Twelve women and three men watch as cooking instructor Pam Clark dumps semolina flour, oil and water into a food processor. Sitting at sturdy wooden tables and around the kitchen counter in the Loading Dock, a Raleigh co-working space, the students listen as Clark warns against making the pasta dough too dry.
Clark taught Monday night pasta-making class through a two-year-old company called SkillPop. The company started in Charlotte in 2015, launched in Raleigh in August 2016 and typically has three to five “pop-up” classes a week with 15 to 25 students in each.
SkillPop classes cover subjects from making bread to buying your first house, and prices run from $20 to $45. While living in Charlotte, North Carolina State University graduate Haley Bohon founded SkillPop when she saw a trend she thought she could turn into a business.
“In Charlotte, there were a lot of in-person meetups for fitness and business,” Bohon said. “That signaled to me a craving for in-person connection, to do something after work that’s out of your routine. ... I thought there should be a way to take classes easily without spending tons and tons of money and signing up for multi-week courses.”
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Most of SkillPop Raleigh’s classes are at the Loading Dock, which is just north of downtown off of Capital Boulevard, The Nest co-working space in downtown Raleigh and downtown Cary’s The Mayton Inn. Students tend to be in their 20s and 30s, said Audrey Henderson, who’s in charge of Raleigh SkillPop. At the start of Monday’s class, Henderson encouraged students to tag SkillPop, the Loading Dock and Clark’s business in their social media posts.
Cooking instructor Clark has taught private lessons and catered through her company The Thyme Savor since 2003. In February, she took a SkillPop hand-lettering class so that she could make her own menus.
Clark showed up alone, but by the end of the night she was talking and laughing with her seven table-mates as they worked on getting their letters just right. After that, she contacted Henderson about teaching. She taught her first class, on pasta-making, in May.
“It’s a good class to come with a friend,” she said. “You can apply the skill in your own kitchen, and you don’t need anything special.”
Friends Meaghan Toon and Laura Fasolak took Monday’s pasta-making class. They both live in Raleigh and have also taken a SkillPop class on hand lettering.
“We always learn something cool, and it’s a fun way to spend time with friends,” Toon said.
The lettering class had been very individual-focused, so they hadn’t gotten to know the other students. They hoped pasta-making would be more chatty, they said.
“Classes let you bond with other people,” SkillPop founder Bohon said. “You probably met your best friend in class growing up. People make book clubs and meet their best friends at SkillPop.”
Bohon graduated from N.C. State with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2012. She worked for Fortune 500 company Newell Rubbermaid, then software company Passport.
Online tutorials weren’t cutting it for Bohon, even though she does love watching cooking videos on Facebook. So Bohon cut back to working part time in 2015 to start SkillPop.
“I’ve learned things from online videos,” she said. “But that makes learning something you have to do on your own time. In person, there is nothing to distract you. Your laundry’s not going off... Your phone is put away... The teacher is there in the room so you can ask questions.”
Bohon hopes to launch SkillPop in another city by the end of 2017. She has hosted test classes in Greensboro (where she grew up), Asheville and Charleston, South Carolina.
Raleigh classes have a more “laidback” atmosphere than classes in Charlotte, Bohon said.
“When we think about SkillPop down the road, my dream would be that ... SkillPop takes on the culture and feel of each unique city,” she said. “We’ve seen that with Raleigh.”
Evie Fordham: @eviefordham 919-829-4809