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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Baltimore Food Entrepreneur Details Rise from Public Housing to Business Success

   Ayeshah Abuelhiga grew up in public housing in Baltimore, and like so many in her vibrant neighborhood, fried chicken and biscuits were the comfort food of choice.

   So, when the energetic and driven Abuelhiga started Mason Dixie Biscuits Company with the $27,000 she raised through a social media campaign, chicken and biscuits headlined the menu.

   “I grew up in the kitchen, and I watched people of all types come in and out of my mom’s store in the Lexington Avenue Market, and I began thinking about what I would go out and do, and I knew it would be something in the food business,” Abuelhiga said. 

   Her passionate and delicate food handling led Abuelhiga to move her pop-up sandwich spot to a brick-and-mortar showcase.

   “We had lines wrapped around four city blocks,” Abuelhiga recalled. “By noon, we would sell out, and one customer asked about freezing the biscuits. So, I had to think about how to do that. Eventually, that took on a life of its own.”

   Whole Foods came calling, and Abuelhiga’s delicacies immediately sold out at that popular chain. Later, she stocked Mason Dixie biscuits at Wegman’s, Mom’s Organics, and Harris Teeter.

   However, the pandemic struck in 2020, and Abuelhiga joined many other businesses that were forced to close. She then relocated her business near Baltimore Inner Harbor and is thriving again.  

   “I had a career in tech and automotive where I was passed over a number of times as a woman and a woman of color, so I was sick and tired of waiting for the next opportunity and was bold enough to think that I could be my own boss,” Abuelhiga asserted.

   She also wanted to clean up the comfort food business, she said.

   “I wanted to go back to scratch-made, clean and label fresh from the farm ingredients,” Abuelhiga insisted. 

   With her products now sold in more than 8,000 stores, including Whole Foods Market locations and Target, Abuelhiga’s company has made it a mission to give back.

   Although the threat of more COVID-19 cases has canceled the event, Abuelhiga had holiday plans to partner with the Franciscan Center to host the charitable organization’s annual children’s Christmas for 150 young ones in Baltimore. Instead, Abuelhiga and her Mason Dixie Foods team decided to participate in a toy drive by dropping off donations for children at the center.

   She said her childhood struggles and limited resources growing up led her to remain determined to give back to the local community.

   “This means a lot because I grew up poor in Section 8 houses in Baltimore City,” Abuelhiga said. “The city has a lot of promise and potential, and if kids can see people like me, it provides hope. But, from a dream perspective, you’re limited because if you can’t see it, you can’t dream it.”

   Abuelhiga is proud that she just might be the source of the dreams eventually achieved by a younger generation of Charm City entrepreneurs.

   “People in diverse communities always will do more because they want the opportunity to prove themselves,” Abuelhiga stated. “They want to be a part of a community and a social fabric, which typically exists at the employment level.”

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