Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Strange Secrets to Success in Lexington, NC

The Good Girls arrived in the capital city of barbecue, Lexington, North Carolina, to begin the Swine, Wine and Dine tour. Soon we were off to Conrad & Hinkle’s Food Market. The small grocery store has thrived in the center of town location (now called Uptown) since 1919.

A lot has changed over the years and you might wonder how a Mom and Pop grocery can remain profitable against chain stores. The answer is simple: Pimento and Cheese.  Conrad and Hinkle’s sells about 1500 – 1600 pounds per week.

The southern staple, about as common as sweet tea, is made from a secret recipe containing shredded cheese, mayonnaise, pimento, sugar and sugar. The recipe came from the wife of the original owner and has remained unchanged.

Conrad and Hinkle's Pimento and Cheese

I tasted my first pimento and cheese sandwich at the Master’s Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, where it remains a tradition. The combo was smeared on white bread, and in my opinion, was nothing to rave about.  But I tried Conrad and Hinkle’s Pimento and Cheese Dip on a Ritz cracker and it was far superior.  I think the reason may be the consistency.  Most pimento and cheese mixtures are spreads, the cheese finely grated and completely mixed in. The Lexington delight retains the orangey cheese in its recognizable shredded shape.

The people of Lexington know a good thing when they find it. While we were visiting the store, numerous folks came in, went directly to the refrigerator containing the famous concoction and picked up two or more containers.  They might have stopped by the butcher, who cuts meat to a customer’s request, but most browsed. The store carries local North Carolina products, like pickles and barbecue sauces that are hard to find.

Lee Hinkle, the 4th generation owner, has worked in the store since he was 11 years old.  He says it’s the only job he has ever known and seems quite happy.  The market also sells about 700-800 pounds of chicken salad per week.  While their pimento and cheese is available at other regional stores (check the website for locations) the chicken salad is only sold at the original location.

Lee Hinkle

While not the most attractive appetizer, I would serve Conrad & Hinkle’s to guests  - if I could get this brand.  Otherwise, I doubt you’ll find me eating pimento and cheese. Guess I’m not a true southern yet.

Storefront of Conrad and Hinkle's in Lexington, NC

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