L.A. dad and entrepreneur Ibraheem Basir grew up in a big family where food was the center of celebrations and gatherings. His company, A Dozen Cousins, a natural food brand making beans, rice and sauces inspired by the traditional Creole, Caribbean and Latin American dishes he grew up with.
We recently chatted with Basir about parenthood, extended family and his mission to give back to the L.A. community.
Please tell us a little about how your childhood experiences led you to A Dozen Cousins.
I grew up in a big family where food was the center of our celebrations and gatherings. We lived in the culinary melting pot of Brooklyn, so besides just cooking her native southern dishes, my mother was always picking up new recipes from our Caribbean and Latin American neighbors.
As I got older, I realized that it was hard to find a lot of these familiar, cultural dishes in a format that was both convenient and nutritious. I either had to cook them all from scratch or use processed options with ingredients that I was trying to avoid. I started A Dozen Cousins so that people who wanted the same things I did wouldn’t have to make a tradeoff between taste, health and culture.
When my daughter was born, I had 11 nieces and nephews, so I chose the name ‘A Dozen Cousins’ as a way to celebrate our family and all the great meals that we enjoy together.
What are some of your fondest childhood memories?
I grew up in the heart of Brooklyn, but every summer we went on a camping trip outside the city. It was something that I looked forward to each year for different reasons. When I was young, the highlight for me was just loading up on candy and local snacks at the gas stations we stopped at along the way. As I got into middle school I loved all the unique sports and activities that we would do, like playing kickball or riding banana bikes. Finally, by the time I got to high school, I really appreciated the chance to enjoy some quiet, connect with nature and get out of the hustle and bustle of the city. Now that I am a parent and I realize how much work my mom and dad put into those trips, I look back at those memories even more fondly!
How would you describe the core mission of your company?
Our mission is to use food as a way to celebrate culture and inspire healthier living. We fundamentally believe that nobody should have to choose between eating healthy high-quality foods and enjoying the dishes that connect them to their heritage. Beyond just the work we do at A Dozen Cousins, I am a big advocate for representation in the CPG industry and I am excited for the day that supermarket shelves reflect all the richness and diversity of the U.S.
Why is giving back to the community so important to you?
Businesses command a huge amount of resources and we all dedicate more time to work than we do almost anything else in our lives. As a result, I think it is essential that businesses act as a force for good in society.
At A Dozen Cousins, we believe that a person’s income and ethnicity shouldn’t determine their health or quality of life, but we know that is often the case. As a result, we have chosen to focus our impact very specifically on the issue of eliminating socio-economic health disparities in the U.S. Each year we give a grant to a nonprofit organization that is working in this space. Our 2021 grant recipient was L.A. Community Fridges, a one-of-a-kind organization that maintains a free network of public refrigerators throughout Los Angeles.
As a dad, how do you share your family history/traditions with your daughter? Do you cook together as a family? What are some of your favorite dishes to make?
When I got married my family’s gift to me and my wife was a handwritten cookbook with all of my favorite recipes. Once I started having children it became a really cool way for us to share some of our family traditions across generations. For example, my daughter calls them “grandma’s pancakes” even though I am the one that cooks them 90% of the time!
Did you have a mentor growing up? And what role did that person play in your life and your career?
I have 6 older siblings and they have been mentors to me across each stage of my life. From learning to ride a bike, managing the college admissions process and even navigating marriage and parenthood. I think there is something really powerful about peer mentors that have recent experience with the questions and challenges you are facing.
This is a belief that I have carried into my professional life as well. I spend a lot of time staying connected with fellow entrepreneurs, both to compare notes and also to see if there are areas where we can help one another with our businesses.
Best life advice you received growing up?
The best life advice that I received growing up was not to spend too much time worrying about what other people think. We’ve probably all received that advice in some form, but it is a lot easier said than done. I can’t say that I am immune to other people’s opinions, but I do think that cultivating a strong internal voice has been one of the best gifts that I have given myself. It allows me to be more creative with my ideas, more content with my decisions, and more grateful for my blessings.
How has parenthood changed you?
Becoming a father has made me a lot more efficient with my time. I am more disciplined about working within certain hours, and I am a lot more critical about whether or not a particular business trip is actually worth the time away from home. It has even made my wife and I more diligent about how we use our leisure time apart from the kids. Our dates are planned out in advance and we really try to focus our free time on things that energize us.
The second major impact of becoming a parent has been that I now think much further into the future. Before I had children I always had a really strong 3-5 year plan, but I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking 20 years into the future, or contemplating things that will happen after I pass away. It has definitely been an interesting transition and it is one that I am still wrapping my head around in many ways.
When not working, where will we find you?
Riding my bike, relaxing at the beach or maybe both!
What would you tell your middle school self?
I would advise my middle school self to be more outgoing. I am an introvert by nature, and I probably missed out on some great relationships and experiences as a young adult just because I wasn’t comfortable in a lot of social settings. Thankfully, as I got older I was able to find an approach to socializing and relationship building that suited me, but I would have happily had that figured out a few years sooner.
What brought you to L.A.?
We moved to L.A. in advance of my second daughter’s birth because we wanted to be closer to some of our family in Southern California. With that said, we have family in many cities throughout the country, and we made the conscious decision that L.A. would be our next home for two reasons.
For one, we love the weather. Going through COVID with a toddler, we were reminded of how important outdoor activities are and we really love the fact that we are able to get outside and be active all year round.
Secondly, I knew that L.A. was where I wanted to continue building A Dozen Cousins. There is a great global food scene that ranges from regional markets and mom and pop food trucks all the way to high-end restaurants. Likewise, the deep talent pool in the city has made it easy for me to build a diverse team that represents the people and places that make our food special.
What are some of your favorite spots and activities in and around L.A.?
I am still relatively new to L.A., but so far my top three recommendations are to:
- Ride your bike along Venice beach and stop to get a Trinidadian Double at Mango Me Krazy
- Try the Hilib Ari (a Somali Goat and rice dish) at Banadir Somali Restaurant
- Try James Beard Award Winning Oaxacan food at Guelaguetza !