When Casey Brawley left his job as a real estate developer to launch his pimento cheese business, he needed a commercial kitchen to produce the cheese (made from his grandmother’s recipe) that he now sells to grocery and retail stores.“I built a kitchen for myself,” he says, “and word got out.” The news about the commercial kitchen he opened on property he owns off of Wendover Road spread quickly because, as Brawley sees it, “there is a tremendous community need for commercial kitchen space.” With that it mind, Brawley converted the adjoining 5,000 square feet, with an additional 8,000 square feet slated for future expansion, into the largest commercial kitchen space in Charlotte. Set to open early this year, the space will be the realization a dream Brawley has had for several years. The kitchen facilities will offer a variety of stations and equipment to meet a wide range of culinary needs. It can be rented on an hourly or monthly basis and is designed for caterers, food trucks, and small food retailers. There is also a teaching space for cooking classes, where culinary experts can offer classes to the public. The classroom will also double as a venue for offering classes, such as food safety or how to start a food-related business, to food professionals and handlers. In the additional kitchen space next door, Brawley has added six different kitchen stations to meet the needs of the wide array of food professionals who will rent from him. There is a full bakery, including five ovens that are specifically designed for bakers; a dry kitchen, geared to food trucks and food retailers, that includes a 6-burner stoves, a grill, a tilt skillet, a deep fryer and a $30,000 Rational Combi oven; and a wet kitchen that serves as a prep area with deep sinks and cutting areas. There are also several additional prep areas (with free-standing mixers and extensive countertops), a training kitchen, and a packaging area, where finished products can be boxed and sealed. Brawley has hired a Johnson and Wales University graduate as the facility manager who will oversee the scheduling of classes and the rental of the space. There will also be a conference room and support services available for administrative tasks as well as assistance with menu planning and compliance with county and state food safety regulations. There is even an office for an FDA, USDA or state Health Department inspector so that anything done on the premises that needs to be certified, such as smoking meat, can be done on site. Food truck owners are already lined up to use the space, because they are required to use commercial kitchens to prepare the food they sell and will no longer have to arrange with restaurants and churches to use their kitchens in off hours. “This provides a far more efficient way for them to do business,” Brawley says. “We are a one-stop shop for them.” In anticipation of their needs, he has a large parking lot out back to accommodate the trucks and he will have propane for sale, along with 40-pound bags of ice, a place to dump their gray water, and provide a way to have their ingredients delivered to them. “I figure I’m saving them two to four hours a day,” Brawley says, “The only thing they can’t get here is gasoline.” Brawley says he will convert the remaining 8,000 square feet of kitchen space on his property once the 5,000-square-foot commercial kitchen space is operational. “It will be designed once I see what needs are not met here,” Brawley says, such as a need for more dry storage space or a separate kitchen to accommodate vegan or gluten-free food preparation. He is eager to see the space succeed not only as a business venture, but because he knows it is meeting a community need. “I got a lot of help when I started,” he says, “and now it’s my turn to help others and pay it forward.”
Friday, Feb. 08, 2013
His dream: Charlotte’s largest commercial kitchen
Space designed for caterers, food trucks, and small food retailers
Casey Brawley, owner of Penny's Pimento Cheese, is eager to share his new commercial kitchen space with other culinary entrepreneurs. KATYA LEZIN
Learn more: For information about Casey Brawley’s commercial kitchen or to inquire about renting space there, call Casey Brawley at 704-996-5484.