This gallery cart introduces a total of nine food products and food-related industries that trace their histories to North Carolina.
The observer will:
- recognize familiar products—some that they may use on a regular basis—and understand that these products were initially created in North Carolina.
- identify the towns or cities, geographic regions, and counties where each product originated using a large state map and small images of the products.
- appreciate the resourcefulness of North Carolina’s citizens.
Developed by the History Shop Summer Campers
North Carolina Museum of History
Mt. Olive Pickle Company
During the early 1920s, Shickrey Baddour, a Lebanese immigrant, and his partner, George Moore, a sailor, attempted to market brined cucumbers to pickle companies. Their plan failed but from it, in January 1926, a group of local businessmen started the Mt. Olive Pickle Company. The tiny town of Mount Olive (2010 population: 4,589), located in Wayne County, remains the location of the company’s main headquarters. Today, the Mt. Olive Pickle Company is the largest privately owned pickle company in the United States.
Coastal Plain; Wayne County.
This product bears the name of the town where it originated!
- In 1947, Mt. Olive Pickle Company finally reached the $1 million sales mark. Today, the company’s products are sold in all 50 states, and it is the second best-selling brand of pickles in the United States.
- In 1969, Mt. Olive became the first national food processing company to use high fructose corn syrup in place of sugar in its products.
- Mt. Olive uses 160 million pounds of cucumbers annually. Of those, 53 million pounds come directly from local North Carolina farmers.
- Mt. Olive doesn’t just pickle cucumbers! The company pickles everything from peppers to okra—and produces nine different types of relish!
- Mt. Olive Pickle Company is located at the corner of Cucumber and Vine Streets in Mt. Olive.
- Each year, Mt. Olive hosts a New Year’s Eve Pickle Drop. The three-foot pickle drops at 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve—midnight Greenwich Mean Time.
In 1893 New Bern pharmacist Caleb Bradham, concocted his own “healthy” cola—a mixture of sugar, lemon oil, caramel, nutmeg, and other natural ingredients. He dubbed it “Brad’s Drink.” In 1898 Bradham renamed the beverage Pepsi-Cola, and by 1904 he was president of Pepsi-Cola Company—and the beverage was distributed in 24 states. Sugar rationing in World War I brought Pepsi production to a screeching halt, and in 1923 the company declared bankruptcy. In 1965 the Pepsi brand was reborn when it merged with Frito-Lay and became PepsiCo. By 1974, Pepsi was the best-selling cola in grocery stores.
Coastal Plain; Craven County
This town was settled by Swiss and German immigrants who named it after Bern, the capital of Switzerland. It is the second oldest town in North Carolina (Bath being the oldest).
- The name Pepsi-Cola came from the word dyspepsia. Dyspepsia is a medical term for indigestion. Bradham believed his concoction could soothe the discomfort of indigestion.
- Pepsi’s red, white, and blue color scheme was adopted in 1943.
- In 1973 Pepsi became the first American consumer good to be both produced and sold in the USSR.
- Pepsi was the first cola company to package its beverages in 2-liter plastic bottles.
Like many of North Carolina’s most famous products, the Texas Pete brand arose during the midst of the Great Depression. Sam Garner, owner of Winston-Salem–based T. W. Garner Food Company, was trying to market a new hot sauce, when advertisers proposed the name “Mexican Joe.” Garner, however, wanted to give the sauce an American name. After thinking and debating, he grasped at the nickname of one of his sons, “Pete.” In 1942 Garner’s four sons opened a factory to produce Texas Pete hot sauce and other condiments. The factory is still in use today.
Piedmont; Forsyth County.
This town is the county seat of Forsyth County and is sometimes called the “Twin City” because it was created by combining two towns.
- Although the Garner family originally produced jams, jellies, horseradish, and hot-dog chili, production today is limited to different types of hot sauces. Along with the original Texas Pete, the company now makes: garlic hot sauce, green pepper hot sauce, buffalo wing sauce, and their newest creation, CHA sauce—their spin on the growing popularity of Sriracha.
- Texas Pete Hot Sauce isn’t just for sprinkling on top of food. Recipes like “Texas Pete Red Velvet Cones,” “Texas Pete Brown Sugar Glazed Bacon,” and “Texas Pete Hushpuppies” are featured on the company’s website.
- Texas Pete flavored snacks have also gained popularity in recent years. Items like pork skins and beef jerky are produced with the trademark Texas Pete flavor and kick.
In 1937 Kentucky native Vernon Rudolph moved to Winston-Salem and opened a Krispy Kreme doughnut manufactory. Rudolph was not new to the doughnut business—his family had tried, and failed, to open several different shops in Kentucky and Tennessee. But, the building Rudolph rented in what is now part of historic Old Salem proved to be the perfect location for his North Carolina sweet shop. Although he started out selling his doughnuts to grocery stores, business quickly expanded and, soon, Rudolph was marketing his hot doughnuts directly to customers. Today, more than 1,000 stores in 24 different countries make and/or sell the products.
Piedmont; Forsyth County.
This city was created by the merging of two neighboring cities in 1912.
- Vernon Rudolph purchased the recipe for his doughnuts from a New Orleans French chef.
- The “Hot Doughnuts” sign was introduced in 1992.
- The first international Krispy Kreme, located in Toronto, Canada, opened in 2001.
- The company’s 1,000th store opened in February 2015, in Kansas City, Kansas.
In 1917 general store owner L. D. Peeler created a unique cherry-flavored soda in his Salisbury store that took North Carolina by storm. Dubbed the “Nectar of North Carolina,” the drink was being distributed to general stores in several counties by 1920. The company continued to expand in the following decades, gaining national recognition in 1953, when Dwight D. Eisenhower became the first president to drink a Cheerwine. As rumor has it, after his first sip he proclaimed, “Ike likes!” By the 1990s, Cheerwine, owned by the Carolina Beverage Corporation, had opened several distribution facilities throughout North and South Carolina.
Piedmont; Rowan County.
This city is the county seat of Rowan County and was the site of a prisoner of war camp during the American Civil War.
- Cheerwine’s slogan is “Born in the South. Raised in a glass.”
- During World War II, the Peeler family donated old metal signage to the war effort. Many sailors claimed to have seen the Cheerwine logo imprinted on the side of the USS Intrepid.
- Cheerwine is not just for drinking. Enthusiasts of the cherry-flavored soda have found ways to incorporate it into everything from ribs and baked beans to ice cream!
Lance’s success began because of a mistake. In 1913 Philip L. Lance, a food broker from Charlotte, ended up on the bad side of a deal and was saddled with 500 pounds of raw peanuts. Ever the businessman, he roasted the nuts and sold them for five cents a bag. His success with the roasted nuts soon inspired him to make his own peanut butter—the very same peanut butter recipe that is still used today for Lance snack crackers. In 1926 Lance’s son-in-law, Salem Van Every, took control of the family business and officially renamed the operation Lance Packing Company. Lance experienced its first million-dollar year in 1935, and three years later, the company began baking its own crackers. Just 30 years later, Lance Packing Company was earning more than $26 million annually. In 2010, a merger brought two snack giants, Lance and Snyder’s of Hanover, together, generating $1.62 billion in sales during 2014.
Piedmont; Mecklenburg County.
This city is the county seat of Mecklenburg County. Today, it is the largest city in North Carolina, and the second largest city in the southeastern United States.
- During the Great Depression, at a time when many factories were closing, Lance Packing Company thrived.
- Today, the Lance name includes more than peanut butter and crackers. The company produces crackers, cookies, breakfast bars, popcorn, and nuts.
- In 2004 Lance eliminated trans-fats from all of its products.
In September 1960, Martin County–born restaurateur, Wilbur Hardee, opened the first Hardee’s restaurant on the corner of 14th and Charles Streets in Greenville. The first Hardee’s had no dine-in space and opened with a small menu, yet it was an instant success among college students attending East Carolina University. The following year, Hardee partnered with two other North Carolinians, and the first franchised Hardee’s opened in Rocky Mount. By the end of the decade, the chain had more than 200 locations—including one in Heidelberg, Germany! After 15 years, the franchise opened its 1,000th restaurant. Today, Hardee’s headquarters is located in St. Louis, Missouri, and the chain has 2,100 restaurants worldwide.
Coastal Plain; Edgecombe County (Rocky Mount) and Pitt County (Greenville).
This city was named for the rocky ledges and mounds on a site near the falls of the Tar River (Rocky Mount). This town was named in honor of a Revolutionary War hero, General Nathaniel Greene (Greenville).
- Hardee’s famous scratch-made biscuits were introduced in the 1970s.
- The original Hardee’s hamburger cost just 15 cents.
- With the exception of a few locations in California and one in New Hampshire, all continental US Hardee locations are located in the Southeast and the Midwest.
1970s advertisements included the cartoon characters “Gilbert Giddyup” and his enemy “Speedy McGreedy.” If someone in your group has a smart phone or iPad with internet access they can view a 1970s TV commercial with Gilbert Giddyup and Speedy McGreedy. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvTEKLVmFNU&feature=youtu.be
In 1954 Jim Lowe, the son of Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse’s founder, opened the first Lowes Foods in Wilkesboro. The company expanded rapidly but most of its early stores were located in the mountains of North Carolina. In 1984 Lowes Foods was bought by Merchants Distributors Inc. (MDI), and an aggressive expansion campaign was launched in 1986. By 1990, 19 new stores were opened. Today, Lowes Foods has more than 100 stores in North Carolina, as well as 6 in South Carolina and 1 in Virginia.
Mountains; Wilkes County.
This city is the county seat and takes its’ name from the name of the county.
- The headquarters for Lowes Foods is located in Winston-Salem.
- In 2007 Lowes Foods opened its first combined gas station/grocery store in Hickory.
- The Lowes Foods brand includes a bargain-priced cousin chain named Just $ave. Most of these budget stores are located in rural communities.
Piedmont Candy Company
Lexington’s NC Candy Company started operations in 1890, then adopted its current name, the Piedmont Candy Company, in the early 1900s. In 1919 Edward Ebelein, who had begun a candy apprenticeship at the age of 15, moved to Lexington to work at the Piedmont Candy Company. He eventually became the sole owner and turned the company into a family business that remained in the Ebelein family until 1987, when it was bought by Doug Reid, another native North Carolinian. Over the past century, very little has changed in terms of the company’s candies. Known for its peppermint-flavored Red Bird puffs, the company prides itself on making candies from 100 percent cane sugar and on hand shaping every puff and stick.
Piedmont; Davidson County.
This town is the county seat and was named after one of the two Massachusetts towns where the first shots of the American Revolution were fired on April 19, 1775.
- While the original Red Bird candy flavor was peppermint, the company’s offerings now include cinnamon, lemon, dark-chocolate peppermint, and vanilla.
- Piedmont Candy Company candies come in stick, puff, and mini forms.
- In 1957 the company was making an average of 2,000 pounds of candy a day—all of it using open copper kettles.