CHOPS brings a restorative outlook to Conway
Step into CHOPS (Culinary and Hospitality Operatives Prepared to Serve) in Conway and immediately you’ll feel the vibrant energy of the space, its products, and its people. First, you’ll be immersed in the rich greenery of Plant Oasis, where you can almost sense the heightened oxygen among fronds and filaments arranged in an engaging mix of shapes and textures.
CHOPS produce, a plentiful array of fruits and vegetables in yellows, greens, reds, and purples, displays the abundance of local farmers. At the back, you’ll encounter the fun, cleansing vibe of Juice Crush, and you’ll happily give in to your senses by indulging in a fresh smoothie, cold-pressed juice, or infused water.
While residents or visitors anywhere in the Grand Strand area would be happy to have an establishment like CHOPS in their neighborhood, this business is crucial to its community; CHOPS is located in a USDA-certified food desert.
A food desert, or an area where residents have limited access to affordable, nutritious food, develops when grocery stores close and residents are left without options for obtaining healthy food. Residents of food deserts often live on limited income and may lack transportation, and as a result, they experience hunger and/or become fully dependent on convenience stores and fast-food restaurants for their diet.
Cheryl Adamson, founding pastor of Palmetto Missionary Baptist Church in Conway, established CHOPS as one branch of Palmetto Works, a not-for-profit outreach organization dedicated to facilitating developmentally- and age-appropriate work for people of all ages in the Conway area. In addition to the farmer’s market, CHOPS provides nutrition education, food demonstrations, and collaborations with culinary students at Horry Georgetown Technical College. The current building, established in 2017 on the corner of U.S. 501/Church St. and Racepath Ave., is a former fruit stand, and Adamson began the business with an investment from a community member and produce from 15 church and community garden beds.
“All the issues that come along with food insufficiency are of concern to us,” says Adamson. “I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that food insufficiency is not just based on economics.”
Elderly people in the community, for example, may not have means to travel for miles, especially on U.S. Hwy. 501, to reach a grocery store.
“It’s not always about money,” Adamson says. “It’s about safety and access.”
CHOPS produce offers a bountiful display of the freshest local fruits and vegetables delivered direct from area farmers. CHOPS visiting chef Dewayne Beaty, who has been involved in the area food and beverage industry for the last 25 years, holds cooking exhibitions, workshops, and presentations for children and community members on how to incorporate meal preparation into one’s daily lifestyle.
“When CHOPS started, Cheryl and I talked about how to introduce people to certain foods and how to make vegetables exciting,” says Beaty. “Through my catering business I’ve learned that a lot of people do not know how to make food tasty and healthy without putting a tremendous amount of salt and pork fat into it. We want to teach people how to cook differently and have different ideas about food. Food can be your medicine, or it can be your poison. I’ve chosen it to be my medicine, and I hope to change the habits of others, too.”
In addition to serving the dietary needs of community members, CHOPS serves as an incubator for start-ups. In 2021 Adamson participated in an entrepreneurial training program and won a grant contest through Feeding Innovation, an initiative sponsored by the South Carolina Community Loan Fund. The grant provided for expansion of CHOPS and the addition of Juice Crush and Plant Oasis, both Black women-owned, independent businesses focused on healthy living.
Sisters Sha Quasia Coleman and Labria Strong, owners of Juice Crush, both grew up in Conway, left the area to attend University of South Carolina, and had begun their careers in Atlanta and Columbia, respectively, when their mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. The sisters returned to the area and began learning about juicing as a way to help their mother get the nutrients she needed.
“Labria went to school for public health, so she brought the idea to me, saying ‘Let’s start juicing and making smoothies,’” Coleman says.
Their mother passed away, and the daughters decided to devote themselves to the local community and turn their idea into a reality.
“I thought, ‘If we’re going to be here, we might as well find our purpose while we’re back here,’” says Strong.
The spirit of Juice Crush is fresh, fun, and a little bit flirty, as the business name has overtones of early stages of romance. The sisters established Juice Crush in their home in May 2020, and they moved into CHOPS in September 2021.
“We wanted to be in a food desert community,” says Coleman. “We’re educating as much as anything. We wanted to be in an area that lacked the resources of a juice bar, and Conway didn’t have one. It was a perfect idea to come together with a nonprofit that was selling produce, and add to it our full juice bar with smoothies, infused waters, and wellness shots.”
Juice Crush will participate in the seasonal farmer’s markets at Coastal Carolina University and also partner with Conway Hospital for wellness events in fall 2022.
“We just want to get the word out and spread health,” says Coleman. “We build relationships with our customers, because people buy people. The more personable you are, the better.”
Relationships are important to Plant Oasis owner Belle Gathers, too–and that includes relationships both with people and with plants. Since May 2022, Gathers has operated the house plant shop, offering much more than greenery in a pot. Clients choose one of two ways of purchasing: they can select from an affordably priced assortment provided by a private vendor, or they can purchase a luxury “Belle Original” plant, which is organic, hand-potted, and planted in soil Gathers creates herself.
“My plants are crafted from love,” says Gathers. “I’m one of the only shops where you can restore your plant, get it repotted, polished and I raise it back from near-death,” says Gathers. “My customers get the luxury treatment.”
“Luxury treatment” means Belle Original owners can text Gathers with questions and photos of their plants any time of day. They can bring their plants to the shop, where Gathers will help restore them.
“When you’re at Lowe’s or Home Depot and you pick a plant off the shelf, you don’t know what to do with it,” says Gathers. “All it tells you is to water it and how much sunlight it needs. Everyone doesn’t know what that means. But when you’re my customer, you text me when you get home, and I tell you where to position the plant; I give you watering instructions, I teach you the origins of that plant and how to name it, play music for it, teach you the conditions in which it will thrive. Once you purchase a luxury plant, you’re entitled to me and this plant. You, this plant, and I, we have a relationship now.”