Bazodee Foods Owner Debra Sandler on starting a Caribbean-inspired condiment after retiring from PepsiCo and J&J Marketing Positions
Debra Sandler is a doer. She is a perfect example of someone with high ambitions who has never forgotten her family and her roots. With over 30 years of experience in corporate America, she has now turned her focus to Caribbean-inspired, natural, family-driven pepper sauces and marinades.
Debra was born in Venezuela but grew up in Trinidad and Tobago surrounded by a large family. Despite her being an only child, Debra’s mother was one of 12 children, giving Sandler loud and energetic company at home as well as across the world.
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Speaking of her childhood, Debra describes Trinidad and Tobago as the “truest melting pot,” and she recalls celebrating a multitude of holidays and customs from many different cultures represented on the islands. She noted food and music as two of the most powerful uniting forces that bring these different cultures together as one and trigger a true sentiment of home. Some of her strongest memories involve liming, or gathering as family and friends to enjoy each other’s company, where food almost always played a central role.
Debra’s driven and motivated mindset can be seen all the way back in her childhood. As an adolescent, she dreamed of being a translator for the United Nations, using her love of language in an international setting. At age 18, Debra left Trinidad for the US, and attended Hofstra University to study international trade. What she predicted would be a simple transition ended up being not so. As an international student living off campus, she struggled to make friends initially. Following her first year however, she began feeling more comfortable in school, discovering a passion for business and marketing in her classes that would drive her career after college.
When Pepsi visited Hofstra to recruit seniors during Debra’s junior year, she saw an opportunity and took it. Despite being the wrong year for the proposed position, she found the Pepsi VP of Marketing and convinced him that she was the right person for the job. From an unlikely start at the company, she went on to spend 13 years at PepsiCo, eventually rising to Marketing VP. After PepsiCo, Debra worked for Johnson & Johnson, where she helped found and launch Splenda, the famous calorie-free sugar substitute. Debra also spent a significant amount of time working for Mars, where her entrepreneurial spirit was further cultivated working on and supervising company projects.
Although her corporate career is wildly successful by any measure, it was not without adversity. As a black woman in business, Debra many times found herself to be the only woman or the only person of color in the room. While emphasizing the importance of representation and listening to all voices, Debra refused to let the expectations and assumptions of others define or limit her. Always determined to disprove doubts, she explained how loving and investing in herself allowed her to succeed.
While commercializing her Aunt Mavis’ sauces and marinades with the help of her family may sound like an abrupt career shift, Debra’s sudden change was born out of ever-growing entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to honor and carry on her family’s unique recipes and culinary creations. She began focusing full time on creating this vision, calling it Bazodee, which she describes as meaning “crazy, head-over-heels in love.”
Creating this family-run business was not easy, least of all turning intricate family recipes into commercial-ready products, while still maintaining their natural and fresh integrity, but Debra and her family have created a line of sauces and marinades that bring her family’s kitchen to the kitchens of customers. Bazodee truly is a family affair as well. With Debra handling all things business and her aunt (whose recipes initially sparked the idea) serving as constant inspiration, Debra’s daughter handles social media and her fiance manages the finances. This team effort has paid off as well. From their traditional Trinidadian Curry to their Soca pepper sauce, flavorful Marinade, and sweet Tamarind sauce, Bazodee offers a truly unique and special line of sauces, as well as a perfect avenue for Debra to continue and share her family’s cooking.