For some, Alleghany County is a destination, but for Chris Pernell it was the discovery of home at the end of a long and winding road.
Laurel Springs resident Chris Pernell learned to work at an early age. His father purchased a franchise restaurant, Blimpies, in 1973 in their hometown of Raleigh. At age 8, Chris was going to the restaurant and helping with food preparation. As he recalls this period of life, he laughs and says, “I chopped a lot of lettuce back then.” Laughter flows easily from Chris as he recounts the twists and turns of his life.
After three years of owning Blimpies, Chris’ dad sold out to his partner and opened another restaurant, Deli King, in Wake County. Chris continued to work in the family business through high school, only taking a break during football season. He describes Wake County in those days as still having a small, hometown feel. “Because of working so many years in the restaurant, I felt like I knew everyone in the county,” he said recently.
Reflecting on those high school days, Chris readily confesses that he “liked to have fun.” In calculating what qualified as fun and what didn’t, he determined that high school wasn’t fun, so he dropped out. He worked for a friend in a food equipment business and later spent a few months in Florida.
When he returned from Florida, he decided it was time to make some changes in his life. He got his GED and enrolled in NC State University (NCSU). He spent the next seven years working through his undergraduate and master’s degrees.
After college, Chris took a job with Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company that now specializes in diabetes medicines. Back then, Novo had a food group, and Chris worked in the industrial enzymes division. He left Novo for a research and development position with Kraft Foods in Chicago.
Chris says that he regretted that decision after two weeks in Chicago, but he stuck with Kraft for 2½ years before moving back to Wake County. Back home again, Chris worked a short stint with Burt’s Bees, an international, personal care product company. Then in another shift of direction, he managed a dry wall distributorship for several years.
While doing his graduate work at N.C. State University, Chris also worked for the university. After his dry wall experience, he returned to NCSU and for the next seven years managed a research lab in the college’s Food Science department.
In 2012, the college developed a small beer brewery that focused much of its research on the development of various types of yeast. Chris filled various roles from laboratory manager to brewery manager, brewer and Brewing Science Instructor.
He points out that much of the technology in the food industry was first discovered by the brewing industry. As an example, Louis Pasteur’s discovery of the milk pasteurization process took place through his research of how yeast and microorganisms cause fermentation in beer.
When NCSU shut down the campus on March 13, 2020, because of C0VID, their staff were directed to work from home. In May of 2015, Chris had bought a house in Laurel Springs. He and his girlfriend, Kelley, had fallen in love with Alleghany County and now with the quality of the local Internet, he could teach his classes from Alleghany as easily as Wake County. In December of 2020 they moved here full-time and married in 2021.
Chris has once again made a slight shift in direction. He is now with University extension through NCSU, but not a part of our county extension group, and continues to work remotely with the acidified foods group. His role is to help primarily home-based businesses who want to sell pickled vegetables, or barbeque and hot sauces – foods with a pH level of less than 4.6 – ensure that their processes and products meet the standards set by the N.C. Department of Agriculture. He finds the work rewarding because he is helping entrepreneurs become successful.
Chris and Kelley have immersed themselves in Alleghany County. Kelley has taken a position as general manager of Alleghany CARES. Chris described one of their favorite activities as “we porch.” That is, they enjoy sitting on their porch soaking up the stillness that is absolutely Alleghany.