INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — A sense of entrepreneurship, a will to build a family legacy, and several life-threatening health scares brought two families together for a unique partnership.
Nazhi Forrest, who turned 16 years old Saturday, recently partnered with the owners of Crab Stop to sell her organically baked goods. Nazhi Forrest – who suffers from sickle cell anemia – aims to promote healthier eating through her business by making natural treats instead of food with processed sugar and carbs.
Through the new partnership, the young entrepreneur bakes her items and then delivers the treats to the Crab Stop locations in Vero Beach and Sebastian.
“I see this partnership as long term,” said Nazhi Forrest, who wore a pink birthday sash as she and her family offered a variety of her mini-cakes to customers Saturday at the Farmers Market along Ocean Drive. “I want to pass this down to my (future) children and grandchildren.”
Nazhi Forrest’s two sisters, Shakarra, 20, and Italiyah, 12, also have sickle-cell anemia.
Shakarra and Italiyah are in and out of the hospital. The sisters’ hospital scares are what inspired Nazhi Forrest to create her business – ‘Nazhi Thee Baker’ – and her nonprofit called ‘Nazhi Thee Baker Angel Foundation.’
“We want people to be more aware of their health,” said their father Michael Forrest, 47. Michael Forrest is married to Nashanta Forrest, 41.
The family lives in south Florida.
“My wife coordinates everything to make sure it all comes together,” Michael Forrest said. “Without her, nothing would be possible.”
Shakarra and Italiyah help Nazhi Forrest with preparing the food items. In April 2017, the three sisters were featured on the LifeTime Series ‘Live Life Forward’ to promote the organic treats.
The owners of Crab Stop, Ellis and Brandy Buckner, said they were excited to connect with Nazhi Forrest and that they wanted to pay it forward by offering the opportunity. The husband and wife said they are happy to see the next generation of entrepreneurs stepping up to the plate.
“It was extraordinary for me to see young girls with such determination,” said Brandy Buckner, 42, of Sebastian. “We tasted their treats. They are out of this world.”
The Forrest family, along with the Buckner family, are no strangers to life-threatening health scares. Two medical crises shook both families in 2014.
That year, Shakarra suffered a severe stroke, which left her in an intensive care unit for nine weeks, her mother Nashanta Forrest said. Nashanta Forrest said Shakarra stopped responding and that her brain was swollen and bleeding.
“I told the doctor my child was dying,” Nashanta Forrest previously told Vero News. “I couldn’t bare to see her like that. The stroke she suffered, people with sickle cell anemia almost never survive it.”
Also in 2014, Ellis Buckner, who previously worked as a fireman and paramedic for Indian River County Fire Rescue, was off-duty and asleep inside his home when the unthinkable happened. Brandy Buckner heard the family dog barking and found Ellis unconscious.
Brandy immediately called 911. She said paramedics arrived and tried to revive Ellis several times, which were
“My heart decided to lose its electrical activity,” said Ellis Buckner, 51, of Sebastian. “I went into sudden cardiac arrest.”
Ellis, who said he has no known medical condition, was rushed to the hospital, where his heart finally started to beat again. The near-death scare left him in a coma for three days and in the intensive care unit for eight days.
With a second chance at life, Buckner decided to retire as a firefighter and open up a restaurant. So far, he said, the business has turned out to be a great success.
“I’m grateful to be here and partner with the girls,” Ellis Buckner said. “They have their own testimony. They are doing something great with it and helping out their future careers.”
The health scares for the Forrest family, however, have not stopped.
In October 2019, Shakarra was rushed to the hospital, where doctors found a blood clot inside her heart, Nashanta Forrest said. Every day, Shakarra is given blood thinners, which are medicines that help blood flow smoothly through a person’s veins and arteries and prevents blood clots from forming or getting bigger.
“Her bones are not strong like they used to be,” Nashanta Forrest said. “She’s very fragile.”
Nashanta Forrest started switching up the diets for her three daughters after noticing she was feeding them what she says were inflammatory foods, such as canned goods and frozen entrees. The mother said the chronic pain that comes with sickle cell anemia can be reduced by eating healthy.
“I stayed clear of foods that release insulin into the body quickly,” Nashanta Forrest previously told Vero News. “The girls haven’t eaten school lunch in more than five years. I prepare meals for them.”
Nashanta Forrest said she started feeding her daughters sweet potatoes, whole grain rice, spinach, nuts and arugula. The mother hopes the healthy foods will prevent her daughters from more hospital trips.
Nazhi Forrest’s baked goods – including organic peanut butter cookies and cheesecake with walnut crust – also aim to reduce inflammation. The young entrepreneur uses ingredients for her treats such as raw cane sugar, organic eggs and oatmeal.
“She wanted people with sickle cell anemia to eat healthy foods that would not cause flare ups,” Nashanta Forrest said.
Ellis Buckner said the health conditions the Forrest girls face are not hindering them from pursuing their dreams. The Crab Stop owner said he sees himself in Nazhi, Shakarra and Italiyah.
“I saw how driven the girls were at a young age,” Ellis Buckner said. “It’s a stepping stone for them. It’s an honor for me to be part of that.”
With the business in full swing, the older two daughters still are planning out the near future.
Shakarra said she wants to eventually become a school counselor. Nazhi said he plans to attend business school and then travel to Paris for baking classes.
“Paris is known for their macaroons and croissants,” Nazhi Forrest said. “I’ve always wanted to go there, ever since I was young.”