Hispanic food distributor Purple Crow has big growth plans for 2024. The family-owned company plans to move to its new headquarters at Whitaker Park in November. A gigantic 851,250-square-foot building has a historical legacy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
With this new expansion plan, Purple Crow will stay in the city where brothers Dan, Nathaniel, and Phil Calhoun founded the business nearly 30 years ago and can consolidate its operation into a large distribution center.
The company currently operates four warehouses totaling nearly 350,000 square feet of space.
In an interview with Abasto, the Calhoun brothers offered details about acquiring the historic property where the world’s largest cigarette factory of R. J. Reynolds Tobacco once operated, located in the Whitaker Park area near the Winston-Salem business district.
Sitting in the spacious entryway of the building where the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company name is still on the back wall of the reception area, the Calhoun brothers also talked about how, through hard work and deep faith, they have succeeded in the competitive food distribution industry.
“When we started in 1986, we never contemplated owning a tortilla shop. Then, when we started talking to another company about partnering with them or selling the company, we didn’t have meeting Ken Langone in mind, much less being a partner with this prestigious investor. But the moment we decided to do something, God gave us that opportunity. So this former Reynolds building is another good example of God giving us those opportunities,” Calhoun said.
A new space for the Company
Due to the business’s rapid growth and high demand for Hispanic food products, Purple Crow grew from 70 employees to 300. They had to expand from one warehouse on Lowery Street to three others. Although their primary location increased to 170,000 square feet in 2020, the warehouse was full by the end of that year.
“The growth seen is because the first steps were done right,” Calhoun noted. With this in mind, the brothers looked at different options to respond to the positive business growth.
The Reynolds building in Whitaker Park was not the first choice. They didn’t even have it in mind for their expansion plans. According to Dan Calhoun, after exhausting all possibilities of finding any distribution center of the size they needed in the area where the food distributor operates, the only option they had left was to build a new headquarters at the Welcome location south of Winston-Salem.
Cook Medical, a medical equipment manufacturer, owned the 220-acre warehouse complex in Whitaker Park until mid-2023. They planned to consolidate its regional operations in the former Reynolds building before the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, the pandemic changed Cook Medical’s strategy; they halted their plans at Whitaker Park and decided to sell the property.
According to Calhoun, before Cook Medical went public to sell the building, they approached Purple Crow because they knew the company was looking for a site with sufficient capacity to consolidate its distribution operations.
The Whitaker Park Acquisition
So, without planning it, the Calhoun brothers once again found themselves with a God-given opportunity to continue progressing with Purple Crow. They made history by becoming owners of an iconic building that was pivotal in the history and development of Winston-Salem.
“The fact that it was in a strategic area of the city, the facility was already built, and because it was a historic building, it was very appealing to us,” explained Phil Calhoun, who oversees the technology area.
In late July 2023, Purple Crow began negotiating with Cook Medical without the intervention of an army of lawyers. Within three weeks, they signed the contract to purchase the property.
“This building is going to contribute much more to the company’s growth than starting at Welcome would have,” said Dan Calhoun.
The company’s finance supervisor, Nat Calhoun, said, “It’s also important that all the numbers be right because it’s not like there’s an unlimited source of money. Sales and projects must be on point to know if we can hit what we have to produce.”
“The people that God has brought to this company, and that every day more arrive, help us to reach the goals that we have set, and we think, with God’s help, to achieve this goal as well.”
As part of the Whitaker Park property purchase, Purple Crow will invest $50 million to remodel the building and create 199 new jobs, benefiting the local population.
Related Article: Purple Crow Fall Show 2023 Exceeds Expectations
Purple Crow and its Footprint in the Community
Mark Owens, president and CEO of Greater Winston-Salem, Inc., said, “We appreciate Purple Crow’s continued commitment to increasing their operations locally. Food and beverage processing is a strong segment of our advanced manufacturing industry in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, with strong growth projections and high potential to create jobs. Investing in the future success of an existing company such as Purple Crow helps us to maintain the competitive edge in this sector.”
Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said, “Purple Crow’s decision to remain in Winston-Salem is a testament to our collaborative and comprehensive efforts to create high-value economic development opportunities for businesses. The redevelopment of Whitaker Park has been a long-term effort with great potential to positively impact Winston-Salem’s development and it has come to fruition.”
Dan Calhoun expects the facility’s redevelopment work will be complete by the end of 2024. In that way, Purple Crow can hold its traditional fall trade show in the new building.
“And I would say it’s going to be very interesting to see how this neighborhood is going to wake up with the traffic movement we’re going to have,” Nat Calhoun said.
For decades, an advertising character known as Joe Camel was the image of J. R. Reynolds Tobacco. The world’s largest cigarette factory operated in an iconic building will be the home of Purple Crow, a character with a distinctly Hispanic flair.