaining his action plan.
"You have to be nice to people and smile a lot," Alejo continued, noting the seriousness of his strategy. "Also, we worked together to be creative to find a way to stand out."
For his family, the contest went beyond just taste. It was an opportunity to bond, work together and achieve a common goal, gaining valuable experience with life skills that a strict classroom education often fails to foster. Alejo and his crew took the first prize for healthiest lemonade for the second year in a row, having opted to use more natural ingredients.
The most unique award went to the trio of Jayla Chew, Lian McKenthin and Tyie McKenthin, representing the Houston Parks and Recreation Department Northwest Division, for infusing basil in their strawberry lemonade and for crafting a tropical Hawaiian display using straw and leis to add pizzazz.
"When I think of cool and tropical flavors, I think of Hawaii," Jayla explained. "All the money I make will go towards the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. As a volunteer, I help clean up parks on the weekend, and I want to make sure other kids have areas to play in and enjoy."
"Rosemary is often used for desserts and sweets," Jayla continued, speaking with wisdom and authority. "But I felt strawberries and basil went very well together. Also, basil is very healthy for you."
Talking to Lydia Mendez, last year's Best Taste winner, I learned that her trick is to have fun while working under the hot sun. This year, she will have a booth in her neighborhood hoping to raise funds to help pay for a family member's medical treatment.
As far as this judge is concerned, every child was a winner.
This Sunday be sure to carry lots of cash as you go about your day. Chances are, you'll encounter a number of these young lemonade professionals, hoping to earn your business, all over the city.
Alejo Roqueni shares his business wisdom: