20th Annual Deli Changemakers Award Winner: Robin Allen (Birdie)

Birdie’s Pimento Cheese
South Hill, VA

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your upbringing and how it has shaped you?

My dad was a long-distance, owner-operator truck driver. My mom ran his books and worked as a secretary. We lived in rural North Carolina at the end of a red dirt road. Mama planted a garden every year, making my sister and I the laborers for the picking, canning and freezing.

My family lived in a remote area, and my father was frequently away, so my mother taught us how to be self-sufficient in the kitchen and in life. She always seemed to have a clear sense of what needed to be done. In a lot of ways, watching her, taught me how to be a businesswoman. No matter the situation, it has to be handled. Planning is important, but so is family and home.

Q. What were some of the pivotal moments in your early life that led you to where you are today?

Everything I’ve ever done in my life has prepared me to run Birdie’s Pimento Cheese. From waiting tables and gardening club to art classes and running a print shop, it all shows up.

Q. How has your career evolved over the years?

I graduated from Appalachian State University with the intention of working in radio and TV. However, my dad fell ill with cancer, and I had to return home to take care of him. Eventually, I ended up working in the printing industry, where I met my husband. After we got married, we decided to open our own print shop, which we successfully ran for 25 years. During this time, we started selling Birdie’s Pimento Cheese at our local farmers market as a hobby. As the demand for our pimento cheese grew, one of our employees made an offer to buy our print shop. After some consideration, I decided to focus on growing our pimento cheese business.

Birdie’s is the most joyful of all the jobs and committees I’ve served on. I am a curious cook who enjoys experimenting with different recipes. Birdie’s Pimento Cheese has allowed me to connect with people from all over the country. I enjoy networking with other business professionals to gain insights into their decision-making process. It’s amazing to see how a hobby that started at our local farmers market has grown into a business sold all over the U.S. This is truly thrilling!

Q. What is the best advice you ever received and why?

Every question doesn’t require an immediate response. Take your time and think through your answer. You may discover no response is necessary.

Q. How do you balance your work and personal life?

I love running Birdie’s Pimento Cheese, and I’m so fortunate to have extremely supportive friends and family. These beautiful people have sample-tested batches, traveled to expos, reviewed marketing materials, and worked events with me. Essentially, they are my personal life!

Q. What deli retail trends have impacted the industry most over the last year?

Inflation has definitely changed the way consumers consider their purchases. They are price-conscious, yes, but haven’t they always been? The consumer always wants value and consistency when they spend their hard-earned money. In the deli case, the consumer is looking for something special.

Q. What book, movie, or event has recently impacted you personally or professionally?

The book “Garlic and Sapphires” by Ruth Reichl left a lasting impression on me. Reichl’s perspective on how guests in restaurants ought to be treated sets a great example for customer service in all industries. While many people believe that providing customer service simply means being polite, it’s much more than that. It involves carefully considering the way your customers experience your brand.

Q. What hobbies do you enjoy outside of work?

Birdie’s started as a hobby, and I still find the work enjoyable. These days, I take a yoga class, read, and walk our rescue dog, Beau, to unwind.


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