Tri-Cities businesswoman reflects on her upbringing, race in the community

KENNEWICK, Wash. — With infectious energy and a positive attitude, entrepreneur Milli Banks-Boggan is a staple of the Tri-Cities. Born and raised in this community, Banks-Boggan says she was amongst the first Black insurance agents and real estate agents in the region.

These days, Banks-Boggan is more focused on the day-to-day operations of Cupcakes Bakery & Deli in Kennewick. While the baked goods are what get many through the front door, it’s the Southern-style home cooking that makes them return. Delicious macaroni and cheese, succulent riblets and fresh-baked cornbread are just a few of the many options available on the deli-side of the eatery.

However, there’s more to Banks-Boggan’s business than just tasty treats. She’s worked hard to get where she is today and carries many lessons from her father, who owned a part-café, part-nightclub in Pasco many years ago. She also carries the pride of her place as one of the few Black business owners in a region that’s predominantly white and Hispanic/Latinx.

Though being a Black businesswoman in the Tri-Cities has it’s hurdles, she takes pride in being a member of this community.

“I don’t really see people as enemies. I see them as waiting to be made friends,” Banks-Boggan said. “I have customers that come in here — You should see the shock on their face when my family is running the business. They’re just not expecting it, but we quickly either make them friends or they don’t come back.

I’ll guarantee that a lot more come back than don’t because our food is good, our product is good, our service is good and our prices are good. We’re proud to be who we are and we’re proud to be a part of the Tri-Cities.”

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Citizens of the Tri-Cities find themselves rallying around locally-owned and operated businesses under regular circumstances. In light of the pandemic, Banks-Boggan has seen exceptional support from patrons throughout Kennewick, Pasco and Richland.

Though she was born in Pasco and spent plenty of time there in her youth, Banks-Boggan lives and operates her business out of Kennewick. At one time, that may not have been as feasible of a scenario.

In her youth, Milli wasn’t allowed to stay in Kennewick after dark. She once marched in a protest in Downtown Kennewick, to which white civilians threw eggs, tomatoes and other perishables at her. Now, she says that Kennewick is a welcoming place to live, but it used to be known as the racist part of town.

As she grew up, Banks-Boggan’s career provided an opportunity to travel the United States. That’s when she realized how sparse opportunities were for Black people in the Tri-Cities.

“As I got older and I became more involved, I got to see just how limited the exposure for Black business was in the Tri-Cities Area,” Banks-Boggan said. “Really, it’s still pretty limited even now — And that’s been a lot of years.”

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Even with that being the case, she created opportunities for herself and worked hard to turn her passion into a business venture. While working full-time in another field, Banks-Boggan owned a local restaurant. Now that she’s mostly retired — Milli still works part-time selling insurance — Banks-Boggan spends a lot more time operating Cupcakes Bakery & Deli.

Banks-Boggan cooked her first cake at 6 years old and was immediately hooked. Her passion for cooking and baking mainly comes from within, but part of her interest in the culinary arts stem from her background.

“In the Black community, food is a pretty big part of it. Most events center around food and it was kind of a big deal to be popular as a cook or a baker.”

By this point in her life, Banks-Boggan is a staple of the Tri-Cities. Her food and baked goods are well-known throughout the community and while the pandemic imposed some hardships, the business is still holding up strong.

You can visit Cupcakes Bakery & Deli at 2625 W Bruneau Pl #196 in Kennewick.

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