By Tim Callahan
Brian Henry is not a dreamer. He is a doer.
His focus is not three years or five years down the pike, but right here, right now, doing what is right in front of him. Long-term plans don’t exist. And why should they? Do they usually work out?
A Louisiana man who married an Atlanta girl, Brian did not envision living in Pawleys Island and owning the Sea View Inn when he went to LSU and majored in electrical engineering back in the late 1980′s.
First, he found out he didn’t like electrical engineering like he thought he would. Then, he found out he liked the business end of things a lot better. He took a job with Andersen Consulting after graduation and moved to Atlanta, where he worked with people his age and wrote computer software to provide business solutions. After five years there, he went to work for Coca-Cola in Atlanta, managing and improving the customer service side of the call center and then moving into the marketing side.
He also met the other half of his life and this story, his wife, Sassy, who was a small business owner in flowers and antiques. They married in 1997. Sassy soon got to do what she loves to do, working with food and training under the head chef for an executive investment firm. (This would prove to be a very good thing for the Henry’s in the not so distant future.)
Feeling an entrepreneurial pull, Brian down sized and worked for a smaller company for a while and began the inevitable thinking process of: “I bet I could do something in business myself.”
That something turned out to be the Sea View Inn, where Brian convinced the former owner, Page Oberlin, that she would never find a couple with business, customer service and food backgrounds quite like theirs.
Oberlin and the Henrys agreed to an eight-year manage/lease/purchase plan, with the Henrys making an appreciable down payment from most of their savings from Brian’s work at AC and Cocoa-Cola. The Henrys moved here in 2002.
“Money was very tight the first few years,” Brian said. “We didn’t have any family money and we were paying two mortgages as we tried to sell our home in Atlanta.”
The Henrys now own the inn. But, first, something happened in 2006 that changed the course of their lives – yet again.
Wanting to make more money and feeling another pull to do something more than just the inn, Brian asked Sassy what she was passionate about. Sassy said she was passionate about pimento cheese. Yup, cheese, the same concoction she created and used to serve at Atlanta Braves tailgating parties, and was currently serving at the Sea View Inn every Wednesday night with Low Country Boil.
With Brian’s business acumen and Sassy’s tasty recipe, they started “Palmetto Cheese, Pimento Cheese with Soul.” Three kinds are available: original pimento cheese, bacon pimento cheese and jalapeno pimento.
Six years later, Palmetto Cheese is in 3,500 stores and is on its way to selling 3.5 million units this year, doing so well that USA Today included the Henry’s success in its February 17 “Money” section; success mainly due to the viral marketing grit and determination of Nathan Kirk Design, a Socastee/Myrtle Beach firm. (Thanks to Kirk and a great product, Palmetto Cheese is already up to more than 23,000 likes on Facebook, which is a great way to survey the customer base, Brian said, as well as get insights into his customers.)
“It all started with selling a few containers through Independent Seafood in Georgetown, and then the Food Lion in Pawleys let us put it in as a local product,” Brian said. Things really took off when they also picked up the Litchfield Piggly Wiggly, he said.
“We sold 500 a week there during the peak season,” he said. “That’s when we knew, ‘we’ve got something here.’”
Now the cheese is manufactured in Greenville by Duke Sandwich Productions, who also do some distribution, and is also distributed by a contracted carrier.
The success of Palmetto Cheese has provided the resources, Brian said, to help keep working and
enjoying the Sea View Inn, and to expand into yet another business in June 2011, Get Carried Away Southern Takeout, located directly across from Pawleys Wine & Spirits.
Low country boil in a bucket, casseroles, sides, savory pies, dips and appetizers, sandwiches and salad plates, stove top, breads and desserts are all available at Get Carried Away, Brian said, from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., everyday except Sunday. Deliveries are also made for orders exceeding $50.
Between their three businesses, two daughters and community support activities, most people think the Henrys don’t sleep, but actually they sleep quite well, Brian said.
“We’ve got good people. I’m not stressed. I trust people because we hired the right people.”
He said many employees were friends of the Henrys before they hired them.
Brian smiles when asked again about long-range plans for the new business.
“Who would have believed this?” he said.
(For more information: Get Carried Away Southern Takeout, 314-3493, www.getcarriedawaypi.com. The Sea View Inn, 237-4253, www.seaviewinn.com. Palmetto Cheese, www.pimentocheese.com)