Comfort Food: Sherrill and Kenneth Collins Create a Recipe for Success
Throw together two strong-minded people with definite goals and passions, and it may seem like a recipe for conflict, if not disaster.
But Sherrill and Kenneth Collins don't just make it work within their marriage. They've also partnered to start UPro, the new catering and to-go restaurant in Aberdeen.
How do they do it? Sherrill offers this advice: "You need to really be in love to run a business together."
During the week, she works at Sandhills Community College as the assistant director and learning specialist of the "Project Promise" program, a job that profits from her passion for education. On weekends, or when Kenneth has a catering gig, she helps him at UPro.
Cooking is Kenneth's passion, although he didn't always think he'd achieve his dream of opening his own restaurant.
"I'd been cooking for 20 years," he says, "and I had worked at Pinehurst and Belle Meade, both in the front and back of the house. I'd been a culinary student at Pine Needles." Still, to open his own establishment, Kenneth needed to get his culinary arts degree.
Ten years ago, he was working for Burlington Men's Wear in Raeford. The company, which needed to cut its work force, offered to send him back to school in thanks for his eight years of service. Kenneth jumped at the chance.
After Burlington Men's Wear helped him get started, Kenneth worked with the Employment Security Commission through the Workforce Investment Act to fund his education at Sandhills Community College.
"I graduated from high school in '83," says Kenneth, "So it was a little scary going back, but I wanted to do it."
Kenneth "wanted to get through this program and do well in life," says Ted Oelfke, the chair of hospitality and culinary arts, "and that's the type of person we like to see in our program." Kenneth credits Oelfke with making sure he had all his degree requirements, but Oelfke says Kenneth was easy to help.
"How could you not help somebody like Kenneth, with his dogged determination?" Oelfke says. During this time, the Collinses were also raising their son, Kenneth Jr., and Sherrill was pregnant with twin boys.
While her husband attended school, Sherrill started working at Sandhills. She became a learning specialist for the college in 2002 and is now the assistant director of Project Promise, a program at Sandhills set up to provide individual aid and guidance to students who are financially disadvantaged, first-generation college students, or those having learning disabilities.
For someone as enthusiastic about education as Sherrill, her job is a perfect fit. She and the other Project Promise staff help students overcome obstacles and achieve academic and personal goals. Each semester, they help students find ways to pay for books, tuition and the other costs of education, as well as teaching them study skills and counseling them on how to succeed academically.
"I thoroughly enjoy what I do," says Sherrill. "I love learning and helping people learn."
The students she works with vary each semester, something which increases the difficulty of finding the best way to help each student.
"We're challenged to dig deep to deal with a variety of students to reach out and ensure success," says Sherrill. Some students are returning to school after a long absence, which can be stressful and intimidating, and others need help with learning study skills to help them keep up with tougher classes.
"One woman hadn't been in school in 20 or so years. She came to my office in tears, just put her head down on the desk and cried, she was so overwhelmed. When she finished crying, I helped her get the resources she needed and got her set up. When she graduated she was at the top of her class, and she came up to me at graduation and said, 'You and your husband know how to treat people. You'll do fine.'"
Antonio Patterson, the director of Project Promise, says Sherrill goes above and beyond what's expected of her to provide students with support.
"Mrs. Collins is a woman after my own heart," Patterson says. "She really cares for the students. My job is much easier because of her dedication to them."
In her free time, Sherrill works with the community center of Addor. She served as the chair from 2000 to 2002 and organized various youth programs, including a 4-H extension program, after-school, and summer programs.
"We make sure the children of the community have activities," she says, speaking of the various programs. True to her passion for educating, she set up a "Celibacy Information" session in the summer of 2002 for girls and guys from ages 13 to 21. Sherrill led a group of volunteers in providing information to the young people about the advantages of celibacy until marriage.
"I gave them resources, basic information, guidance and options," she says of the program, which she still runs occasionally for the church she attends, Perks Chapel Free Will Baptist, where she is a youth leader and teacher. Sherrill also worked with the Ministerial Alliance, an organization that supports the community center, to reach out to students who needed to get their GEDs.
Currently, Sherrill is working on her master of education degree in reading, which she started in 2006.
After Kenneth graduated from Sandhills in December 2005 with his culinary arts degree, the Collinses began the long task of preparing to open a business.
"Preparation time is not wasted time," Sherrill says, "especially when you're opening a business."
They attended workshops, such as one at the Business Center of Fayetteville Tech, to learn how to write a business plan. They researched structuring, and communicated with the N.C. Health Department to make sure they were in accordance with health codes. They also went through a "micro-enterprise" program at Sandhills to prepare them for the task of fundraising, which they both agree was the hardest part.
UPro opened in May 2008, aiming to provide "Southern food without the grease." Freshness is the highest priority at UPro, says Kenneth. The restaurant also provides a healthy choice menu. Kenneth and Sherrill's different talents both bring something to the business.
"He's very meticulous about the food," says Sherrill, "and I'm the social buff, the PR girl."
UPro, located at 104 W. South St. in Aberdeen, offers breakfast and lunch pickup and carry-out. They also offer catering services. Deborah McLaughlin, a close friend of Kenneth and Sherrill and an investor in UPro, says they are a delight to work with.
"They have character and that stick-to-it quality," says McLaughlin. "I've never seen them give up."
At Home in Addor
Both Kenneth and Sherrill are Moore County-born and bred.
Kenneth was born and raised in Addor, while Sherrill grew up in West End. Despite growing up in the same county, they did not meet until later, while attending church in Rockingham.
Now, the Collinses live in Addor with their three sons, Kenneth Jr., 13, and Brandon and Hazael, 10-year-old twin boys. When they get the chance, they enjoy taking a trip to the beach.
They like to read, and Kenneth says he enjoys reading about new cooking methods, while Sherrill enjoys exploring subjects new to her.
Sherrill also loves to dance. "You should always live, laugh, love and dance," is a favorite saying of hers.
There's a balance to be found in running a business as a married couple, they say.
"You have to keep the communication lines open," says Kenneth. "Communication is key."
"Keep business and personal feelings in different categories," advises Sherrill, "and remember to always respect the marriage and take time to nurture each other's needs."
McLaughlin says she has no doubt the two have what it takes to make UPro a success.
"They just exude integrity," she says, "You don't meet many people like that. It doesn't matter how talented you are, you need integrity to be successful."
Contact Laura Eddy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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