Hungry? If you live in New York, send an Instagram message to Hasaun Muhammad and get a freshly baked, 8-ingredient wonder at your door in no time.
The #BringBeanPie social media blitz has garnered praise from the likes of Kanye West, Nick Cannon and Russell Simmons. A new account with Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. is causing The Brother’s Soul Original Bean Pie to sell out weekly.
Hasaun Muhammad is the founder of Brother’s Soul – a passion he literally wears on his sleeve. He greets his customers with a collared shirt, vest and a smile; his vintage attire is a nod to the navy bean’s history.
The navy bean was named for its mainstay in the United States Navy diet during the early 19th century. The bean’s nutritional value and low cost made it a staple in the Muslim community and even helped feed American families during the great depression. The bean was given to people on welfare and it is their ingenuity that Muhammad says converted it from a savory treat to a sweet one.
More than a baking and delivery service, Brother’s Soul is a newly launched arm of Muhammad’s food distribution business, Quality Access or QA Foods, which he founded in 2011 to provide healthy and affordable food to those with limited access.
“One of the things we all do is eat,” Muhammad said, “So I figured if I can engage the community and bring quality foods to them and also begin to employ people from the community, I could turn things around on a grassroots level.”
The Brooklyn native’s background in business development and politics began with the Hip Hop Summit Action Network. Russell Simmons co-founded the community development non-profit and mentored Muhammad, who worked there as a program manager in the early 2000s.
His own empire would have more humble roots. A few years after his work with HSAN, Muhammad sold music from the ‘60s and ‘70s in Downtown Brooklyn, networking with folks in the neighborhood who eventually became the customers who made the bean pie his bestselling item.
“The bean pie isn’t my recipe. It was introduced in the 1930’s as an alternative to unhealthy sweet potato pie,” Muhammad said.
This simple dessert contrasts the offerings in New York’s bodegas and liquor stores, which Muhammad says oversaturate many communities creating what he calls “food swamps.”
As opposed to food deserts, places where affordable, nutritious food isn’t readily available, food swamps are areas where there is an abundance of junk food. “Just because people are eating, doesn’t mean it’s healthy,” Muhammad said.
According to the USDA, 1 in 6 Americans struggles to buy food. “A lot of times we think that’s a rural problem, not really understanding what the impact is in a major city,” Muhammad said. “It’s not just lower income individuals. It’s people who are making decent salaries who struggle to find good quality foods.”
This paradox leaves New Yorkers who don’t live in central neighborhoods commuting, some over an hour, to the nearest Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.
The self-professed “food advocate” has even been called upon by the likes of City College of New York and Foodstand to share his philosophy of food as a tool for urban economic development and food justice, and of course, the bean pie.
The end goal for the seemingly endless baking and business expansion is wider distribution, “I would like to take this same model of local, community bakeries and duplicate it across the country,” Muhammad said. His motivation, however speaks to his community roots, “We want to focus on purpose over profit, but at the same time still make a profit.”
Muhammad sells between 400-600 pies a week. “It’s really really stressful,” Muhammad said, “There’s a lot of days I don’t have money trying to build this business out. All of that weighs on me.”
The gratitude he receives from his customers gives him the incentive to work tireless days. Muhammad said, “getting that smile, even though it’s something intangible – the energy is real.”