The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather


    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower


    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships


    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

1 year ago

Wolf Bay Restaurant Bar and Boutique is an Alabama Gulf Coast tradition

Charlene Haber -- "Char" to everyone who knows her -- took over Wolf Bay Restaurant from her late parents, who founded it in 1973. She now has three locations, in Orange Beach, Foley and Pensacola. (Melissa Johnson Warnke/Alabama Retailer)

Charlie and Sandra Wrape served 27 dinners on their first day of business. The year was 1973, and they had just opened a restaurant in a former bait shop on the shores of Wolf Bay in the tiny Baldwin County community of Miflin.

“Business just blossomed from there,” said the Wrapes’ daughter and the current owner and president, Charlene Haber.

Forty-six years later, Haber operates three Wolf Bay restaurants, two in Alabama and one in Florida.

“We are doing more than 3,000 dinners a day in our peak season” at the Foley, Orange Beach and Pensacola locations, said Haber, who politely, but firmly, asks to be called Char. “Everybody calls me Char. Nobody calls me Charlene.”


Haber’s Navy Dad and nurse Mom lived in Pensacola when they decided to retire and open a restaurant in Alabama. Last year, Haber decided to return to the family hometown and open the third Wolf Bay Restaurant, Bar & Boutique in that Florida city.

“The Pensacola community has embraced us with open arms,” Haber said. “We have really enjoyed getting to know the military personnel who live nearby. Wolf Bay is committed to giving back, and it has really warmed our hearts being able to support even more nonprofit organizations and schools.”

Through loss of founders, flood and fire, restaurant endures

The road to success hasn’t been easy for Haber or the restaurant.

“My mother passed away in 1994, then Hurricane Ivan came in ’04, which sunk us about six feet under water, then the fire destroyed us in 2008,” Haber said. Her father died in 2014.

The family business – previously known as Wolf Bay Lodge, though it has never offered lodging – expanded several times in its original location. After experiencing flood and fire in a four-year span, the business relocated and reopened in 2009 on Perdido Beach Boulevard in Orange Beach. In 2010, its original customer base rejoiced when Wolf Bay opened a restaurant on Miflin Road in Foley. The Pensacola location opened Oct. 1, 2018.

Besides adding the new location last year, the regional seafood restaurant chain in recent years has rebranded, renovated, redesigned menus, added software analytics, hired a catering and events director, increased outdoor seating and implemented a silent paging system.

Any hardships along the way don’t show, said Orange Beach Councilman Jerry Johnson. Wolf Bay Restaurant is “a destination for our city’s out-of-town guests from every region of the country. Their seafood is always fresh, the service is always exceptional and the atmosphere is pure Coastal Alabama.”

A team that interacts like family

“I think the most valuable thing that my mother and father ever told me was … get in there with your employees, work hard with them and they will always give you 200 percent,” Haber said. “I couldn’t do any of this by myself. We are a team, and I have developed a family here.” Some of her employees have been working for the restaurant since the 1970s.

There’s Ma Belle, Miss Nadine, Karen, Jerry and Al, who retired last year after giving a two-year notice.

At Wolf Bay Restaurant, which is known for its fresh Gulf seafood prepared using community recipes handed down through the years, they peel, devein and butterfly every shrimp by hand. Even their salad dressings are made by hand.

“These people look out for me as well as I look out for them,” Haber said. “I want everyone to know how lucky we are for the staff we have. We just need more of them.” Wolf Bay employs 350 at the height of the Gulf Coast tourist season.

The customers also consider Haber and her team family.

Donna Watts, chief executive officer and president of the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce who frequents the Foley location, said, “I sometimes eat here three times a day. I know most of the staff. When I walk in, they all say, ‘Hey, Miss Donna.’ I love it. It feels like home, and I think that is why everybody comes here, because it feels like home.”

This story originally appeared in the Alabama Retailer, a publication of the Alabama Retail Association.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Urban Cookhouse’s David and Andrea Snyder are concept creators, not just restaurant owners

(Brandon Robbins/Alabama Retailer)

In a single decade, David and Andrea Snyder will have launched two dining concepts and opened six restaurants as owners.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” said David, who with his wife founded Urban Cookhouse and Farm Bowl + Juice Co.

The Snyders opened the first Urban Cookhouse, a farm-to-fire-to-table, fast-casual restaurant, in Homewood in June 2010.


“Before Urban Cookhouse was even financially comfortable, I was approached and offered The Summitlocation,” which opened in November 2011 at the lifestyle center off U.S. 280, David said. While the Snyders now own a licensee group that includes the Homewood, Summit, downtown Birmingham and Tuscaloosa locations, Urban Cookhouses can also be found in three other Alabama cities as well as four other states.

The Snyders’ newest concept, Farm Bowl + Juice Co., specializes in acai berry and oatmeal bowls as well as cold-pressed juices and smoothies. They launched that brand in January 2018 in the same building with their relocated and expanded Homewood Urban Cookhouse. By November 2018, the Snyders had added another Farm Bowl + Juice Co. next to their Tuscaloosa Urban Cookhouse, which they had opened two years earlier.

While the restaurants are separate businesses, “we build them together,” said Andrea. “It is just easier to manage as a dual concept from capital expenditures to the build out, to management.”

Plan for volume

From the beginning, the Snyders never thought small.

“When you get the real estate, you’ve taken the first step,” David said. “When I set up the initial business, I planned for a lot of volume. I didn’t necessarily think that it was all going to come, but I said, ‘If I’m going to serve 1,000 people a day, how am I going to lay out my kitchen to make that happen?’”

Andrea echoes her husband’s advice to entrepreneurs: “Think big. Instead of investing in one register, invest in three to move more people through the line. Invest in the things on the front end that are going to allow you to grow and do the volume.”

The buildings that house both an Urban Cookhouse and a Farm Bowl + Juice Co. have drive-thrus and outdoor spaces. The Farm Bowls also come equipped with swings and abstract murals used regularly as backgrounds for social media posts.

“First impressions are everything,” said Andrea. “It is hard to go back and brand yourself. We like to make that investment, do it right from the get-go and know we gave it our all.”

Farm inspired

David’s paternal grandfather farmed for nearly 50 years in Coker, a small community northwest of Tuscaloosa. Andrea’s grandparents and Italian immigrant great-grandparents owned a New Jersey grocery that sold fresh fruits and vegetables. That familial practice of getting food directly from the land inspired them when developing their concepts.

Growing up, David appreciated the time spent with his grandfather on the farm. “I got to taste farm-fresh vegetables and see them put together on a plate with other great food and experience the difference that it made in flavor,” he said. “My grandfather also taught me how to cook with wood and charcoal.”

Urban Cookhouse is known for its wood-fired meats cooked on Big Green Eggs and its fresh produce, much of which is provided through grower agreements with Alabama farms. Farm Bowl + Juice Co. also gets its fresh fruits straight from farms. “We like our growers to be within 60 miles” of the restaurants, said Andrea.

This dynamic duo juggles it all while raising two daughters under the age of 7.

How? “I set boundaries,” Andrea said. “I get off at 3 p.m. every day. I pick the kids up. If it gets to where I can’t do that anymore, we need to stop growing.”

Developing people is key

“As much as we can, we spend time developing people and not focusing on the day-to-day urgent tasks that come up and mess your day up,” Andrea said. “Any opportunity we have to pour into our people, that makes all of the difference.”

The Snyders even cross-train employees so they can work at either concept.

“The people that we have, they are capable,” Andrea said. “They don’t need us around all the time.” Purposely, the couple weren’t on hand for the Tuscaloosa Farm Bowl opening. “They are at the point they kind of don’t need us anymore,” she said.

At the end of last year, the Snyders even helped David’s brother open his own restaurant – Mark’s Joint Backyard BBQ. Mark Snyder worked with his brother and sister-in-law from the inception of Urban Cookhouse. His restaurant is in the couple’s original Homewood location. “We are supporting him, but it is totally his,” Andrea said.


Founded: Urban Cookhouse, June 2010; Farm Bowl + Juice Co., January 2018; both in Homewood.

Number of employees: 225.

Mentor: Joe Granger, founder of Coach LLC, a leadership coach, who taught the couple how to focus on the “first 50 percent,” which is people.

Smart move: Choosing prominent real estate.

Learning moment: When we realized our success hinged on the development of and focus on the people who work for us. A lot of restaurants have great food, but people make the difference in success or failure. By focusing on the development of our people first, the metrics and tyranny of the daily urgent falls into place.

Wisdom shared: Take risks! Get a mentor. Get in on the ground level with a small company that is going places for the most opportunity.


This story originally appeared in the Alabama Retail Association‘s Alabama Retailer magazine.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Lavish Boutique flourishes, expands in Alabama

(Brandon Robbins/Alabama Retailer)

Dustin Beaty had been operating Hospital Discount Pharmacy in downtown Jasper for nine years when he agreed to his wife’s request to sell game-day clothes in the pharmacy.

A week after she began the venture, Shannon Beaty nonchalantly informed him, “I’m having to reorder. I ordered some non-game-day stuff.’’ With that seemingly innocent statement, the idea of Lavish Boutique moved toward reality.


Six months after Shannon began her enterprise in July 2012, her boutique had eclipsed the over-the-counter section of the pharmacy.

“We had boutique customers complaining that they didn’t have enough space to shop. We had pharmacy customers complaining that they didn’t come to the pharmacy to have to fight the boutique crowd,” Dustin said. It was time for the boutique to find a place of its own.

So, the Beatys prayed. The florist next door to the pharmacy confided that she was considering selling her business.

“Two days later, I had a dream,” said Shannon. “I saw boutique clothing in the (floral store’s) front window. I said to Dustin, ‘This is meant to be. If it works out, this is where we are going to be.’”

In June 2013, Lavish Boutique was born, opening next door to the pharmacy. The store quickly outgrew that 1,300-square-foot space. Again, the Beatys prayed.

By the fall of 2016, the store had expanded in the same 19th Street block and now included a coffee bar. The combination boutique/coffee shop has become the anchor of the east end of the downtown Jasper business district.

On Aug. 15 of this year, the Beatys opened a second location of Lavish Boutiquein the warehouse district of Cullman. “We were at the right place, at the right time and met the right people,” said Shannon. “It was all in God’s perfect plan.”

The couple also operates an online store at

Downtown renaissance

“From Hospital Discount Drugs to Lavish Boutique and Coffee Bar, the Beatys’ businesses have lead the renaissance of Jasper’s downtown,” Paul W. Kennedy, president of the Walker Area Community Foundation, wrote earlier this year in support of the couple’s nomination as Alabama Retailers of the Year. The Beatys are the 2018 Silver Retailers of the Year in the $1 Million to $5 Million Annual Sales Category, and they are the Customers’ Choice Award winners, garnering 3,112 of 23,609 votes cast.

“When we decided to expand, Jasper had just entered the Main Street program for Alabama,” said Dustin, who served as Main Street Jasper’s president for the 2016-2017 term. The Beatys had also just returned from a family vacation out west, where multiple businesses tended to congregate in one location. Those two events proved serendipitous.

In a town hall meeting, “the Beatys heard a desire from the public that they wished Jasper had a ‘third space’; not a store, not a church, but maybe a coffee shop. Today, the Lavish Coffee Bar is one of the go-to places to meet and recharge” in our town, Kennedy said.

Customers flow back and forth between the boutique and the coffee bar through the open floor plan inspired by the Beatys’ experience visiting the western United States. The coffee shop also has its own street entrance and a concrete pad beside it with outside tables.

While that trip and the suggestion made at the town-hall meeting gave the Beatys the idea, “Main Street gave us the supporting numbers to tell us that the coffee shop would work,” Dustin said.

Mike Putman, executive director of Main Street Jasper, verified, “The reason this coffee shop is here is because of our market analysis.”

Main Street has been good for Jasper and the Beatys. “Our business has grown since Jasper became a Main Street city,” Dustin said. “The other businesses that have come to downtown have also driven traffic and shopping to this area.”

This story originally appeared in Alabama Retailer magazine.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 years ago

Co-founder of Alabama restaurants finds American dream by following his heart to Tuscaloosa

(Brandon Robbins/Alabama Retail)

For Jheovanny Gomez, the path to the American dream began by pursuing his high school sweetheart to Tuscaloosa.

In his native country of Colombia, his life choices were pursuing drug cartel members as an undercover army intelligence operative, going to college there or following his love.

Love won.


In 1999, two years after his girlfriend moved to America, Gomez followed her and started college in Alabama while working as a busboy in the same restaurant his girlfriend’s parents worked.

“That was my job to pay for school” at Shelton State Community College, he said.

While working that college job, Gomez met Wayne Grimball.

“He was my customer,” Gomez said. “He called me and said, ‘Look, I have this vision. I know there is potential to have a really good business in downtown. Do you want to be my partner?’ I didn’t hesitate. I said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Thus, began Jalapeños Mexican Grill.

“We were just two kitchen people, myself and another waiter,” said Gomez. “We started with no reputation, with just experience in waiting tables. Six months down the road, we had people lining out the door. Two years later, we decided to build our own restaurant. We built the first restaurant in 2004 in Northport.”

That is when Justin Grimball entered the business.

Like Gomez, Justin Grimball began pursuing the American dream when he was in college. While a student at the University of Alabama, Wayne’s son owned a graphic design business, working with area bands and businesses.

“I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life,” said Justin, who studied criminal justice. He uses that degree now for loss prevention and pursuit of worthless checks, some of his many duties at Jalapeños. His father brought Justin into the business when the Northport restaurant opened after Justin had graduated from college.

Today, Wayne and Justin Grimball and Gomez own Jalapeños Mexican Grills in Tuscaloosa, Northport and Cottondale. They closed the downtown Tuscaloosa location in 2007.

Gomez is in all three restaurants, every single day.

“I try to be at each restaurant during three different periods each day,” he said. The restaurants on Rose Boulevard in Northport, New Watermelon Road in Tuscaloosa and on Old Birmingham Highway in Cottondale “are close together, but they are so different,” he said. Each has its peak times and loyal customers.

Justin spends much of his time on social media, graphic design and branding for the three restaurants. He originated the mascots, Jala and Peño, to incorporate into the restaurants’ logo. Jala and Peño eventually became people-sized to appear at community and restaurant events.

Gomez said he and his co-founder leave any work associated with computers and technology to Justin.

“I’m in the office, in the restaurants, running errands or doing catering events,” said Justin, noting there’s no typical day for him.“We’ve got a good partnership.”

Like Gomez, Justin fell in love with a Colombian. He and his wife, Alexandra, have two daughters, Mariana and Lily.

Living the dream and giving back

Gomez, who learned English while waiting tables, has become ingrained in the Tuscaloosa community. He and his wife, Johana, are raising their three children – Jheovanny Jr., Josephine and Jacob – in their Alabama home.

“Jheovanny’s story about moving to the United States, following a beautiful woman, pouring his heart and soul into the American dream, starting a business and raising a family here, it has really been inspiring, not only for others who have followed a similar path, but also the people who are born and raised in Alabama and here in Tuscaloosa,” said Jim Page, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama.

Page was on his first day on the chamber job when he met Gomez. “I was drawn to him because of his personality and outgoing nature, and you could tell everybody in the restaurant felt the same way.”

Even before Gomez was an American citizen, he was the chamber’s Member of the Year. He has served on the chamber board and executive committee, leading the charge for recruitment. In 2016, he was named an Alabama Retailer of the Year. This year, he was named by SCORE, a network of volunteer business mentors, as an American Small Business Champion.

“Jheovanny sets the standard among the local business community as far as paying his civic rent, as far as being engaged and by leading by example. He is a role model for people who have been in business a lot longer than he has by the way he puts Jalapeños out there as being part of the community,” Page said.

For almost a decade, Gomez has been a board member for the Boys and Girls Club of West Alabama. This year, he is the chairman. He said being involved in the program that provides mentoring and homework support for children from age 6 to 15 “became a passion for me.”

He talks with students in the Junior Achievement League and career technical education programs in Tuscaloosa County. “They are the future of America,” Gomez said. “It is important to me, through my knowledge and experience as a business leader, to teach them and give them a little bit of knowledge about how to run a business, how to build good character.”

Small business advocate

Building up other businesses also appeals to Gomez.

Since 2014, he has been a member of the Alabama Small Business Commission, which advises governmental entities on policies that encourage new businesses and expansion of existing businesses.

“I’m glad to be a liaison between the small business community and Montgomery,” said Gomez.

“I talk to all kind of retailers around town, not only restaurants, but grocery stores and small mom and pop shops” about business licenses, taxes and “a whole variety of business issues,” he said, adding it is an honor to be trusted to convey the concerns of small business to governmental leaders.

Still growing

As for his own business, “we are still in the growing mode, building our brand,” Gomez said. Both he and Justin mentioned the possibility of a fourth Tuscaloosa-area restaurant. “Right now, though, we are good just focusing on” improving the three current restaurants and expanding the customer base, Justin added.

“We are so blessed and so grateful for this community,” said Gomez. “Everybody has embraced us. Everywhere you go in Tuscaloosa, you say ‘Jalapeños,’ and everybody knows who we are.

“Ever since we opened this business, started meeting people and making friends, this community as a whole surrounded us and supported the business and our families.”

The spicy details

Jheovanny Gomez and his partners, Wayne and Justin Grimball, own Jalapeños Mexican Grills in Tuscaloosa, Northport and Cottondale.

Founded: 2001

Number of employees: 49

Mentor: Wayne Grimball

Smart Move: Bringing Jala and Peño to life as mascots.

Learning Moment: “When we realized that we had to jump on the social media wagon. We used to think: We will never have to use it. We were wrong.”

Wisdom Shared: “Surround yourself and your business with others you like and who are in similar situations. It’s a lot easier to go through obstacles and face difficulties when you have people who can give you advice and wisdom. Chances are they have been down that road before.

This story originally appeared in the Alabama Retailer magazine of the Alabama Retail Association.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)