By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
When Nicole Foster and Dwight Campbell discovered that their children were lactose intolerant, they needed to find dairy alternatives for ice cream so the kids wouldn’t miss out on enjoying the frozen treat.
After perusing the dairy alternative market, the husband and wife duo only found options that contained artificial ingredients and flavors. Subsequently, they took it upon themselves to make their own dairy-free ice cream using nut milk and items from their pantry, and the children loved the frozen concoctions.
“We did some research and realized that 75% of the population is lactose intolerant, and we thought it was a good business opportunity,” said Foster. “We talked to a number of people who told us, ‘Oh, I haven’t eaten ice cream in 25 years,’ and especially when they tasted our ice cream, they were in love with it.”
The couple transitioned from making the vegan ice cream in their home kitchen to a commercial kitchen in D.C. but found that the market was too crowded. After experiencing the Baltimore food scene, Foster and Campbell decided to move their operations to the city in 2018.
Cajou Creamery relaunched with a new label, packaging, flavor collection and mission. Instead of solely being vegan ice cream, their products were now plant-based with a globally inspired twist.
Every pint is made from scratch by Campbell, who is the executive chef, with wholesome ingredients like cardamom, cinnamon and sweet potatoes, and many of them incorporate the couple’s passion for travel with flavors, including Baklava, Horchata and Mexican Cacao. Foster and Campbell’s children are the chief taste-testers when it comes to creating new flavors.
“Cajou” means “cashew” in French, and Foster and Campbell landed on that name because they primarily use homemade cashew milk for their ice cream. The word also serves as a symbol of reinvention for the couple because cashews are used all over the world in various applications.
“Because of their versatility and their ability to kind of reinvent themselves, we wanted to use it as a symbol for the deeper mission that we have, which is to employ returning citizens with the idea that people, like cashews, can reinvent themselves and deserve a second chance,” said Foster.
The ice cream was distributed wholesale to gourmet grocery stores, restaurants and hotels, and the couple also frequented farmers markets with their products. In early 2020, Foster and Campbell won a retail storefront competition on Howard Row to open a brick-and-mortar establishment.
However, COVID-19 put the Howard Street location’s grand opening on hold. During the pandemic, the ice cream business expanded to selling directly to customers with home deliveries. It was not until a month ago that Cajou Creamery could welcome the public to the store.
As the first and only Black-owned, plant-based ice cream shop in the DMV area, Foster said she is glad that Cajou Creamery has been able to fill the gap. The business is able to provide socially-conscious, nutritious and culinary-driven ice cream without sacrificing the delectability.
“There’s only one us, so we’re not trying to be anybody else. Other people do ice cream well, and we’re not trying to step on anyone’s toes,” said Foster. “We’re going to do what we do really well and keep having fun at it.”
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