Good Lord, your pimento cheese is good.”
Robin Allen read the review, feedback from a customer she’d never met, in a state she’d never been to. Her business, Birdie’s Pimento Cheese, now has their product stocked in hundreds of locations across the United States. It’s hard to believe that not long ago she was selling it just for fun at a local farmers market.
Allen (affectionately known as Birdie) was the first artisan of the Southern Virginia Food Hub, often referred to as “The Hub”. Located south of Richmond in South Hill, Virginia, The Hub partners with local farmers to improve community access to fresh, local food. The Hub also operates a retail storefront (Makers Market), runs a farmers market, and host dinner events. Part of their mission is to assist entrepreneurs across southern Virginia aiming to go into business for themselves. They provide guidance, direction, and a commercial kitchen space in which to operate.
These artisans often start producing their food at home and selling it at the farmers market. Then, as they grow, they’re able to produce their food in a certified kitchen with the help of experts who have built food product businesses themselves. This model provides artisans with a complete end to end solution to go from idea to store shelves.
Growing the Business
Today, Birdie’s Pimento Cheese operates out of their own facility, staffed with an amazing team. They ship about a thousand tubs of cheese a week to fans across the country. But it all started at a farmers market. Partnering with her husband Glenn to experience what it was like to be a vendor at the farmers market, Robin made a batch of her favorite pimento cheese. But they quickly learned there are several hoops to jump through when selling food at the commercial scale.
Never one to be deterred, Allen quickly assessed what needed to be done and made it happen. Once all regulations were satisfied, they set up shop at the farmers market, and sold out about as quickly as they set up. People loved Birdie’s Pimento Cheese, and the couple loved selling it. They returned for the next market, sold out again, and started planning to attend other events to keep it growing.
The Hub provided Robin with guidance, direction, and support to get Birdie’s Pimento Cheese off the ground. The Hub runs the farmers market where vendors like Allen can begin their journey. They also run the retail store, Makers Market, where they sell products by local artisans, like Birdie’s Pimento Cheese.
Allen joined The Hub’s board of directors in 2017 and began serving as president and chairman of the board in 2020, a position she’ll hold through the end of 2022. She has been instrumental in developing and advancing the artisan empowerment program and serves as a mentor to those looking to build their own food product business.
If you’re traveling in Virginia, the South Hill farmers market and Makers Market are must-visit locations. More information can be found at the following links: