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.

14 hours ago

Alabama Church Protection Act, bill to allow Bible elective classes in public schools advance in legislature


MONTGOMERY — Respective bills to extend “stand your ground” law to churches and allow the Bible to be taught as an elective social studies class in Alabama public schools each received a favorable recommendation from a legislative standing committee on Wednesday.


HB 49, by State Rep. Lynn Greer (R-Rogersville), would explicitly provide legal justification for a person to use deadly force in self-defense or in the defense of another person on church premises under certain circumstances. The House Judiciary Committee is proposing a substitute to the original filed version of HB 49 that makes it clear the legislation would function supplementally to current state “stand your ground” law instead of amending the existing statute.

This bill, nicknamed the “Alabama Church Protection Act,” has received a second reading and can now be placed on the House calendar for a third reading, debate and consideration.

Greer sponsored a similar bill with the same moniker last year that was advanced by the House Judiciary Committee before passing the full House with 40 “yes” votes, 16 “no” votes and 43 members not voting. However, the bill died in the Senate.

SB 14, by State Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence), was unanimously given a favorable recommendation by the Senate Education Policy Committee with two amendments. This bill would allow elective courses on the study of the Bible from grades 6-12 in state public schools and allow the display of artifacts, monuments, symbols and text in conjunction with these courses.

State Sen. President Del Marsh (R-Anniston) expressed his support for SB 14 back when it was prefiled.

“If students choose to study Biblical literacy as an elective in school, then there is no reason why that should not be allowed,” Marsh said in a statement. “This bill simply allows students to study artifacts, monuments, symbols, and text related to the study of the Bible.”

This is a policy supported by President Donald Trump.

“I applaud Senator Melson for sponsoring this bill and I thank President Trump for bringing this issue to national attention. I look forward to working on the passage of this bill,” Marsh added.

SB 14 has received a second reading and can now be placed on the Senate calendar for a third reading, debate and consideration.

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

5 days ago

Practicing what she teaches: UAB creative writing director Kerry Madden-Lunsford has new children’s book

(Kerry Madden-Lunsford/Contributed)

Kerry Madden-Lunsford first met Ernestine Upchurch more than a decade ago.

It was just after the 2005 release of “Gentle’s Holler,” the first of three young adult novels (the others are “Louisiana’s Song” and “Jessie’s Mountain”) that Madden-Lunsford would write set in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.

Turns out that was Upchurch’s territory, and she wanted to meet the woman who was writing about her beloved Maggie Valley and the mountains surrounding it.


“I met her at the pancake house in Maggie Valley, and she became my mountain mother,” says Madden-Lunsford, associate professor and director of the creative writing program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “She let me use her cabin to write the other two novels.”

She also told Madden-Lunsford the story that is the basis of her newest book, “Ernestine’s Milky Way,” a children’s picture book with illustrations by Emily Sutton.

“She told me about her mother asking her to take a mason jar of milk to neighbors in the other holler when she was 5,” Madden-Lunsford says. “I just thought to be 5 years old and have that kind of responsibility. I thought now that’s a story. I just started thinking about this little girl taking a journey.”

It wasn’t an easy task for the author, who in addition to her young adult novels had written a biography of Harper Lee, “Up Close: Harper Lee”; “Nothing Fancy,” a children’s book about the friendship between storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham and folk artist Charlie Lucas; and “Offsides,” a novel loosely based on her own story, growing up the daughter of a well-known football coach. (Her father, Joe Madden, coached at the University of Tennessee and Iowa State University, among other places.)

“I had been teaching picture books to my students, and I thought, how hard could it be?,” Madden-Lunsford says. “And it turns out it’s the hardest form. There are so few words. I must have written it a hundred times.”

Her agent sent the book out, and an editor at Penguin picked it up. That editor also found Sutton in York, England, an unlikely residence for an illustrator of a book about the Smoky Mountains.

“She’s terrific,” Madden-Lunsford says of her collaborator. “She contacted me and asked me to send her pictures of the mountain. I sent her about 200 pictures, and the illustrations are beautiful.”

Ernestine Upchurch died last year, but Sutton was able to send her a few of the illustrations before she passed away.

“She sent me four beautiful pictures,” Madden-Lunsford says. “Libby, Ernestine’s daughter, said she had the biggest smile on her face when she saw them.”

And while Upchurch was her mountain mother (and Libby now calls the author her “mountain sister”), Madden-Lunsford has real family in the mountain area, too. Her husband, Kiffen Madden-Lunsford, has family in both Ashville, North Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, and “Ernestine’s Milky Way” has gotten their thumbs-up.

“They’ve all been so supportive,” the author says.

In fact, her husband – who lives in Los Angeles and is a tenured teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District – is a clogger and will clog at some of her signing events. She kicked off her book tour this week at the Alabama Booksmith in Homewood. The tour continues Saturday in California, and then she’s back in Alabama for a March 23 book signing at the Homewood Public Library and an April 13 appearance at the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery.

In the meantime, Madden-Lunsford is working on two new projects – a teen novel set in Birmingham and an adult novel set in Manchester, England.

Because of their jobs, Madden-Lunsford and her husband have lived apart for a while. They travel often to see each other, and they spend summers together. They’ve also raised children Norah, Lucy and Flannery.

“We’ve done this two-state thing for about 10 years and will be doing it about four more years so it doesn’t mess up his retirement,” Madden-Lunsford says. “We’ve been married 33 years and Skype every night.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 days ago

Dothan woman wins ‘Top Chef’ competition, $135k prize

(KBC, Top Chef/Facebook)

Alabama’s Kelsey Barnard Clark has won one of America’s most prominent culinary contests.

The Dothan native and owner of KBC restaurant in the “Peanut Capital of the World” brought home the title in the season 16 finale of Bravo’s “Top Chef” that aired Thursday evening.

“It made me realize that I am stronger than I thought I was and just to keep paying it forward back to Dothan and stay true to my roots,” Clark told The Dothan Eagle of the incredible experience.

As the competition winner, Clark will receive the grand prize of $125,000, a feature in “Food & Wine” magazine and an appearance at the annual “Food & Wine Classic” culinary event held in Aspen, Colorado. Additionally, the Dothan chef won the vote for fan favorite, which comes with a $10,000 prize of its own.


Clark held a public viewing party for the show finale at her restaurant Thursday, with the downtown Dothan area reportedly “buzzing.”

For the final “Top Chef” episode this season, the chefs were asked to cook a four-course meal. Clark, whose restaurant is a Southern and French fusion café, used her Alabama roots to craft a Southern-inspired meal for the judges.

The Dothan Eagle outlined, “The first course was cornbread and buttermilk, followed by a vichyssoise (a soup) of French oysters, Chinese chives, pickled green tomato and topped with a cheese straw and caviar. She wrapped up the meal with a peach cobbler paired with honeysuckle ice cream. Only her third course, a soft-shelled crab, didn’t go over as well with judges.”

Clark’s biography on the KBC website reads as follows:

KBC’s chef and proprietor Kelsey Barnard Clark is a born and raised southerner from Dothan, Alabama. She got her start in the food industry as a mere middle schooler with a baking obsession and did her first catering gig at 16.

Kelsey left the deep south for a few years to learn from world-class chefs at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. She fine-tuned her skills working for Manhattan’s top restaurants Cafe Boulud and Dovetail before returning to her roots in Alabama to launch her business, now known as KBC. Kelsey’s passion is whole food, prepared classically and plated with big city flair.

Christy Keyton, who owns Naomi & Olive and Bird & Bean coffee house across the street from KBC in Dothan, told The Dothan Eagle that Clark’s accomplishment is really a win for the entire city.

“We’re so happy for Kelsey and we’re so happy for Dothan,” Keyton said. “It’s a big deal for Dothan, Alabama. It’s going to put us on the map. And it’s just fun. It’s just fun to have this here and be celebrating all of that.”

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

2 weeks ago

East Alabama tornado survivor: ‘I thank the Lord’ for saving me

(D. Eiland/Facebook)

One 72-year-old Beauregard woman’s faith has been strengthened in the midst of terrible tragedy.

Amid the rubble of what was her house just minutes before, Earnestine Reese thanked God for sparing her when two tornadoes tore through Lee County Sunday.

In a Facebook video, Reese, who has suffered a broken hip and will have surgery Monday morning, can be seen talking on FaceTime to her grandson who is away for college.


“I thank the Lord. You tell God ‘thank you God.’ You hear me? You hear me? Tell God thank you. Tell God thank you,” Reese told him.

Reese’s niece, Delrico Eiland, told CNN that this video is indicative of the woman’s faith.

“She’s telling [her grandson] to tell God ‘thank you’ for sparing her life,” Eiland explained. “She is a very strong woman.”


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

3 weeks ago

Record level of film activity puts Alabama in industry spotlight

(Made in Alabama/Contributed)

Building on a record-setting year for film projects in Alabama, the stage appears set for a sequel, with a string of movie productions already filming in the state or getting the cameras and crews ready for action.

Since Oct. 1, more than a dozen movie and TV productions have qualified for state incentives available to entertainment projects that hire Alabamians and spend money in the state, said Kathy Faulk with the Alabama Film Office, part of the Alabama Department of Commerce.


“From the beginning of the fiscal year, the Alabama Film Office has experienced the highest volume of filming since 2009, when the legislation was passed to offer tax incentives for film projects,” Faulk said.

She believes the high level of activity will allow the state to eclipse records set in the 2018 fiscal year, when the Film Office assisted 147 production projects that generated $63.5 million in expenditures across the state.

In Fiscal 2018, 19 production projects qualified for state incentives, up from 12 in the previous year, according to the Alabama Film Office. Slightly more than $19 million in incentives were approved for these projects, the highest annual total in state history.

“We’ve had several production companies who have returned multiple times due to the ease of moving about the state, the welcoming friendliness of locals and the experience true Southern hospitality,” Faulk said. “An executive with a large cable channel recently told us that Alabama is doing all the right things, and the industry is definitely taking notice.”

According to the Alabama Film Office, Birmingham and Mobile are the most popular destinations for filmmakers producing projects in the state, though filming has been on the rise in Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, Dothan and Fairhope.


In Fairhope, filming is under way on a movie titled “The Friend,” starring Dakota Johnson, Casey Affleck and Jason Segal. The script is based on a prize-winning Esquire magazine story by Matthew Teague, whose family resides in the Baldwin County city.

“The Friend” recounts the story of Teague (Affleck) and his wife Nicole (Johnson), who is stricken with a terminal disease, and the heartwarming support they receive from their best friend (Segal).

Other productions ready to get under way in Alabama include:

Filmmaker Spike Lee, fresh off an Oscar win this week for “BlacKkKlansman,” will act as executive producer of “Son of the South,” with principal photography set to begin in Montgomery in March. Barry Alexander Brown, a Montgomery native and longtime Lee collaborator, will direct the movie, which is based on activist Bob Zellner’s autobiography.

“Son of the South” tells the story of a man whose grandfather was a Klan member but who goes on to join the Civil Rights movement after meeting the movement’s iconic leaders and witnessing the bravery of young protestors.

The Devil All the Time,” which is expected to be released on Netflix in 2020, is being shot this spring in Birmingham, with a week of filming in Anniston, according to the Alabama Film Office. The movie is described as a gothic drama that follows a cast of colorful characters from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Stars include Tom Holland, Sebastian Stan, Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgard and Mia Wasikowska.

The thriller “Inheritance” is also shooting in Birmingham this spring. It features a dark plot involving a “secret and malignant inheritance” that threatens to destroy a family, according to an IMDb summary.

The film stars Lily Collins, Connie Nielsen and Simon Pegg.

Two other films which recently completed production – “Hell on the Border” and “Hour of Lead” — were filmed in Alabama locations that included Jasper, Tannehill Ironworks Historic State Park, Bessemer and Tuscaloosa.


Alabama’s profile in the entertainment production business has been on the upswing as the region becomes more of a go-to destination for the industry. Alabama’s incentives legislation has also played a major role in attracting productions.

“It was a natural migration and just a matter of time before Alabama was on the film industry’s radar,” Faulk said.

In recent years, popular films including “Get Out,” which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture and won one for its original screenplay, have been filmed in Alabama, as have “42” and “Selma.”

Other notable productions shot in Alabama include “October Baby” and “Woodlawn,” both produced by Birmingham’s Erwin brothers, and “USS Indianapolis,” starring Nic Cage.

“Alabama has so much to offer film and TV productions,” Faulk said. “Popular film locations have been beaches, state parks, the Space and Rocket Center, and the large number of lakes and rivers available. HGTV and National Geographic have also done a good bit of single-episode filming here.

“I think we will definitely see activity continue to grow.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

3 weeks ago

Auburn University to build world-class culinary center for students, tourism industry

(Auburn University/Contributed)

A culinary science center unlike any other is coming to Auburn University in 2021.

The university’s Board of Trustees took the final steps Feb. 15 to create the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center, a transformative complex blending a learning environment with a luxury boutique hotel and restaurant.

“The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center will be an academic learning environment equipped to launch our students into leadership roles in the culinary and hospitality industries,” said Auburn University President Steven Leath. “The campus and community will also reap the benefits of having such a dynamic destination for food, hospitality and instruction so close to home.”

The 142,000-square-foot facility will provide students interested in hospitality and culinary sciences with hands-on learning experiences in a teaching hotel and a teaching restaurant, as well as a range of classrooms and demonstration and food production laboratories.


“Our students will have unparalleled opportunities to learn best practices in the hospitality and culinary sciences within a luxury setting from the best in the industry,” said June Henton, dean of the College of Human Sciences. “The entire complex will provide guests with an immersion in hospitality that is second to none.”

Auburn University is home to Alabama’s only professionally accredited hospitality program. The new center will be a draw for students currently in top culinary programs in high schools in Alabama and across the nation.

The facility will also become a destination for alumni and new guests alike who enjoy food and beverage tourism.

“The potential impact is enormous. The Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center is going to be one of the most interesting and exciting culinary education centers in America, if not the world,” said Frank Stitt, owner and executive chef of Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham and 2018 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Restaurant.

The Alabama Tourism Department reported an estimated 26.6 million people visited the state in 2017, generating more than $14.3 billion in revenue. One of the primary motivations of tourists in visiting Alabama is the state’s prominent and growing food legacy.

The challenge for Alabama is to maintain the tourism growth while facing a shortage of appropriately qualified employees in culinary and hospitality trades.

“There is an urgent need to rethink Alabama’s current workforce development strategy,” said Martin O’Neill, head of the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management in Auburn’s College of Human Sciences. “Auburn University is responding to this challenge with new and revitalized hospitality and culinary sciences curricula and development of the Tony and Libba Rane Culinary Science Center.”

The plans for such a facility at Auburn started more than a decade ago, when Henton tasked O’Neill and Hans van der Reijden, managing director of The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center, to visit globally recognized programs and facilities to benchmark the center’s development.

O’Neill and Van der Reijden visited the best of the best from Singapore to Switzerland and all of Europe, and developed a plan to create an academic resource for Auburn students interested in culinary-focused careers.

Plans received strong support in 2017 when James W. “Jimmy” Rane and the Rane family made a $12 million commitment to the building’s construction. Rane is a 1968 Auburn alumnus, longtime member of the Board of Trustees and chairman, president and chief executive officer of Great Southern Wood Preserving. The board later approved naming the facility in honor of his parents, Tony and Libba Rane.

Gifts to the College of Human Sciences, university general funds and revenue from the hotel, restaurant, a food hall and leased living units will cover the estimated project cost of $95.4 million. The Rane Culinary Science Center will be the first revenue-generating academic building at Auburn. The university seeks to raise an additional $13 million in philanthropic support through various naming opportunities within the building.

Construction at the corner of East Thach Avenue and South College Street will begin after an April groundbreaking ceremony.

The innovative teaching environment of the center will provide an inspiring learning platform for students to plan, market, manage and evaluate a commercial hospitality operation, while at the same time providing them with cutting-edge opportunities to develop technical and leadership skills.

Standing at the intersection of campus and community, the Rane Culinary Science Center will be a gathering place for all to use and enjoy.

Teaching areas of the center include:

The Laurel

The Laurel is the luxury boutique teaching hotel, where hospitality management students will gain hands-on practical experience working in all areas of hotel operations in a luxury 32-room facility. The spa on the sixth floor and the rooftop garden are parts of the Laurel. The garden will provide vegetables and herbs for food production throughout the center. The rooftop space can house small events. The Laurel is one of the center’s many features that can be enjoyed by the Auburn community and visiting guests.


A 40-seat teaching restaurant, 1856 will feature a “Chef in Residence” program, where different nationally acclaimed chefs will provide a chef de cuisine to work hand-in-hand with culinary science instructors and students to create a restaurant of his or her own vision. The practical educational experience for junior-level students will take place during lunch service, while senior-level students will execute dinner service with instructors at their side. The restaurant will be open to the public.

Heyday Market

The 9,000-square-foot food hall will provide a number of food vendors for all to enjoy. A coffee bar will be inside the center with a small operational coffee roastery. Two vendor spaces will be food incubators, providing hospitality management and culinary science graduates the space at a minimal cost to begin and grow their own restaurants before venturing out on their own.

Wine Appreciation Center

On the second floor above 1856, the center will feature a tasting room for 50 students. The instructor will be a Master Sommelier or a Certified Wine Educator who will not only be teaching wine appreciation classes for students in the program and the campus at large, but also allow the community and hotel guests to experience such classes and tastings in the evening.

Distilled Spirits Center

Adjacent to the Wine Appreciation Center on the second floor, the Distilled Spirits Center will feature a micro distillery for the purpose of research as well as showing students the distillation process in an experiential sense. Classes will be open campus-wide and will allow an opportunity for the Auburn community and hotel guests to experience distilled spirit tasting before dinner in the Laurel.

Brewing Science Laboratory

This facility will feature a state-of-the-art, open concept, micro-teaching brewery, tasting room and microbiology laboratory to provide brewing science and hospitality management students with the hands-on education and training necessary for employment in the ever-expanding craft brewing industry. The facility will expose students to all aspects of commercial beer production, such as scientific principles and facility operation, as well as technological innovation and its influence upon production methods, quality control and the sensory profile of all beer produced.

Culinary Exhibition Lab

Up to 80 students can observe demonstrations in the lab from atrium-style seating on the second floor. The design of the lab on the lower level will include non-conventional cooking stations to expose students to various cooking techniques and innovative methods. The space lends itself to commercial cooking demonstrations, not only for Saturday culinary workshops, which are open to the public, but any night of the week for the community and hotel guests.

Food and Beverage Media Studio

Near the line in the exhibition lab, the studio will teach food and beverage photography and videography, helping to prepare future chefs, bar operators and restaurateurs to be media savvy. This media studio will be a unique resource for a hospitality management program in the United States.

Additional features of the center:

Culinary Get-Aways

A rotating roster of celebrity chefs will create weekend workshops using every aspect of the center, with guests staying at the Laurel, enjoying the rooftop gardens, eating in the Heyday Market and 1856, experiencing a cooking demonstration and taking a class in the exhibition kitchen and wine tasting in the wine appreciation center.

The Residences at the Laurel

Only six upper-level residences will be available for long-term leasing. Each 1,650-square-foot unit will have two bedrooms, three bathrooms, a full kitchen and space for entertaining. Residents will enjoy the rooftop swimming pool and bar, full-service spa and other amenities, as well as concierge services and valet parking from the hotel.

This story originally appeared on Auburn University’s website.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Chef John Hall has big plans in Birmingham

(Michael Tomberlin/Alabama NewsCenter)

John Hall could cook anywhere in the world. He’s talented enough. He’s driven enough. But seven years ago, he chose to come home to Birmingham and reclaim this food city as his own.

Like many chefs in Birmingham, Hall did a stint with Frank Stitt. His formal training included culinary school at the Johnson & Wales University Charleston, South Carolina, campus and an apprenticeship that he arranged at Luxembourg’s Lea Linster. Then Hall moved to New York for a spot on the line at Gramercy Tavern. From there, he went to Thomas Keller’s Per Se, and then worked for two years as sous-chef at Momofuku Ssäm Bar.

Hall is now the chef and co-owner of Post Office Pies in Avondale along with Mike Wilson (Saw’s Soul Kitchen) and good friend Brandon Cain (Roots & Revelry). Named for a 1950s post office location, Post Office Pies isn’t a typical pizza joint. 


As expected from a chef with Hall’s pedigree, the food here – even the humblest of pies – is extraordinary. Pizzas are made with dough that has been fermented for 12 hours before it’s topped with choices that include homemade pork sausage, Nueske’s bacon, Molinari & Sons pepperoni or roasted chicken thighs, perfectly stringy aged house-made mozzarella, pomodoro sauce, roasted garlic spread or fresh basil.

Then it is put into wood-fired brick ovens and served on butcher paper in family style. Interestingly, locally sourced salads (the seasonal Brussels sprouts salad is a crowd favorite) are served on pizza pans.

The friendliness of the staff at Post Office Pies speaks to what Hall took away from his time in New York with Danny Meyer, who is known the world over for his gracious service. The noted restaurateur’s Union Square Hospitality Group includes Gramercy Tavern.

While working in New York, Hall felt called to entrepreneurship. He started baking pizzas from midnight to 4 a.m. in his Brooklyn apartment and delivering them on bicycle. He hasn’t lost that longing for his own place. He’s planning one now, and he has some definite ideas.

“I want it to be a small space. I want to make sure that I’m behind the stove every night, at least for the first few years.”

It will be contemporary American that draws on Southern influences as well as the fine-dining experience at Gramercy Tavern, which remains one of Hall’s favorite restaurants.

“The style and the type of food that (executive chef) Mike Anthony cooks and that he taught us is very close to me,” he said. “It’s how I like to cook. I would like to do a tasting menu, maybe like a five-course, prix fixe tasting menu offered nightly by reservation.”

Being behind his own stove – “being the chef cooking your meal” – means a lot to Hall.

“You look at any restaurant these days, not only here in Birmingham but in New York, LA, anywhere … in this day and age where chefs are rock stars … it’s great, it’s cool for our industry, but also I feel it’s become a bit of a distraction,” he said.

“It creates a sort of egotistical mentality. I feel the passion is taken away a bit. … People are more concerned about the clicks on Instagram and the Twitters and how many people are following me … and that is not about the food. It’s not about the labor of love,” he said.

Hall is adamant about not being someone else’s tenant.

“I understand who I am. I understand my value. I understand my worth. Throughout going to college and the places I worked … my experience, my resume, speaks for itself. And I’m not going to go into a place to … make a financial benefit for someone else,” he said.

“There’s that social and economic disparity between African-Americans and other ethnicities here in Birmingham. It’s a huge disparity still.

“I’m going to go somewhere and I’m going to own the building and I’m going to own the concept. I’m going to … change the trajectory of a neighborhood that needs economic influence. … That’s the bigger story. That’s the bigger picture,” Hall said. “And, to be quite honest, if I can’t do that, the restaurant’s not going to happen.”

Hall is well aware of the part Post Office Pies played in revitalizing Avondale, changing the landscape of that neighborhood, and he wants to continue to make that kind of impact in Birmingham.

“It goes beyond food. Food is just my avenue. It’s what I do.” The key, he said, is to use that as a way to change viewpoints and change Birmingham and how people view African-Americans. “We’re not just barbecue or fried chicken. I can cook with the best in the country. Period. So I’m going to use … what I’ve learned to make change here.”

Hall grew up cooking alongside his mother and grandmother. He said they taught him, at an early age, to love food and to appreciate the fun of it, the personal relationship with the food. “Seeing things through,” he said. “I feel like that’s what I took from them. From the shopping to the cooking to the cleaning.  Seeing things through to fruition. That’s one of the huge benefits I got from my mom and my grandparents through cooking.”

Hall is quick to honor the people who have come before him and the contributions they have made, the impact they have had on not just Southern food but also on American food. That an African-American doing fine dining is a rarity is something that frustrates him. The fact that he’s an African-American restaurant owner shouldn’t come as a surprise either, he said.

“I really want to do my part to change that perception because of the contributions … that we’ve made. You look at Dol (Dolester Miles) who won the James Beard Award this year for best pastry chef. She’s been with Frank for how many years? How many people did not know who she was until last year? It’s insane. It’s sad. You know, she’s been there since day one, but how many people knew who she was until she won the James Beard Award?”

It’s not just individuals who should be celebrated, he said. It’s much bigger than that.

He points out that slow-cooked foods like ox tails, short ribs, pork cheeks and collards weren’t on many menus 10 years ago, and now you’ll easily find recipes for them in Food & Wine and Bon Appetit. These foods have been part of the African-American culinary experience for hundreds of years. Learning to cook these inexpensive foods, these less-desirable ingredients, was simply a fact of life for generations of African-Americans.

Now, these dishes are “front-page news and people are not getting the acknowledgement and (credit) that these food items are mainstream now,” Hall said. “That’s frustrating. I want to help change that as well.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 weeks ago

Mobile boy battling chronic illness surprised with Disney trip — ‘God prevails’


Members of the Mobile community are coming together to help a six-year-old fighting a chronic illness.

WALA reported that Christian, the young boy, was surprised Thursday when he learned he will be going to Disney World thanks to the generosity of some fellow Alabamians.

Students at St. Paul’s reportedly organized a partnership between their own school, Spring Hill College, UMS-Wright and McGill-Toolen to make the dream trip possible.

“Through the process, we’ve had all kinds of support,” the boy’s father told WALA. “This is one of the many things that we never imagined would happen. It’s very huge for us to be able to receive this kind of gift and support from caring people. It means a lot because just when you think you don’t have the answers, God prevails. It’s very huge.”


Christian’s trip is being conducted through Magic Moments, a wish-granting organization dedicated exclusively to sending Yellowhammer State children with chronic, life-threatening illnesses to Disney.

Watch WALA’s report here.

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

3 weeks ago

Alabama chefs and bar named James Beard semifinalists for 2019

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

Some familiar names in Alabama’s culinary world are semifinalists for the 2019 James Beard Awards, announced Wednesday morning by the James Beard Foundation.

Birmingham’s The Atomic Lounge for the second year in a row is a semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program, one of 20 across the country to make the cut. The Outstanding Bar Program award is for “a restaurant or bar that demonstrates exceptional care and skill in the selection, preparation and serving of cocktails, spirits and/or beer,” the foundation said in a news release.

David Bancroft of Acre in Auburn, Bill Briand of Fisher’s Upstairs in Orange Beach and Timothy Hontzas of Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood again are semifinalists this year for Best Chef: South. The South region includes Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Puerto Rico. Bancroft and Briand are semifinalists for the fourth year in a row, while Hontzas was chosen for the third straight year.


A James Beard Award for a culinary professional is akin to those in the movie industry earning an Academy Award or journalists winning a Pulitzer Prize. Being a Beard semifinalist often will propel a chef, restaurant or bar to regional fame and beyond, while capturing the prestigious award can bring national fame.

That was certainly the case for Highlands Bar & Grill pastry chef Dolester Miles, who won a Beard Award last year for Outstanding Pastry Chef and soon after was profiled in The New York Times. Highlands, which had been a finalist for a decade and already was well known on the national restaurant scene, also won a Beard Award in 2018 for Outstanding Restaurant.

The awards, established by the James Beard Foundation in 1990, “recognize culinary professionals for excellence and achievement in their fields and furthers the foundation’s mission to celebrate, nurture and honor chefs and other leaders making America’s food culture more delicious, diverse and sustainable for everyone,” the foundation said in a news release.

Nominees for the awards will be announced March 27, with winners honored at the James Beard Foundation Awards gala on Monday, May 6, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Dolester Miles enjoys sweet success after James Beard Award

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

The second morning after Dolester Miles won the 2018 James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in America, her Instagram account lit up with its first posts.

Miles, who has worked for Frank Stitt at Birmingham’s Highlands Bar & Grill since he opened in 1982, posted photo after photo of her, of her desserts, of her with her desserts, of her with Stitt, of the James Beard Award medal. Eighteen photos in all in the account’s first nine posts, all on May 9, 2018.

The publicity-shy Miles was ready to share with the world, not that she needed any validation from the Beard Award as a top pastry chef. Anyone who has eaten her beloved coconut pecan cake, peach cobbler, lemon meringue tart, or any of her desserts, had validated those skills with thousands of empty plates over more than three decades.


Miles begins her workday before sunup, baking in the kitchen at Stitt’s Bottega restaurant. She takes great joy in knowing that diners in all of Stitt’s restaurants ­– Highlands, Chez Fonfon, Bottega and Bottega Café – relish her desserts.

“Sometimes, I go in the café during lunch and I can see people eating desserts and you can see how they really enjoy it, like they almost lick the plate like ‘that’s the best thing I ever ate,’” Miles said in the 2018 short documentary film “Dol” by Ava Lowrey, filmmaker for the Southern Foodways Alliance.

For many diners, it just may be the best thing they ever ate.

Bill Addison is the national restaurant critic for the website Eater and chairman of the Beard Foundation’s restaurant-award committee. Last May after Miles’ Beard win, he raved about her peach cobbler to The New York Times.

“You don’t understand,” he said. “It’s the best peach cobbler I’ve ever had. All of her cobblers are great, but the peach is the one that makes my soul burst into four-part harmony.”

The sweet harmonies Miles’ pastries invoke have their beginnings in Bessemer, where she was raised. When she was growing up, she and her mother and aunt would gather on Sundays to bake cakes.

“And I used to get in the kitchen with them, like, ‘hey, let me get in on this, let me lick the spatula,’” Miles said in “Dol” and laughed.

She joined Stitt even before Highlands – itself a Beard Award winner in 2018 for Outstanding Restaurant in America – opened its doors. Miles and her sister Diane helped clean the restaurant and pitched in on sewing the first set of curtains in Highlands’ front windows all those years ago. Miles’ first job had nothing to do with pastries. She made salads and hors d’oeuvres.

Because of her interest in baking, though, she talked Stitt into letting her prepare a dessert for Highlands. Thus began her career as Stitt’s pastry chef.

“Dol combines traditional Southern ingredients with the professionalism of a French pastry chef, and she does all of that with a big pinch of love,” Stitt told Alabama NewsCenter in 2016.

That big pinch of love, along with her considerable skills, has Miles at the top of her profession.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Southern National serves ‘globally inspired Southern food’ in Mobile

(Bruce Nix / Alabama NewsCenter)

Restaurateurs and friends Reginald “Reggie” Washington and Duane Nutter opened Southern National in 2017, serving “globally inspired Southern food” in the historic Wilkins-Higgins Building in Mobile’s lively arts district.

The buzz leading up to the opening was big; the response after they opened was even bigger. After only about four months in business, the restaurant was named a semifinalist for Outstanding New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation.


Before realizing their own dream of ownership with Southern National, the two men collaborated on One Flew South, a fine-dining restaurant in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where they made Concourse E its own destination. They chose Mobile for Southern National in part because there was a need for fine dining in the city and because Washington’s Mobile family roots go back some 90 years.

At Southern National, 6-foot-6-inch Chef Nutter operates at his strategically placed plating station that is part of the dining room and therefore an entertaining mix of form and function. He specializes in taking what’s familiar – ingredients that have been part of the South’s food vernacular for generations – and changing them up with unfamiliar twists.

One of the restaurant’s signature dishes combines mussels with collard greens in a way that makes perfect, delicious sense.

“It seemed like a no-brainer to me,” Nutter said. “Collard greens, mustard greens and turnip greens … come natural with their own potlikker. …. Mussels make their own unique potlikker, too. I said, ‘This would be really good if I could get some of this mussel juice … mixed in with the collard greens.’ So that’s how it happened.”

He pays homage to cooks who came before him as well as to the ingredients they used – ingredients that are grown and produced at home and around the world. Turns out, there’s not that much difference between potted meat and pate. “You’ll find that different cultures are all cooking the same things,” Nutter said. “So it’s the same thing, different name. People (say), ‘This is what my grandma used to make.’ And we say, ‘Yes. We’re all one people. Just cooking the same stuff different ways.’”

The men divide back-of-the-house and front-of-the-house duties at Southern National, with Nutter creating the innovative dishes and Washington using his hospitality and operational skills to make diners feel at home. “Reggie keeps me in line,” Nutter said, “and makes sure I don’t get too chefie.”

Nutter began his culinary career in 1994 studying under chef Daryl Evans at the Four Seasons Hotel in Atlanta. He went on to work at the Ritz Carlton in Palm Beach, Florida, and the Seelbach Hilton’s Oakroom in Louisville, Kentucky – one of only 48 AAA Five-Diamond restaurants in the world. He was invited to compete on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America,” he cooked at the James Beard House in New York and was executive chef at One Flew South for nearly a decade.

Washington honed his hospitality skills at One Flew South as well as at Atlanta’s Marriott Marquis and the Hyatt Regency. He was executive chef to former Alabama Gov. Fob James. Washington combined his passion for Southern hospitality and cuisine at the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, where he worked as executive chef at Club Magnolia.

The James Beard nomination is humbling for both Washington and Nutter.

“We’ll see what happens now,” Washington said. “We’ll get more business. People will read about this and hear about it and want to see what we’re all about. We’re going to stay humble and just keep on cooking. Salt and pepper.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 weeks ago

Alabama documentary up for an Oscar this weekend

(Copyright IDIOM Film, Courtesy RaMell Ross & Cinema Guild)

Nearly 80 years after Walker Evans and James Agee shined a light on life in Hale County, Alabama, Greensboro and its environs are taking center stage again, this time in RaMell Ross’ Oscar-nominated documentary film, “Hale County This Morning, This Evening.”

“Hale County This Morning, This Evening” follows Daniel Collins and Quincy Bryant, and their families, for five years. The documentary is done in an experimental, non-narrative style. Ross says it’s more about watching and being than listening and concluding. “It’s trying to show what it’s like to be a young black man in the historic South,” he said. What you’ll see then is a whole lot of hanging out and large swaths of everyday life. Ross’ unique mix of content plus form has been heralded as revolutionary and got attention early on from grant-funders and tony arts organizations like the Sundance Institute and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.


“The reason why I didn’t make the film an installation or an art piece, why I turned it into a documentary, is because of the amount of people you can reach,” he said. “The film is an experience. It’s supposed to be participated in. I wasn’t interested in telling you anything. I wasn’t interested in making anything clear but allowing you to sort of fill in the gaps and to feel and to witness as much as possible.”

Ross grew up a military brat and considers Virginia to be “home.” He ended up in Alabama after applying to teach a photo course via the Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization(HERO). After completing two weeks of teaching, he fell in love with the community and made the move to Hale County. Since arriving in 2009, Ross helped build Pie Lab and managed the HERO youth program. He also picked up a video camera and started filming.

“Hale County,” the finished documentary, bears little resemblance to Ross’ original intention. “It started off as a small project and has snowballed into what it is now,” he said. The film has struck a chord with audiences and reviewers alike. The New York Times named “Hale County This Morning, This Evening” one of the Best Films of 2018, calling it “pure cinematic poetry.” The Los Angeles Times called it “an experience that is simple, complex and revelatory,” and The Village Voice raved, “It’s not every day that you witness a new cinematic language being born. …”And then there are the awards: Sundance Film Festival “Special Jury Prize Documentary,” Cinema Eye Honors “Outstanding Non-Fiction Feature Award,” Gotham Awards “Best Documentary” and, of course, the Academy Awards nomination for “Best Documentary Feature.”

With news of the Oscar nod came a peppering of congrats and well-wishes on his Facebook page. But Ross, who remains as grounded as his subject matter, responded with a humble, “I mean, the stars have aligned on this one 🙂 thanks ya’ll.”

Despite all the accolades, which include having Danny Glover on board as the documentary’s executive producer, Ross is not planning to “go Hollywood” anytime soon. He now owns land and a trailer and plans to keep roots in Greensboro, while also teaching at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “I have a lot of projects in the works,” he said. “I’m committed to the area.”

“Hale County This Morning, This Evening” is showing in select theaters. It is available on iTunes and can be streamed on the PBS website.

The 2019 Academy Awards broadcasts on Sunday, Feb. 24.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

1 month ago

Legally blind Huntsville high school wrestler wins state championship


This weekend, Jay Spencer became the first wrestler in his school’s history to win a state title. And even more impressively, he did so while being legally blind.

“[D]on’t let what anyone thinks about you change how you think,” Spencer told WZDX. “As long as you believe you can do something, then you can.”

Spencer, a senior at St. John Paul II in Huntsville, is wise beyond his years. However, the inspiration he is providing people comes from more than his words alone.


A multi-year starter as the football team’s center, Spencer has constantly lived out his own words after being diagnosed with an inherited retinal degenerative disease when he was only three years old. The state title is just the crowning achievement on a high school athletics career that anyone would be proud of.

“He’s probably the hardest working wrestler I’ve coached in 25 years,” St. John Paul II coach Duke Labasi told WZDX. “He puts in work on the mat, in practice, on his own personal time – his work ethic is really incomparable.”

The coach added, “Jay has never let any type of impairment that it may seem he has affect him on the mat.”


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

1 month ago

Watch: Alexander Shunnarah helps with Alabama ‘promposal’

Billboards. Television commercials. Print ads. Everyone in Alabama knows Alexander Shunnarah.

In fact, the Birmingham-based trial lawyer has become a true celebrity figure in the Yellowhammer State, with his ubiquitous advertisements driving his name identification sky-high.

While he has poked fun at his own billboard empire before, the advertisements appear to be paying off through not just clients, but fans. The latest example of this was posted on the eve of Valentine’s Day, with the gregarious Shunnarah playing a starring role in a Birmingham-area high school student’s “promposal.”



For all those at home wondering, she said “yes.”

(Christy Burnett Ingram/Facebook)

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

1 month ago

Alabama named most financially friendly state for seniors

(Pixabay, YHN)

A new report has named Alabama as the most financially friendly state for senior citizens.

Research released this week by Stannah revealed, “The main reason senior citizens would move to a new city, state or country is to save money and improve finances.”

In this important metric, the Yellowhammer State is king. For people over the age of 55, Stannah called Alabama “the most financially-friendly state in the US.”

The state’s low property and sales taxes, exemptions on Social Security, affordable assisted living care and high purchasing power were cited as key factors in the ranking.


Stannah, which manufactures and installs stairlifts, took a survey of over 2,000 seniors. The data showed that 57 percent would move to take advantage of cheaper house prices, 48 percent would move to benefit from lower taxes and 37 percent would move to a destination where the cost of living was more affordable.

Overall, Alabama was ranked the third most senior-friendly state in the country. Florida topped the list, followed by New York.

In non-financial subcategories, Alabama’s air quality and water quality were each ranked as the nation’s second best.

Other factors motivating seniors to move included improved weather conditions, low crime rates and having senior centers and programs in the community.

Although moving to a different city or state has clear benefits, many respondents were also keen to stay put. Thirty-five percent of seniors surveyed said they would prefer to make modifications to their current home – to make it more “senior-friendly” – than relocate.

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

1 month ago

Baldwin County veteran’s Bible survives devastating fire, brings firefighter to tears

(FOX10 News - WALA/YouTube)

The story of one Gulf Coast Alabamian is being hailed as a “miracle” and “sign from God.”

As reported in the past few days by Fox News and WALA, Scot Byrd was faced with a devastating tragedy when his Baldwin County home was destroyed in a Christmas tree fire last month.

Byrd, a veteran and father of four, had lived in the home for 20 years. However, out of the tragedy, tears of a different sort were born when a firefighter discovered that the Bible passed down to Byrd by his grandfather had survived.

“The fireman actually came out [of the home] with tears in his eyes and he said, ‘[Y]ou’re not going to believe this, you’ve gotta come see it for yourself,'” Byrd told WALA. “This Bible did not have one scorch mark on it.”


The firefighter explained that it was as if someone had placed the Bible on top of all the ashes and rubble.

Annette Byrd, Scot’s sister, told Fox News the “Good Book” was somehow untouched by the flames and the water from the firefighters.

“The Bible was there. I could’ve taken it to church and kept up with the preacher,” she advised.

For Byrd, the Bible – which features a cross and the verse John 3:16 etched on the cover – was the latest sign that God was working in their lives.

His seven-year-old daughter, Shelby, is his “miracle baby.” She was diagnosed with leukemia at age two. At the time, doctors told them she had no hope after she went into a coma, however she woke up and now is in remission.

Since the fire, several community organizations and businesses have donated clothes, school supplies and beds for Byrd and his daughters.

“We don’t give up,” Byrd told WALA. “We’ve had an outpouring from the community, if I went to name everyone [who’s helped] by name I would be here for two hours.”

He and his family are reportedly living at a temporary home in Gulf Shores until their home can be rebuilt in Bon Secour. The community has taken care of the family’s material needs, Byrd explained, but any financial help is appreciated given the cost of Shelby’s medical bills and the cost of replacing their home.

Donations are being accepted on Facebook.

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

1 month ago

‘Sweet Home’: Alabama named most polite state in the U.S.


Alabama has beaten Oklahoma once again, this time vaulting over the Sooner State to be named the most polite state in America.

Last year, FreshBooks ranked Alabama second behind Oklahoma in its annual “politeness index.” In results released Monday, the company announced its 2019 edition, which saw the Yellowhammer State surge to the top spot.

The data scientists at FreshBooks, which is known for its small business accounting software that manages billing, analyzed thousands of small business invoices nationwide searching for the words “please and “thank you” to determine which state takes the mantle of politest state this time around.

Alabama supplanting Oklahoma came as a huge upset, as the Sooner State held a more than 20 percentage point lead in 2018.

The 2019 FreshBooks politeness index as follows:


Alabama – 24%
Ohio – 22%
Vermont – 21%
Oklahoma – 20%
Arkansas – 18%
Kansas – 18%
Nevada – 16%
Wisconsin – 16%
Massachusetts – 16%
Texas – 15%
Wyoming – 15%
Missouri – 15%
Iowa – 15%
Rhode Island – 14%
Michigan – 14%
Kentucky – 14%
North Carolina – 14%
Maryland – 13%
Connecticut – 13%
Washington – 13%
New Mexico – 12%
Georgia – 12%
Minnesota – 11%
Colorado – 11%
Florida – 11
Oregon – 11%
California – 11%
South Carolina – 10%
Virginia – 10%
Alaska – 10%
Louisiana – 10%
Nebraska – 10%
Indiana – 10%
New Jersey – 9%
North Dakota – 9%
Arizona – 9%
Hawaii – 9%
Illinois – 9%
South Dakota – 8%
Pennsylvania – 8%
Maine – 8%
Idaho – 8%
West Virginia – 8%
Montana – 7%
New Hampshire – 7%
Utah – 7%
New York – 7%
Mississippi – 6%
Delaware – 5%
Tennessee – 4%

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

1 month ago

Cleon Jones is an Alabama Bright Light going to bat for Africatown

(Alabama News Center)

The memorabilia collection is one clue that Cleon Jones is a pretty famous fellow.

He played in Major League Baseball as a left fielder with the New York Mets for 13 years. In 1969, he caught the final out of the Miracle Mets’ World Series championship over the Baltimore Orioles.

In other words, Jones has every reason to stay in New York and live the glamorous life of a former major-league star. However, Jones elected to come back to his hometown of Africatown in Alabama and pay it forward by helping the community.


“My family and I have always wanted to give back to Africatown. I have always been conscious of the fact that there are still kids in my community who need help,” Jones said. “Then, when I retired, I wanted to come back to Africatown.”

Africatown is a historic community 3 miles north of downtown Mobile. Thirty-two West Africans, who in 1860 were included in the last known illegal shipment of slaves to the United States, formed the settlement that exists to this day.

“We are in the process of building a museum and welcome center for Africatown, and it would display the story of the Clotilda and the slaves that were brought here,” Jones said.

Jones works on building much-needed houses, restoring dilapidated ones, helping the elderly, sheltering the homeless and feeding the poor in the area.

“With all of these things we are working on, it takes more than just me or my family. It takes an entire community to make these things happen. We are working hard as a community to make sure that in a year we are no longer a food desert,” Jones said.

In addition to working with food programs and youth camps, Jones is involved with the Mobile County Training School, which has been in Africatown since 1880.

“During the years I was playing baseball in New York, I would come back here to be around family and to share my success with the community. My main goal now is to let people know that what happened to Cleon Jones can happen to anybody from Africatown,” he said.

Staying in New York might have been easier than doing all this service work in Africatown, but what Jones has accomplished speaks to the kind of man who would do the necessary, as opposed to the easy.

Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at

(Courtesy of Alabama News Center)

1 month ago

Alabama native advances on hit television competition ‘Top Chef’

(Kelsey Barnard Clark / Facebook)

Alabama foodies and ‘Top Chef‘ fans can celebrate one of their own advancing to the final six on Bravo’s hit television series. Dothan native Kelsey Barnard Clark continues to impress celebrity judges and fellow contestants on the show’s 16th season set in Louisville, KY.

Clark is the chef and proprietor of KBC — a local Southern-French fusion restaurant, bakery and catering establishment. The eatery promotes “comfortable Southern cuisine” with a focus on whole food, prepared classically and plated with “big-city flair.”


In an interview with the Dothan Eagle, Clark explained her strategy to stay true to her cooking style during the grueling competition, a commitment that paid off during a solo challenge win in episode eight.

“The only game plan I had going into ‘Top Chef’ in general was I’m going to cook my food and I’m going to be myself,” Clark said. “If I win, I’m going to win with what I do. I’m not going to try and be some frou-frou person that I’m not. I’m not going to try and do pasta because I don’t make pasta − I’m not going to do that just to impress them. I’m just going to do what I do.”

Clark’s start in the food industry began in middle school with a baking obsession. She had her first catering gig at 16 and, at the age of 20, moved to New York to learn from world-class chefs at the Culinary Institute of America.

Clark’s resume includes working in Manhattan’s top restaurants Cafe Boulud and Dovetail before coming home to Dothan. She launched her business in 2008.

In last week’s episode, Clark competed against remaining contestants in a challenge set at University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena for future Hall of Fame head basketball coach John Calipari and a crowd of several thousand fans.

The next episode will air on Bravo Thursday, February 14 at 7 p.m. and will feature undefeated boxing world-champion Laila Ali. Clark is hosting a Top Chef Valentine’s dinner and viewing party at KBC to celebrate. Tickets are available online.

1 month ago

Alabama author pens ‘The Remarkable Housewives of the Bible’ series

(Contributed/Erin Brown Hollis)

Alabama author Erin Brown Hollis has written a book she hopes will engage women spiritually and provide the same sort of outlet many seek through reality television.

Hollis recently published The Remarkable Housewives of the Bible which she says is the first of a three-part series.


In an interview with Yellowhammer News Hollis said she became inspired to write the book after realizing she would occasionally watch reality television shows as an escape from the realities of her own life.

According to Hollis, she asked herself, “‘Why can’t we have something that fills the void we have but instead be pouring into ourselves spiritually?’”

That’s when she knew women in the Bible provided the answer.

“If you read the Bible it gives you actual relevant stuff that you can take to improve your own life day-to-day,” she pointed out.

That applicability, along with the color and flavor of the stories, brought her to the idea.

“Sometimes we look at Biblical characters as so out of touch because they lived thousands of years ago, and they wouldn’t have a clue what we were doing now,” said Hollis. “But when you really dig into their stories, they are more relevant than the housewives of Bravo could ever be. And their stories are actually more drama-ridden and soap opera-esque than anything you are going to find on TV.”

The format of the series is simple.

Each book contains the stories of five women who had a significant role in the Bible, with the women telling their story in first person or as Hollis envisions they would.

Hollis then recounts that story and acts as, what she calls, “a hostess of a girls’ night out” attempting to engage the reader on the story they just read.

Three lessons are built into the women’s individual stories, and a Bible study component is included in the back of the book for individual or small group study.

As for Hollis’ own personal favorite woman in the Bible, she says that it is “a tossup” between two.

“Hannah, she trusts and she teaches us that if we pray, we are heard, and that God will answer us,” she elaborated. “And then I love Ruth because — well my grandmother’s name was Ruth so I think I have a little leaning there — but I love how loyal she is to a fault, and that she gave up her own selfish desires for others. I think that’s such a challenge to us today to do the same.”

Hollis said that one of her goals is to allow the reader to know they are on a journey together.

“If you can captivate an audience and make them feel as if you are sitting on the couch and talking with them and not talking at them, that is so key for my writing style,” she said. “I never want the reader to feel like I know more than them. I’m the writer that says, ‘Hey, I’m right there with you. We’re on a team. We’re together. I’m just opening this conversation for us to chat.”

As a lawyer with a journalism degree from Samford University, writing has always been part of her life.

She recalled editing the newspaper with her grandmother, an English teacher, as “my idea of fun on the weekends.”

It was not until after she had children that Hollis began writing professionally.

“I realized that I really wanted to leave a legacy for my girls because if I was going to teach them to chase their dreams then I needed to show them how,” said Hollis. “So I just started writing.”

And choosing women as her audience for her first few books was an easy decision.

“I can only write from my personal experience,” she said. “I was discovering that I would go to lunch with friends or Bible study or just out at night, and I found that we were talking about the same things. And I was discovering recurring issues coming up in all of my friends’ lives, whether that would be in parenting or in marriage or in day-to-day not feeling up to the challenge, and I thought that these are areas where women really need to feel heard. They need to feel like there’s a place to find something.”

So Hollis will continue to write to address that need.

“We can scroll social media all day long and 55 people will give you a Chinese proverb and inspirational quote but at the end of the day that’s going to kind of leave you looking for more,” she added.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News.

2 months ago

Two Alabama ministries team up to help each other

(Contributed/Kings Home)

Two long-standing Alabama ministries recently found a way to help each other in a unique way.

The Jimmie Hale Mission handed over its thrift ministry to King’s Home, creating for King’s Home a much-needed source of donations, according to a release from the group.


Tony Cooper, executive director of The Jimmie Hale Mission, sees the transition as a timely move for his ministry.

“This opportunity came at a time when the leadership of The Jimmie Hale Mission felt the Lord leading our ministry in a different direction,” he said. “We are excited to be handing over our three thrift stores into the care of King’s Home.”

For King’s Home, the store locations in Eastwood, Pinson and Hanceville will fill a void created by the ending of its 30-year partnership with America’s Thrift Stores in 2017.

“Losing $750,000 in funding was a heartbreaking disappointment, especially for our residents who need help the most, but God has blessed us with this opportunity to begin recouping some of this lost revenue,” said Lew Burdette, president of King’s Home. “The public needs [to] know that now 100% of their donations go to King’s Home because in the past the America’s Thrift Stores kept a large majority of the profits.”

King’s Home is a ministry serving youth, women, mothers and children who face difficult circumstances such as domestic violence, abuse and neglect. It was formed when King’s Ranch and Hannah Homes combined their work in 1998 and became King’s Home in 2010.

King’s Home operates twenty-two residential group homes and has six campuses in four Alabama counties.

This year, The Jimmie Hale Mission is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its founding, with Cooper having served as its executive director since 1990.

Following its slogan “Our Product is Changed Lives!” The Jimmie Hale Mission seeks to care for the community and share the gospel through its men’s shelter, women and children’s shelter, after-school Bible clubs, learning centers and recovery programs.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News.

2 months ago

Emmy award-winning chef, Ivey inaugural co-chair among headliners for Alabama Women’s Summit

(Lean On: Alabama/Facebook)

Lean On: Alabama is set to host its inaugural Alabama Women’s Summit on Friday, with a star-studded lineup of featured speakers on the agenda.

The summit, to be held at the Bryant Conference Center in Tuscaloosa, will focus on the organization’s core values of wisdom, hope, faith and friendship through not only inspirational speakers, but workshops and interpersonal engagement, too.

Lean On: Alabama is inviting women from across the state for the day crafted around how they can better work together for themselves, their organizations, their communities and the Yellowhammer State as a whole.

“I could not be more excited about the Lean On: Alabama Women’s Summit, because it is going to be an opportunity for women from across the state to come together for a day filled with wisdom, hope, faith, and friendship,” Dr. Mary Lee Caldwell, president and co-founder of the organization, said in a statement. “I believe the most powerful resource we have is the relationships that we form, and throughout the day we are going to encouraging women to connect, to collaborate, and to invest in one another.”


The summit will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and will include lunch and a snack. Tickets for the event are $50 for an all-day pass, with student tickets available for $40.

Over the course of the day, Dr. Cathy Randall will speak on wisdom, Kimberly Caudle Lewis on hope, Kim King on sharing her faith and Caldwell on friendship.

Randall served as co-chair of Governor Kay Ivey’s inaugural committee. She was recently featured on Yellowhammer Multimedia’s 2018 Power & Influence List, as well as being honored as a Yellowhammer Woman of Impact last spring.

Lewis is the CEO of PROJECTXYZ and the current chair of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.

King served as an attorney and executive in the law department of Exxon Mobil Corporation for over thirty years prior to leaving to pursue speaking and writing. She currently works with several nonprofit and faith-based initiatives across the nation and is the author of “When Women Give: The Adventure of a Generous Life.”

In addition to the exciting speakers throughout the day, chef Carla Hall, the former co-host of ABC’s Emmy award-winning “The Chew,” will deliver the closing keynote at 5:30 p.m. Friday. For those unable to attend the entire summit, reserved seating tickets for the keynote address are $10 for the general public and $5 for students.

Thanks to generous sponsors, including Mercedes-Benz, Protective Life, Regions Bank and the University of Alabama Panhellenic Association, general admission seating to just Hall’s speech is available for free. General admission will be first come, first served.

Lean On: Alabama is a non-partisan, non-profit organization seeking to bring together women of all ages through a statewide platform meant to promote both personal and community development.

Event organizers request that everyone register for the event ahead of time, including general admission seating seekers. You can register here.

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

2 months ago

‘I saw God at work today’: Madison County Commission chair saves man’s life

(WZDX News/YouTube)

Not all heroes wear capes. And few take credit for their actions. Just count Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong as the latest example of this.

On Saturday, Strong shared his account of saving a man’s life earlier in the day.

The Republican from the Huntsville area detailed a dramatic turn of events that sprung from something almost every Alabamian can relate to: driving along I-65.

However, what happened on the return leg of his trip led Strong, also a longtime EMT and volunteer firefighter, to conclude, “I saw God at work today in so many ways at mile marker 306 on Interstate 65.”

What happened, in Strong’s own words, as follows:


Traveling I-65 North today returning from a funeral in Birmingham….I saw a vehicle off the side of the road on I-65 South that just did not look right. No one had stopped and it appeared from a distance no one was in the vehicle. Something just told me to exit, go back, and check things out. I quickly realized the vehicle had flipped and landed back on its wheels in a ditch. The wreck had just occurred and gas was pouring out of the vehicle. Another step or two and I could see an unconscious man in the front seat.

Called 911 to get help rolling while getting my trauma bag. As I opened the drivers door… I reached to check for a pulse. The guy had no pulse and was not breathing. By this time (one) man stopped to help me get him out of the vehicle. Started CPR …within minutes I saw Cullman Emergency Medical Services pulling up. Defibrillated the patient, applied Lucas, started IV, pushed cardiac drugs and boom his heart starts beating, regains his color and we have a pulse. He went back into cardiac arrest and was converted again regaining pulse and a good heart rate.

Thankful to the guy that stopped to help me get this 6’3 guy out so we could attempt to save his life… and Cullman EMS for responding so quickly.

As I pulled into my driveway at home still trying to digest what all had occurred this afternoon I got word that he is still alive.

I can not believe it! I saw God at work today in so many ways at mile marker 306 on Interstate 65.
Joshua 1:9

Joshua 1:9 reads, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

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

2 months ago

Alabama Maker Leldon Maxcy shows us the art in wood

(Contributed/J. Allen)

To the average person, Leldon Maxcy‘s basement in Cullman is home to a ton of wood.

To the untrained eye, stacks of wood may not be exciting, at first. But to those with an artist’s eye, like Maxcy, the room holds a world of possibility.

With the whir of his scroll saw, the billow of smoke from the laser cutter and the humming of the saw, production begins and artistic originals take shape.


Maxcy is an Alabama Maker who quit his full-time managerial job to pursue his passion of creating art with wood. His passion – or gamble, to some – has paid off royally.

He began creating artisanal items at only 13, when he purchased a scroll saw, and his passion – now his life’s work – was born.

Perhaps not the object of most teens’ fancies, Maxcy’s drive was undeniable. He began to create original “wood” works of art.

Now, Maxcy combines his original ideas with updated computer technology, allowing him to mass produce and create designs in short time frames.

Whether he crafts a wood figurine such as an angel or uses the laser cutter to produce custom-made wood notebooks engraved with the Birmingham cityscape, you begin to understand Maxcy’s basement is his office and his muse – a playground for the creator.

Maxcy’s work can be found in stores, or meet the Alabama Maker and see his artwork at festivals that he frequents. Either way, you will discover Maxcy’s passion for his craft.

Leldon Maxcy

The Product: Notebooks, angel ornaments, cutting boards, door signs, bottle openers, pictures and other custom-designed wood items.

Take Home: Custom-made, wood notebooks to hold composition notebooks.

Visit his website, or look for custom-made items on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)