Miss Patti’s Cakes

At 79, Patti LaBelle isn’t resting on her royalties – she’s leveraging her music earnings to bootstrap Patti’s Good Life, whose sweet potato pies, and mac and cheese are now bestsellers at Walmart. She is one of the successful women who made this year’s Forbes 50 Over 50 List.

You probably know Patti LaBelle as the voice behind “Lady Mar­malade,” or maybe as the star solo act who snagged two Grammy Awards in the 1990s. Perhaps you even recall “Out All Night,” her short-lived 1992 sitcom. But what you likely don’t know: The Godmother of Soul is a card shark.

“I killed him last night,” she says during a ­recent afternoon round of Pitty Pat, nodding toward her business partner, Charles Suitt. She sweeps up the cash scattered across her kitchen counter and adds it to a folio pouch bursting with 20-, ten- and five-dollar bills.

LaBelle isn’t just cleaning up at the card table: She’s winning as an entrepreneur, too. Fifteen years ago, she started Patti’s Good Life in Philadelphia, her lifelong hometown, to sell a line of hot sauces. She has since expanded into a whole cupboard’s worth of comfort foods: peach cobbler, sweet potato pie, chicken and biscuits, mac and cheese. Every dish is based on one of LaBelle’s own recipes. Voulez-vous manger avec moi? You bet: Gross sales hit nearly $200 million last year. It’s a royalty deal, meaning LaBelle pays a factory to bake her goods, then sells them to America’s largest grocers, including Target and Walmart; the latter alone accounted for $85 million in sales. At the end of the day, Patti’s Good Life pockets about 10%, or $20 million in revenue last year. LaBelle and her son currently own 100% of the company, though she says she’d welcome outside capital with open arms. “People think of me as a cook, someone who’s going to give them quality food,” she says. “And I don’t put my name on anything unless it’s 110% perfect.”


Age: 64

When she was young, Jamie Lee Curtis thought she would retire from acting when she got to be 40 – good thing she didn’t. This year, she won her first Oscar for her ­supporting role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once”. “I’ve had the most creative life in the last year that I’ve had in my entire life,” she says – “at 64!”

LaBelle is one of the 200 fresh faces on the third annual Forbes 50 Over 50, which highlights women making power plays at age 50, 60, 70 or beyond. This year’s list, produced in partnership with “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski and her Know Your Value initiative, divides these high-flying women into four categories: Impact, Investment, Innovation and Lifestyle. It’s avail­able in full at forbes.com/50over50.

LaBelle started cooking when she was ten years old, escaping to the family garage to whip up her signature spicy ketchup. She never gave it up. Throughout her performing career, she cooked for Elton John, Prince, and the Rolling Stones, going as far as labeling the tinfoil trays with her name so there was no mistaking Patti LaBelle’s food for the catered stuff. Her first cookbook was published in 1999. “Friends of mine would always say, ‘Why don’t you open a restaurant or start your own line of food?’,” she says.

In 2003, she experimented with selling clothes on the Home Shopping Network, but she wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the garments, and her heart just wasn’t in it. The experience taught her that she would rather wholly own a business than merely license her name and personal brand to a third party.

With Patti’s Good Life, by contrast, she’s near obsessively hands-on. She invites industrial cooks into her kitchen to see how she makes her food, then tests the product as many as ten or 20 times. Attention to detail pays off: When she launched Patti’s Good Life sweet potato pie in Walmart in the fall of 2015, it went viral on Youtube and in one three-day period before Thanksgiving was selling at a rate of one pie per second.

Age: 67

Founder, DBL Partners

In 2003, long before it was trendy, Pfund launched an in-house impact investing fund at JP Morgan. Five years later, at age 53, she spun that out into VC firm DBL Partners and has made a name for herself with early bets on Tesla, Pandora and Farmers Business Network. In 2021, Pfund closed a $600 million climate tech-focused fund.

“Even today we’re selling more than five times the number of sweet potato pies than we did before we launched our Patti sweet potato pie,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon tells Forbes via e-mail. McMillon credits LaBelle’s products’ popularity to the star’s strict oversight, noting that she has personally visited Walmart stores to pepper its customers and salespeople with questions about what they want to see from Patti’s Good Life. LaBelle understands the need for “innovation and constant improvement,” he says.

She’s continuing to expand. She plans to launch a line of wines later this year: a rosé, a sauvignon blanc and a cabernet modeled after the high-end bottles she favors – but at one-fifth the cost. And she’s looking to grow the Patti’s Good Life frozen breakfast line, which debuted last summer with pancakes and waffles and will soon include a syrup that is diabetic-friendly.

“My cooking is going places where my singing career has not gone,” LaBelle says.

Age: 64

Founder, Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice

After receiving a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2020 when she was 62, Flowers is using her “over 50” career to bring change to what she calls America’s dirty secret: “The richest country in the world has people living with no sanitation, with sewage running either on top of the ground, outside their homes or coming back into their homes.”

Age: 63
Astronaut/Director, Axiom

Outer space is a second home for Peggy Whitson. The 63-year-old astronaut has spent 675 days working in space, more than any other woman alive. This May, Whitson added a new accolade to her trophy case: As Axiom’s director of human spaceflight, she became the first woman to command a private mission for the Houston-based space infrastructure outfit.

For the full list of 200, please visit: Forbes.com/50over50

Text: Maggie McGrath (Forbes US)
Foto: Jamel Toppin (Forbes US)

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