3 years ago

Alabama-based Taziki’s brings HOPE to adults and students with special needs

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Continues Expansion Nationwide with 60 Stores and Growing

When you can combine good food with a positive environment, lives can be changed. Taziki’s Mediterranean Café has created a culture of inclusivity by working with and hiring students and young adults with special needs. The Birmingham-based company is helping those that normally get overlooked across the country.

ORIGINALITY IS OUR NATIONALITY

Keith Richards (no, not that Keith Richards) began his culinary career at a K-Mart in Ensley, Alabama cooking chicken and serving sweet tea. It wasn’t long before that job blossomed into a career that eventually found him as the café manager at the award-winning Bottega Café in Birmingham.

In 1997, Richards and his wife Amy took a trip to Greece and came home inspired by the cuisine and culture they encountered. The idea of creating a place to share their love of Mediterranean food with others took hold and couldn’t be undone. Guided by the memory of the food they encountered on their trip and some family recipes, Keith and Amy began developing what would become Taziki’s signature menu of freshly grilled meats, original sauces, and healthy side dishes. The first Taziki’s Mediterranean Café opened in 1998 on Highway 280 in Birmingham and welcomed 76 customers on its first day.

Since that first location on Highway 280, Taziki’s has opened 60 restaurants in 15 states. Richards hopes to open an additional 8 restaurants by the end of 2016, with 10 more that are in the development stage. Most recently, Taziki’s has expanded south with restaurants opening in Daphne, AL, Panama City, FL and Tallahassee, FL. With more than 1,300 employees nationwide, the company made more than $63 million in total retail sales last year, and more and more stores continue to have record weeks. Along with their signature cuisine, every Taziki’s location offers take-out and catering for large or small events.

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The growth of Taziki’s has been staggering, thanks to a recent national trend in eating healthy. Hummus has particularly seen a resurgence across the country, and Taziki’s hummus sales have exploded in response. In 2009, Taziki’s sold 31,014 servings of hummus. Just five years later, that number jumped to 275,572 servings.

Since its founding, Taziki’s has emerged as a leader in the restaurant community, not just in Alabama, but nationwide. The restaurant was named one of the nation’s top franchises by the Franchise Business Review in 2014 and 2015 and the 17 th fastest growing franchise in Restaurant Business magazine’s “The Future 50” in 2015. Taziki’s is also the first national franchise to achieve REAL (Responsible Epicurean and Agricultural Leadership) Certification, the United States Healthful Food Council’s emerging national standard for foodservice nutrition and sustainability, and as of last year, it is the largest chain restaurant to complete this certification process.

HOPE

Richards recognizes that with great success comes great responsibility, so giving back to the community has become a priority for Taziki’s. The company has taken a particular interest in working with students and young adults with disabilities.

“God has blessed me. You’ve just got to give back. That’s the way you’ve got to work it,” Richards said.

One of the signature programs of Taziki’s is HOPE – Herbs Offering Personal Enrichment. This program, founded by Richards in partnership with the Shelby County School system, empowers and inspires students with special needs to learn how to grow, harvest, and sell fresh herbs, and gives them experience in getting paid for their work. The herbs harvested by the program are used at many Taziki’s locations.

HOPE may have started in Shelby County, but “HOPE gardens” are quickly growing across the U.S. The program recently expanded to Nashville, Tennessee and partnered with Fairview High School’s special education program and agriculture teacher. The initiative is also expanding to Arkansas this year.

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Taziki’s also hires students and young adults with special needs to work in their restaurants. Many of these employees complete their work long before customers arrive. Their daily duties often include cleaning the restaurant, loading ice machines, rolling silverware in napkins, and setting up the restaurant for the day’s business. Richards says these employees are just as good as any other employee, if not better.

“What’s remarkable about the students and young adults we have working for us is – they’re consistently doing the same thing and it’s perfect the same way,” he said.

Richards has received a number of honors through his dedication to working with employees with special needs. In 2014, Richards received the Champion Award from Down Syndrome Alabama, and the National Association of People Supporting Employment First (APSE) presented him the Large Employer Award in 2015, which recognizes employers who demonstrate an “outstanding commitment to hiring, and fully integrating individuals with disabilities into their workforce. “

But even more importantly, the students and adults working for Richards gain self-worth and professional value. The HOPE students running the herb gardens learn skills they can use in real jobs after they graduate, from nurturing plants to organization, and even how to earn a paycheck. And the Taziki’s employees learn responsibility, how to work with others, and that their work has value.

Keith Richards has made Taziki’s stand out from the ever-growing crowd of restaurants across the nation. The secret to Taziki’s success is more than just good food (although that certainly doesn’t hurt) – it’s about making every customer and employee feel valued, respected, and making them feel like family.

Richards says it best like this:

“Only with great food and by exceeding the expectations of everyone who comes through our door can we create the relationships that make us successful.”

3 hours ago

Sessions hits Jones over finding impeachment case ‘compelling’ — ‘Merely repeating the partisan attacks of Congressman Adam Schiff’

Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not happy with Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

Sessions sent out a forceful response to Yellowhammer News’ reporting on Friday morning that Jones found the evidence against President Donald Trump in the impeachment trial “compelling.”

“Senator Doug Jones’ recent video appears to indicate that he is planning to vote to remove Donald Trump from the office of President of the United States. He is merely repeating the partisan attacks of Congressman Adam Schiff,” began Sessions.

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Sessions said he feels Jones is “not even attempting” to represent the people of Alabama.

Presumably, this is a reference to Jones’ openness to impeaching Trump, who sports around a 60% approval rating among the people of Alabama. It is also good political hay for Sessions to make in a Republican primary where Trump’s approval rating hovers around 90%.

“The Democrats do not allege any crime, nor do the vague charges in the articles of impeachment rise to a level that would justify the removal of our duly-elected President,” added Sessions.

Sessions this week was the subject of a much speculated-about Trump tweet that showed a poll from 2019 that had Sessions leading the field of contenders in the Republican primary.

To conclude his statement on impeachment, Sessions said, “The entire matter is being revealed as a political hit job, paid for by the taxpayers.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

4 hours ago

Tuberville: ‘Trump has done more for the rights of the unborn than any other President’

After President Donald J. Trump on Friday became the first sitting president in history to address the March for Life in Washington, D.C., former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville praised Trump’s staunch pro-life stance.

Tuberville is a candidate in Alabama’s 2020 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate.

Trump’s speech can be viewed below:

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Tuberville said in a statement to Yellowhammer News, “President Trump attending the March For Life Rally is a victory for all in the Pro-Life movement.”

“President Trump has done more for the rights of the unborn than any other President,” he concluded. “I’ll continue to fight for the unborn with President Trump when elected to the Senate. It’s simple: life begins at conception!”

Friday’s March for Life occurred two days after the 47th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

RELATED: Tuberville ‘all for’ abortion ban — ‘You’ve got to take your hat off to not just Alabama but other states’ on effort to overturn Roe v. Wade

One of the other featured speakers at the 2020 March for Life has a major Alabama tie.

David Platt, formerly the pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, was highlighted on the March for Life’s website as a keynote speaker. Platt made national news last year when Trump showed up to his current church in Virginia; the pastor then movingly prayed over the president on stage.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 hours ago

Bama, Auburn combine for three of four SEC players in 2020 State Farm All-Star Football Challenge

The 22nd annual State Farm All-Star Football Challenge will return to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and air on ESPN2 at 8:00 p.m. CT on January 31.

The exclusive skills competition will feature 24 of college football’s brightest stars divided into six teams based on their college conference. The conferences represented are the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pac-12, the SEC and four of the best players outside of the Power Five that will be called the “Wild Card” team.

Of the four players on the SEC team, the University of Alabama had two, Auburn had one and Vanderbilt had the fourth and final player.

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Team SEC as follows:

Nick Coe, DE, Auburn
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Terrell Lewis, LB, Alabama
Riley Neal, QB, Vanderbilt

Each player will individually participate in a timed event, and the competition will then finish with a full team event. All events will be timed and have individual winners, which will be compiled into a cumulative score to determine the winning team. For example, the quarterbacks from each team will compete against each other to win their competition. Ultimately, however, their time will be added to the times of the other competitors on their conference designated team to have a final team score.

Individual events will include the State Farm QB Accuracy Competition, the Mercedes-Benz Obstacle Course, the Rocket Mortgage Strength Challenge and the Hands Competition. To conclude the program, the players will compete as teams in the State Farm Team Competition.

Alumni of the State Farm All-Star Football Challenge include 81 first-round NFL Draft picks, including 38 Pro Bowlers, such as Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Ramsey, Dalvin Cook, Derwin James, Landon Collins, Von Miller, Vernon Davis, Joe Flacco, Dez Bryant, Donovan McNabb, Reggie Wayne and Edgerrin James.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 hours ago

Alabama finishes decade with record low unemployment rate, sets more economic milestones

Alabama Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington on Friday announced that the state maintained its record low unemployment rate last month, ending 2019 with a preliminary, seasonally adjusted December unemployment rate of 2.7%, unchanged from November, and far below December 2018’s rate of 3.8%.

Multiple other economic records were again set last month, in addition to the record low unemployment rate holding steady.

In a statement, Governor Kay Ivey said, “I’m so proud to be able to close out this decade with record-breaking economic measures.”

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December’s unemployment rate, which ranked fifth-lowest in the nation, represented 2,204,740 employed people, a new record high, representing an increase of 83,971 from December 2018. Additionally, 61,458 people were counted as unemployed, another new record and a drop of 22,051 from last year. Moreover, the civilian labor force grew by 61,920 over the year to a new record high of 2,266,198.

“All year long, we’ve had good news to share, and to be able to end the year, and the decade, on such a positive note is wonderful,” the governor concluded. “Earlier this year, Alabama had never reported an unemployment rate lower than 3.0%, and now we’ve had one for the last three months! Nearly 84,000 more people have jobs now than last year. I’m excited about the path that Alabama is on, and the positive impacts this news has on our people.”

Wage and salary employment grew over the year by 46,300. Yearly gains were seen in the professional and business services sector (+15,000), the leisure and hospitality sector (+7,800) and the government sector (+6,100), among others. Over the month, gains were seen in the trade, transportation and utilities sector (+4,000), the construction sector (+700) and the professional and business services sector (+200).

“For the eleventh month in a row, our job growth has met or surpassed the nation’s,” Washington stated. “We’ve gained over 46,000 jobs since last December, and we continue to see employers posting job ads.”

Additionally, Alabama’s job growth rate for December was 2.2%. It significantly surpassed the national job growth rate of 1.4%, marking the 11th month that Alabama’s job growth rate matched or exceeded the national rate in 2019.

“Average weekly wages showed significant growth this month, registering at an all-time high,” Washington added. “Additionally, we saw many sectors and subsectors reach all-time wage highs, including manufacturing, with a monthly wage increase of $25.57, and financial activities, with a monthly wage increase of $50.78.”

Total private average weekly wages measured $875.44 in December, representing a monthly increase of $15.14.

Counties with the lowest unemployment rates last month were: Shelby County at 1.8%; Marshall, Madison and Cullman Counties at 2.1%; and Tuscaloosa, St. Clair, Morgan, Limestone, Lee and Elmore Counties at 2.2%.

Counties with the highest unemployment rates were: Wilcox County at 6.8%, Clarke County at 5.5% and Greene and Lowndes Counties at 4.8%.

Major cities with the lowest unemployment rates were: Vestavia Hills at 1.4%, Homewood at 1.6% and Hoover and Northport at 1.7%.

Major cities with the highest unemployment rates were: Prichard at 5.0%, Selma at 4.9% and Bessemer at 3.7%.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 hours ago

What does Trump’s tweet say about his position on the U.S. Senate race in Alabama?

After remaining silent on the GOP primary in 2020 U.S. Senate race for the state of Alabama, the President of the United States has checked in via Twitter.

But what does it mean?

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The answer to this question all depends on how you lean in the race.

Do you support former Attorney General Jeff Sessions?

Trump is happy he is leading!

Do you support former Auburn head football coach Tommy Tuberville?

Trump is happy that Tuberville is close to Sessions (he did tweet a poll put out by a pro-Tuberville group)!

Do you support U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope)?

Trump is bringing attention to the race to get people to pay attention to all of the ads on television and radio by the Byrne campaign.

Do you support former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore?

Hey, at least Trump didn’t say he wanted Moore out of the race again.

Do you support State Representative Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs)?

Hey look, Arnold Mooney is included!

Do you support Stanley Adair?

Hi, Stanley!

Before anyone gets too excited, Trump was tweeting about a bunch of races, so maybe it means nothing.

Also, let’s remember that Trump was 0-2 in 2017. He backed then- Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) for reelection to the seat he was appointed to and he then begrudgingly backed Roy Moore. Obviously, the existence of U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) shows he was not successful in either endeavor.

Because of this, President Donald Trump should just sit this one out.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.