The Cast Iron Group encompasses a variety of businesses and partnerships with Nick Hawthorne-Johnson and Rochelle Johnson, a husband and wife team based in Durham, NC. This family of businesses revolves around the love of food, drink, and all that surround it.
MEET NICK & ROCHELLE
Durham native Nick Hawthorne-Johnson is a licensed general contractor and co-owner of Bull City Restoration, an award winning historic restoration company. After 3 years of residential urban redevelopment work in Durham, an elopement in Las Vegas, and a year-long road trip to from North Carolina to Argentina, Nick and Rochelle founded The Cookery, a full service event venue and food business incubator in 2011. The beautifully restored event space and commercial kitchen, which is housed in a building that dates back to the 1920's, is a direct result of Nick's passion for historic restoration and hospitality, and an absurdly optimistic attitude.
The Cookery, a company rooted in community engagement and all things food, inevitably brewed another venture. In 2013, Nick partnered with local home brewer Keil Jansen, along with David Baldwin of Raleigh's Baldwin&, to found Ponysaurus Brewing Co., a nano brewery that was originally housed in The Cookery's Front Room. Ponysaurus Brewing Co.'s popularity soon led to a full scale facility and taproom, and Nick, the "Ringmaster" of the Ponysaurus team, led the construction of the brewery, taproom, and outdoor two-story patio. He currently oversees the brewery and taproom's operations, and is working with the Ponysaurus team to expand retail sales into new restaurants and bottle shops throughout North Carolina.
In addition, Nick managed the buildout of a historic building in downtown Durham that now houses Dashi, a ramen shop and izakaya that is a joint venture between the Johnsons and Billy and Kelli Cotter of Toast Paninoteca. Not only does Nick bring his expertise as a commercial designer and builder, but also his years of experience in hospitality, connecting the dots between back of house systems, sales and steps of service.
In 2018, Founder and Chef Oren Wais approached the Johnsons with the opportunity to acquire ownership of his food truck and catering business, Soomsoom Pita Pockets. Wais personally trained and taught the kitchen team in The Cookery's kitchen to ensure the food and traditions of the company continued uninterrupted before he and his family returned to their hometown of Tel Aviv.
Nick now oversees the operations of the Cast Iron Group businesses, and is generally known to be scheming about new ventures...
Melding her studio art background with a keen eye for design, Rochelle Johnson launched Row Design Studios, a graphic design and marketing firm, in 2008. Rochelle's work with countless small businesses in Durham and beyond unknowingly laid the foundation for her work in the brand management of the Johnsons' varying businesses.
Rochelle retired Row Design Studios in order to devote her career to creating The Cookery in 2011. Utilizing Nick’s entrepreneurial instincts and an “anything is possible” attitude, as well as Rochelle’s marketing and design talents to craft a recognizable and cohesive brand, the husband and wife partnership built a culinary incubator in the heart of Durham. A short year later, the Johnsons restored the beautiful Front Room, ironically thrusting a couple who secretly married in Vegas into hosting hundreds of wedding celebrations and events every year.
Rochelle also managed the branding and customer experience design at Dashi, a ramen shop and izakaya, that the Johnsons opened with another dynamic duo in Durham, Billy and Kelli Cotter, of Toast Paninoteca. Her hands on approach to design can be seen in a variety of details, from the handmade bowls and plates that adorn the tables, to the custom manga wallpaper and menus. Rochelle also constructed many office and communication processes behind the scenes to improve correspondence and training between ownership, managers and staff.
When Nick partnered with the Ponysaurus Brewing Co. team, Rochelle jumped on the opportunity to collaborate on the taproom decor and marketing delicious beer with the award-winning agency Baldwin&.
Rochelle is now the Marketing Director of the Cast Iron Group family. She is also Co-Chair of Fostering Families, the Triangle’s Partnership for Foster and Adoptive Families, and a board member of the statewide organization, Foster Family Alliance of North Carolina. Nick and Rochelle have been licensed foster parents in Durham County since 2017.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE JOHNSONS
NEWS & OBSERVER
The Cookery becomes transformative venture in West Durham
Read more about the Johnsons and the inception of The Cookery.
Watch Nick and Rochelle's Creative Mornings talk about bravery and the events that led them to their work today. (46:32 minutes)
Photography by D.L. Anderson Pictures