Last month we caught up with two sisters from Trinidad & Tobago who started a business to help bring a little piece of their home in the islands to food lovers in across America. Callaloo Box is a Trinidad and Tobago & Caribbean subscription box service & online grocery delivering seasonings, condiments, spices, pepper sauces, drinks, snacks and more directly to your door. With the subscription box service, each month’s box features a different themed selection of these food items. There is also the grocery for those who prefer to shop for individual items instead of subscribing for monthly boxes. For sisters Malika & Jamila, Callaloo box is about creating that sense of community amongst the Caribbean diaspora. It’s their way of sharing our love for our food and culture not only with Trinibagonians living abroad but with anyone who loves “Trini” or Caribbean food. Check out the interview below:
What inspired you both to start this business?
In Trinidad and Tobago food is a huge part of the culture. Whether it’s a family gathering, celebration or party, food is always at the center. Growing up in Trinidad this was the case in our family where food represented togetherness. So for us, starting a food related business came naturally and it felt very authentic. The familial and cultural ties that food represents is a major part of who we are and our goal for our brand is always to reflect, share and convey this feeling.
When we moved to New York City to attend college, food was one of the ways we were able to stay connected to home. Having lived in NYC for all those years, we had relatively easy access to local products from back home. But we kept hearing from friends and family who lived in other places in the U.S. that is was difficult to find products from home. So this was our motivation for starting Callaloo Box! After spending over 14 years in corporate America in NYC, we decided that we needed a change of pace. We packed our bags and headed to South Florida to pursue our dream of starting our own business!
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced starting up?
As a new small business, your finances and resources including your time are limited as you are responsible for every aspect of the business from planning to execution. It’s just the two of us. So time management was and still is a challenge for us as we try to find that balance between time spent on the day to day operations of the business versus working on building out our strategic vision for the company.
We also quickly realized early on the need to think outside of the box. Again, because resources are limited and you are responsible for the operations of every aspect of your business, you will need to learn things that you aren’t familiar with and will have to wear many different hats. Jamila’s background is in finance and operations, while Malika’s background is in data analytics and marketing. A lot of what we do now, we never thought we would be doing when we think back to our corporate life. One example was researching and learning about shipping logistics and coming up with a model that worked with our packaging because presentation is a major part of our service. The look of our packages, both the subscription box and grocery, is important to us because it’s about more than about the products in the box. It’s about the experience, memories and feelings evoked.
What’s your favorite Trini dish to prepare?
Jamila’s favorite Trini dish to cook is stewed chicken. It is made by “browning” or burning sugar until it’s caramelized. This is the foundation for stewing any type of meat. The meat is then added to the caramelized sugar which gives it its brown color and rich gravy.
Malika’s favorite Trini dish to cook is macaroni pie. It’s similar to macaroni and cheese but it is baked with a layer of cheese on the top.
Both dishes are part of a traditional “Sunday lunch” in Trinidad and Tobago, which also includes callaloo!
What’s one Trini snack you can’t live without?
This is hard because there are so many! The Trini snack that Jamila can’t live without is pepper channa (chickpeas) – salted fried chickpeas spiced with pepper. Malika can’t live without fudge.
What dish do you encourage newbies to Caribbean cooking to start with?
Try starting with stewed chicken, Trinidad and Tobago style. As we said before, it is made by “browning” or burning sugar until it’s caramelized. This is the foundation for stewing any type of meat. The meat is then added to the caramelized sugar which gives it its brown color and rich gravy. Timing is everything when “browning” the sugar so keep your eye on the pot and do not step away. If the sugar is not caramelized fully, the result will be a sweet tasting dish. If the sugar burns too much, you end up with a bitter taste. Practice makes perfect!
Caribbean food blogger Homemade Zagat has many easy to follow recipes from Trinidad & Tobago and the Caribbean. For each of her recipe blog posts she shares the cultural background for the dish in such a warm, light-hearted and relatable way that transports you straight to the Caribbean. We partner with her to include her recipes in our boxes. These recipe cards are also listed as complimentary on our website. You can also check out the Recipe Corner on our website for direct links to her blog as well as links to the blogs and YouTube channels of the other amazing Caribbean foodies that we work with.
What do your customers say?
We’ve received emails or messages from customers saying that they are so happy to have found us because they live in places where they don’t have any access to Caribbean food items and that our packages make them feel closer to home. Customers have said that we’ve brought back childhood and family memories. Customer experiences like these are really our goal.
We’ve also gotten positive feedback on our customer service and delivery. As a small business we are grateful for the trust and opportunity that our customers have given to us.
How can Black Foodies get in touch and shop Callaloo box?
You can purchase from our website www.callaloobox.com. You can subscribe to our monthly boxes or purchase as a 1-time box only. You can also visit our grocery section to shop for individual items. We also have a Recipe Corner on our website with links to the blogs and YouTube channels of some amazing Caribbean foodies that we partner with.
Also follow us on social media @callaloobox – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter – where we share what’s going on in the Callaloo Box world – food inspiration, links to recipes, special grocery deals and more.
How did you decide on the name Callaloo box?
We wanted a name that was part of our Trinbagonian lingo so we started going through an online Trinidad and Tobago dictionary word by word until we got to “C” and “callaloo” and immediately decided that was the name.
We wanted a name that really spoke to what we represent as a brand both in terms of the service we are offering and the feeling we want to convey.
Callaloo is one of the national dishes of Trinidad & Tobago, so this direct reference to food was one reason we thought this choice for our brand name was a good fit. Callaloo is a flavorful dish with a soup-like consistency made from dasheen (callaloo) bush, ochroes, coconut milk and various other seasonings. All these ingredients are slowly simmered creating a flavorful dish. We found this to be a great parallel to the ethnic diversity of Trinidad and Tobago, with our ancestors coming from Africa, India, China, the Middle East and other places, bringing their culture and of course food and cooking techniques and adapting to what was available to them. So our food is a wonderful mix of all this cultural diversity that has resulted in a taste that is uniquely Trinbagonian. “Callaloo” encompassed all of this.