Many of us will never feel the struggle of starting a culinary career. We will continue to obsess over the latest and greatest restaurant or keep visiting our favorites. We’ll just keep dining, raving, complaining, photographing… Myself included. And that’s okay.
But for those who dream of opening their own restaurant or operating a fabulous food truck, the struggle can be all too real. Imagine knowing you have what it takes (the perfect pasta sauce, the management skills, whatever it may be) but still lacking the means to get started. It can be discouraging to even the most talented of chefs.
And that’s where Chef Carrie and The City Kitch jump in.
For the last (almost) two years, Carrie and Dave Hegnauer have owned and operated Charlotte’s best-kept secret, The City Kitch. To get a taste of the love and thought that goes into this place, let’s first talk about Chef Carrie.
About Chef Carrie
As a young girl in Norfolk, VA, Carrie spent much of her time on the water. Her father retired from the Navy when Carrie was 6 and switched to a career of building boats (read: yachts) right in their own backyard. Her mother did all of the family cooking, and while Carrie respected this gesture, it never clicked that it would one day be her passion.
However, Carrie does recall one particular culinary memory from her youth. Her family spent a portion of their lives out on the water and often picked up hitchhikers along the way. At 12 years old, Carrie’s family took a man on board who cooked for them as payment for the ride.
“He was the first time I’d ever seen a chef,” she said. He was complete with a knife kit, spices, and a long ponytail, and he whipped up dishes Carrie had never tasted or heard of.
Starting at age 16, Carrie spent years in the restaurant business as a hostess, waitress, bartender, and manager, but never the chef. She continued to spend time with her mother, watching her cook and appreciating every moment, but still never connected the dots.
Inspired by the unique paths her parents took, she knew she’d find what was meant to be when the time was right.
“I always thought I should find my own thing. There’s no path set out for me, I should just find what I like,” said Carrie.
Fast forward to age 29, when Carrie discovered that a cousin attended Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI. After hearing that his homework was “veal piccata,” she was sold. She registered for classes a few months later.
It’s no surprise that Carrie not only earned a culinary degree from JWU but graduated at the very top of her class, won the President’s Award, and gave the president’s speech at graduation.
Post-graduation, after running her own server-training business, Black Tie Servers, and dabbling in a few other careers, Chef Carrie received another life-changing call. The dean at JWU was short on help and needed a teacher to cover one course.
Alas, between a battle with cancer, the birth of her daughter, a divorce, a move from Norfolk to Charlotte, and her marriage to Dave, Carrie is still an instructor at Johnson & Wales University 20 years later.
And on to her next adventure…
About The City Kitch
Several years ago, Carrie decided to do something about the struggles she noticed fellow graduates and culinary stars experience.
After hosting private lessons in a friend’s 1600-square-foot commercial kitchen in front of a table that sat 12 guests, Carrie and Dave realized they could take this idea to another level.
“We can do this,” she said. “We can build this. There’s nothing here really that we don’t know how or can figure out how to do.”
So Dave set his eyes on an old 12,000-square-foot K&W Cafeteria. After much coaxing to get Carrie to accept the size (and him negotiating the lease before she even laid eyes on the place), The City Kitch had its home.
The City Kitch serves many purposes but can be summed up in two pieces. It’s a place where 42 (and growing) clients can cook, prep, store food and equipment, host events, and more. It’s also a place for cooking classes, team building, date nights, and a venue for clients and non-clients alike to host their own pop-ups or lessons.
“People really rent space, time, and equipment from us so that they can get their legs underneath them to grow their business and go do other things,” she said.
If you’re an average Joe like me and just want to have a super cool woman teach you some cooking skills, check out their schedule and sign up for a class or two.
“I’m giving you the French terms, I’m talking to you about the cuts, I’m correcting you on how to hold your knife. I am in there as a teacher,” said Carrie.
Between teaching cooking classes and serving as a home to Charlotte’s future best in the business, it’s hard to ignore the amazing work Dave and Carrie have put into this place.
“[People] now have a place to come and start their business. They have a place to come and try their dream,” said Carrie. “You don’t have to invest everything you’ve got. This is try it, see if it works. That allows Charlotte to grow as a foodie town.”
Calling all chefs who need support or hungry folks like me who love to learn more about this amazing world. The City Kitch is for you.