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A Look Inside Cajun Crate

The remedy for homesickness is a delivery of Louisiana goodies from subscription box service Cajun Crate.

Tara Guidry is a Boss Mom. 

As owner of Cajun Crate, a subscription box service specializing in Louisiana products, she’s no stranger to a challenge. A native of Bossier City, Tara has made Lafayette her home and embraced the bon temps way of life in Acadiana.

She knows what makes Louisiana ex-pats happy, and she knows that just about everyone has their own seasoning. She also makes the balancing act of motherhood vs. career look as easy as ordering a subscription box full of Cajun goodies.  

How’d you end up in Lafayette?

I didn’t want to go to college with all of my high school friends in Ruston, so I decided to come down to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Hardly anyone from my high school had even heard of UL, but I knew they had a great photography and arts department because I wanted to be a photographer as my “grownup” job. 

I came down here and instantly fell in love with Lafayette — especially the culture. Six months later, I met my future husband and was definitely not ever moving north of I-10 ever again. I decided Cajun Country was my home, and I’m here to stay. I completely embraced it, and now I just tell people I’m from Shreveport when they ask — unless my mom’s around, because she’ll correct me!

What are your favorite parts of living in the Acadiana area?

Food, festivals, just the easy-going lifestyle of people down here. There’s always something to do. Everyone is super friendly, and I know everybody says that about the South in general — but I really just feel that Lafayette embraces everyone.

It’s something special about Lafayette that we all love each other and band together over any sort of cause. We love to support local things, and I think that’s one reason why it was so easy to start my business here. I wanted to support local through my business, and people want to support me because I’m also local.

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What inspired you to start your business?

We were really tired of making what we called “Cajun care packages” for family members in Arkansas, California and Texas — sending things like Swamp Pop, Community Coffee, Camellia Red Beans, canned Blue Runner White Beans … you know, the staples.

I thought, “I’m gonna sign them up for a subscription box” because that’s what I do to make life easy. My son was on subscription diapers, so I might as well do this through a subscription! That’s when I discovered that I couldn’t just order some of the items online and send it to someone.

My husband told me I should start a subscription box and call it “Cajun Crate.” I was like, “that has a ring to it!” I registered the domain and sat on it for a while. When I decided I wanted to become a stay-at-home mom and work for myself, I knew I needed to have some sort of back-up plan.

But, because I can’t sit still, I decided to go ahead and start Cajun Crate. We launched the Facebook page first. Then, we went to Kickstarter to prove that it’s something people really want — and it definitely proved itself quickly.

We pulled in $21,000 in forty-five days! Kickstarter doesn’t allow subscription boxes anymore, so we are super lucky we started before that change. It helped us generate a lot of nationwide attention for ourselves, but it also got a lot of exposure for many small brands that we had already partnered with.

What were the hardest parts about getting started? 

At first, we thought we could just do a different Cajun Power product every month and maybe a different coffee every month. Honestly, when we were in Kickstarter, we were getting so much press exposure that we had all these brands reaching out to us instead of the other way around. We quickly realized there was a lot more to choose from.

Then we started getting everyone’s feedback, which was so valuable to us. By taking our new customers’ suggestions — when we hadn’t even shipped the first box yet — and formulating a plan for basic stuff like shipping, we were able to hit the ground running.

Now, our biggest challenge every month is “will it fit in the box?” During Mardi Gras, we always do an oversized box because we include both a box of king cake mix and a bottle of hurricane mix — after all, it’s Mardi Gras! That’s our Christmas.

We did a brunch box once, but we put so much stuff in it that we had to use a bigger box. We received one bad review over that because the customer had wanted “the pretty little Cajun Crate box.” I was like, “I’m sorry I gave you so much stuff that it wouldn’t fit!”

We do sometimes have a couple of “Cajun Purists” who like to let us know that some of our products are made in Baton Rouge and are like “that’s not Cajun!” I have to let them know that, even though our name is “Cajun Crate,” we’re a Louisiana subscription box, and we try to curate stuff from all around the state. 

After all, Cajuns like to embrace our whole state’s culture — we’re a melting pot.

What are your hottest “non-Cajun” items?

I sell a lot of Sal and Judy’s, which is Italian. People love it, and it’s a New Orleans staple. I sell a lot of Hola Nola items, which are Cajun-Mexican. People are going nuts right now over the Camellia Red Bean Chips.

So, are these things necessarily pure Cajun? Maybe not. But they’re made by Cajuns, so I think they get a pass. 

Anything new in the works?

I have a brand, A Cajun Life, that wants to get in the box soon. They’re owned by people originally from Eunice who moved to Portland, so their stuff is made in Opelousas. However, their business is actually registered in Portland, Oregon.

They’re Cajun Certified, so they’re technically qualified to get in the box. They wanted to start their own Cajun business making fish-fry, seasoning and hush puppy mix. It’s all made in Opelousas, so they have to ship it in pallets up to them. They’re trying their best to spread the Cajun culture up there, which I give them props for!

What is your favorite part of doing what you do?

Definitely meeting all the vendors. I try to work hand-in-hand, face-to-face with all the owners of these companies. Some of the bigger companies, I’ll work with their marketing department heads, but I would say 95% of the companies I work with, I work directly with the owner.

I cut out the middleman to get the pricing down without going through distributors, but I also get to see what it takes to run a small business from their point of view. A lot of these people are part-time nurses or part-time teachers — they have a day job, they just happen to also have a seasoning or a barbeque sauce.

I feel like if you’re really Cajun, you probably have a seasoning. My mailman has a seasoning. His seasoning is “Purely Cajun,” and it’s made by him, his wife and another business partner. You know the saying, “everybody and their grandma …?” Well, everybody and my mailman has their own seasoning.

Have you tried his seasoning?

It’s actually really good!

As a mom, and especially as a working mom, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned that you want to impart to your kids?

I started this business because I wanted to work for myself, stay at home, and make my own hours. Ever since my son Everett was a year old, he has seen me at home working on my website and preparing packing boxes. I want him to grow up knowing that you can work for yourself, but you have to get up and make it happen. Stuff isn’t going to be handed to you on a silver platter.

He’s been in some big meetings with me at Tabasco, and he’s seen the Crystal’s Hot Sauce warehouse. What other little kid can say that they’ve been in a Crystal’s Hot Sauce warehouse?

I just like the idea of him knowing that “Mom did this!” And now that I’m having a second son, it’s important to me that both of them have respect for women.

What are your top sellers online?

Zydeco Chop Chop, Bulldog Pepper Jelly and Smoked Cane Syrup.

If you haven’t had Zydeco Chop Chop, it’s trinity dehydrated. They say if you get Guidry’s onion mix in the grocery store produce section you’re a lazy Cajun, but this stuff is like ultra-Lazy Cajun. I can’t cook without it now because it already has the garlic mixed in.

Since I’ve been pregnant, I really like the strawberry Bulldog Pepper Jelly on my toast in the mornings. It’s got a little extra kick, but everyone else loves the pecan flavor. It’s very different for a pepper jelly, but their garlic is actually quite good to barbeque with. You can use it as a glaze, toss chicken wings in it, etc.

Smoked Cane Syrup is basically Louisiana cane syrup that has been cold smoked — it’s amazing. The owner has recipes to make things like Old Fashioneds with it or put it in barbeque sauce. We make boudin sliders with it.

Of course, anything Cajun Power sells. It’s pretty much the reason we started Cajun Crate. We were shipping so much Cajun Power, so now I’m trying to get every single thing Cajun Power has.

What other things do you envision doing with your brand?

My subscription box is a third of the business. Another third of the business is online sales. I’m really trying to grow the fulfillment side of my business. I’m already doing fulfillment for Hanley Salad Dressing, which was featured on Billion Dollar Buyers, so that was a lot of orders we had to pack in a short amount of time whenever the episode debuted.

I do fulfillment for Zydeco [Chop Chop] and Bulldog [Pepper Jelly] and a couple other seasoning brands, so I’m just trying to grow that service for the people who want more online exposure but are also focused on wholesale. They’re working on getting their product in Rouse’s and Walmart, and shipping out onesie, twosie orders from their website eats up a lot of their time.

We’re just trying to get these products in everybody else’s hands and get more exposure for them. The better we do, the better the brands we’re working with do, and that means good things for the state of Louisiana.

Plus we’re millennials, so we’ll spend our last dollar on food. Who cares about rent, right?  

Tara Guidry, Cajun Crate & Cajun Crate Market

@cajuncrate / https://cajuncrate.com/

Lafayette, LA