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For The Love Of Cooking

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Click to enlarge,  Photo by Hannah Hunsinger | The Sanford Herald. Annette and Brad Schlitz participated in the first BBQ Academy held at Central Carolina Community College's Dunn Center.

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Photo by Hannah Hunsinger | The Sanford Herald. Annette and Brad Schlitz participated in the first ... (more)

09.01.2016College & CommunityCollege General

By Hannah Hunsinger, The Sanford Herald

SANFORD - What began as a simple way for husband and wife, Brad and Annette Schlitz, to spend more time together has grown into two new businesses -- catering and a barbecue grill shop.

"All of this got started because we love grilling and cooking," explained Annette. "For date night we signed up for the first BBQ Academy they did through [Central Carolina Community College] in Dunn. We had always been grilling and doing stuff, it just sounded like a good idea. And it just rekindled our love for (cooking for people) and we just realized how much we enjoy doing this."

The Central Carolina BBQ Academy was an eight-week culinary course held in February and March of this year on the CCCC campus in Dunn. The course was taught by chef Greg Hamm, executive director of the Central Carolina Culinary Institute, and the owner of Cafe 121 on Chatham Street in Sanford. Hamm also owns Venue at 121, an event space at the back of Cafe 121. Hamm uses the space for his own events, but now the Schlitz's will take over it part time to run Cleo Rose Catering out of it.

"Chef Hamm being the instructor and the teacher that he is was really beneficial," said Annette. "Because he wants to help people grow and his philosophy was that there's plenty of diversity in Sanford and you need opportunities for everybody -- that's what keeps everyone in town instead of taking their business outside of town. He saw the opportunity for us to grow and an opportunity for this venue to be utilized and he was like, 'Come on over.'... He stills uses the venue, I just help him with booking the venue and then we use it for our catering. It's just a shared opportunity."

Cleo Rose operates out of the kitchen in Venue at 121, which holds 80-100 people, but is also available for off-site catering. They do serve barbecue, but focus mostly on classic Southern cooking they were taught as kids.

"We were raised on old Southern cooking, that's why it's Cleo Rose, Cleo was my grandmother and Rose was my husband's grandmother," explained Annette. "They taught us how to cook and we've been doing it ever since. I've been cooking ever since I was old enough to pull up a chair and get to the counter. And he's the same thing, he just loves to grill."

Not only do they love to cook for themselves, but they've always loved cooking for others too.

"I used to be a flight nurse with Life Flight and they had a barbecue cookout and we hired some people to cook a pig, but the next year they couldn't do it," Annette recalled. "So they were looking for somebody and we had always tinkered around and cooked for people, just out of the love of cooking, and they were like, 'Well, would you guys do it?' and we said, 'Sure,' and it just became a traditional thing that we would have get-togethers or people would call and (ask us to bring the grill over and cook). Just over the last 15 years it has grown and grown."

Cleo Rose Catering is the natural extension of that, but the BBQ Academy reignited their love of barbecue and so they are also opening a grilling supplies store called Brannan-Schlitz BBQ.

"Our sauce motto is 'if you don't know how to fix it, just add a little BS,' " Annette joked. "It's more about grilling and competition -- selling grills, wood pellets, charcoal and things. But we're not open yet, we're still ordering supplies and painting and working on the building. I'm hoping for maybe the end of September or beginning of October to be open."

Annette said between Cleo Rose and Brannan-Schlitz BBQ they can handle just about any type of gathering, from weddings and rehearsal dinner, to birthday parties, backyard cookouts and Christmas parties.

"We do hand-pulled pork butts, which is the shoulder, we use a dry rub, we make our own sauce -- we hand pull it, no fat, no gristle. We do brisket, we also do rosemary chicken, we do chicken salad, we do brie puff pastries, we make a really good spinach and artichoke dip, and barbecue meatballs. I'd say (Cleo Rose) is more classic Southern and Brannan-Schlitz BBQ is more barbecue brisket side of things."

Brad and Annette agreed that going to the BBQ Academy and starting two businesses together has helped them grow closer as a couple.

"The biggest thing I enjoy is working together," said Brad. "Marriage is something you have to work on everyday. (The class) was something that we both enjoyed, and we got to spend time together."

"We do better when we're together a lot, and it's harder when we're not together as much -- we communicate better because we get in the flow and groove of things," said Annette. "He really likes cooking the meats and I really like doing the sides and baking, so it's a good marriage in the kitchen and out."

Brannan-Schlitz BBQ will be located at 147 Rand St., and Venue 121 is at 121 Chatham St. Annette can be reached at 919-721-8414 or email