When you have a business that originates in Australia, settles in South Carolina, and is owned by a pair of brothers who love Cajun food, music, and culture, you know you have a special thing going. For a few years, Cajun Cousins co-owner Milton McCluskey lived in Australia with one of his cousins, Drew Hillery. The two were quite disappointed to find no Cajun-themed restaurants, bars, or food in the whole country. To rectify this sad situation, the cousins started in the kitchen, making classic Cajun dishes from family recipes for their friends and, eventually, for strangers who became friends through Cajun food.
“The Australians went crazy over it,” says Drew McCluskey, Milton’s brother and partner in the business. “It was a fun, innovative experience for the regular folks in the area who got to know Milton and Drew Hillery. They were able to better understand the deep-rooted themes of Cajun food, music, and culture.” An idea was born.
After three years in Australia, Milton moved back to the United States. Drew McCluskey is a graduate of the Citadel. Isabel, Drew and Milton’s sister, played softball for the College of Charleston. The McCluskey family was often in Charleston to visit Isabel and Drew, so naturally this was Milton’s first stop when he returned stateside. Here, too, Milton had trouble finding good Cajun food. The idea born in Australia and steeped in his New Orleans family history persisted.
Milton decided to base his new business in Columbia. After the Citadel, Drew spent five years in New Orleans working as equipment manager for the Saints; however, the lure of working with Milton and sharing Cajun food and culture with others was enough to convince him to move to the Palmetto State. The brothers united with a goal of bringing the spirit of Louisiana and their love for the Cajun experience to family and friends in the Carolinas and Georgia.
Drew loves that Cajun Cousins, LLC, is truly a family business. “I’ve always appreciated my Louisiana roots, and I’m intrigued by the culture,” says Drew. Gigi McCluskey, Milton and Drew’s mother, who is from New Orleans, made sure her children were familiar with Louisiana food, culture, and customs. The brothers use family recipes, including the delicious jambalaya recipe borrowed from Dottie Freeman, their aunt. The company logo was designed by Kathleen Hillery and Hillery Gazzaniga, their cousins who both work for Kathleen’s company, Palm Orleans, a wallpaper and fabric business. Another cousin, Will Hillery, brother of Drew and Kathleen, worked in the restaurant business throughout his time at Arizona State University and is now conducting research on a farm in South Dakota. He plans to join Cajun Cousins soon.
Cajun Cousins offers catered Cajun delicacies, such as crawfish boils and Aunt Dottie’s jambalaya. They bring everything and can set up anywhere. “It is cool that we can show people Louisiana hospitality and culture,” Drew says. “We are passionate about giving people a reason to gather and get to know the culture that we love so much. Cajun food is a nice way to spice things up.” Cajun Cousins is expanding its brand to the Lowcountry of South Carolina, the Upstate, and to other areas of the Southeast, including Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
Especially now as pandemic tensions and restrictions ease, people like to get together and have a party. Specially themed food, such as Cajun, gives them a reason to gather. “It puts a twist on things,” says Drew. “To us, it is all about connecting people with our family’s culture. To me, it is the opportunity to work with my brother and my family. The beauty is that together we can do anything, anywhere.”