How a Childhood Cooking With Family Inspired A Dozen Cousins CEO Ibraheem Basir To Start His Own Food Company
His parents made Caribbean, Creole, and Latin American bean-based dishes that not only fed a lot of mouths, but made them water just at the smell of them simmering on the stove. As an adult, it became Basir's mission to share some of his favorite family bean dishes in a way that was accessible and easy-to-prepare—leading to the launch of his company's flavor-packed heat-and-eat products in 2019.
In honor of Black History Month, the company released a new limited-edition product: Creole Red Beans ($30 for an 8-pack), made with Louisiana-style beans that are slow-simmered with bell peppers and spices. This is the second time the brand has done a limited-edition launch for Black History Month, and this year's drop is inspired by the red beans and rice that Basir's mother makes herself.
Here, Basir shares more about his family mealtimes growing up, building his brand, and how the products are saving us all during the pandemic.
Well+Good: What was mealtime like for you growing up?
Ibraheem Basir: I have a really big family: nine brothers and sisters and 11 nieces and nephews. When my daughter was born, she became the 12th cousin, which is where the brand gets its name from. Growing up, food was always how we connected at the end of the day. It was when we talked after school and work. It was how we celebrated milestones and holidays. In many ways, it was the glue that held us together.
I grew up in Brooklyn in this really interesting Black and Latino melting pot. A lot of my mom's traditional family dishes are Southern or Creole. Our neighbors were from the Caribbean or different parts of Latin America, so we would pick up different recipes and dishes from them. So we ended up with a bunch of different cuisines on the table that worked really well together, like yellow rice, black-eyed peas, and chicken.
Well+Good: When did you personally start getting into cooking?
IB: Even as a kid I loved to cook. I actually used to get in trouble because I would wake up on Saturday mornings and make French toast while everyone else was sleeping. My mom would come into the kitchen around 10 a.m. and there would be this big mess and all these dishes. So I've always enjoyed cooking, but it wasn't until after I went to business school that I started thinking about how to use that passion professionally.
Well+Good: When you have family get-togethers now, what do you cook and bring to the table?
IB: Even though I like to cook and have a food company, there's so many other people in my family that cook better than I do. There are specific dishes my mom and grandmother make that everyone looks forward to. Even my little brother has gotten really into grilling. So I usually just bring the soft drinks.
Well+Good: A Dozen Cousins' products are meeting such a great need right now for easy, delicious food. What has business been like during the pandemic?
IB: Even before COVID-19, [the company] noticed the growing need for healthy, quick meals. We've all become so busy that many people don't have 20 or 30 minutes to make dinner. Making [traditional] bean-based dishes can take a few hours because you're soaking the dry beans in water and then during the cooking process, they simmer for a long time, soaking in the flavors of the onion, garlic, and other spices. Because of that, a lot of people are missing out on bean-based dishes, so that was a need we wanted to meet.
During the pandemic, we've heard from a lot of people that the products have become lunchtime staples for them, not just a dinner meal. It's something that only takes a minute to prepare and can be done between video calls or between helping kids with virtual school while you try to work.
Well+Good: Has the pandemic affected day-to-day operations for the company?
IB: At first, it was just managing the growing demand by increasing production. We also had to think a little differently about how people were buying the products. Now, people are buying food online more than in the past. We sold six times as many products on Amazon last month than we did in January 2020. So we've been focusing more on making it easy for people to buy what they want online, whether it's through Amazon, Thrive Market, or directly through our site.
Then there's also our new limited edition Creole Red Bean variety product that I'm excited about too. It's a fun opportunity to share foods of the African diaspora that might be harder to find in your typical supermarket. In the case of Creole red beans, it's a really unique dish that was born in Louisiana, which has roots in African, French, and Spanish cuisine. On a personal note, my mother is from the South, so this is one of the beans that she would cook for me most often growing up, so it's an opportunity to share one of her favorite recipes.
Well+Good: Did the product get your mom's approval?
IB: It did! We had to make a few little tweaks and adjustments so we could get the product ready for mass production, but it's pretty true to her original recipe.
Well+Good: When you are brainstorming new products, what core values are important to you that it wouldn't be A Dozen Cousins product without?
IB: Number one is the focus on culture and foods that authentically pay homage to Creole, Caribbean, and Latin American dishes. We want to celebrate the people and places that make the food special. It's really important to us to honor the traditional roots of each dish. Ingredient quality is also really important to us. We will always use real food ingredients that have health benefits, like onion, spices, apple cider vinegar, and avocado oil. Last is convenience. We want the products to be quick and easy to make. That's always been core to the brand and will continue to be even after the pandemic is over.
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