By Aaron Gonsoulin
THE DAILY IBERIAN
After having a conversation with his wife in 2011, Chris Fontenot, CEO of A Cajun Life, wanted to bring the traditions and roots of his home to people around the country and the world.
Fontenot, a Eunice native, started A Cajun Life in Oregon with the encouragement of friends to sell his spices and products.
Fontenot had lived in various places of the country before beginning his business in Oregon.
Fontenot decided to test out the market in Oregon with food carts, launching A Cajun Life as a part-time company in 2012 with intent to just sell packaged goods.
A few weeks after opening up the cart, Fontenot said the company started selling out of its products, and a year into business, customers were asking for more, so A Cajun Life launched an all-purpose Cajun seasoning.
“Over the next few years, we’ve opened up additional locations and we had two brick and mortars (buildings) and a second cart,” Fontenot.
In 2015, Fontenot had the opportunity to leave The Hershey Company and started working for A Cajun Life full time.
Some of the products sold by A Cajun Life include spices, rubs, boxed meals and, last year, the company acquired Swamp Pop Sodas.
The company’s products are sold both nationally and internationally and coast to coast in the U.S, according to Fontenot.
“One of our largest regions for A Cajun Life is definitely the Midwest,” Fontenot said. “It’s currently our largest region.”
Fontenot thinks in general, that not only in the Midwest, but anywhere outside of South Louisiana, a lot of consumers have either visited Acadiana or are familiar with the cuisine and through the various entertainment platforms and want to try out the food.
“When you leave the South, it’s hard to find authentic Cajun products,” Fontenot said. “And that’s sort of where we slide in.”
Fontenot, who lives in Oregon, said former Louisianians are constantly looking for his brand, as it is a taste of home.
“You have that as well across the country, folks looking for what we grew up with, and it’s just hard to find when you leave the South,” Fontenot said.
When Fontenot first opened up shop, he joked he knew if someone was from Louisiana or the south — “When they would walk up to the window and they always asked, ‘What’s your last name, and where are you from?’” Fontenot said. “As soon as I heard that I knew they were gauging whether or not we were the real deal.”
Fontenot said the first question someone who wasn’t familiar with the cuisine and customs of Cajun cooking would ask is how spicy a particular dish was, as many were afraid if it would be too spicy for them.
Fontenot said he would explain that Cajun food is not spicy because Cajun cooks want to make people sweat, but rather spicy to complement the flavor profile that comes with Cajun cuisine.
“They understood that yes it has a kick, but it all works together in a way that makes them want more,” Fontenot said.
Though A Cajun Life closed down thitse restaurants in 2016 to focus on the packaged products, Fontenot said customers are still asking for traditional meals like etouffee, or a meal he grew up with called bayou boogie, a dish made with chicken, sausage and tasso in a pan sauce.
“Folks want me to do pop-ups here and there so they can get their fix because they miss the restaurants,” Fontenot said.
Fontenot wanted to make A Cajun Life a brand that be able to be anything related to Cajun culture.
“At the moment, A Cajun Life is strictly a food company but our name doesn’t limit us to that,” Fontenot said. “I want it to embody the Cajun lifestyle, which is very different from any culture in the U.S.”
Though he isn’t in his home state anymore, Fontenot makes an effort to stay close to his roots and maintain a Cajun tradition that most still practice to this day:
“I still talk to my family at a minimum once a week,” Fontenot said. “I’ve done that since I left the house, and I speak to my family every Sunday, usually multiple times a week.”
A Cajun Life and Swamp Pop products are available at acajunlife.com.