Many people will be familiar with the struggle of dragging themselves out of bed in the morning to get to work. For Tami Forbes, however, that struggle was tougher than it would be for most – given that she was a pregnant single mom, working two jobs just to get by. That all changed, though, when a millionaire made her a truly incredible offer – and it left Forbes in tears.
At the start of 2014, Forbes was recently divorced and heavily pregnant. She worked as a store manager in a small key lime pie business by day, while working shifts at a bar when time allowed. But that wasn’t all. She was also raising eight-year-old twins: a boy and a girl named Max and Julia.
Despite having two jobs, though, the hard-working single mom still wasn’t financially secure. A significant contributing factor behind that was the fact that she would need a cesarean to deliver her child. And, as she didn’t have medical insurance, the operation would cost her thousands – potentially putting the procedure out of her reach.
“Trying to rebuild a life on a single income in this town was incredibly difficult,” Forbes later told CNBC, explaining the hardships that she faced. “I was very frequently picking which bill I could pay.” Things were about to change, however.
Forbes’ day job was at the Key West Key Lime Pie Company. The business was originally opened in the 1980s by a man named Jeff Rowe. After failing to sell the company in 2000, however, he shut it down. It wasn’t until 2006 that a new owner, Jim Brush, would take over the name. He started expanding the business, selling the iconic dessert to customers in the Florida Keys and delivering nationwide. In 2014, though, he sought to bring new expertise into the business.
The man he reached out to was self-made millionaire Marcus Lemonis, star of CNBC’s The Profit. In each episode of the reality TV show, Lemonis provides a struggling business with expertise and support to help them get back on track. In return, Lemonis takes a stake in the company.
Lemonis offered Brush $450,000 for 51 percent of the Key West Key Lime Pie Company, which Brush accepted. With his own money on the line, Lemonis set about transforming the company’s production processes, starting with the pie recipe – which would now feature “all natural ingredients.”
But Lemonis wasn’t finished yet. The entrepreneur had learned of Forbes’ situation and was blown away by the financial and emotional predicament that she faced. Furthermore, he was going to do something about it.
“When the show came to town, and I was put on it, I was working two jobs,” Forbes told CNBC. “I was humongously pregnant and suffering both health concerns and horrible financial concerns. When Marcus came to me and said, ‘What are you going to do?’ I smiled and said, ‘Whatever I have to do.’”
Her work ethic impressed Lemonis, and he made her the offer of a lifetime. He explained that he needed her for the business to work – but that her unborn baby was “more important than any pie we’ll ever make.”
To start with, he offered the struggling single mom six months’ wages to cover her maternity leave. But he didn’t just do that – he also promoted her to a full-time leadership role and increased her salary to $1,000 a week. Forbes was speechless and burst into tears as Lemonis explained his offer. Instead of working every hour and still coming up short, she could focus on preparing for the birth of her third child.
On February 28, 2014, Forbes gave birth to a child who she would name Kristopher. And with Lemonis’ support, they could move ahead without worrying about debt or unpaid medical bills.
Fans took to social media to express their love for the mom’s story. On Twitter, one viewer wrote, “This is what makes everything worth it.” Many others agreed with that sentiment – and another commenter noted, “[Forbes] is such a sweet and deserving person.”
The fairytale didn’t end there, though. A year later, Lemonis took Forbes back to the bar where she used to work in order to deliver some more life-changing news. “My confidence in the business… is all because of you,” he said to Forbes. “You have made my life a lot easier. And I say this from the bottom of my heart, I could not have done this without you.”
That’s when the CEO offered Lemonis 25 percent ownership of the business. One year earlier, she had been facing thousands of dollars of debt and an uncertain future. She was now a co-owner of the business that she had worked so hard to support.
Forbes appeared to be astounded. She responded to Lemonis, “It’s crazy! I don’t have a bachelor’s on the wall, and you see me as the owner. It’s just that amount of confidence, it’s what drives us to get bigger and better.”
Since then, Forbes has worked to inspire other women and to give them the same vote of confidence. Appearing as the keynote speaker at the Women’s Leadership Forum in 2015, she offered the guidance that if attendees “work it like they own it,” then “maybe one day, [they] will.”
Forbes also advised working moms that they should put family first. “Your business may succeed and it may fail, but your family is your one thing that’s never going anywhere,” she noted.
When Forbes first arrived in Key West, close to 20 years ago, it was to become a pedicab driver. One can only imagine that it would have been beyond her wildest dreams that she would now be a business owner and an inspiration to single parents across America. Indeed, her life has been transformed over the course of her years in the keys.
“I think that the feeling that you deserve your success is something that everybody should have,” Forbes said, reflecting on her journey while speaking to CNBC. “And I think, because single moms tend to be the people that think of themselves last and the least, they are definitely at the top of the list of people that should feel that and be there.”