French cookware-maker Le Creuset is cooking up big plans for the Lowcountry.
The company will combine its two Lowcountry offices into a new U.S. corporate headquarters on the Ashley River and triple the size of its Hampton County distribution center in an investment over the next three years of more than $12 million, Le Creuset marketing director Will Copenhaver said.
The company also has longer-term plans to create a culinary education center for children near a factory store in Yemassee just off Interstate 95, he added.
Le Creuset of America recently purchased a 1.6-acre tract at 116 Ripley Point in West Ashley that housed the former Landry's Seafood House and the Crab House several years ago. The 8,400-square-foot vacant building will become the company's new headquarters.
The former waterfront restaurant property was slated for condominiums before the recession sunk those plans. It then became an events venue called The Vue, but the property owner fell into foreclosure last spring.
Le Creuset paid $4.15 million for the property, which sits beside a marina across from California Dreaming restaurant.
The company now maintains a 2,400-square-foot marketing office on Concord Street in downtown Charleston and other offices at its 100,000-square-foot distribution center in Early Branch, just off I-95.
Le Creuset will renovate the Ripley Point building and merge its offices into the Ripley Point site by year's end. It will spend another $8 million in two phases over the next three years to expand its distribution center to 300,000 square feet and add other improvements to the property, Copenhaver said.
The new headquarters site in Charleston will serve as the base for marketing, new product development and global resource staffing. The center will house a state-of-the-art test and demonstration kitchen, and Le Creuset will use the facility to host global retail partner visits.
In addition to its 50 company-owned stores across the U.S., including one on King Street in downtown Charleston, Le Creuset sells its products through more than 1,000 stores in such national upscale shops as Williams-Sonoma, Bloomingdales and Sur La Table and locally owned merchants such as Coastal Cupboard in Mount Pleasant and Charleston Cooks in downtown Charleston.
"This new corporate headquarters represents our commitment to the region as we continue to grow," Copenhaver said. "We believe that Charleston is one of the great culinary destinations in the world, and we look forward to continuing to be a valued member of this community."
Le Creuset was founded in 1925 in France and began exporting to the United States in the 1950s. In 1977, the company set up its U.S. distribution center near Yemassee, given the easy access to the ports of Charleston and Savannah via I-95.
"While we craft our cookware in northern France, we feel right at home in the American South," Copenhaver said.