African American Icons: Barbara McGarrah

African American Icons: Barbara McGarrah
African American Icons: Barbara McGarrah
Posted at 6:00 PM, Feb 07, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - This Black History Month, WTXL is shining the spotlight on people in our community going above and beyond to make a difference.

For 17 years, Barbara McGarrah has owned a Tallahassee brittle business but she says opening a brittle business was never on her radar.

In this story, we go to none other than Tallahassee’s Lake Ella. There, one woman and her brittles are taking center stage.

Barb's Gourmet Brittles started with a simple recipe: peanut brittle.

"Started making that for family members when I was in college,” said Barbara McGarrah, owner of Barb’s Gourmet Brittles.

Brittle so good, they couldn’t get enough. That is until the peanuts ran out and the idea of no more brittle began to set in. But Barb’s father had a solution.

"He said 'I can get you some peanuts, but you have to get at least a hundred pounds. First of all, I couldn't even envision what a hundred pounds looked like without the shell and when I saw them the first time, the first thing I thought was, 'Boy, that's a person,” McGarrah said.

Coming from Orlando with a family of 5 brothers, 5 sisters and over 30 nieces and nephews, the Florida State University fashion design major figured surely one large batch would do the trick.

"Until I realized after making peanut brittle for everyone, I still had over 50 pounds left,” McGarrah said.

That’s where the Tallahassee Senior Center comes into play.

"I just had this little thought, 'Why not take the peanut brittle to the senior citizen's center and get rid of it there,” said McGarrah.

Taking Tallahassee by storm, Barb and her brittles soon earned the best and cheapest form of advertisement: word of mouth.

"I was just amazed at how people fell in love with it and wanted to use it for different things,” said McGarrah.

Sew or stir? The choice became obvious…almost inevitable.

"I felt like I was on this train ride and I didn't know where I was going but I felt like the conductor was just leading me to that place and I was having fun with it,” McGarrah said.

A metaphor, she says, for her religious faith.

Little did she know, that train ride would soon lead her and her husband back to the very street where it all started: North Monroe Street.

In October 2001, Barb’s Gourmet Brittles officially opened its doors.

Being a business owner, a black business owner, even a black female business owner doesn’t scare McGarrah. Neither does the thought of competition.

"That doesn't mean I don't keep it in check. That means that guess what? There's always going to be competition, there's always going to be challenges, there's always going to be opportunities that you think you should have had. If I put my energy into the things that I can't control, I lose sight of the things I should be focusing on,” McGarrah said.

That focus: brittle. Over 25 varieties. Then came the ice cream; the cookies; and now the popcorn.

There’s a lesson here in the power of believing in yourself and never letting the odds or your obstacles define you.

As for Barbara, she’s just enjoying that train ride. The next stop? To be determined.

"It's awesome. You know, and I can't explain it and I know it's not because I did anything special. I just know that somewhere along the way, we were destined to be here and Barb's Brittles was meant to be in my life,” McGarrah said.

McGarrah is always stirring up the next big creation. Her latest project: Bubble Gum Ice Cream, with real bubble gum pieces.

The inspiration for that came by special request from her grandchildren.

You can check out Barb’s Gourmet Brittles at their Lake Ella location in Tallahassee.