Durham: ‘Too Many’ Cooks Will Make This Broth Work

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

BY LAURA OLENIACZ | TheHeraldSun.com

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

DURHAM — A husband and wife team want to help new catering businesses, food trucks and other cooking-related ventures get off the ground in the Bull City, so they’re planning to open a commercial kitchen and business incubator to do just that.

Rochelle Johnson is the co-founder along with her husband Nick Hawthorne-Johnson of The Cookery, a business that is slated to launch this month to provide kitchen space, equipment and support for food-related businesses.

The new “culinary incubator” will be housed at 1101 W. Chapel Hill St. in a building that previously was home to the Durham Food Co-op.

“Especially now, with people out of work, people are looking for creative ways to make a living, and lots of people love to cook, and lots of people love food,” Hawthorne-Johnson said. “Particularly if you’re out of work, pulling together the resources it takes to open a food business can be near impossible. This will provide that possibility to people for whom that may be out of reach otherwise.”

Johnson said she the idea for the business evolved after someone asked her husband, who is the co-owner of the historic restoration business Bull City Restoration, if the kitchen in the old co-op was still in working condition.

Hawthorne-Johnson bought the 3,600-square-foot building in January of 2009. he said he’s a licensed general contractor as well as a licensed acupuncturist, said he had originally had plans to turn the building into holistic health center, but he said he shifted directions because of the downturn in the economy.

“And so he started to think, there really isn’t a commercial kitchen in Durham for caterers and food trucks and just food entrepreneurs that are looking to start a new culinary business,” Johnson said, explaining how the idea for The Cookery was born.

Johnson said The Cookery will have two departments: the commercial kitchen side, as well as the business incubator side.

She said the kitchen side will include a facility that will be open 24 hours per day, seven days week, to bakers, caterers and others who are members of the organization and want to create food-related products.

According to The Cookery website, the kitchen will be equipped with everything from convection ovens to broilers, slicers, mixers, personal lockers, and pots and pans.

“The back had a walk-in freezer and a kitchen area, and we’ve essentially kept the freezer, but gutted out the back and created a whole new kitchen facility,” Johnson said.

In addition, she said they’ll offer a special package to food truck operators that will give them access kitchen space to prepare their products, areas to store that food in, and terminals where they can load their trucks.

“The special packages are because food trucks have special needs,” she said.

The other side of The Cookery is a business incubator designed to offer support and education to entrepreneurs.

Johnson, who also owns a graphic design company called Row Design Studios, is creating a curriculum that will be available in the fall that will include a system of packages food entrepreneurs can purchase to learn about business planning, marketing, branding and design.

Hawthorne-Johnson said the overall goal of the venture is to lower the risk threshold for new culinary businesses.

“The goal is to make it accessible to people who don’t have access to huge amounts of capital to do something with a dedicated facility, and who either don’t have the cash up front or can’t borrow it, and give them the ability to try their idea and to get their feet wet,” he said.