As a teen John Morgan says he “detested” pimento cheese. Today, he’s the creator of Queen Charlotte Pimento Royale, which is sold in groceries and specialty markets across several Southern states.
“This is the most accidental success story you could ever imagine,” he said.
A 2000 graduate of Sun Valley High School and former Union County Public School elementary art teacher said as a student at the College of Charleston, he became interested in learning how to cook — especially foods that he did not like to eat as a kid, like pimento cheese.
His parents and grandparents used to prepare traditional Southern meals. After trying to cook those meals, he learned to like “greens” (collards and mustard turnips).
“Cooking was that thing I could be rote in. I could come up with something and stick to the recipe,” Morgan said. For him, cooking became “therapeutic”.
In high school, Morgan was interested in fine art and rock music. Had someone told him that one day he would be the founder of Queen Charlotte Pimento Cheese Royale, he probably would have laughed.
“If you had caught me in the hallowed halls of Sun Valley High School and told me that I was going to be a pimento cheese mogul, it sounds like a mad lib to hear that,” he said.
Morgan founded Queen Charlotte PCR in March of 2014 with money he won as a contestant on season 29 of “Jeopardy” in 2013. He won $16,400, according to “Jeopardy” Archives. With the money, he purchased a mixer. It sits in the new, spacious production space of the building Queen Charlotte occupies. The paddle he used with the mixer is mounted above the entryway to the production space. He calls it an “excalibur” as in King Arthur legend — “The Sword and Stone.”
In the beginning, Morgan said it took seven hours to make 40 to 50 units of pimento cheese. Now, in five hours, about 1,500 units can be made. In the processing space, Queen Charlotte will soon add a conveyor to help put the cheese into tubs. The conveyor will do a week’s worth of work in a matter of hours. Three guys Morgan attended Sun Valley High School with are part of his team. Though they have gained more space and equipment in the last six years, the team begins the day at 3 a.m. making pimento cheese.
Seventh Street Public Market in downtown Charlotte was the first store Queen Charlotte appeared in. Three years ago, Queen Charlotte popped up in Food Lions and now are in 281 Food Lion stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. They are also in 58 Charlotte-regional Harris Teeter stores.
Recently, Queen Charlotte partnered with gourmet grocer Central Market in Texas.
Morgan has created four flavors — Original, Jalapeno, Bacon and Blue Cheese. For now, he is working on selling the four main flavors before trying to add any more; however, in the past, he has released a “private stock” pimento cheese during the holidays that was made with fine cheeses and ingredients.
Pimento cheese is lovingly known as “Carolina Caviar” and is referred to as “puh-minna.” There are as many recipes for it as there are Southerners who enjoy it and are passionate about it.
Starting with a base recipe, Morgan began experimenting with flavor. When working as a teacher, he asked teachers at Prospect Elementary and New Town Elementary for months to taste three recipes of pimento cheese and give back.
Morgan thinks the rise of Queen Charlotte Pimento Cheese Royale and their competitor, Palmetto Cheese (Pawleys Island, South Carolina) has been the result of years, decades of hard work behind the scenes and pimento cheese is “good stuff.”
He guessed the reason why he “hated” pimento cheese as a kid was because it was orange and called pimento spread.
Today, there’s a climbing interest in pimento cheese because of improvements made to traditional recipes made by Morgan and competitors.
“I’d hate to see someone go through life so deprived,” Morgan said in reference to people who, like him at one time, do not enjoy pimento cheese.