Durham N.C.: The Cookery Opens With Full Plate

Rochelle Johnson and husband Nick Hawthorne-Johnson at The Cookery. The Herald-Sun | Christine T. Nguyen

BY LAURA OLENIACZ

Rochelle Johnson and husband Nick Hawthorne-Johnson at The Cookery. The Herald-Sun | Christine T. Nguyen

DURHAM — Wendy Burnette joined the crowds of people that lined up on Thursday to peek inside of a new commercial kitchen that is expected to open later this month at at 1101 W. Chapel Hill St.

Burnette wanted see if the space could help with the expansion of her family’s business, Tropical Delights, which sells fruit juice blends at fairs, festivals and other other fêtes.

She said the dream is for the business, which is co-owned by her husband, to join the mobile food truck fleet emerging in the Bull City by putting the home-based operation on wheels.

She went to Thursday’s event that was an open house for The Cookery, a “culinary incubator” that is expected to offer commercial kitchen space for rent as support services to food-related entrepreneurs, to inspect the storage space and cleaning facilities of the new business.

More than 300 people were expected to attend the event, including established leaders in Durham’s foodie scene, budding food entrepreneurs, as well as people who just wanted to partake in the fare sold by a roundup of food-vending trucks also present at the scene.

The open house drew Summer Bicknell, owner and founder of the hand-crafted gourmet frozen popsicle business Locopops. Bicknell said that as an entrepreneur who started her business six years ago, she knows how painful the launch process can be at times.

She said she was happy to see a business get off the ground that is expected to support and take some of the risk out of launching new food-related businesses.

“You still have to make good stuff, but you don’t have to sink your life savings into it,” Bicknell said.

The commercial kitchen side of The Cookery is expected to be open 24 hours per day, seven days a week, to bakers, caterers, and others who are members of the organization and want to create food-related products.

Rochelle Johnson, who is half of the husband and wife team behind the culinary incubator, said the commercial kitchen side of business is slated to open in mid-April, and the programming for the incubator side is expected to launch in the fall.

The kitchen will be equipped with equipment such as convection ovens to broilers to personal lockers to pots and pans.

The event also drew Matthew Roybal, who is working to launch another commercial kitchen and food business incubator — Piedmont Food and Agriculture Processing Center — in Orange County.

Roybal said that center, when it opens this spring, will have four different kitchens space that will be accessible to food entrepreneurs for a fee.  He said they can provide space to people interested in baking, catering, pickling, smoking meats, and even winemaking.

He said the operation was launched after a feasibility study was complete that showed that there was a lot of market support for the new venture. He expects The Cookery and Piedmont will complement each other’s business, as he believes there’s plenty to go around in the area.

“There’s a huge market for it,” he said. “We’re living in a huge food community.”

The event also drew Will Elliott, president of the neighborhood association for a community adjacent to the strip of West Chapel Hill Street where The Cookery is located.

As he looked at the people clustered on the sidewalks and parking lots around The Cookery, Elliott said the event drew one of the largest crowds he had seen in that area in years.

He said he was happy to see the building put to use and not sitting vacant, and he added that he expected The Cookery would help support surrounding businesses in the area.

“We like being part of the creative startup culture in this little neck of Durham that’s not quite downtown,” he said.