Program Report – The Cookery: Rochelle and Nick Johnson

Has anyone ever said your grilled ribs or quiche or whatever were out of this world and you ought to open a restaurant—such a good value that Warren Buffet would take his bride for their anniversary.  Or may you—like I do—sometimes dream that your spicy pimento cheese or artichoke relish would be a smash hit at Southern Season or Dean & Deluca’s.  But paying for the construction of a “certified” commercial kitchen in six figures gives you pause?  Or maybe you remember hearing that it was possible to pour more money into a food business than restoring an antebellum house or maintaining a gas guzzling forty foot fishing boat on the coast.

Well, your prayers are answered.  Rotarian Courtney James introduced Nick and Rochelle Johnson, young entrepreneurs who recently opened a unique multi-platformed culinary business located in the historic, former Durham Food Co-Op Building on West Chapel Hill Street.  Their “The Cookery: Your Local Culinary Incubator,” supports food-oriented small businesses to get their products to market. Their clientele includes food truck vendors, caterers, and bakers.  Would-be chefs can “rent a kitchen” in order to try out foodie ideas and small batch specialty food cooks can prepare already tested and successful cuisines—cheeses, crackers, pickles—for sale in local gourmet or famers’ markets.  Nick and Rochelle also offer consulting services to individuals who are thinking about getting into the food business.   Is this a viable concept?  Is there a market?  Has a product been tested?  As Nick points out, getting into the food business is a “completely unreasonable proposition.”  Food is “the most failing” business in America.  Mainly because it is difficult to test a concept before investing an enormous amount of money and energy.  They also believe The Cookery will help revitalize the commercial strip where they are located.  Nick points out 14,000 cars a day pass by their location.  They just need good reasons to stop.

Rochelle and Nick have lots of other tasty ideas cooking (pardon the lame pun) under their toques:  Cooking classes by local chefs—Rue Cler’s for example; an expo for specialty food producers; workshops on goodies from ice cream to homebrewing; hosting meals prepared by chefs who want to try something different from the standby dishes on their restaurant menus.  An event space will be available by the late summer.  They can also arrange caterers for events big or small—receptions and dinner parties, weddings, office parties, even meals for busy families.

Years earlier Nick had been in the food industry in many different capacities—waiter, line cook, you name it.  More recently and in partnership with his mother, he has been a general contractor.  His company, Bull City Restoration, specializes in restoring old houses mainly in the West End.   Rochelle, founder of Row Design Studios, has a background in advertising, branding and web design.  She developed the logos and marketing materials for The Cookery.  As Nick says, without Rochelle and her expertise people “probably wouldn’t take me seriously.”  By the way, they met in Chapel Hill.

The Cookery is a promising new ingredient in Durham’s flourishing food scene.


Submitted by Allen Cronenberg


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