2 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.”

4 hours ago

Illegal immigrant charged in death of Mobile woman

Domingo Francisco Marcos, a Guatemalan immigrant in the United States illegally, has been charged with vehicular homicide and fleeing the scene of the accident with injuries in the Monday death of Mobile’s Sonya Jones on US 98.

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According to WKRG, the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office said Marcos, 16, hit Jones’ vehicle head-on and then tried to run away. However, he was injured too badly to do so and collapsed after leaving the immediate scene.

Marcos was then taken to USA Women’s and Children’s Hospital for surgery. Prosecutors plan on asking the judge not to grant him bond.

He reportedly entered the country via Mexico and was apprehended in Arizona by federal law enforcement officials in 2017. Before he could be deported, he claimed asylum and was released awaiting a hearing. Marcos never showed up in court to speak to his claim, so it was denied. However, authorities had no way to locate him so he was never deported.

In a statement, Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-1), who represents the Mobile area, decried yet another illegal immigrant allegedly responsible for the death of an Alabamian.

“Yet again we have someone who is in our country illegally taking the life of an American citizen,” Byrne said. “How many more Americans have to die before we take action to crack down on illegal immigration, secure the border, and keep the American people safe? Enough is enough!”

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

Will Ainsworth: Common Core is a failed, Obama-era relic that must come to a quick and immediate end

Alabama took a strong step toward independence in its public schools this week when the State Senate approved legislation to repeal the Obama-era curriculum mandates known by most as Common Core.

Everyone agrees that Alabama needs strict academic standards that our children must meet. It is vital to economic development, it is vital to our workforce development and it is vital to our children’s future success.

Where we differ in the Common Core debate is who should set those standards.

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I believe Alabamians should determine the curriculum and standards for our state’s schoolchildren based upon our available resources, our needs and our first-hand knowledge of what makes Alabama great.

We should not rely upon some out-of-state entity or liberal, Washington, D.C. bureaucrats to determine our standards, and we certainly should not continue embracing this most damaging legacy of the disastrous Obama administration.

When Thomas Jefferson said, “The government closest to the people serves the people best,” he understood that a top-down approach and governing from afar denies the important knowledge and details that those on the local level possess.

Perhaps the most asinine theory behind Common Core mandates is the cookie cutter approach it takes to schools across our nation.

Rather than recognizing and accounting for the differences among the states, their workforce needs, and the public educations they should offer, Common Core demands an across-the-board, one-size-fits-all mandate that is typical of liberal policy pronouncements.

Moreover, the public schools in a politically conservative state like Alabama, where character education and allowing students to acknowledge God are important, are vastly different from the schools in ultra-liberal cities like San Francisco and New York City, where educators consider themselves enlightened and the groupthink doctrine of political correctness dominates.

But, in the end, the most effective argument for repealing Common Core is the fact that it has proven to be an unmitigated failure.

When Alabama first adopted Common Core roughly a decade ago, advocates labeled it as the cure-all for our public education system, but the magic elixir they promised has proven to be just a worthless bottle of snake oil.

Prior to the adoption of Common Core, Alabama’s students ranked at or near the bottom in almost every education metric that was tested, and, a decade later today, our state still ranks 49th in math and 46th in reading.

For these stated reasons and too many others to detail, it is time for Alabama to abandon this liberal social experiment and chart its own, independent path toward success in education – one that is rooted in conservative principles and one that embraces long-proven, fundamental teaching concepts.

Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), who filed the legislation, and the co-sponsors of his bill should be commended for working to end this unnecessary Obama-era relic. Dropping the gavel when the repeal of Common Core passed the State Senate was one of the happiest and most satisfying moments of my time in public service.

Will Ainsworth is the Republican lieutenant governor of Alabama.

6 hours ago

Bill to repeal Common Core in Alabama passes Senate

MONTGOMERY — Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’s (R-Anniston) bill to eliminate Common Core in the state of Alabama passed the State Senate as amended by a 23-7 vote on Thursday afternoon, despite a passionate filibuster by Democrats in the chamber.

The bill, SB 119, now heads to the House to take up after the legislature’s spring break next week.

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SB 119 was given a unanimous favorable recommendation on Wednesday by the Education Policy Committee.

State Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) introduced a friendly amendment that was adopted by the Senate before they passed the bill. The amendment would move Alabama away from Common Core standards directly to new standards adopted by the state school board in 2021-2022 (instead of using transition standards next school year and then new standards in 2020-2021).

Gudger’s amendment also addressed concerns that the bill would inadvertently bar Alabama from utilizing things like AP tests and national certifications and exams.

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL), who presides over the Senate, told Yellowhammer News Wednesday that he strongly supports the repeal of Common Core.

Update 4:20 p.m.:

Marsh released the following statement:

In the past I have made it clear that we have an elected school board who should dictate policy when it comes to education in Alabama. However it is clear that we have a dysfunctional school board who is incapable of making decisions that give our students and teachers the best chance at being successful.

We have used the Common Core standards in Alabama for nearly a decade and while we do have some blue-ribbon schools, the vast majority are severely behind. We are still ranked 46thand 49thin reading and math according to National Assessment of Educational Progress. This is unacceptable so it is time to try something new.

I have worked and will continue to work with the education community in developing high standards so that we have the most competitive and rigorous course of study in the country, we cannot accept the status quo and this is a good first step.

I want to thank the Senate for their support and their work as we ended up with a piece of legislation that went through the legislative process to become the best possible bill we could pass and addressed everybody’s concerns. This was a fantastic first step as we move to address sweeping education reform in Alabama.

RELATED: Ivey on Common Core: ‘We should be deliberate in determining a course of study for our state’

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

7 hours ago

Marsh’s bill to help build Trump’s wall passes Senate

MONTGOMERY — Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’ bill (R-Anniston) that would voluntarily allow a taxpayer to divert a portion or all of their own state income tax refund to We Build the Wall, Inc. passed the Senate by a vote of 23-6 on Thursday afternoon, overcoming an organized Democrat filibuster.

The bill, SB 22, now is set for a first reading in the House, which can take up the legislation after the legislature’s spring break next week.

“I thank the Senate for their support on this matter and I look forward to working with the House to give Alabamians a voice and are able to express their desire to support President Trump and stronger border security,” Marsh said in a statement.

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After Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) started a filibuster Wednesday, Marsh carried the bill over.

On Thursday, the bill was named to the Senate special order calendar and was again filibustered when it came up, this time with multiple Democrat senators joining in the effort. Republicans, seeing the filibuster was set to continue for hours, successfully adopted a cloture petition to end the filibuster so the Democrats would not continue blocking the chamber from conducting business.

“People I talk to across Alabama are sick and tired of politicians in Washington D.C. talking and nothing being done about the crisis on our borders. This bill is about sending a message to Washington that we support President Trump and his mission to secure our southern border,” Marsh advised.

He added, “Alabamians overwhelming favor securing our borders, protecting our citizens and their jobs and supporting President Trump. This bill simply allows citizens, if they choose, to send a message that they want to see our borders secured by sending a portion of their tax refund to donate to build the wall.”

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

BONEFROG, ‘The world’s only Navy SEAL obstacle course race’ heads to Alabama this Saturday

Do you love anything military, obstacle course or NASCAR racing-related? If so, you’ll want to head down to Talladega Superspeedway this Saturday for BONEFROG. With obstacles placed every quarter mile, BONEFROG is sure to test even the most seasoned athletes.

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Brian Carney, CEO and Founder of BONEFROG, said the race is designed to push racers past their limits and see that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to.

“We try to replicate the same type of obstacles we trained on in SEAL training but on a smaller and safer scale,” said Carney. “With BONEFROG you can feel the military authenticity throughout the entire event and especially throughout the course.”

This year, the race will offer several options: the 3-mile Sprint, 6-mile Challenge, 9-mile TIER-1, 8 Hour Endurance and the all-new 18+ mile TRIDENT.

For those with children, BONEFROG will also offer quarter and half-mile courses with scaled down obstacles.

Set up at Alabama’s historic Talladega Speedway, Carney says the Alabama BONEFROG race isn’t one to miss.

“There’s so much history here and we utilize every inch of the speedway to make this race stand out from any other. If you’re coming to BONEFROG to race then Talladega tops them all in that department,” Carney said.

At BONEFROG racers can expect not only to be challenged but inspired. Carney says he will never forget watching Alabama veteran, and former Dancing with the Stars contestant Noah Galloway complete the race’s Black OP’s obstacle.

“For those who don’t know, Noah’s an army vet who lost an arm and a leg in combat. To see him on the monkey bars in front of our massive American Flag taking on one of our toughest obstacles just sent chills through my body,” Carney said.

Carney continued, saying that moment continues to linger in his memory.

“To say it was inspirational would be a massive understatement. It’s stayed with me ever since and pushed me and my entire team to always strive to put on the best events we possibly can because our racers deserve just that.”

With 20,000 to 30,000 racers expected to participate in this year’s BONEFROG races, it’s safe to say popularity is unmatched.

More than just a fun and challenging race, BONEFROG partners with nonprofits, like the Navy SEAL Foundation, to give back. Carney said the company has raised over $200,000 for charity to date.

If you’re ready to test your limits and join the race, there’s still time. To register or to learn more about the company, visit the BONEFROG website at www.bonefrogchallenge.com