Purple Crow completes $11 million purchase of Whitaker Park site

Purple Crow’s major expansion initiative has cleared another pivotal step with the food manufacturer completing Wednesday the purchase of a major Whitaker Park property for $11 million.

Purple Crow bought the 850,000-square-foot building from Cook Medical, who paid $4 million in July 2021 for the property that features 39.3 acres.

The building once served as the front door of the former R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. plant.

Purple Crow committed to the Whitaker Park project on Oct. 4 where it plans to establish a new headquarters for its food distribution operations.

Meanwhile, for Cook Medical, the decision to sell the Whitaker Park property is an example of one company’s pandemic work-from-home pullback becoming another company’s expansion godsend.

Purple Crow serves as a distributor supplying more than 3,000 Hispanic products to stores and restaurants along the East Coast.

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The manufacturer has pledged to add up to 274 jobs at an average annual wage of $72,000, as well as spend $50 million in renovating the Whitaker Park building. The facility is projected to be operational by end of 2024.

In return, the company has been made eligible for up to $694,218 in performance-based incentives from the Winston-Salem City Council, as well as nearly $712,000 from Forsyth County.

“Our new facility will help us keep up with the growing demand for our products,” Dan Calhoun, Purple Crow’s president and chief executive, said Oct. 4.

“We started our family business here almost 38 years ago and are grateful that we will be able to remain in this community. Winston-Salem is a great place to raise a family and grow a business.”

The company plans to consolidate operations from a 160,000-square-foot warehouse and office facility at 2900 Lowery St., as well as an additional 200,000 square feet of distribution and warehouse space in the area.

“The savings generated by just consolidating the operations will largely pay back the cost of the building,” Calhoun said.

Core Purple Crow details

Seizing business opportunities as they appear has proven to be a key ingredient in Hispanic foods distributor Purple Crow’s major growth spurt during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Purple Crow primarily serves Hispanic food vendors, typically small businesses, in the Carolinas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland and Virginia.

The company said the brand “remains distinctive among the competition for providing deeply authentic Mexican products.”

According to Calhoun, business has nearly quadrupled in revenue since 2019.

Calhoun credited much of Purple Crow’s growth during the pandemic to the timely and fateful investment by private investors. Those investors include: billionaire Ken Langone, a co-founder of The Home Depot and founder and chief executive of Invemed Associates; Thomas Teague, president and chief executive of Salem Corp. of Winston-Salem and a partner in Invemed; and Al Carey, executive chairman of Unifi and a former chief executive of PepsiCo North America.

The owners/investors, as Calhoun puts it, are himself, his brothers Nat and Phil, and Ken Langone, Teague and Carlos Evans. The company’s board of directors consists of the three brothers, Bruce Langone, Carey and Evans.

Calhoun said Purple Crow officials are “quite confident” that the Whitaker Park space will not be too much to manage.

Whitaker Park occupants

Purple Crow becomes an anchor tenant in Whitaker Park, a 220-acre redeveloped manufacturing complex near Winston-Salem’s central business district.

Whitaker Park, named after former Reynolds Chairman John Whitaker, had more than 2,000 middle- and upper-middle class workers at its peak.

The nonprofit Whitaker Park Development Authority was created by Winston-Salem Business Inc., the Winston-Salem Alliance and Wake Forest University for the sole purpose of shocking a heartbeat back into the campus after Reynolds American Inc. pledged in 2015 to donate the 1.7 million square feet of space.

A key crossroads came in April 2017 when Reynolds handed over the keys to WPDA for 120 acres and 13 buildings.

Not included in the donation was the central property, where Reynolds has tobacco processing and warehousing operations. Those consist of 18 buildings and 100 acres.

Robert Leak Jr., president and chief executive of Whitaker Park Development Authority, said the Purple Crow expansion “will create new jobs and revitalize one of the iconic buildings in our park.”

Other prominent new tenants at Whitaker Park include Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina’s new headquarters, a 139,192-square-foot facility at 3330 Shorefair Drive in Winston-Salem.

The new facility provides much-needed and much-appreciated additional space for expanded culinary and kitchen hands-on training, community meal preparation, freezer and cooler space that allows for additional and extended storage space for frozen and perishable foods, and doubling the number of receiving docks to four.

Residential renovation work for Whitaker Park Lofts is under way on the historic Buildings 2-1 and 2-2. The plan is creating 164 residential units.

In March 2022, Brennan Investment Group of Rosemont, Ill., acquired the property, along with an adjacent 8.85 acres where it built an 110,000-square-foot distribution facility. Brennan is a private real-estate investment firm that acquires, develops and operates industrial properties throughout the United States.

Both Brennan properties are for lease, according to Leak.

In August 2021, Nature’s Value, based in Coram, N.Y., paid $10.5 million for the 426,800-square-foot 601-11 building, where it had plans to relocate its headquarters and consolidate production at the site.

Nature’s Value has pledged to create more than 183 new jobs along with relocating 50 jobs from Lexington and putting $19 million toward investments including advanced manufacturing and testing equipment.

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