America's Oldest Dried Bean Company Turns 100

Started as a small market cart in New Orleans, Camellia Beans is still producing some of the country's finest beans a century later.

Illustration of Camellia Beans bag

Illustration by Kendyll Hillegas

Dried beans have been a staple in the American diet for centuries. Native Americans used to trade them between tribes, and they eventually made their way to Europe and back, having become a part of dishes like glandoulat, a southwestern French dish with red kidney beans, pork, carrots, goose fat, spices, and Armagnac. In the mid-1800s, the dried bean industry started to flourish in New York and in the American South, where beans became central in several staple dishes, such as red beans and rice and Hoppin’ John

In 1923, with the demand for dried beans on the rise, L.H. Hayward Jr. began selling red kidney beans from a cart in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Business grew, and Hayward Jr.’s son, Gordon Hayward, created the Camellia Brand in 1947, named after his mother’s favorite flower.

They began packaging the beans in one- and two-pound bags as they’re still sold today. The bag packaging was in response to the rise of self-serve supermarkets, which took over service-oriented local markets where grocers would scoop dry goods from barrels for each customer. 

One hundred years later, Camellia Beans is still found on supermarket shelves across the country, and seven of its most popular beans contribute to some of the most significant dishes in the South. Camellia Beans has even been highlighted in the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture and are one of a few food items exhibited in the museum.

In total, the company processes 19 varieties of beans and legumes, all known to be the highest quality of beans you can find on the market. In fact, the rating has come to be known as the “Hayward Standard” among growers.

“We actually didn’t know that this was 'word on the street' amongst farmers until someone slipped up and used the term,” says Vince Hayward, fourth-generation owner of Camellia Beans. "To me, it’s been a meaningful affirmation of our unwillingness to compromise the standards of producing the finest beans."

Camellia Beans is currently operated by Vince (L.H. was his great-great grandfather), who is working with the grandchildren of growers who supplied his grandfather. Many farmers, who have developed these generational relationships with Camellia Beans, reserve the very best of their crops for Camellia.

“It’s about the trust and respect that have been built over generations,” Vince says. “Our family has been working together with the same families of farms—mostly family-run themselves—for a century, growing beans to a certain standard and getting them to market.”

Numerous chefs across the country choose Camellia Beans to use in their restaurants, including Chef Steve McHugh of San Antonio’s Cured and Landrace, chef Joe Cervantez at Brennan’s of Houston, chef Colin Shine of Frank’s Americana Revival, and chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar and Eatery

You can find Camellia Beans dried beans and boxed dinner and seasoning mixes at supermarkets across the country. 

Vince's 60-Second Red Beans

Vince shares, "'60-Second Red Beans' because it only takes one minute to combine the necessary ingredients, place them in a Crockpot on low, and head out the door. At the end of the day, you have a house filled with a fantastic aroma and dinner is done."

This recipe has not been tested by the Southern Living Test Kitchen.

Yield: 8 servings

1-2 pound smoked ham hock from Jacob’s in La Place, Louisiana
2 each bay leaves
1 pound Camellia Brand Red Kidney Beans
7 cups water
4 cups The Holy Trinity, finely chopped [onion, celery, bell pepper, 1 1/3 cup each]
2 tablespoons Vince’s Creole Seasoning Blend, or to taste [see recipe below]

Combine all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-8 hours until beans are tender. Turn the heat setting up to high for the last hour. Using a potato masher or large spoon, slightly mash beans in the slow cooker, and stir well before serving.

Vince’s Creole Seasoning Blend

2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons garlic flakes
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon course black pepper
1 tablespoon white pepper
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
5 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon dry mustard
3 tablespoons kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Store in an airtight container.

Vince says, "Most people started using a Cajun seasoning blend for their red beans, but I am sticking to Creole and how we have always cooked it in our family. We believe it imparts a lot more layers of flavor."

He continues, "My red beans are not as refined and fancy as others try to make them these days. I want to strike a balance of texture and flavor. So, I do not use garlic powder, but garlic flakes for a more pungent taste of garlic—it’s great when you get a bite that explodes. I like the black pepper and salt to be course. I add a touch of dry mustard. This seasoning you will have for a while."

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