Queen Charlotte has a new look these days – atop a tub of locally made pimento cheese.
Just four months ago, John Morgan, who has been an art teacher at Prospect Elementary in Union County for a decade, launched Queen Charlotte’s Pimento Cheese Royale, a delicacy light on the mayo with a cream cheese base.
He started at a stand at uptown’s 7th Street Public Market.
These days, he has two pimento cheese varieties – regular and Her Royal Hotness: Jalapeño Pimento Cheese –which are sold at local institutions, such as Reid’s Fine Foods, The Meat House, and the Healthy Home Market stores on South Boulevard and in Davidson. (For a full list of locations, visit qccheese.com.)
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A tub retails for between $6.99 and $7.99, depending on the location, and in just three months, he’s sold around 2,000 of them.
Here’s how he got his start:
“Jeopardy!” winnings: Morgan, a longtime trivia buff, competed on “Jeopardy!” in 2012, hoping to win big bucks for his dream:
“(The other contestants) are all like, ‘I’m going to travel. I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii,’ ” Morgan recalled. “I was like, ‘I’m going to start a pimento cheese company.’ ”
But after leading the entire game, Morgan choked in the final round. He walked away with $2,000 – far from a windfall, but enough for a kick start, he said. So he began designing the labels last fall.
‘We Beelieve’: Morgan, 32, grew up in the Charlotte area and, like most of the city, fell in love with the Charlotte Hornets. In 2010, Morgan was the brains behind the first “We Bee-lieve: Charlotte Take Back Your Hornets” grass-roots push to ditch the Charlotte Bobcats name and reclaim the buzz.
Morgan said he hopes that his Charlotte-born and Charlotte-themed pimento cheese can similarly be a source of regional pride.
On the labels a medieval Queen Charlotte is in front of the city’s skyline. Around the “C” are symbols of the city’s heritage: cotton to represent farming, pick axes to represent mining, a hornet’s nest to represent the “hornet’s nest of rebellion” moniker British commander General Cornwallis gave the city during the Revolutionary War.
And fittingly, the colors on the label for the regular pimento cheese are the beloved purple and teal.
Cases and invoices: Morgan makes his spread at the Carolina Commercial Kitchen off North Wendover Road, alongside many food truck operators. The post-production work was Morgan’s biggest learning curve.
“I just had a bunch of tubs of pimento cheese,” Morgan said. “And when (stores) were like, ‘We’ll take four cases,’ I’m like, ‘OK, a case is probably an increment of some sort …’ ”
Vic Giroux, the owner of the popular What’s Your Beef butcher shop in Ballantyne – the first spot to sell Morgan’s cheese – taught him how to use numbered invoices.
Saving money: Between paperwork and production costs, Morgan says he’s spent about $10,000 launching his company. So he looks for ways to be economical.
He cut the cost of his label printing by nearly one-half after comparison shopping online and buying them in bigger quantities. He started paying attention to the coupons in his inbox, which often help him save the occasional $100, he said.
And if any of his vendors request he take a survey in exchange for cash, Morgan says he does it. Even just a $15 savings is rewarding, Morgan said.
At first, Morgan was making the cheese in a 4-quart mixer – not nearly big enough. He had to spend $4,000 on a 30-quart Hobart mixer, an investment that only further drove him to keep the business going.
“Teaching is a five-days-a-week job with extracurriculars, and this is a solid five to six nights a week,” said Morgan, who starts his day at 4:45 a.m. “You have to get it in people’s hands.”
Alex Trebek would be proud.