WATCH | Local entrepreneur puts the U in SA with her American-style corn dogs

Mabel Akinlabi of Browns Foods turned her child's birthday party snack into a growing business

04 February 2021 - 08:23 By hilary biller
Browns Foods' corn dogs come frozen and ready to heat at home.
Browns Foods' corn dogs come frozen and ready to heat at home.
Image: Supplied/Browns Foods

You’ve seen them in the movies and on TV, corn dogs are long sticks of what looks like deliciousness. They’re a step up from the humble hot dog.

The name originates from the cornmeal (we’d call it mealie meal) used to make the batter encasing a Vienna sausage which is secured on a stick and deep fried till golden brown. The gorgeousness of this fairground favourite is the crispiness of the outside, the softness of the batter and the juiciness of the sausage it encloses.

A corn dog is not a corn dog without a smothering of tomato sauce, nothing homemade, a commercial one, and sweet runny mustard. Yum.

If you’re yet to taste this American classic, now’s your chance: corn dogs are being made and sold frozen in SA supermarkets by local entrepreneur Mabel Akinlabi.

WATCH | Meet Mabel Akinlabi, Africa's first (and only) corn dog queen

Akinlabi’s inquisitive nature and adventurous palate spurred her to make her first corn dogs back in 2019.

“My daughter was having a group of friends for a sleepover to celebrate her eleventh birthday and I wanted to find something different to eat,” she explains. “I hit on the idea of corn dogs and had most of the ingredients on hand except the corn meal, which I substituted with blended cornflakes. They loved them and kept coming back for more.”

And so the seed for a new business was planted. Akinlabi and her husband opened Browns Foods in Kya Sands, Johannesburg, and started producing corn dogs that same year. Today the factory employs 57 people.

The novice soon learnt that converting a home recipe into a commercial product isn’t as simple as it sounds and sought expert advice to help get the company off the ground.

“I firmly believe there was a higher power involved in this journey because after meeting one expert we’d be led to another and it all fell into place,” says Akinlabi.

Mabel Akinlabi of Browns Foods started her business when she saw how crazy her daughter, aged 11, and her friends were about corn dogs.
Mabel Akinlabi of Browns Foods started her business when she saw how crazy her daughter, aged 11, and her friends were about corn dogs.
Image: Supplied/Browns Foods

Why Browns Foods? “We had to find a name that was comforting, one that reminded one of home cooking and my idea of a [fictional] Mrs Brown met those criteria.”

Lockdown, though challenging, didn’t deter the Akinlabis’ enthusiasm, even though the funding they’d applied for didn’t materialise.

Not one to give up, Akinlabi said her resilience stems from growing up with four brothers. “What the boys did, I did, from climbing trees, hopping over walls, anything, nothing ever deterred me.”

THE TASTE TEST

So do the corn dogs from Brown Foods live up to expectations? Though three flavours are available — Awesome Original, Creamy Cheese and Jalapeño Cheese — it’s always best to start with an original.

Packed frozen, the corn dogs are fully cooked and made with 100% chicken meat. Looking at them lined up like perfect soldiers in the box, I can see the attraction: food on a stick is always fun and easy to eat.

In a hurry to try them out, I opted to warm them through in the microwave rather than in the deep fryer or oven. This was a mistake as it took away some of that characteristic crispness on the outside.

They were sweeter than I’d like and, because I’m no fan of Viennas, I see the value of using a quality sausage in a homemade version.

And just as a ready-made curry needs rice, including containers of tomato sauce and mustard would complete the picture.

Browns Foods Corn Dogs, R57.99 for a box of four, are available in selected Checkers, Shoprite and Spar stores. Visit brownsfoods.co.za


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