Author: Jacob Took
Photography: Kyle Pompey
Nicole and Dwight, founders of Cajou Creamery, just wanted to find a tasty, healthy sweet treat for their lactose-intolerant kids. Dwight had 15 years of culinary experience, and Nicole was earning her raw food chef certification after working as a criminal defense lawyer. She had been raw vegan for a minute, which she credits with helping her stay laser-focused on studying for the bar exam. “I’d never felt so good,” she says. “But it makes sense — if you’re feeding yourself the best fuel, you’ll operate at your best performance.”
They experimented with dairy-free ice creams, and an early flavor — maple with almonds and dates — was a hit with the kids. As they refined their product, they also had to figure out the business side, eventually joining a commercial kitchen and renting their own ice cream machine. Based near D.C. at the time, they came up to Baltimore for Light City in 2018 and loved the energy. It wasn’t long before they moved and started setting up shop at local farmers markets, where they met fellow small business owners Lynette and Eric of Cuples Tea House. They didn’t know it then, but Cajou and Cuples would soon be neighbors.
A breakthrough came in early 2020 when Nicole and Dwight won the Howard Row Small Business Storefront Competition from developer Poverni Sheikh Group, securing a year of free rent at a built-out retail space on Howard Street. Cuples won a space next door, and the number of Black-owned businesses has continued to grow on a block that had been nearly abandoned, the result of historic under-investment. “It’s nice to turn Howard Street’s racist history on its head,” Nicole says. “Now we’re the business owners, and we are inclusive and welcoming of everyone.”
The space helped Cajou fulfill larger contracts, including with Whole Foods Market, and provided a footprint to build community and spread the good word of plant-based nutrition. And this is just the beginning. Nicole and Dwight want to open an employee-owned manufacturing facility for plant-based products, providing jobs and skill training to returning citizens. For now, they are still educating folks that yes, plant-based vegan ice cream really can taste this good.
As one of the world’s only Black-owned plant-based ice cream companies making handcrafted cashew milk ice cream, Cajou is making history. Nicole credits the Baltimore business community for helping at many key moments in their growth, but it ultimately took years of hard work to get where they are today. “Despise not small beginnings,” Nicole says.
To learn more visit: cajoucreamery.com