Cast Iron Group

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.




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 Keil Jansen and 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 specializes in the brewery's front of house operations and logistics, and is working on the brand's expansion into new restaurants and bars throughout the Triangle.

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.



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 Cookery's culinary incubator and brand management of the Johnsons' varying businesses.

After years of creating logos, websites and more, with a year long overland trip from Durham to Buenos Aires and new marriage to boot, 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 that uses the collaboration of many businesses to create new experiences and products that revolve around food.

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 light fixtures. When not in the studio or workshop, Rochelle is working on the office and organizational processes behind the scenes, creating and compiling all brand collateral, and serving as a taste tester of Billy Cotter's pub snacks (somebody's gotta do it). 

Rochelle and Nick recently collaborated on the taproom layout and decor for Ponysaurus Brewing Co., which opened in September, and coordinated a Grand Opening beer festival in October with the Ponysaurus team that brought out over 3,000 people to the brewery. Linking her love of great beer and working with talented people, Rochelle jumped on the opportunity to work in collaboration with the award-winning agency Baldwin&, who is responsible for the beautiful and clever Ponysaurus Brewing Co. branding. Rochelle currently manages the taproom marketing and public relations.



Read more about the Johnsons and the inception of The Cookery in the News & Observer article, The Cookery becomes transformative venture in West Durham.

Nick and Rochelle's Creative Mornings talk about Bravery at the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh (46:32 minutes):

Photography by D.L. Anderson Pictures