How Birdie's Pimento Cheese came to be, the long version
South Hill started a Revitalization Committee to focus on improving our downtown district in 2000. I was an early adopter of that committee. In a year or so, Glenn joined and eventually served as chairman. As a Start-up Virginia Main Street group, you get lots of examples of what other communities have done to improve the visual and financial health of their downtowns. At the time, Farmers Markets were at the top of those lists. In 2005, South Hill opened its Farmers Market.
Glenn, from the beginning, was a big supporter of the market. He would hit that market by 9 am most Saturdays. Me? I was still in bed. I might be drinking a cup of coffee and figuring out what I could check off my list that day. But farmers were few in the early years, like most markets it takes time to get the right mix of vendors.
I had a friend, who was taking bread goods to the market at the time, try my pimento cheese. When she suggested that I should sell it at the market, I laughed at her and said, “I’m not into all that.”
By early 2014, Glenn had decided he wanted know what a vendors experience at the South Hill Farmers Market was like. Around the end of March, he planted cabbage in our little garden. I think about 24. I knew what he was planning; I remember asking him if that few would be enough. He said he only wanted to sell for one day. “I just want to know what it’s like.”
As the cabbages started to grow like good little cabbages do, our hound dog, Day-z would nip the tender head of that cabbage right off. Pull the whole plant out of the ground. Glenn was beside himself. Every afternoon, another dead cabbage in the driveway. He started trying to corral off the remaining cabbage with chicken wire. Day-z loved those tender baby cabbages and would get in the make shift fence.
One day, Glenn was fussing at the dog so bad, I asked him if he was sure it was the dog. I mean really. A dog eating cabbage? He picked up what was left of the cabbage leaf in the driveway and shook it at the dog, saying, “did you do this?” Sure enough, Day-z hung her head and looked properly ashamed. By this time he was down to 3 cabbages. He was crestfallen.
I suggested I could make pimento cheese. Being the business-y types that we are, we started thinking on names and such. I talked to my friend that was running The Horseshoe Restaurant for his thoughts. He offered his kitchen as a space health department approved and helped me locate ingredients at best pricing.
I spoke with the town clerk to arrange our vendor space at the market. She said, you know you have to have a permit, right? I said, oh, well how do I do that? She said I don’t know, let me make some phone calls. So from the clerk, to the extension office, to VDACS.
Myself, the town clerk, and the extension agent had all contacted some part of VDACS. I had a phone conversation with one of my inspectors, who outlined some of the hurdles I’d have to cover to make this happen. Some of the things he noted were having an inspected kitchen, and proper labeling. I told him about Scott with The Horseshoe’s offer, and that we ran a printing company. He replied, “well you’re just making this race shorter and shorter.”
Since we were limited to just 2 afternoon hours at the Horseshoe, we had been scoping out other possible kitchen locations. Glenn is a member of the South Hill Masonic Lodge. We asked if they would be OK with us having their kitchen inspected and possibly using it. They were happy with the idea.
My two inspectors came out looked it over and said they saw no reason it wouldn’t pass. They gave me a list of documents I’d have to submit for approval. And within about 3 weeks I had my inspected kitchen, VDACS permit, and approved labels.
All this to sell pimento cheese one day at the local farmers market. I laughed through the whole process. My inspectors were just great, They never talked down to me. When they said I had to submit a business plan, I reminded them, this is really just for one Saturday. Just a hobby, no big deal. They just smiled and said, Sure, but you never know. And we have to have it on file to do our job.
July 2014, off we go to the farmers market. I think we had 30 8oz units. Jalapeño, Garlic Parm, and Cream Cheese and Black Pepper. We sold out! I was exhilarated. I’m a salesman at heart. Later, my sister said I ought to have a more traditional flavor and gave me a recipe card of my mom’s. But I honestly don’t remember her ever making Pimento Cheese growing up. So I was messing with that recipe and I started playing around with an olive version too.
That summer, We continued on as many Saturdays has we had available. Our daughter had just gone to college, so I guess we were bored. One of the vendors at the market encouraged us to go to the Farmers Market @ St. Stephens. But I wasn’t sure. She was persistent and Glenn was agreeable. So I looked into their indoor winter market. We were accepted and the Pimento Cheese was well-received.
Dec 2014, I turned 50 years old. I was feeling restless. When we were kids we visited my Grandma in Ocala, Florida. She took us to all the attractions. Cypress Gardens, Silver Springs with the Glass bottom boats, and Weeki Wachee, City of Mermaids. As I was approaching 50 I wanted to see those mermaids again. I convinced our friend, Billie Raines, that it would be a grand idea for us to take our daughters on the long road trip — girls only! And she agreed!
We planned our trip for just after Christmas and to return just before New Year’s Eve. We drove down, had a wonderful day with the mermaids, found a beach to lay on for a while, and played by the hotel’s pool.
After our return, on January 2, 2015, I left work early. We were slow and I was still bushed from the trip. Glenn came home, and said one of our employees asked if we’d be interested in selling the printing business.
By April, we had worked out all the details. We had run that company for 25 years. When people asked why in the world we would sell the business, I would tell them, “well, you know when a man turns 31 (Brian) he starts thinking about what he’s going to do with the rest of his life, and when a man turns 61 (Glenn) he starts thinking about what he’s going to do with the rest of his life too.” It was really just divine timing, for both parties.
During that transition time, we looked hard a Birdie’s Pimento Cheese. We knew that selling the printing business would not afford us the luxury of not working at all. But we felt we could turn this little hobby into something that could create that needed income. While it was still a hobby, folks would ask, when do you find the time to do this too? I always said that I found it relaxing. And I did, and still do. It was just so different from the print shop it could take my mind off the stresses we had there. And now, I love the easier schedule. I love meeting so many new people. I love building this brand. And I can hardly believe that I enjoy getting up at 5 am some Saturdays to drive one and half hours to set up at a Richmond Farmers Market. And I love seeing people really enjoy a food I made.