Plus: Her recipe for strawberry dipping sauce!
Nora chats with musician singer/songwriter, actor and entrepreneur Christina Milian for a special bonus episode! She cofounded Beignet Box in 2019 starting with a pop-up location in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Beignet Box has since expanded with two brick and mortar locations in California and two food trucks. Christina talks about her pivot to entrepreneurship, future business goals and how she deals with burnout.
Host: Nora Ali
Producer: Bella Hutchins
Production, Mixing & Sound Design: Daniel Markus
Fact Checker: Kate Brandt
Senior Producer: Katherine Milsop
VP, Head of Multimedia: Sarah Singer
Full transcripts for all Business Casual episodes available at https://businesscasual.fm
Nora Ali: Hey BC listeners, we are dropping into your feed for a very special bonus episode, one that I am very excited about. I recently had a chance to sit down with singer/songwriter and actor Christina Milian. Christina launched her singing career in the early two thousands with several chart-topping hits, including this iconic track, "When You Look At Me."
Christina Milian: (Singing).
Nora Ali: You might also recognize her voice on the Kim Possible soundtrack, of course. Christina went on to star in a number of films, and she's now a lifestyle influencer, boasting seven million followers on Instagram, and she's a businesswoman. She cofounded a beignet popup store called Beignet Box in 2019, and since launching a pop-up location in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Beignet Box has expanded with two brick-and-mortar locations in California, and two food trucks.
We learned a lot in this quick convo, like how she chooses which brands to work with, how she recharges when she's feeling burnt out, and we even got her recipe for a delicious strawberry dipping sauce. I love beignets and I really loved my conversation with Christina. Enjoy.
Christina Milian: (Singing).
Nora Ali: Hi, Christina. Thank you for joining us on the podcast. For those who don't know, in addition to being an actor and a singer, you are also an entrepreneur and the cofounder of Beignet Box. So tell us, why'd you choose beignets?
Christina Milian: I chose to pursue beignets...my best friend and I, we were roommates. We wanted to do a business together. We both knew that we were just hard workers, we were dreamers, and she's from Louisiana. We went to Louisiana, I ate beignets. She ate beignets. We all ate beignets. Fell in love with it and said, why aren't these in LA? And that's where that idea's from. We were like, this is it. This is what we need to do. We're going to bring beignets to LA.
It was strictly based on the fact of not only friendship, but just love and passion for something that we loved. It took us about three years in the making from trademark to just building the brand. But eventually we got it to where we wanted it to, and the first thing we did was launch it, first in Louisiana, and then in Los Angeles with our own beignet truck. So it's been awesome. We're now three years in the game later and we're thriving. We have two trucks and we have two brick-and-mortars in Los Angeles.
Nora Ali: You recently partnered with California Strawberries.
Christina Milian: Yes.
Nora Ali: Saw those nice-looking strawberries that you just showed us.
Christina Milian: Did you see these beautiful California strawberries? They're so red—
Nora Ali: So beautiful.
Christina Milian: —and juicy and sweet. Oh.
Nora Ali: So you have a special recipe for a dipping sauce, I understand. Can you tell us about that?
Christina Milian: Yeah, we did this really great dipping sauce and it's kind of more like a combination, almost like a shortcake. So we took our beignet. We have, of course, the powdered sugar, but we've also got it infused with a dry strawberry, kind of like a dehydrated strawberry powder. So it's sweet, obviously, because it's strawberries. And of course we combine that with cream and delicious California strawberries. I don't know if you could taste it when you're looking at it.
Nora Ali: I can imagine. Yes.
Christina Milian: It's such a great combination. I've always loved the strawberry shortcake thing as a kid. So now partnering with California Strawberries and doing it this way makes it even better. It's sweeter.
Nora Ali: So you mentioned that your business partner is your friend and former roommate, Elizabeth Morris. How do you make the decision to transition to business partners when you've known each other for so long? I imagine that's kind of a challenge to make that decision.
Christina Milian: It can be a challenge when you're thinking to partner and start a business together, but I also love the challenge. I'm all about challenges in life. To me, as friends...and when it comes to me, I'm big on family. My most successful businesses have been run together with my families, and that's what I know. My mom and I work together. My sisters and I work together. We're a family that is fueled on trust and love and passion for each other, and that's what I have with Liz. So when Liz and I started Beignet Box, we trusted each other, and she knows my life, I know her life, and we respect each other.
That is one of the most important foundations that started our business and we believe in each other through thick and thin; we've got each other's back, and that's why I think it does so well.
Nora Ali: So important to have that supportive environment. But Christina, I imagine sometimes you might feel some burnout because you do so many things.
Christina Milian: Me?
Nora Ali: Yeah. Yeah, you and me and all of us.
Christina Milian: Let me tell you, I think I burned out more a little when I was in my early thirties, so I'm 40 now. So when I first started to kind of take my entrepreneurial foray and step up into that, I had my phones ringing 24/7. I did not sleep. I would go for days...but it was just so much excitement and so fueled on, okay, I want to be an entrepreneur, so that means I have to answer my phone 24/7. I have to be about business 24/7. It was the "team no sleep."
Then I realized, yeah, you do need sleep. Your brain needs to rest. You need to have some space. You need to know your boundaries. So I learned that and I eventually created my boundaries, and I think that's important to do that so that you can have a balanced life.
Nora Ali: How do you create those boundaries?
Christina Milian: Resting is very important. Having a healthy lifestyle, I think, from what you consume. I mean, I'm here with California Strawberries for a reason. My family, we eat strawberries, we eat fruit and we drink water. All these kind of things help keep a healthy brain, a healthy mind, so that you can go out upon your day and be able to do the things that you need to do and go into business and those kind of things.
Then I also just have a very supportive family. My family is very helpful. My husband is amazing. He's a really, really great father. He's a great partner that really does make a difference for me in raising our kids. So that's how I'm able to balance my life and not get burned out.
Nora Ali: We can all learn from that, Christina. As you're making decisions of which brands to work with, which brands to not work with, what are some of the characteristics that make you say, gotta work with these folks? On the flip side, characteristics that make you say, nah, that's not going to work for me.
Christina Milian: The characteristics that matter to me the most, I mean, when I think of my brand and when I think of my family, I always like to set a good example to my family, to my kids. So if it doesn't necessarily match...but I also think about myself too. Come on. There's family, there's kids, but there's also what makes me happy. So it's okay to be slightly selfish and say, this is who I am and I'm walking out boldly and I believe in it. So those are how I make decisions, and I think I've done a good job kind of striding through making some decent decisions.
Nora Ali: Any big lessons learned from your career over time that you want to pass on to our listeners, especially those who have the entrepreneurial mindset?
Christina Milian: My biggest point of advice would be don't burn yourself out, for sure. I think, keep balanced. Like I said, rest, sleep, have a healthy diet, but I wouldn't regret it. I would just say I learned from it, and I think sometimes we have our setbacks and we make decisions in business, or we try different things, and it's okay if it doesn't work because you actually learn from it. I'm saying this from the heart, but yeah, just don't burn yourself out, overdoing yourself. Your story is your own. Stay authentic and stay true to you. You can give to becoming your own entrepreneur if that's what you choose.
Nora Ali: You're giving us permission to take a little breather to relax, to get some sleep. I really like that, Christina. Really quickly, if you had to think about your biggest ambition in life, this is the little segment we call Shoot Your Shot. So this is your wildest ambition, your biggest dream. This is your chance to put it out in the universe and shoot your shot.
Christina Milian: I think my greatest ambition would be to eventually retire happy with a big family and just enjoy life. Of course, I love to work and just to do it just because I choose to. But these days we got bills to pay, so you gotta keep working to pay. So, yeah, but I think I'm on the path of living that ambition and doing it a way that makes me happy.
But I think my ambition also would be to continue to help other people. I think through this business that I have, I'm able to help and provide for people that we employ of all ages. To see that kind of grow through people and have opportunities like this and to support California farmers, this makes a difference and an impact in my life to actually be able to do this for other people. So that would be my ambition, to actually look back and see it all and say, wow, okay, there are people that are also thriving from this. There are also people feeding their families that are happy, and I just want happy people all around us.
Nora Ali: That's wonderful. Christina, lastly, if not beignets, what would be another food item that you'd love to launch a business around?
Christina Milian: Pizza.
Nora Ali: Yes.
Christina Milian: I love pizza.
Nora Ali: I agree.
Christina Milian: Opposite of everything I'm talking about. I do love pizza...maybe a really healthy pizza.
Nora Ali: Oh, okay. All right. Lots of veggies on top. Maybe cauliflower crust.
Christina Milian: Yeah. Cauliflower crust. I've learned a lot of different things. Was keto for a while, so I follow a couple pages. I know a couple ways to make it healthy.
Nora Ali: I would invest and I'd be a customer if you did that. So let me know. Well, Christina, we'll leave things there. Thank you so much for the time. We really appreciate it.
Christina Milian: Thank you so much. I appreciate it too.
Nora Ali: This is Business Casual and I am Nora Ali. You can follow me on Twitter @NoraKAli and I would love to hear from you. If you have ideas for episodes, comments, thoughts on episodes you loved, fun segment ideas, shoot me a DM and I'll do my best to respond. You can also reach the BC team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us. That number is 862-295-1135. If you haven't already, be sure to subscribe to Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen. And if you like the show, please leave a rating and a review. It really, really helps us.
Business Casual is produced by Katherine Milsop and Bella Hutchins. Additional production sound design and mixing by Daniel Markus. Kate Brandt is our fact checker. Sarah Singer is our VP of multimedia. Music in this episode from Daniel Markus and The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Thank you so much for listening. I'm Nora Ali. Keep it business, and keep it casual.