3 years ago

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

tazikis-team

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.

tazikis-layout-2

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.

tazikis-layout

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.”

4 hours ago

Alabama Senate passes lottery bill

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate passed Sen. Greg Albritton’s (R-Range) lottery bill as amended after hours of debate on Thursday, advancing the legislation to the House.

SB 220 was passed by the upper chamber on a 21-12 vote.

As a constitutional amendment, the bill needed 21 votes exactly for passage. The margins were as tight as could be, with one state senator appearing to rush up to the Senate secretary at the last moment to change his vote to “aye” in order to get over the threshold.

151

Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville), who sponsored dueling lottery legislation, spoke after the vote to express that he now supports Albritton’s bill because it ultimately will allow his constituents to not need to drive to Georgia to get a lottery ticket.

McClendon urged the House not to amend the bill but instead let it move on to a referendum of the people.

Senator Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), who wanted a version of the bill which would have allowed further gaming and revenue and voted against the bill in committee on Tuesday, expressed his agreement with McClendon’s remarks, saying the legislation the Senate passed was not perfect but good enough. He also asked the House to advance the bill to a vote of the people.

Follow a live tweet thread here.

This is a breaking news story and may be updated.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

5 hours ago

Cindy Griner is a 2019 Woman of Impact

Huntsville’s high-tech explosion has done wonders for the state of Alabama.

While this continuing economic boon gets much fanfare when new project announcements, groundbreakings and ribbon ceremonies happen, the many individuals who serve as the backbone of north Alabama’s technology sector often get overlooked.

Cindy Griner, vice president of the Engineering Services and Solutions Division at Dynetics, is one of these people that garners little outside attention but is, in fact, a giant of the industry.

1358

A 36-year veteran of Dynetics, Griner also serves as the president of Dynetics’ wholly owned subsidiary, Aviation and Missile Solutions. Her division is responsible for electro-optical/infrared and acoustic sensor systems; lethal mechanisms; platform integration; Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) ground programming and trainers; and CMMI Level 3 computer applications.

She oversees major contract activities, with a primary focus on engineering services and development activities for the U.S. military and defense community. This is a big money business, where the stakes of getting it wrong are the highest – we are, after all, talking about modern, highly complicated national defense mechanisms here.

While Griner is now one of the most powerful and influential members of Huntsville’s high-tech industry, her journey to get there was not easy. As she explained, this was not an industry when she got started that was particularly friendly to women.

“In the 80’s when I began work, there were only two women on the technical staff of my company,” Griner told Yellowhammer News. “I was very young and admittedly ‘green.’ There was largely the perception that women are not technical, are too emotional, and don’t think strategically.”

“Women were sometimes overtly harassed,” she said, adding that sexual harassment training was not yet a norm.

However, joining Dynetics in 1982, she found a culture where she could strive on her merit – and a mentor that supported her along the way.

“I had the tremendous benefit of working for Tom Baumbach in an ethical company founded on excellence,” Griner explained. “Tom was very open-minded and encouraging. He never looked at my limitations, he looked at my potential. He mentored and believed in me and helped me to believe in myself.”

This is not to say there were not unique challenges of being a woman in a traditionally male field.

Griner outlined, “The ‘challenges’ of questioned credibility, men assuming I was hired because I was female, and the occasional overt harassment sparked a defiance and strength that fueled my desire to achieve. I worked harder, double checked my work, went above and beyond in my preparation largely to prove to both myself and those who would believe otherwise that I brought real value to my employer and my customers.”

She advised that with every challenge came an opportunity to overcome that obstacle.

Griner mentioned her educational attainment as a way to address some doubts, both internal and external. She earned her master’s in electrical engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 1992.

“At the urging of my mentor, I became a life-long learner. I continued my technical education, obtaining my MSEE, which added to both my credibility and my confidence,” Griner said.

She also offered some wisdom, gleaned from personal experience, on being able to take a step back and gain perspective.

“Over time I learned self-awareness,” Griner noted. “I learned to use my strengths, but just as importantly, to rely on others for their strengths.”

She added, “I occasionally experienced setbacks, but over time I learned perspective and I learned perseverance. Better days will come. No one stays on the peak. We all experience peaks and valleys; the valleys give you the perspective to recognize the sweetness of the peaks. For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”

And for Griner, the peaks have indeed been sweet. She has supported a number of huge customers and programs during her tenure with Dynetics, including most recently the U.S. Army Futures Command; Aviation and Missile Center in UAS interoperability; architectures; MBSE, prototyping and integration of emerging technologies; and AO/PO trainer development for Army Air Force programs such as Shadow, Gray Eagle, Hunter, Reaper and Global Hawk.

She named the the Javelin missile system and Army UAS program development as perhaps her crowning jewel, the projects she is most proud of.

In a true sign of leadership, Griner also explained how what makes her proud has evolved over time.

“Early in my career it was about what ‘I’ did… in Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom… systems that I personally supported in development and training have been used to make our soldiers and airmen safer and more effective. In fact I have a GI Joe in my office that was one of the first 50 produced in honor of one of those programs,” she advised.

More recently, Griner’s duties and responsibilities have grown to become more about her Dynetics family.

This included her leading the 2011 Dynetics ESOP Transaction.

“I worked with a small employee committee to transition Dynetics to 100% Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) ensuring our employees reap the benefits of their dedication and excellence,” Griner highlighted.

“This was a huge undertaking that gave me the rare opportunity to work closely with outstanding female professionals from nationally recognized law and retirement firms on something that would make a huge impact on our company and our employees,” she added. “A few years later, I led the design and implementation of an internal market for our ESOP, creating increased investment opportunity for employees and underpinning the health of the ESOP.”

Just as she had the support of a key mentor, Griner now takes tremendous pride in being a mentor to others. That is one of the defining aspects of leadership, she said, as well as the most rewarding part of her career journey.

Griner shared, “On 1 January of 2017, I was named the president of a Dynetics wholly owned subsidiary and later that same year, I was named a Dynetics vice president. While the titles are very nice and sometimes help open doors for strategic conversations, at this point, my proudest and most humbling moments are witnessing the accomplishments of others, especially those I’ve mentored – in FY18, five employees in my organization won annual corporate awards for engineering and business excellence, product innovation, customer service, ethics or safety which are typically only given to one employee each year.”

A mentor through-and-through, Griner also offered some inspirational words of advice to all the girls who want to be a leader in their own right one day.

“Work hard on yourself FIRST; become credible, and always keep learning. Don’t be afraid. ASK QUESTIONS,” Griner emphasized.

She named finding “good mentors and role models” as a key to success.

“Great leaders are generally good communicators,” Griner said. “Girls have a natural advantage here. From birth, girl babies spend more time studying the people that are holding them, looking into their eyes and learning their emotions. Girls see things that boys don’t see.”

She named four core components of being a strong communicator.

I. Listen, not just for a pause to talk, but for true understanding (If you are “writing your speech” while someone else talks, you are not truly listening).

II. Realize when you’re talking to others, especially leaders, that they are listening for the point, not the experience.

III. Ask questions, don’t be afraid of looking uninformed/uneducated, sometimes asking questions shows what you really do know.

IV. Breathe….. Try to think about everything from an objective perspective, not from your emotional side. Give others the benefit of the doubt and assume that it’s NOT PERSONAL when they disagree with your view. Perhaps they know things you don’t.

Even though she works in a sector focused on cutting-edge technology (literally robots), Griner concluded her thoughts by stressing how crucial it is to see and understand others as the individual human beings they all are.

“Look outside yourself, if you are going to LEAD, someone has to follow. If you want people to follow you, you have to care about them and appreciate them,” Griner said. “Not just whether they do something that serves you and your bottom line, but are they fulfilled, are they healthy, do they have obstacles that you can remove to help them succeed, how can you help them grow in their career and life.”

“Say THANK YOU to your subordinates, co-workers, bosses, customers and creator. None of us do this alone. If you think you do, you are delusional,” she continued.

And, through it all, “BE OPTIMISTIC,” she concluded.

That she has certainly been, and the results are there for all to see.

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Cindy Griner a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

5 hours ago

ALGOP chair Lathan: Doug Jones, Biden ‘two of a kind’

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan has commented on Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) announcing his support for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign on Thursday, with Lathan saying, “Both support bigger government, ObamaCare and abortion.”

173

In a statement, she said, “Senator Jones and Vice President Biden are ‘two of a kind’. Both support bigger government, ObamaCare and abortion – all issues the majority of Alabamians oppose.”

“The endorsement is really no surprise coming on the heels of the Senator’s interview yesterday with the liberal Mother Jones podcast,” Lathan added.

Read more about that interview here, which Lathan continued to discuss.

“Senator Jones clearly sidesteps the sexual harassment allegations against the former Vice President saying people should ‘not be so judgemental’. This coming from the man who refused to vote for Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court Justice because of unproven allegations against him,” Lathan remarked.

She concluded, “As long as the Democrats embrace their liberal propaganda and platform, Alabama will continue to reject their candidates. It’s just not Alabama.”

Jones is up for re-election in 2020.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) and former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville are the only announced Republican candidates against Jones thus far.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 hours ago

Watch live: Alabama Senate debates clean lottery bill

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate is set to debate and consider State Sen. Greg Albritton’s lottery bill, SB 220, on Thursday.

The bill was favorably recommended on a 6-5 vote by the Senate Tourism Committee on Tuesday.

Watch the debate live:

312

Ahead of the Senate gaveling in for the day, Albritton spoke with reporters outside of the chamber.

He explained his bill would be alone on a one-bill special order calendar on the day, even though there is a back-up special order calendar if something unexpected occurs.

Albritton said he was unsure if he has enough votes to pass SB 220 on Thursday, saying, “I’m optimistic but it is certainly not in the bag.”

The sponsor expects “heated, open debate” on the floor.

Albritton also decried the “regionalism” that occurs when trying to make statewide gaming changes in Alabama, due to previous “piecemeal” approaches with certain counties and types of gaming.

“When you start getting into video gambling, there’s still a lot we don’t understand,” Albritton said. He added that sports gambling will become a part of that complication, too.

Albritton advised that video gaming “opens the wound.” His legislation would not legalize any video gaming or alter any existing parimutuel gaming in the state.

“This paper lottery is a simple matter that most of us understand, comprehend, and I believe it has the greatest opportunity for passing,” he remarked. “The people of Alabama want to make the decision on this principle … most of them I believe want to have a lottery.”

Albritton concluded that attempting passage of the lottery bill in the legislature should be tougher than getting it passed in by a referendum of the people, which would occur if the legislature advances it.

“We’ve been working it but so has everyone else,” Albritton said, speaking of the opponents of the bill.

He explained that the greatest challenge to the bill is “misunderstanding” fueled by misinformation efforts by the “opposite side.” Albritton further mentioned floor amendments as a challenge to passage and keeping the legislation clean.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 hours ago

Poll: Ivey approval ratings unchanged by gas tax push in first quarter of 2019

According to newly released polling from Morning Consult, Gov. Kay Ivey’s approval ratings were completely unchanged from the final quarter of 2018 through the first quarter of this year.

The new survey polled registered voters from January 1 through March 31, 2019. The margin of error was one percent.

Ivey’s signature Rebuild Alabama Act was signed into law on March 12.

Morning Consult’s polling showed that 63 percent of Alabamians approve of her job performance, while 19 percent disapprove. This currently makes her the fourth most popular governor in the nation.

80

The final quarter of 2018 showed Ivey holding the same topline polling numbers.

The most recent survey breaks down to Ivey having a positive net approval with all political subgroups: 73 percent with Republicans, 8 percent with Democrats and 36 percent with independents.

Another recent poll, by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, showed that 60 percent of Alabamians approved versus 28 percent who disapproved of Ivey.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn