Black-owned brand offers globally- inspired flavors made with superfood ingredients.
When Nicole Foster and Dwight Campbell, co-founders of Baltimore-based Cajou Creamery, first made a plant-based alternative to everyday ice cream, it was solely to ensure their children had a healthy dairy-free alternative to indulge in. After repeated requests from friends and family as well as market research that revealed other plant-based alternatives contained artificial ingredients, they knew there was a market opportunity to explore.
And they were right to dive deeper. Their cashew-based ice cream made-from-scratch with cashew milk is available at select stores in Maryland and D.C. and sold on their website with shipping available nationwide. Requests have been received from California to Georgia, and even Hawaii and Canada for flavors that include baklava, horchata, kulfi, cortadito, Mexican cacao, blueberry cheesecake and sweet potato pie.
Starting Close to Home
“The reason we started the company is because we learned that our first son, who happened to be a premature baby born at four months early, had some respiratory issues which were exacerbated by our use of dairy,” shares Foster. “When we recognized that we had to switch, we had already introduced him to ice cream…we had to switch to some dairy-free alternative, and when we looked for that in the market, everything we found contained artificial taste or texture or ingredients.”
Drawing upon Campbell’s prior experience as a chef for more than a decade and her own inclinations as a foodie —Foster holds a raw food chef certification—the couple made the best of their mutual passion and discerning palates to create dairy-free alternatives for their sons, now ages 14 and 9. “Our children are our taste testers. When the kids give their approval, we know we have nailed it,” says Foster, about Cajou’s globally influenced flavors, inspired by their backgrounds and travels worldwide to include Kenya, Senegal, Germany, Italy, Spain and Mexico.
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“A lot of the choice comes from places we have taken our kids to and flavors from our childhood,” shares Campbell. “I’m Jamaican, Nicole is Guyanese American, we choose things that evoke good joyful childhood memories like sweet potato pie, the kulfi as both our ancestries use cardamom and coconut, the baklava is from the African and Middle Eastern flavors that we love and places that we have been to.”
Foster adds, “We draw inspiration from our global travels. We’ll attempt to recreate a flavor that we loved or tried. For instance, my family is from Guyana, there are a lot of East Indians there. I’ve tried kulfi in Guyana and loved the taste, especially kulfis with rose water and cardamom. We said we can’t get a great kulfi here, so let’s try to recreate it.”
Adding That Personal Touch
All Cajou products are made from scratch, starting with whole raw ingredients sourced from responsible vendors, and contain no dairy, soy, gluten, or artificial additives. Most flavors contain 100 calories or less per serving, except for those made with coconut milk that have higher fat content. They use dates as a sweetener to offset the glycemic count of sugar and are working on a reduced sugar line for the future.
Working with a global commodity like cashew as a base ingredient provides a few different sourcing options since it is grown in many parts of the world, but it does stack on additional steps to the process of making the ice cream. Foster shares, “It changes things in that it’s a more laborious process to make the cashew milk, which is what we do. We make the cashew milk as part of making our base…many companies either buy their bases or make it from milk and egg and cream.”
“Being a chef is the love of food, it doesn’t matter what temperature or style of food it is. If you are in the culinary industry, you love all food,” Campbell says. “That’s one of the things that drives Nicole and me…that’s what empowers us to make the products that we do.”
And Foster’s previous experience as an attorney worked in their favor too, as she comes from a career spanning more than 20 years in law and public health, tackling criminal justice, access and equity in food, health and housing, as well as legal and political advocacy on behalf of children, families, aging and indigent populations. “What I found in smaller businesses is the path to how to establish the business and what legal paperwork needs to be filled out is not 100% smooth and fully paved,” she says. “My past career helped me figure out that path.”
Developing for Future Growth
Foster adds, “Even though I enjoyed my legal career, I always felt like something was missing. I knew I wanted a career in food, but I didn’t know how it would manifest. This business helps me to flex some of those creative muscles that I couldn’t flex as a healthcare attorney working for the government. It’s been a joyful journey working together to come up with flavors, our mission and packaging, partnerships and promotions.”
That journey has included the ongoing construction of their ice cream café space and plans to open doors soon. Attached to that plan is also a mission-driven approach committed to the principles of worker-owner cooperatives, especially equity and inclusion. They are hiring and training returning citizens (individuals returning home after being in prison) to provide opportunities for a second chance to thrive and currently working with the Baltimore Roundtable of Economic Development (BRED) to transition to a worker-owned cooperative.
Campbell admits it’s been a tough road with neither having prior store-building experience and COVID adding its own twist to challenges, including shipping and manufacturing disruptions that multiplied the wait time for equipment, ingredients and packaging exponentially. “But we are getting through it, pivoting, and finding solutions,” he says.
Foster adds, “Shipping has allowed us to be on everyone’s doorstep and it’s been a game-changer for us.”
Another pivot point is their plans for the physical location—they have now included pastries and coffee and other plant-based items, so customers have several options when they visit. This will include retail products from other local and Black-owned businesses in the area.
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For future years, they plan to add outdoor café seating and hope to have their own factory someday as well as source exclusively from Fair Trade farmers as they scale and grow.
Plan to stop by Cajou Creamery in the coming months at 411 N. Howard Ct in Baltimore. For now, visit and order from the website at www.cajoucreamery.com and follow along on Instagram and Facebook for news of the grand opening.