Hungry? Kelly Mitchell and Brian Malone talk about Southern Pierogi.
Updated: Jan 19, 2019
For those who may not know, what is pierogi?
Brian: They are dough dumplings with different fillings which can be savory or sweet. And depending on how you prepare them, they’re crispy on the outside and pillowy and doughy on the inside.
Kelly: It’s comfort food. And it’s an easy meal you can cook in ten minutes.
You’ve been friends for a long time. How did you meet?
Kelly: We both moved to Charlotte about ten years ago. My friend worked with Brian’s wife, and we were all from the Midwest and new to Charlotte. All of us were transplants and we started hanging out and having Sunday dinners together. Brian and I both like to cook, so we did all the cooking.
How did the idea of a food-based business evolve?
Brian: We started talking about it about two years ago. It started as a business idea, in general. We knew we wanted to do something together revolving around food. Pierogi seemed like a good space and we knew it well.
Kelly, you grew up making pierogi – was it something you introduced to Brian?
Kelly: We would always make different foods when we had parties. I showed him foods I knew how to make, and he showed me the foods he knew about.
How did you learn to how to make pierogi?
Kelly: I’ve been making pierogi since I could talk. I can’t even remember the first time my grandmother taught me. It was a Christmastime tradition, common in Polish and other Eastern European families. There’s a lot of labor involved and all the kids would help. It was almost like an assembly line. We would make about 500 at a time, which was enough for Christmas dinner and to save and freeze for later.
Was the time you spent working on pierogi with your grandmother a time of bonding?
Kelly: I spent a lot of time with her, and in many cultures, food is a way of bonding. She was from Poland - tough hardworking people.
Let’s talk about the kind of pierogi you make?
The kind my grandmother would make it was very traditionally Polish: potato and three cheese was her most common. She also made sauerkraut.
With your company Southern Pierogi, you’ve sort of taken a classic Polish dish and made some adaptations for Southern tastes?
Brian: We’re always interested in trying new things, incorporating new flavor combinations that would appeal to a wide range of tastes. We have our four standards all the time: potato and three cheese; potato, cheese and onion, also known as PCO; kraut; and pimento cheese. We also offer seasonal flavors.
And what are your seasonal flavors?
Brian: A lot of dessert flavors. We’ve done peach, strawberry cheesecake, caramel apple, chocolate truffle, pecan pie. We’ve also done savory flavors, including pesto and spicy buffalo.
What’s the production process like?
Kelly: We work at Carolina Commercial Kitchen. As soon as we make them, we put them in the blast freezer and then package them. They stay frozen until they are ready to cook. We make about 50 dozen per week.
Brian: And what we make is dictated by what we need that week. We’ve been in the kitchen doing this for a year and a half and have gotten more efficient over time. Our yields are better. It’s a matter of finding our rhythm and figuring out how to work in the kitchen.
What’s the key to being friends and business partners?
Kelly: We had a lot of discussions and agreed that the main thing is that we have to be honest with each other. We have good communication.
Brian: We talk through any disagreements. We have trust in each other that we won’t make a poor decision that would adversely affect the business.
Kelly, you’ve been an in demand hairstylist for years. How do you balance that with the food business?
I really enjoy doing hair, and it’s the bulk of how I pay my bills. I don’t think I’ll ever stop completely - I might do it less over time.
And Brian, is this full-time for you?
It is my full-time thing. I do a bulk of the social media and administrative work and the day-to-day interaction with stores. We split the labor and we both do farmers markets.
What’s the best way to cook pierogi?
Brian: We recommended boiling, but we’ve had customers who bake, deep fry and pan fry. Our dessert flavors seem to do really well in the oven because it creates more of piecrust consistency. We’re always interested to see how our customers prepare them.
Where can people find Southern Pierogi?
Brian: We’re at the Cotswold Farmers Market on Saturdays, 8-12. We cook hot samples on site so people can try different flavors. We’re also at Provision Waxhaw and Catch On Seafood; they’re a seafood market in Plaza Midwood, but they have a section of prepared foods and local products.
Any plans for the business going forward?
Kelly: Eventually it would be nice to have our own space to work out of, and we definitely want to get into more stores.
Brian: We’d like to expand our footprint but for now the kitchen we’re in meets our needs.