We all could use a mentor like Jeff Brown of ShopRite.
It started as a one-day experiment. But ShopRite has sold such a ridiculous amount of it — roughly 1,000 units a day, at $6.49 a pop — that there’s talk of offering it in all of Brown’s grocery stores in and around Philly, a roster that includes 10 ShopRites and two Fresh Grocers.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Brown, a fourth-generation grocer, told me this week. “It’s been consistent since she started. She pretty much sells out of everything she can make every day.”
Because everything with the Camel Prom Mom is a three-ring circus, she and two of her employees dressed up as mermaids for her June 11 ShopRite debut. (Shuler had considered installing a giant aquarium, but wisely nixed the idea because of liability concerns.) Next to the refrigerated section is a giant photo of her smile face.
And just like that, the North Philly single mother — who famously hired a live camel for her son’s extravagant Dubai-themed prom sendoff before pleading guilty to Social Security fraud earlier this year — has gotten the second chance of a lifetime.
“I think Saudia is special. She has a God-given talent that she hasn’t been able to use in the right way prior to this whole incident,” Brown said. “Being a person who gives a lot of people second chances and having great success with that, I just saw her potential and thought it would be wrong to waste that potential in jail when she could be making such a difference in the world. I thought that my help could get her there.”
Shuler pleaded guilty in January to illegally collecting $37,000 in disability payments. In May, U.S. District Judge Juan R. Sanchez ordered the 44-year-old entrepreneur to serve six months on house arrest and three years on probation. She also was ordered to make restitution. Brown advised her to prioritize paying back the federal government, which she claims to have done.
“I told her I thought that was the right thing to do. It’s a just dark cloud that’s hanging over you that’s unnecessary, and that she should clean all of that up,” he said. “She could do everything the right way and could afford to do that, and that’s the way to do it.”
If Shuler’s smart — and I believe she is — she’ll keep listening to Brown.
Clearly, she didn’t get certain lessons growing up. She never got a chance to study entrepreneurship at Wharton. Heck, Shuler never even made it to Community College of Philadelphia or culinary school. She got her start selling platters out of her rowhouse.
These days, workers make the seafood salad inside the Nicetown ShopRite kitchen. The search is on for a manufacturer to mass produce Shuler’s recipe, which includes lump crabmeat, shrimp, pasta, “secret sauce,” and imitation crabmeat that Shuler jokingly calls “mermaid meat.”
I don’t know Shuler well enough to vouch for how she funds her extravagant, over-the-top productions — including that epic Wakanda-themed prom sendoff in 2018 that featured a live black panther. Nor am I privy to the inner workings of Country Cookin’, her takeout business in Swampoodle.
But I do know that Shuler is a marketing whiz. Her generosity is legendary.
I was glad to hear Brown speak up for her so eloquently at her sentencing. Brown’s a believer in second chances. His track record of hiring ex-offenders has garnered national attention.
“So many people thought, ‘She’s down, she’ll never get back up.' That’s sad,” Shuler told me. “But Mr. Brown and the Brown ShopRite family, they didn’t turn their back on me.”
Their collaboration benefits both Shuler and ShopRite.