Updated: Jan 19, 2020
My guests on episode 4, season 2 of the Backstage with Bajan Brands podcast have created a Street Food brand using a new take on an old sidewalk favorite in Barbados - corn on the cob. Traditionally it’s heavily roasted or steamed and bathed in butter. But Halley Franklyn and Rachael Kennedy the co-owners and life partners behind Cobz Street Corn are doing something a lot different with corn these days.
While, like traditional roast corn vendors, they’re located street side both the corn and the experience are night and day compared to the customary way. It all began with a trip Halley made abroad and his first taste of a Mexican eloté - grilled or steamed corn on the cob with flavourful toppings. With a little nudge from his brother who he was visiting at the time, Halley decided to explore the idea for a similar business back home. He shared his thoughts with Rachael once he returned and they dug into a research process to help them make some final decisions. The result, a revved-up eloté like recipes to supercharge the Bajan street corn experience.
The Cobz visual branding, quirky social media posts, and colorful corn photography first put this brand on my radar. Though I’m can’t call myself a corn lover, I’m attracted to the personality they’ve created around the brand and that drew me in most.
Halley and Rachael opened up a lot about starting out, developing the Cobz Street Corn brand, and their vision for the future. Below is an excerpt (edited) from our chat. The full episode can be found here.
DNS: Now Halley and Rachael are Cobz Street Corn and I’ve seen also Cobz Street Food. So I want you to tell me, first of all, how did Cobz come about and where do we get Cobz Street Food and Cobz Street Corn?
HF: Well, Cobz Street Food is the name of the business actually. But however, our first start with the business is through corn. Cobz Street Food [is] based on street food from different parts of the world. So we plan to do different things from time to time. As people that already know us, they know that we add things from time to time. In due time it won’t only be corn, we have much more stuff to offer.
RK: To add to that. It was kinda my advice to Halley cause he was adamant “It’s not just gonna be corn so it should be Cobz Street Food”. I said “Ok”, with my little background in marketing I said to him though I think what we need to break into the market with something niche and very unique and we need to kinda stamp that strongly in people’s minds so they remember it. And I said to be honest right now we’ve kinda done all our research and have all these ideas for the corn and I think it might be a little confusing if people try to decipher the brand - “Why is it Cobz Street Food and all they’re doing is corn?” So I said let’s go with corn for the initial [period], get that presence resonating with people and really kinda dominate that particular niche and I think we can then graduate into Cobz Street Food. Because by then people will know us and I think they will see a natural progression from the corn and how the business kinda grows and to me, it does show growth over time that, maybe, from a person observing [they would say], “Well you know they started out with just corn. I remember them and now look at them they’re doing this and they’re doing that”. And it makes sense that there was a progression so [the] name would progress as well. So that was more or less my advice to him. I’m hoping it’s working out good so far (laughs).
DNS: There’s a bit of a tradition in Barbados with corn because you know you get the roast corn at the side of the highway, but then here you are you take corn and you take it somewhere else. You talked a lot about research. Is it that the timing was right for this in Barbados now?
RK: I absolutely think so and that’s something I said to Halley, cause Halley naturally has an entrepreneurial mind. For years he would come to me with one idea or the other and he calls me the ‘dream crusher’(laughs). [We’re] definitely both creative but then I bring a practical element to it so then when he comes with this idea about flying cheese to the moon I go “Ok, let’s dial it back a little. How do we make this happen?” And he’s not necessarily the practical person so he’s like “Well you know what I don’t know but we’re gonna make it happen”. So when he said, “Well you know I tasted this corn and it was so good but it was just like these spices sprinkled on top”. I was like “ok” and then, like he said, we started to research. We saw the Mexican eloté and it inspired us to then try new things ‘cause when we tasted [it] I was like, I never thought about putting these things on a piece of corn. I love corn but to me, it was just corn and butter or roast corn and [I wondered] how will people feel about us changing the traditional take on Bajan corn. And I said “You know what, I think it’s the time”, because I find we’ve seen a shift in society, I would say, where tradition is fine but I think the young minds now are definitely interested and in a way kinda long for something different, something new, something innovative, even if it seems weird and totally strange. I think over the last decade or so I find that generation is definitely open to at least trying new things and as I said to him, I said “I think this is perfect timing because people are a lot more adventurous with their palates - with a lot of other things in life but their palates for sure”. And funny enough I feel even like the roast corn was, I don’t wanna say dying, but the popularity I think has dwindled over the years. ‘Cause I remember as a child going for roast corn fairly often and now even as an adult, I’m driving by and it’s always like “I don’t have time to stop right now and it’s roast corn, you know ok fine, I’ve done it so many times already”. But I was like I think we have something that people will seek out, you know as long as they see it, they hear it or get word of it. It’s so strange I think people might think “You know I at least want to try it”. So I did think the timing was perfect for it.
DNS: Do you think, having said that the timing was right and that people’s palates are open to trying new things, do you think there are businesses that paved the way for yours? Businesses here in Barbados in food and street food that would’ve paved the way for Cobz?
HF: Yes I can say that for sure. Street food is definitely getting very popular. Yeah, I can say guys like Yelluh Meat, those guys push street food very hard.
RK: I would say definitely. Like Halley said I find over, again, the last decade, maybe more, street food as a concept has been on the rise. And like I told [someone] it’s not that it’s necessarily new to Barbados, ‘cause think back [to] when we were children; even the same roast corn vendors on the side of the street, that literally is street food; the people who would line the sides of Baxter’s road selling fish, street food has been there. And at one point barbecue[d] pigtails was a huge thing in Barbados. I think what has changed though is that, again, this younger generation focus more on branding, focus more on marketing, and focus more on creating an entire vibe around it. So it’s not literally like I’m just gonna take this table and set up next to the road and that’s it. It’s like I’m gonna create a presence, a brand, something that’s memorable. So I think definitely seeing other businesses, like Halley mentioned, like Yelluh Meat, Curbside Cafe, I could mention so many others. And I’ve seen how the Bajan public took to it and like I said, again, seem so ready for anything along that line. Again timing to me was perfect and it definitely showed us how you know what, this could work. People want this and I definitely think that we could bring something that people would be very happy about.
DNS: So Halley, she didn’t crush this dream? [laughter]
HF: No, actually she pushed it all the way. Rachael puts in 100 and...actually 200 percent into this. Rachael is up all night because you know, she handles all of the marketing. She handles all of the graphics. She handles the Instagram page where we do most of our advertising. And I can tell you the nights I [finally] fall asleep, Rachael is still up on the computer, eyes red and watery. So I can say she didn’t crush this one at all.