How many times have you visited the Caribbean and wished you could bring back a pot or two of your favorite foods? Or if you were born in the islands, how often do you find yourself craving treats that can only be found back home? If that sounds like you, The Callaloo Box is a holiday gift idea you're going to love. Created by childhood friends, sisters Malika and Jamila Augustin and Caron Matthew, who all emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago to the U.S. and Canada shortly after high school, the Callaloo Box is a carefully curated monthly subscription box jam packed with Caribbean flavors and delivered straight to your doorstep.
ESSENCE caught up with these first time entrepreneurs to find out what inspired them to start Callaloo Box, the challenges of being a women-led startup, and why their little taste of paradise is a must for your holiday gift wish list...and your tastebuds!
What makes Callaloo Box the perfect holiday gift?
It allows you to gift someone a taste of home. For our fellow Caribbean-folks, it’s nostalgia in a box each month, and for all the foodies and home cooks, it’s new and exciting food products to try each month. Best of all, it's affordable! Subscriptions start at $39.99 a month, with the option to cancel or skip a month at any time, or simply purchase a one time box.
What inspired you to create Callaloo Box and what can customers expect to discover in each box?
Because of where we’re located, we have easy access to local food products from back home. However, the Trinbago diaspora extends far beyond the major cities of New York, Miami or Toronto. Over the years, we often heard from friends and family living outside of metropolitan areas, who found it difficult to source authentic products from home. Although they're available on other online marketplaces, they're priced high. These folks represent our primary target audience.
We also want to appeal to those who have visited our beautiful islands, tasted and fell in love with the food, and are longing to continue experiencing the mouth-watering cuisine. Not to be forgotten are foodies who just enjoy trying new recipes from around the world. Equipped with our collective experience gained from the corporate world, our intimate knowledge of Trinbago cuisine having grown up there, and our genuine love of and passion for our culture, we felt well-prepared to take on the entrepreneurial endeavor of bringing Callaloo Box to the world.
We chose the name Callaloo because it is a quintessential Trinbago dish. The various ingredients have their own unique flavors yet blend together so wonderfully to create a delightful dish. This is the essence of our culture and what we aim to achieve with Callaloo Box. In each box, customers can expect to discover seasonings, spices, marinades, condiments, pepper sauces and snacks that you’ll find in any kitchen in Trinidad and Tobago, conveniently delivered right to their doorstep. We also have an online store where items can be purchased individually.
What makes Trinidadian food unique?
Trinidad's cuisine is a melting pot of our decorated history which encompasses African, East Indian, British, French, Amerindian, Chinese and Spanish influences. The legacy of each lives on today in every facet of our culture, at the center of which is our food. For example, roti (pronounced row-tee), one of our most popular dishes, has its roots in our East Indian heritage. It consists primarily of curried potatoes, channa (chick peas), and meat wrapped in dhalpourie (similar to a tortilla wrap).
Another popular dish, pastelle, is a cornmeal roll stuffed with meat, fish or vegetables seasoned with fresh herbs and flavored with raisins, olives and capers wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf. It is a must-have at Christmas time, and is influenced by our Spanish origins. The popular Trinbago Callaloo dish consists of dasheen leaves in a blend which includes coconut milk, okra, spices, fresh seasonings and hot pepper. Crab is also commonly added. Callaloo has its roots in our African history.
This spice was definitely what the food subscription box world was missing! Do you have plans to eventually include ingredients from around the diaspora?
We’re beginning our 2018 planning shortly and are exploring the idea of doing a couple monthly themed boxes with items from other Caribbean islands. The diversity and uniqueness found in the food across the islands has its roots in their equally rich and colorful history. There are also so many similarities. Callaloo Box is committed to bringing our collective Caribbean culture to the mainstream.
Out of the three of you, who's the best cook?
We call it a tie. Jamila’s specialty is anything curried and stewed chicken. Malika makes a delicious macaroni pie, and Caron is known for her shrimp chow mein.
Do you see Callaloo Box taking on meal kit services like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron?
This is certainly a dream of ours in the long term. Caribbean immigrants craving a home-cooked meal usually have to substitute ingredients due to lack of availability of the "real thing", but it's just not the same. As such, sourcing authentic ingredients will be paramount to us. With our boxes, the goal of the meal kit service will be to have our customers delight in the feeling of being transported back to the shores of the Caribbean.
It's no secret that it is harder for Black people, especially women, to secure funding for entrepreneurial endeavors. What were some of your experiences/challenges and what advice would you offer to others?
Fortunately, we've been able to self-fund the business up to this point since this model is less capital intensive with comparatively lower startup costs than other types of businesses. But we're aware that we'll need to seek funding as we grow and scale. As a small start-up you’ll experience having to manage and execute all aspects of the business from packing boxes to marketing to financials to graphic design.
Time management and prioritizing is important. Equally important is maintaining work/life balance, making time for leisure and downtime to prevent burn out. Grow slowly, don’t bite off more than you can chew, and make your business scalable.
Holiday season is officially here! What dish reminds you of Trinidad during the holidays? Will there be a holiday edition of Callaloo Box?
There are many dishes that are quintessential to Trinidad and Tobago (Trinbago) at Christmas time, but if we had to choose one, it would be Black Cake. Black Cake is the Trinbago version of English Christmas pudding, an influence from our colonial era. It’s a moist, decadent cake whose key ingredients are dark dried fruits (prunes, currants, and raisins), cherries, rum, brandy and sherry. The fruits are soaked in rum for up to 12 months prior. Many Caribbean islands have their own version of this cake. The commonality is that it’s synonymous with Christmas.
It’s customary to offer a slice to guests who visit your home during the Christmas season, and it’s best enjoyed with must-have Trinbago Christmas drinks, sorrel or ponche de crème. As it turns out, Black Cake is the star of our December box which is themed “Trinbago Christmas” and features must-have items for a quintessential Trinbago Christmas. Also included in the Christmas box are Hot Chow, Dried Sorrel, Mauby Bark, Mixed Essence, Lime-Flavored Hot Sauce, and Split Channa (Chick Peas).
Now this one is always tough for a Trini to answer - would you ever share your doubles?
That's a firm "No" with no apologies. Ha!