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Inspiring Conversations with Ayeshah Abuelhiga of Mason Dixie Foods

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ayeshah Abuelhiga.

Hi Ayeshah, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
I grew up in Baltimore, in the kitchen of my immigrant parents’ soul-food carry out restaurant and convenience store, that’s where my passion for comfort food started. I thought it was so cool to see people from all walks of life — businessmen, construction workers, all kinds of people — enjoying this food without pause. It was food I craved even as I was coming of age in college, but I could never find homestyle, scratch-made comfort food, only fast food equivalents. But being a first-generation American, a restaurant was not where my parents wanted me to spend the rest of my life.

I was the first member of my family to attend college and since my parents didn’t make a lot of money, I had to work to pay for school, so I worked in restaurants throughout my years at George Washington University. I went on to hold positions in male-dominated industries, like tech and auto and climbed the corporate ladder quickly, and in less than 14 years, I was an upper-level manager who was unfulfilled and had another 20 years to go before I could go after the only female C-level role that I didn’t even want. I was disenchanted and uninspired.

So, I decided it was time to carry out my family legacy and get back into a restaurant. While I was still working full time to fund my dream, I founded Mason Dixie. I saw a huge opportunity in the lack of comfort food options available in the growing, better-for-you food space, and an even bigger opportunity making biscuits the focal point since there were no real, scratch-made biscuits on the market.

I organized the first pop-up DC had ever experienced and had lines wrapped around 4 city blocks in an up and coming neighborhood all weekend. It led to our first temporary pop-up in a food hall in DC. It was only 80 square feet with no prep space so we would run out of food daily before noon because we couldn’t prep and transport enough.

A couple of months in, some customers kept telling me I should sell the dough so they could just bake it at home instead of waiting in line for baked biscuits. Some even said they wish they knew what the biscuits tasted like fresh out of the oven since we didn’t even have an oven onsite. Against the advice of my pastry chef at the time, I froze some of the pucks he had made and came back the next day to bake them off. They turned out even better than the fresh dough! So, I ran to Bed Bath and Beyond, bought a $100 Foodsaver vacuum sealer, and started freezing sheets of biscuits and sealing these biscuits off at 1:00 AM since I was still working full time.

The day after, I drove a big Igloo ice chest to the stall, filled it with the frozen biscuits. Two hours later, we had sold out of all the frozen biscuits by 9:00 AM! Fast forward two months, we got secret-shopped by the Regional Marketing Director at Whole Foods who had bought a bunch weeks before. She told me I had to bring all the samples I could and show up to headquarters and that she wanted to put the biscuits on display. Nine months later, the day before Thanksgiving, we showed up to our first Whole Foods store with 150 beautiful black boxes and a table full of baked biscuits to demo and within 3 hours we sold out of all the biscuits — beating butter and milk sales that day. That’s the day it became real that we were no longer just a restaurant — we were going to be a product company too.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
No road to success is ever not bumpy. We had the same struggles all startups have – fundraising challenges, access to scaling partners, figuring out how to make millions of biscuits versus thousands without help – there are tons! But the one struggle I had not anticipated dealing with as severely was that we would still be fighting bigotry and hate, even as an entrepreneur. I left my corporate career life due to sexism and racism in terms of career advancement – and yet, even in our journey into CPG, my out and proud business partner and I have experienced sexism, racism, and bigotry against LGBTQ+ people, We had people deny us funding because I was a woman, we had people say we don’t “look like” people who make biscuits. We were even told we cannot talk about being a LGBTQ+ business because we sell biscuits in the Bible Belt. These are struggles we are still facing today which is why we as a business donate our time, money and mentorship to a variety of causes impacting women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ people. I am a proud founding Board member of Project Potluck – a nonprofit organization established to advance careers and businesses for BIPOC people in CPG. We also support causes such as Females In Food, Rainbow Families, Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, SMYAL, and Girls Inc., with money, time, food and mentorship.

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about Mason Dixie Foods?
Mason Dixie Foods is the fastest growing frozen comfort food brand in the country.

We specialize in clean-label, convenient, frozen comfort food, such as biscuits and breakfast sandwiches, made from recognizable scratch ingredients, fresh dairy, and we are preservative-free. We sell in over 7000 grocery stores nationwide and we also have a growing food service business where you can find our products on the menu at Marriott hotels nationwide.

What sets us apart is we are certified Woman-Owned, and we are proud to say No to ingredients our competition has no issue with: we ban the use of PRESERVATIVES. CORN SYRUP. ARTIFICIAL FLAVORINGS. PROCESSED OILS. BLEACH. SUBSTITUTES. GUMS and hundreds of other commonly used food additives that are just not humanly digestible or good for people’s bodies. We are also the only manufacturer using real, fresh dairy, certified real eggs, and real butter to make our baked goods. It’s why our food tastes phenomenal – because we let real ingredients do the work for us.

We are one of the most diverse companies in the industry, with over 80% of our executive team being female, over 40% of our team identifying as BIPOC and LGBTQ+. We love that we are not only changing the face of American comfort food, but that we are also changing the face of American businesses.

Alright, so to wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
You can find us nationwide using our store locator at: Store Finder – Mason Dixie Foods, and in the Baltimore area at your local Whole Foods Market, Giant, Safeway, Harris Teeter, and Mom’s Organic Markets.

Pricing:

  • You can find our buttermilk and cheddar biscuits at $5.99 SRP
  • Our breakfast sandwiches are available as a single-serve at $3.99 SRP and 2 count packs at $6.99 SRP.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Credit courtesy of Mason Dixie Foods

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