5 months ago

Keith Richards describes mindset starting Taziki’s — ‘I knew at that point there was no plan of failure’

Keith Richards, founder of Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe, appeared recently on Yellowhammer Podcast Network’s “Living Life on Purpose” to talk about the leap of faith it took to launch his business and many other topics, including a program created for special needs employees.

Richards described to podcast host Matt Wilson that the idea to start Taziki’s took form after a three-week trip to Greece with his wife, Amy.

At the time, Richards was working with Frank Stitt at Bottega in Birmingham, but he wanted to start his own restaurant.

So he borrowed $50,000 and relied on family to help him get the restaurant ready to open.

“I knew that at that point there was no plan of failure,” Richards told Wilson. “I could not fail. I could not stop what I was doing.”

One Friday night during only their third week in the business, that resolve got put to the test.

That was the night the dinner crowd swelled beyond what Richards expected, and he ran out of food. He recalled Amy, who worked for US Airways at the time, having to shut the restaurant down. As an apology to their customers, Amy handed out 50 signed menus that were good for a free dinner at a future date.

Richards said he got back 49 out of 50 menus, and now Taziki’s has 93 locations in 17 states.

He credits the trust he built with restaurant customers in Birmingham as essential to Taziki’s success.

“My relationship that I created with our guests at Bottega was very important,” said Richards. “The guests trusting me. Trusting me knowing while they were at Bottega they were going to get great pizza or great pasta. I was going to make sure that I saw through what Frank was serving, it was going to hit our guests in a positive way, and then I was going to make that connection. Honestly, I feel that is how we became successful.”

When Richards set out to open the second Taziki’s, Amy had become pregnant with twins. Apparently, a pattern had set in because Amy was pregnant with twins again when the third Taziki’s opened.

Even with the added responsibility at home, Richards knew he was working as he was called to do.

“A lot of its faith built,” he said. “Trust the Lord in giving us the right direction. And really being passionate about guest services.”

Another part of his business about which he is passionate is his employees.

Tazkik’s has an exceptional special needs hiring program that has grown to include 15 employees. It was born out of a chance encounter with a special needs teacher from Shelby County. Now it is one of the most valuable aspects of Taziki’s culture.

“For me, it wasn’t so much of just bringing in the student, it was almost how can I get back to that parent,” outlined Richards. “God has blessed us with four healthy children, I thought, you know what, if I could give Momma D or Daniel’s mom or Steven’s father just some time to reflect and play tennis or pray or meditate or shop without them, then I’ve kind of created two little opportunities for both. For them to be self-sufficient and work with us as our team, then the parents go do what they want to do. It gives them time away because when you look at the life expectancy now of a child with Down Syndrome, now they are living to 70 or 80 years old.”

Richards believes the program has even allowed him to look at his company in a different way.

“We cherish them, we protect them, and we love them,” he said. “To me, that was another aha moment with Taziki’s. It’s so easy for us to give back.”

“How can you have a bad day?” is a question Richards often asks himself when he sees one of his special needs employees engaged in their daily routine at work.

“We want to make sure these kids flourish,” said Richards. “I don’t do it for the feeling. I do it because it gives them an opportunity, it gives them a meaning and a purpose.”

Another opportunity he developed to help them and his restaurants is called HOPE Project. HOPE stands for Herbs Offering Personal Enrichment.

Under HOPE Project, special needs students at several Shelby County schools grow herbs that are used in Taziki’s restaurants. What started as a project in a small bed in front of one school is now the recipient of grants and includes greenhouses and numerous sites.

Richards believes he is fulfilling an inherent responsibility by partnering on these types of projects.

“It’s up to us as business leaders to empower and to hire those [special needs] students,” he concluded.

Listen to the entire episode of Living Life on Purpose to hear Keith Richards provide some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and warn of the challenges they will face. He also describes the unique ways he fought burnout while he was getting his business going. He discusses plans and expectations for growth, how technology has made a difference in their business and find out why he says, “Taziki’s is my middle name.”

For more stories of how people have lived their lives with a purpose, listen and subscribe to Living Life on Purpose with Matt Wilson on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, Spotify and Google Play. Matt’s guests include Andy Andrews, UAB head football coach Bill Clark, Congressman Gary Palmer, Scott Dawson and many others.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

Ledbetter: Alabama’s teachers are standing tall with return to classroom instruction

All of the personality traits, values and life lessons that we carry with us as adults were shaped and instilled in us by the people we encountered in childhood. For many, the strongest influences came from our schoolteachers, who opened new worlds of knowledge and taught us skills that remain with us today.

Consider for a moment the music teacher who taught you to play an instrument, the math teacher who led you to a love of numbers, the history teacher who brought to life the stories of our nation’s past, or the English teacher who inspired you to love great literature.

Teaching is one of the few professions whose impact continues to last for decades after the individual who does the job retires.

As many children across Alabama are preparing to return to school even while the coronavirus pandemic continues, teachers have never been more important or vital or deserving of our deepest appreciation.

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Returning to brick-and-mortar school instruction will, hopefully, restore a sense of normalcy to our children’s lives in these decidedly abnormal times.

A return to the classroom and even resuming the online instruction that some are adopting will also help our students maintain their education progress and continue the important social and emotional development that interaction with their peers and instructors allows.

Our English second language learners will receive the communication skills they need in order to better assimilate, and many low-income students will receive the healthy nourishment from the school lunch program that might be denied them at home.

Given the current circumstances and environment, I recognize that some of our public school employees may have a sense of trepidation about returning to school, and that is certainly understandable. Wearing a face mask to do something as simple as shopping for groceries, paying for gas or walking into a restaurant offers all of us a constant reminder that COVID-19 is a very contagious virus.

But our teachers and educators are setting their concerns aside and answering the call to duty.

I know that Gov. Kay Ivey, State Superintendent Eric Mackey and the staff of the Alabama Department of Education took great care in developing the “Roadmap to Reopening Alabama Schools,” and local school boards are being equally diligent in creating and implementing their own safety guidelines.

The importance of sanitization will be stressed more than ever before, and billions of dollars made available to Alabama through the federal CARES Act will help ensure that any resources that are needed to reopen schools safely will be readily available.

As the majority leader of the Alabama House, I can also offer assurances that the legislature stands ready to pass legislation or make appropriations that are necessary to ease the return to classroom instruction once we are in session.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an even deeper appreciation of the frontline heroes who have remained on the job and provided the most essential services throughout the crisis.

Doctors and nurses in our hospitals and health clinics; grocery store and other retail employees; law enforcement officers, emergency workers and firefighters; postal workers; sanitation workers; restaurant personnel; and those in dozens of other professions are among those who continued working even when times were their toughest.

I am proud to say that the teachers, school nurses, administrators and support personnel in Alabama’s schools also rank high upon the list of those who have stood tall, and their already invaluable service to our state is even more important to students and parents in each of our cities, towns and crossroads today.

Helen Keller, one of Alabama’s most inspirational figures, once said, “It was my teacher’s genius, her quick sympathy, her loving tact which made the first years of my education so beautiful. It was because she seized the right moment to impart knowledge that made it so pleasant and acceptable to me.”

As I close by wishing everyone a safe, happy and healthy school year, we would all do well to keep Helen Keller’s words in mind.

State Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) serves as majority leader in the Alabama House of Representatives

6 hours ago

Alabama Ag Commissioner Pate gives update on unsolicited seed packages from China, urges public to stay ‘vigilant’

MONTGOMERY — Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) Commissioner Rick Pate gave an update Monday afternoon on the spate of seed packets from China that people across Alabama have received in recent weeks despite never having ordered anything.

Pate said that after the state seed labs had performed tests on the packets they had collected from individuals across Alabama, and none of them proved to be dangerous.

“Right at 50% of them proved be some kind of weed flower … 41% were vegetables, and 9% were herbs … we found no noxious compounds, no dangerous compounds,” said Pate at the event.

However, he warned, “They might send out the first seeds that weren’t treated with anything, have a sense of security come about, and then later send something out that could be harmful.”

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The commissioner further urged members of the public to refrain from planting any unsolicited seeds and continue to report them to the Department.

“At the very least something criminal has gone on here,” stated Pate, referencing laws that prevent seeds from being moved across state lines without being inspected by the relevant agencies.

Pate said his department had collected 252 seed samples as of Monday morning.

A total of 385 individuals in all but 11 of Alabama’s 67 counties have received one of the packets, according to information relayed at the press conference. State workers will be collecting the remaining samples soon.

(AL. Dept. of Ag/Contributed)

“Because we’ve got such a good food and drug lab, because we’ve got such a good seed lab, we knew this was inside of our comfort zone,” Pate said of the decision to conduct the seed tests in-house as opposed to shipping them to the federal government.

Andy Tipton, division director of Food Safety and Ag Compliance, said that 25 states had reported similar seed packets showing up at consumers’ doorsteps. He added that the ADAI was turning over all relevant info to the FBI, who were monitoring the situation.

Pate further told Yellowhammer News that one of the prevailing theories remained that the cause was an internet seller running a scam to artificially inflate their customer numbers and create opportunities for fake reviews.

He ended his press conference saying, “We have no idea the reason for this happening, but it doesn’t mean we can stop being vigilant.”

Any Alabamian still receiving one of the packets can report it here.

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

6 hours ago

Alabama basketball star John Petty returning for senior season

University of Alabama star forward John Petty, Jr. will return for his senior season, the player announced on Monday.

The Huntsville native was a second-team All-SEC honoree this past season, after leading the Southeastern Conference in three-point percentage.

Petty was considering entering the 2020 NBA Draft, however he decided to return for a final season in Tuscaloosa after evaluating his prospects. Another college season could see Petty lock down his chance at being a first-round pick.

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Tide head coach Nate Oats released a statement on Monday afternoon celebrating Petty’s return.

“It’s great to have John back for his senior year,” Oats said. “He is certainly one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country which is extremely important to us with how we play.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal. Let’s get to work!” the coach concluded.

Follow along with the Bama men’s basketball program here.

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

7 hours ago

State of Alabama, University of Alabama System officials unveil GuideSafe app aiming to keep schools virus-free

Key figures from Alabama’s government and university systems joined to announced the new GuideSafe platform that bills itself as the key for students to safely return to college campuses amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The GuideSafe platform will help the state fulfill its promise to test every single college student before they return to campus, and the platform will provide a space for ongoing health monitoring throughout the semester.

The unveiling took place over videoconference, where State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis “Fess” St. John and other key players detailed the importance of GuideSafe to the upcoming semester.

GuideSafe was developed by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in conjunction with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and tech company MotionMobs. It will be provided to any educational institution in the state that wishes to use it.

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Governor Kay Ivey apportioned some of Alabama’s CARES Act funds for the development of GuideSafe and the universal free testing for college students.

St. John on Monday praised Ivey’s “decisive action to provide funding” for the testing initiative and other campus reopening measures.

(Click for higher resolution version that will open in new tab)

GuideSafe will be accessible via app on smartphones and tablets and via web browser on any computer. Students will be invited to join the platform in the coming weeks.

One of the key features of the GuideSafe app is that it will track the location of students via smartphone and then inform them if they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

“This new app – using Google- and Apple-led technology and created by UAB faculty, staff and MotionMobs for the people of Alabama – is a necessary tool in our effort to return to college campuses safely this fall,” said UAB President Ray Watts.

The app also allows students and faculty to report symptoms as they experience them, and get directed to a nearby testing site if necessary.

“The combination of these tools enables every participating college, university and K-12 school to engage faculty, students and staff regarding on-going monitoring of symptoms, exposure and risks of acquiring COVID-19,” said Sue Feldman, professor and director of graduate programs in health informatics at UAB.

A general factsheet on GuideSafe is available here.

Watch:

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

7 hours ago

Trump fires TVA board chair after outsourcing uproar

President Donald Trump on Monday announced that he was removing the Tennessee Valley Authority’s board chairman, Skip Thompson, an Alabamian.

Thompson, a resident of Decatur, is the president and CEO of Corporate Billing, a subsidiary of Birmingham-based National Bank of Commerce. He previously served as the president and CEO of both First American Bank in Decatur and First Commercial Bank in Huntsville, as well as serving on the board of Decatur Utilities.

Trump appointed Thompson to the TVA board in 2018. He was elected chairman of the board last year.

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The president on Monday cited TVA’s plan to outsource information technology jobs overseas as the reason for firing Thompson and one other board member. Trump warned the other board members that they would be next if the outsourcing continued. The president also called on them to replace the organization’s CEO, who Trump said was making far too much money.

The president added, “Let this serve as a warning to any federally appointed board: If you betray American workers, you will hear two words: ‘You’re fired.’”

The TVA is the electricity provider for much of North Alabama. Self-described as “a corporate agency of the United States,” it is regulated at the federal level and not under the jurisdiction of the Alabama Public Service Commission.

Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) applauded Trump’s move on Monday.

“TVA fires AMERICANS & hires cheap foreign labor,” the North Alabama congressman tweeted. “TVA executive salaries EXORBITANT. TVA=NO competition, unlike private sector execs who compete to earn profits to earn pay… WAY TO GO [President Trump]!”

RELATED: Doug Jones: ‘The TVA has lost its way’

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