Tourism Tuesdays September 22, 2015

  • MEMO From: Lee Sentell
  • Alabama Barbecue Battle: Meet the winners
  • Three long-time tourism leaders inducted into North Alabama’s Tourism Hall of Fame
  • GulfQuest National Maritime Museum prepares for Grand Opening Saturday
  • NASA scientist in Huntsville gets a huge surprise on ‘Good Morning America’
  • Need to get around downtown? Segways now available to rent in Huntsville
  • Wing Ding 37 brings $3 million in economic impact, 9,000+ attendees
  • Davidson Tech CEO donates $1 million toward new Cook science museum
  • Putting music history to words
  • Help an Alabama cookie maker win a Super Bowl commercial
  • British Airways publishes article highlighting Birmingham 
  • Eleven of the best barbecue restaurants in the Southeast
  • Baumhower’s to open new restaurant at Wind Creek Casino
  • Michael Gunn promoted at Birmingham CVB
  • Alabama artists and craftspeople
  • Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events


MEMO From: Lee Sentell

It has been a long nine months as the Legislators struggled to craft an operating budget for state government. During this period, we heard everything from zeroing out Tourism’s entire budget and throwing our lodgings taxes into the black hole of the state deficit to a 5 percent cut to a 15 percent cut. We ended up with an 8 percent cut, but the percentage is not what counts. Keep reading.

Gov. Robert Bentley signed the 2016 General Fund budget yesterday during a lunch with the Cabinet members. It totals $1.7 billion to fund most agencies, including $15.8 million to operate the Alabama Tourism Department.

OUR REDUCTION:  Remember that 3 of the state’s 4 percent hotel lodgings tax ALWAYS goes to the General Fund. As you know, we are funded by a 1 percent lodgings tax that should generate approximately $17 million. We are directed to transfer $1.4 million to the General Fund to help operate those huge agencies with insufficient revenue sources of their own (Prisons, Medicaid).  This leaves the tourism department with approximately $600,000 less than the previous year.  We are not complaining.  Gov. Bentley has been very supportive of our agency, as have the Senators and House Members.

RELATED AGENCIES:  The General Fund budget also provides three line items for agencies closely associated with our industry. This includes $283,500 to the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, $236,250 for the Alabama Bass Trail and $141,750 for the Scenic River Trail. These amounts are approximately 5.5 percent less than during the previous year.  These funds will be processed through the tourism department, but they don’t count against the department’s budget. All of us are waiting to hear from State Parks Director Greg Lein as to how next year’s budget cuts will impact their operations.

GRANT PROGRAM:   Last year we had a product development grant program and a matching grant program that totaled $3 million. We will decide in the next week what we can afford going forward.  Watch the Tourism Tuesdays Newsletter for details.  About 10 percent of our 2015 grant applications are still in the Governor’s Office to be reviewed.  Now that the General Fund has been signed, the staff has time to review them.  If yours is one of them, stay tuned.  You will hear from me shortly.


Alabama Barbecue Battle: Meet the winners
By Bob Carlton,, Sept. 21

The winners of the Alabama Tourism Department’s Alabama Barbecue Battle were recognized today at a trophy presentation at Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham.

The tourism department sponsored the online contest during the month of August, and more than 1 million votes were cast to select the winners in five categories.

To see photos of all of the winners, click on the slideshow at the top of this story.

Here are the respective winners in each of the five categories:

—> Legends                         

Winner: Lannie’s Bar-B-Q Spot, 2115 Minter Ave., Selma. 334-874-4478.

Runner-up: Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, Decatur.

—> Multi-Locations

Winner: Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, which has 14 locations throughout

Runner-up: LawLer’s Barbecue.

—> Mom ‘N Pops

Winner: Rusty’s Bar-B-Q, 7484 Parkway Drive, Leeds.

Runner-up: Johnny’s Bar-B-Q, Cullman.

—> Rookies

Winner: Saw’s BBQ, 1008 Oxmoor Road, Homewood.

Runner-up: 306 Barbecue, Athens.

—> Dives

Winner: Charlie’s BBQ, 13690 U.S. 411, Odenville. 205-629-2998.

Runner-up: Top Hat Barbecue, Blount Springs.

The Alabama Barbecue Battle was part of the tourism department’s Year of Alabama Barbecue campaign.

For more about the Year of Alabama Barbecue, go here.

To read this article online, go to:

Three long-time tourism leaders inducted into North Alabama’s Tourism Hall of Fame

Mrs. Judy Ryals (Huntsville/Madison County CVB), Elaine Fuller (Cullman County Museum) and Susann Hamlin (Colbert County TCB) will be inducted into the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association’s North Alabama Tourism Hall of Fame. The North Alabama Tourism Hall of Fame is among 12 awards that comprise the PEAK Awards that will be presented on Wednesday, September 16, 2015, during the AMLA Annual Meeting at Stone Bridge Farms in Cullman, Ala.

Representing the highest achievement in North Alabama tourism, the PEAK Awards honor individuals and organizations that have had a major impact on tourism in North Alabama. The concept of the North Alabama Tourism Hall of Fame is to recognize and honor those who have been long supporters of the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association and who have made significant contributions to the tourism and travel industry over time.

Judy Ryals, President/CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau, joined the Bureau in 1978 and is the longest serving director of a tourism agency in the State of Alabama. She has been appointed by six governors to serve on the Advisory Board of the Alabama Bureau of Tourism & Travel and currently serves as Chairman. She was one of the first females to serve as a board member of the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus, which is now Destination Marketing Association International. She has served on the Board of Directors of many statewide boards including the Alabama Council of Association Executives, Alabama Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus and Alabama Travel Council. She received the state’s top award and was inducted into the Alabama Tourism Hall of Fame, the first CVB representative to receive this award. With over three decades of experience in the tourism industry, Ryals continues to elevate Huntsville and Madison County as an outstanding destination for leisure and business travelers.

Fuller is the executive director of the Cullman County Museum. Her tourism career spans more than two decades where she has actively promoted the museum and the City of Cullman. It is the first location in Cullman County to incorporate sound- activated audio and visual displays and it was the first in the county to develop and feature a custom exhibit in conjunction with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. She has been one of the leaders in developing Cullman’s signature event, Oktoberfest, the redevelopment of the L&N Depot and the Cullman Farmer’s Market. She has also served on the executive committee and has served on many different board positions with the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association.

As executive director of the Colbert County Tourism & Convention Bureau, Hamlin goes to great lengths in bringing three major cities and several smaller communities together in their mutual support and in promotion. She works diligently to develop relationships and to find ways to support the individual efforts of each city, where most tourism agencies are charged with only one major town. Through her involvement with various committees and city council meetings, Hamlin has been successful in making a difference in tourism in North Alabama. She has served on the executive committee and has held many different board positions with the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association.

“On behalf of the Board of Directors, I congratulate all of the honorees,” said Tami Reist, President/CEO of the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association. “The PEAK Awards provide an outstanding platform to recognize top performers and industry leaders in tourism and this year’s recipients all have done an excellent job in the marketing and promotions of tourism and travel for the North Alabama region.”

The full list of awards and winners is as follows:

  • Organization of the Year – Spirit of Athens
  • Event of the Year – Athens Storytelling Festival
  • Attraction of the Year – One World Adventure
  • Good Neighbor Award – Rock The South
  • Northern Star Award – Terri Hyatt (Bay Springs County Inn and Campground)
  • Young Professional of the Year Award – Breanna Putman (Greater Gadsden Area Tourism)
  • Tourism Professional of the Year – Alison Stanfield (Florence Lauderdale Tourism)
  • Lasting Impression Award – Roxy Theatre
  • Chairman’s Cup – Randy and Olivia Grider (Lookout Alabama magazine)
  • President’s Award – Tim Haney (Joe Wheeler State Park), Mike Jeffreys (Lake Guntersville State Park) and Ken Thomas (DeSoto State Park)
  • Tourism Hall of Fame – Judy Ryals (Huntsville-Madison County CVB), Elaine Fuller (Cullman County Museum) and Susann Hamlin (Colbert County TCB)
  • Legend Award – Jimmy Denton, Natural Bridge

GulfQuest National Maritime Museum prepares for Grand Opening Saturday

The world’s only maritime museum dedicated to the historical, cultural and economic significance of the Gulf of Mexico opens in Mobile on Sat., Sept. 26.  Located on the Mobile Riverfront, this hands-on museum is one of the only interactive maritime museums in the world.

The grand opening will begin with a “Throwing Off the Bowlines” ceremony at 8:30 a.m., which will open the museum’s galleries.  Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson will join E.B. Peebles, Chairman of the GulfQuest Board of Trustees, for brief comments and to officially “throw off the lines” in celebration of the GulfQuest opening. The public is invited to attend.

On GulfQuest’s opening weekend, the museum will be open on Sat. from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Sun. from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Regular GulfQuest operating hours are Tue. – Fri,, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.; and, Sun., 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.  Admission prices are available on the website at

With 90 museum exhibits, a museum store, a museum café and event space, GulfQuest is a 120,000 sq. ft. building designed to look as if it were a ship headed into Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to being a “Signature Attraction” for the Gulf Coast, GulfQuest will become a major educational attraction for Mobile and the state of Alabama.

“Beyond its focus on the Gulf of Mexico, GulfQuest is unique among maritime museums in that it features interactive exhibits, simulators and theaters, complemented by artifacts and memorabilia,” Tony Zodrow, GulfQuest executive director said.  “We have taken extra measures, every step of the way, to design an immersive experience for our visitors.  The exhibits are both entertaining and educational, and will truly encourage visitors to explore every maritime aspect of the Gulf of Mexico.”

In addition, GulfQuest will offer a wide range of traveling exhibitions, plus programs on weekends, holidays and summers.  School field trips and weekend camp-ins will also become regular fixtures in the museum experience, with classroom programs that follow the state standards for science, math, social studies and the language arts.

“If I had to use one word to describe the experience of a GulfQuest visit, it would be ‘immersive,” Zodrow said. “Like any fine museum, GulfQuest will be very educational, but it will also provide hours and hours of immersive activities.  We think people from all over the country will understand just why the Gulf of Mexico is truly ‘America’s Sea’.”

For more information about the Grand Opening or for general information about GulfQuest, please visit or call 251-436-8901.

NASA scientist in Huntsville gets a huge surprise on ‘Good Morning America’
By Leada Gore,, Sept. 17

The generosity of a Huntsville man earned him a giant public thank you this morning.

Trent Griffin, a physicist with Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, was honored by Good Morning America at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center as part of the show’s “Above and Beyond” initiative.

Griffin was recognized for his work in providing bicycles to children in the community. The idea started after Griffin saw a little boy riding a bicycle with no front tire. Wanting to help, he went to a thrift store, purchased a bike and fixed it for the child. Before long, children were coming to Griffin to have their own bikes repaired.

Along the way, Griffin came up with ways to influence the kids in more ways. He now requires the children to sign a contract promising to study hard and obey their parents in exchange for their bike.

Griffin was nominated for the award by his sister, Toni Eldridge.

His other sister, Nicole Griffin Fields, spoke proudly of her brother.

“He’s like our hero,” she told GMA. “He never had kids of his own, but he takes all the kids in the neighborhood and makes them feel special.”

Griffin got a huge surprise Thursday morning when GMA’s TJ Holmes visited his house, blindfolded him and then carried him via limousine to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. There he was greeted by more than 50 family members and 1,000 volunteers who created an outline of a bicycle that could be seen from the sky.

“It’s overwhelming,” a surprised Griffin said as his blindfold was removed on air. “I don’t know what to say really.”  There was one last surprise in store for the man whose family said always loved space when astronaut Scott Kelly appeared live from the International Space Station to thank Griffin.

“Good morning!” Commander Kelly said. “I’d like to say congratulations to Trent there. I hope you’re doing well, my friend.

“A lot of people look up to astronauts because we fly in space, but we really, really rely on the people on the ground, the people that work in the control center, the engineers, the technicians, people like yourself that help us do our job up here and make our lives safer and easier,” Kelly said. “But what I really look up to are people that do things when they don’t expect any recognition. And I think that’s what you do by donating your time and by getting these bikes for under privileged kids and getting them on the right track, and getting them to be in a position someday where they can be successful adults. You’re the real role model here.”

Kelly’s comments, Griffin said, was “amazing.”

Kelly then announced Griffin would be receiving 50 brand new bicycles from Mongoose and Schwinn that he could donate.

To read this article online, go to:

Need to get around downtown? Segways now available to rent in Huntsville
By Lucy Berry,, Sept. 18

Two-wheeled, self-balancing scooters spotted in larger U.S. cities and on some college campuses have officially made their way to downtown Huntsville.

Downtown Huntsville, Inc. and The Clinton Row Project have partnered with Segway of Alabama, a private Madison company, to offer rentable Segways to individuals and families in the city center.

The Clinton Row Project General Manager Katie Mosby said Segways, which riders can move forward or backward by shifting their weight on the platform, promote a more active downtown area.

“These Segways are great for family outings,” she said. “It’s also good for a few friends wanting to ride to the entertainment district. They can ride around Big Spring Park and catch a bite to eat.”

Up to eight Segways are available for rent from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday at The Clinton Row Project, a small business incubator in the Downtown Storage building at Clinton Avenue and Jefferson Street.

Riders can also book early online by visiting As more people learn about the Segway offerings, Mosby expects hours of operation will be extended.

To ride a Segway, users must be at least 14 years old, sign a liability waiver and wear a helmet, which is provided at the time of pickup. Riders under 18 must also be accompanied by a guardian.

Each scooter, which can ride up to 25 miles on one charge, can go up to 12 mph at full speed. For those who are leery about moving that fast, Mosby said there is a “turtle mode” option that does not exceed 6 mph.

“They’re safe, they’re fun, they’re easy to learn how to ride,” she said. “They’re just really neat. I would’ve never imagined that Huntsville, Alabama would be one to rent out Segways.”

The scooters are available for rent for $24.99 per hour Wednesday through Friday and $39.99 per hour Saturday. An extended three-hour ride jumps to $100, while an all-day rental is $150. Click here for full pricing details.

Riders can already rent Segways in Gulf Shores, downtown Montgomery and Red Mountain Park in Birmimgham. The Fairhope City Council recently approved a franchise agreement for Glide the Gulf, a new Segway tour in Baldwin County.

“In many of the cities we compete with, Segways are a piece of the puzzle,” DHI CEO Chad Emerson told last month. “They’re an example of embracing technology in a unique and interesting way.”

For more information about renting a Segway, call Mosby at 256-469-8084.

To read this article online, go to:

Wing Ding 37 brings $3 million in economic impact, 9,000+ attendees
Motorcycle convention even raises money for local charity

If you were in North Alabama the first week of September, you saw them. A hard-to-miss friendly bunch, Gold Wing motorcycle enthusiasts convened in the Rocket City for their largest event of the year – the 37th annual Wing Ding, September 3 – 6, 2015. While the group concluded their festivities more than a week ago, officials from the Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau have just released details on the lasting impact of Wing Ding 37.

Total attendance for Wing Ding 37 was 9,091 – on pace with estimates based on previous attendance, even with a change in the traditional convention dates. For the past 36 Wing Ding events, the group has convened over the Fourth of July holiday. This year, conference organizers experimented with Labor Day conference dates for the first time.
According to Wing Ding 37 event planners, 45 states (including Hawaii and Alaska), 6 provinces, 10 countries (including Australia, Canada, England, Finland, France, Israel, Italy, Norway, Scotland and the U.S.) and 477 Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA) Chapters were represented.

The recipient was Little Orange Fish, a Huntsville-based nonprofit dedicated to fostering greater public understanding of the roles, values and current state of mental health care and ensure essential support is available. Over $6,000 was raised for Little Orange Fish.

CVB officials estimate the direct economic impact of the group to be between 3 and 4 million dollars which reflects money spent by the group while in Madison County at hotels, restaurants, shops, attractions, etc.

“When we have groups like Wing Ding 37 in Huntsville and Madison County, their positive economic impact can be felt directly in the pocketbooks of taxpayers,” President/CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County CVB Judy Ryals said. “The average household in Madison County saves around $650 every year thanks to travel and tourism in Madison County alone.”

Ryals, on behalf of the CVB, thanked the entire North Alabama community for extending such a warm welcome to the group in a video published on the CVB’s YouTube channel. The Huntsville/Madison County hospitality industry, Ryals said, is especially to be commended for their efforts.

“Huntsville/ Madison County is a premier meeting and convention destination,” Ryals said. “We’re a high-tech, smart and innovative community. But we haven’t lost our Southern hospitality, attention to detail and personal drive to make everything we touch – every project we’re involved in – exceptional. Our local government, hotel, attraction, restaurant and quality of life partners exude this hospitality and hard work and should be commended.”

Ryals encouraged the community to think about the groups, associations, meetings, reunions and conventions they attend and consider contacting the CVB about recruiting those meetings to Huntsville/Madison County.

The Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau worked hand in hand with the City of Huntsville, Huntsville City Schools and various organizations to coordinate GWRRA conference events such as rider safety training, a charity benefit and a light parade.

“Our city and industry partners were instrumental in conference organizers choosing Huntsville as the 2015 Wing Ding location,” Ryals explained. “A lot of effort went in to making this an unforgettable experience for GWRRA, and like most great accomplishments in life, that takes team work. We’re fortunate to have the best team of folks working on this project, and we were excited to host Wing Ding 37’s “Rocket City Road Trip.”

Davidson Tech CEO donates $1 million toward new Cook science museum
By Lucy Berry,, Sept. 16

The leader of one of Huntsville’s most well-known technology companies has donated money toward a new natural science museum under construction in downtown Decatur.

Dorothy Davidson, CEO of Davidson Technologies in Cummings Research Park, has provided $1 million to Cook’s Pest Control to build the Cook Museum of Natural Science, a 57,000-square-foot multi-level building that will feature permanent exhibits, a gift shop, café and outdoor patio, educational classrooms and a 100-seat theater.
Cook’s board of directors announced Davidson’s donation Tuesday.

“We are thrilled and honored by this generous gift which is a significant milestone in the overall capital campaign goal of $17 million,” said Museum Board Chairman Brian Cook said.

The nonprofit museum, set to open in 2017, is expected to draw at least 214,000 visitors within its first year of operation on 133 Fourth Ave. N.E. The pest control firm has committed $7 million and is raising an additional $10 million toward the project.

Permanent exhibits will include rivers and streams, caves, mountains and conifers, arctic tundra, deserts, oceans, bayous, hardwood forests, insects, the solar system, live animals, aquariums, rock collections and more. The Cook family plans to build a large space for traveling exhibits, a butterfly house and an outdoor natural park area in the future.

The Cook Museum of Natural Science will replace the former Car Quest Auto Parts building, which was demolished in May along with other property on a 2.3 acre tract of land near the Princess Theatre and Decatur Public Library.
Davidson’s donation will be rewarded with an outdoor entrance plaza named The Davidson Plaza, which will have a teaching space for school groups, hardwood tree species of Alabama, native plant landscaping for educational programs, 21-foot diameter fountain, gathering place for visitors, ample bench seating, bus drop-off and pick-up area.

“This engagement will cause children to consider the sciences as never before,” Davidson said. “The museum will enhance the quality of life in North Alabama, as well as enhance regional development by attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to our community.”

To read this article online, go to:

Putting music history to words
By Russ Corey,, Sept. 18

Dick Cooper has stories to tell and photos to share about the 40 years he has been involved in the Shoals music scene.
So Cooper, who turns 70 on Jan. 26, is resigning as curator of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame at the end of this month to concentrate on several books he plans to release.

“I have a lot of stuff I’ve been putting on the back burner for the past couple years because of the hall of fame job,” he said.

Among the projects Cooper has planned are a coffee table book of photos from his years in the music business, a book about Barry Beckett Productions, a multimedia book about his time with the Drive-By Truckers, and an autobiography.

“Originally, I was going to do an overview coffee table book on Muscle Shoals music,” Cooper said. “The trouble with that is, I’ve got too much. I’ve been doing this for over 40 years. I’ve got way too much to put in one book.”

Cooper said he has narrowed his photo choices by watching which photos people pay the most attention to at his exhibitions.

Cooper held the curator’s position for 51/2 years under the hall of fame’s previous executive director, and stepped in to help the attraction on a couple of other occasions.

Arm twisting

State Tourism Director Lee Sentell said he used a bit of old-fashioned arm twisting when he asked Cooper to help relaunch the Alabama Music Hall of Fame nearly two years ago. Sentell is also a member of the hall of fame’s board of directors.

Before Sentell approached Cooper, the hall had been closed for nearly a year, had its power turned off and was in jeopardy of being moved to another Alabama city.

The state tourism office stepped in to help it reopen amid the buzz created by “Muscle Shoals,” a documentary about the early days of the Shoals music scene.

“Dick provided a lot of valuable input during the last two years,” Sentell said. “He and I worked at the Decatur Daily in the 1960s before he moved to the Shoals to become a major player in the industry. When I offered him the position two years ago, I really didn’t give him a choice.”

Cooper said he wants to get some of his publishing pro jects completed while the buzz surrounding Muscle Shoals music is still strong.

For the Drive-By Truckers, Cooper wants to release a book with accompanying audio and video discs. The celebrated rock band was founded by Shoals natives Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley.

Cooper served as the band’s road manager from 2001-02, logging 72,000 miles in a Dodge van with the band and its gear.

He recalls a show in Florida in 2002 when the band opened for Southern rock legend Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“It was a 30-minute set that particular night,” Cooper said. “I was doing front of house sound, lights and selling merchandise. I was shooting video and changing strings for Cooley when he’d break a string. Considering I was a little busy that night, I set up a small tripod at the sound console and pointed it at the stage.”

He said there was just a handful of people between him and the stage before the band came on. The video shows more people trickling in little by little.

“None of the Skynyrd fans had see the Truckers,” he said. “There were one or two heads, then a few more came in.

All of a sudden, the band comes on stage and starts playing. Everybody isn’t sure what to make of them. They’re listening intently, but by the end of the set they’re all on their feet. It’s stuff like that I want to include.”

Cooper also has a mixed and mastered copy of the second album he recorded for the Shoals rock band Sons of Roswell. Unfortunately, the group disbanded before the album could be released.

“I am excited for him that he will be putting down on paper many of the great stories of what happened in the Shoals,” Sentell said. “He seems to have been one of the handful of unofficial historians of the music industry. We don’t need to let these stories get away. Thank goodness he is taking time to record them for the ages.”

Sentell said he didn’t know if the hall of fame could have reopened without Cooper. “He has been such an important part of the music industry for the past 40 years. He has been a constant presence in more phases of production and promotion that many local people know about.”

Hall of fame manager Dixie Griffin said the curator’s position will be filled. She praised Cooper and said he is “an excellent tour guide and is great working with travel writers (and) international visitors.”

She said the main focus of the curator’s job is being in charge of records related to Alabama music achievers. The curator also is responsible for items donated or loaned to the museum, and is property manager, tour guide and the person responsible for properly identifying and safeguarding the hall of fame’s collection, she said.

“We’ve got the museum in a situation where it’s better than it’s ever been,” Cooper said. “We have an experienced staff now. We’ve brought in a bunch of younger people who have filled some slots. I don’t really feel like I’m abandoning the place.

“It’s been a good experience,” he said.

To read this article online, go to:

Help an Alabama cookie maker win a Super Bowl commercial
By Dawn Kent Azok,, Sept. 21

Bill Rancic, winner of the first season of Donald Trump’s reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” was in Alabama on Sunday to offer advice and encouragement to a Selma-based entrepreneur.

The visit was the first in a 10-city tour Rancic is doing to promote Small Business Big Game, a competition sponsored by Intuit QuickBooks that will award one small business a free Super Bowl commercial.

Ten finalists were chosen, and the public will decide the winner in an online vote. Rancic is meeting with each of them, and in Selma, that’s Robert Armstrong and his company, G Mommas Cookies.

Rancic said Armstrong embodies what the competition is all about, which is celebrating small business owners who are trying to rebuild Main Street.

“I love his story, and I think America will love his story,” Rancic said. “He chose to go back to Selma because he believes in it.”

Rancic said he’s trying to prepare the finalists for the life-changing opportunity of Super Bowl ad exposure, should they win the contest. And even those who don’t win will get enough attention to give their businesses a healthy boost, he said.

Rancic knows something about life-changing opportunities. In 2004, he was hired by Trump as the winner of the first season of NBC’s “The Apprentice.”

In that role, he oversaw the construction of the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago.

Asked about his former boss’ current presidential campaign, Rancic spoke well of the billionaire real estate mogul.
“Donald Trump was obviously someone who changed my life,” Rancic said. “He was great to me. He negotiates great deals, he understands business and he understands how the world works. He’s someone I am forever grateful to.”
Rancic worked for The Trump Organization for two years. Today, he is a real estate developer, motivational speaker, author and TV host.

He’s also a partner in a restaurant group, RPM, which has two locations in Chicago, another slated for Washington D.C. and more on the drawing board.

And, he and his wife, E! TV host Giuliana Rancic, are co-owners of a new line of wines — Xo, G — which are packaged in bottles that break apart into four individual cups. The wines are sold in about 3,000 Walmart stores, and they’re moving into other retailers.

Rancic is no stranger to Alabama. He has visited many times on business, in trips to the Montgomery-based headquarters of Raycom Media, which aired a newsmagazine he co-hosted with Leeza Gibbons called “America Now.”

Entrepreneurs must be able to adapt to change, and they have to be realistic about the long hours and lack of a steady paycheck they’ll likely experience starting out, Rancic said.

He said he is impressed with G Mommas’ distribution network, as well as Armstrong’s drive to rally votes. He’s also a fan of the cookies.

“The product is amazing,” he said. “I couldn’t put the bag down.”

As for Armstrong, he has high hopes that the Small Business Big Game competition will be G Mommas’ big break.

A Selma native, he started the company using his grandmother’s cookie recipe. Today, he sells two varieties — chocolate chip pecan and butterscotch oatmeal — in grocery stores, pharmacies and gift shops across the Southeast and elsewhere, including Cracker Barrel and Walmart stores.

He’s also hoping to move production of the cookies from a contract bakery in Pennsylvania back home to Selma. He has built a bakery in a former Dollar General store in the city and is working on issues with the oven.

Besides selling cookies, Armstrong says he also wants to promote the positive side of his hometown, which struggles with poverty and high unemployment.

Armstrong said most of the other Small Business Big Game finalists are located in big cities, so he’s adopted a David vs. Goliath theme in his efforts to drum up votes.

“We’re kind of the underdog,” he said. “It’s like Selma against all the big cities.”

Voting continues until Nov. 3, when the top 3 will be announced.

Rancic encouraged Alabama residents to vote for Armstrong and G Mommas.

“He deserves it. He’s trying to rebuild Selma, one business at a time.”

To read this article online, go to:

British Airways publishes article highlighting Birmingham 
As part of a special food section featuring the United States, British Airways published on August 27th a feature on Birmingham in their online Highlife section.

50 states in 52 weeks: eat and drink the world in Alabama’s Pepper Place

Birmingham, Alabama might be best known as the cradle of the US civil rights movement, but today, top chefs are cooking up a new image for the Magic City by blending a farm-to-table ethos with international sophistication — and nowhere more so than Pepper Place. Local writer Eric Velasco takes a seat at the world’s table.

Birmingham’s chefs have got an unusual level of attention recently for a small metropolis, thanks to the folk at the James Beard Foundation. Its awards for chefs are akin to Oscars for actors — it’s a big deal. Chef-owners Frank Stitt (Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega, Chez Fonfon) and Chris Hastings (Hot and Hot Fish Club and soon-to-open Ovenbird) have won prestigious awards, while several other local chefs and restaurants have been semi-finalists, some multiple times, for the nation’s top culinary honors.

A potent symbol of this ‘new’ Birmingham is Pepper Place, a complex of renovated century-old brick buildings, including a former Dr.Pepper bottling plant. Its Saturday-morning farmers market draws thousands of people (and their dogs) from April into December. You can also eat and drink your way across several continents while you’re there.

The Market at Pepper Place is a social gathering as much as a chance to get to know the farmers who grew what you might be sampling for dinner. Some 100 Alabama vendors sell fresh-picked vegetables and fruits, meat, cheese and baked goods alongside honey, flowers, herbs and eggs. Chefs give cooking demonstrations. Musicians perform amid vendors selling crafts, pottery and clothing. It’s perfect to watch a cross-section of Birmingham’s people — and dogs.

Bettola’s chef-owner James Lewis, a Beard semifinalist in 2012 and 2013, is passionate about authenticity and tradition in his Italian food. That devotion shines through in his Neapolitan pizzas, fresh pastas, house-made salumi and even antipasti accompaniments such as artichoke puree and mushrooms sautéed with house bacon.

Cantina Tortilla Grill offers an upscale take on street food from Mexico, South America and Cuba and 26 varieties of tequila on offer. The large patio is inviting; tall umbrellas shade tables by day, are festively lit at night. While its tempting to go straight for sure-fire favourites (carnita tacos, Cuban sandwiches, churrasco steak), don’t overlook the specials such as lobster tacos with jalapeno-corn cream.

Chris Hastings is hot — so hot that his new venture Ovenbird (opening September 2015) has received regional and national media attention for more than a year. Alabama-sourced meat and produce will be cooked in the styles of Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Uruguay, all over wood fire on cast iron. Not only is it a nod to Birmingham’s iron producing past, but the red ovenbird is also Argentina’s national bird.

Red Cat is a gourmet roaster and coffeehouse, where you can blends from Brazil, Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala, while digging intoa breakfast that nods to the US’ southern states (cheddar grits) and Greece (spanakopita or Greek spinach pie). The nearby farmers market provides fillings for their crepes, a house specialty.
Beer and wine bottle store Hop City also sells draft beer to-go from 60 taps. Before filling a half-gallon ‘growler’,

Narrow your selection by sampling pints or half-pours at the bar. Alabama’s two-dozen breweries are represented, including Birmingham’s Good People, Avondale, Cahaba and Trim Tab.

To view the article from the British Airways site, go to

British Airways has direct flights to Dallas with connecting flights to Birmingham and Montgomery provided by their “one world” partner American Airlines.  Travelers on British Airways can also fly directly to Chicago and connect via American Airlines to Huntsville.

Eleven of the best barbecue restaurants in the Southeast

Atlanta Journal Constitution, Sept. 16
Barbecue is a common thread running through the fabric of Southern food culture. It’s a unifying element, yet it also has the power to divide. (Most of us have very strong preferences for our hometown ‘cue — sometimes to the exclusion of everything else on the table).

In conjunction with today’s special Best of the Southeast travel section, we’re highlighting places to find crave-worthy barbecue in our region. From TripAdvisor’s top-ranked barbecue restaurant in the country to the home of Alabama white sauce, our contributing writers give us a guide of notable pit stops.
Home of white barbecue sauce

Alabama’s most famous contribution to the world of barbecue is white sauce, a mayonnaise and vinegar-based concoction with a peppery kick. Try it at the place it was invented in the 1920s, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q (1715 Sixth Ave., Decatur. 256-350-6969,, @BigBobGibsonBBQ). White sauce is traditionally served on top of chicken, but it goes well with other meats after they come off the grill. It’s also used for dipping, as people have discovered the pourable sauce makes a good table condiment.

Decatur, a riverfront town, is also home to Point Mallard, a large water park that boasts the first wave pool in the nation. Across the river is Huntsville, home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, one of Alabama’s top tourist attractions.

To read the entire article online, go to:

Baumhower’s to open new restaurant at Wind Creek Casino, Sept. 17

Baumhower’s Restaurant fans will soon be able to enjoy the restaurant’s signature wings, Hot Lips, Gooey Fries, and ground chuck/ground beef brisket burgers at Baumhower’s Wind Creek in the Family Entertainment Center at Wind Creek Casino & Hotel, Atmore (WCA).

Baumhower’s will move into the Overtime sports restaurant location. The anticipated re-opening date is mid-October or early November.

The eatery will be offering all SEC and Pro sports games on more than 40 big screen TVs along with tasty, casual food, cold draft beverages, and full bar service.  In addition to Baumhower’s other menu favorites, Baumhower’s Wind Creek will feature hand crafted, made from scratch New York Style pizza.

Families already enjoy bowling, movies and a kids arcade at the Family Entertainment Center. Baumhower’s Restaurants are known for Legendary Food and Legendary Fun making a perfect addition to the family fun activities at WCA.

“We are impressed by the determination to win and the great quality found at Baumhower’s,” said WCA property manager Tim Ramer. “This partnership will allow us to do what we do really well and them to do what they do really well.”

Baumhower’s parent company, Aloha Hospitality International located in Loxley, Alabama, was founded by former University of Alabama defensive lineman and Miami Dolphins nose tackle Bob Baumhower. The restaurant chain operates locations throughout Alabama from Huntsville to Daphne. The Atmore restaurant is perfectly positioned to serve the communities of Atmore, Monroeville, Brewton, Bay Minette, and even Pensacola, Florida.

“We are flattered that Wind Creek thinks enough of our organization to ask us to join operations here at Wind Creek Casino,” said Bob Baumhower. “The Wind Creek Team has been a joy to work with and I feel confident that this partnership will be a success.”

Both companies are excited that employment opportunities will be created by the new partnership. A job fair is planned for the near future to help fill the job openings.

Wind Creek Hospitality is an authority of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.  Wind Creek Hospitality manages the Tribes gaming facilities including: Wind Creek Atmore, Wind Creek Wetumpka, Creek Casino Montgomery as well as multiple racetracks in Alabama and Florida.

The Poarch Creek Indians are descendants of a segment of the original Creek Nation, which once covered almost all of Alabama and Georgia. Unlike many eastern Indian tribes, the Poarch Creeks were not removed from their tribal lands and have lived together for almost 200 years in and around the reservation in Poarch, Alabama. The reservation is located eight miles northwest of Atmore, Alabama, in rural Escambia County, and 57 miles east of Mobile.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians is the only federally recognized Indian Tribe in the state of Alabama, operating as a sovereign nation with its own system of government and bylaws.  The Tribe operates a variety of economic enterprises, which employ hundreds of area residents.

To read this article online, go to:

Michael Gunn promoted at Birmingham CVB
Certified Meeting Professional Named to Senior Level

Michael D. Gunn, CMP, has been named senior vice president at the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau.  He was promoted from vice president of convention sales, a position he held for 10 years.

CVB board chairman Bill Murray made the announcement earlier this month, saying, “We are fortunate to have Mike’s years of industry experience on the staff of this organization.  He is well-respected in the national community of the hospitality industry and brings talent and prestige to his new position within the CVB.”

Gunn continues to be responsible for the operation of the convention sales staff in booking state, regional, national and international convention business for the greater Birmingham area.  He oversees a multimillion dollar sales and marketing budget and is responsible for short- and long-term strategic plans.

“Mike’s passion for this business is surpassed only by his experience and in-depth knowledge of what works best,” said John J. Oros, president of the CVB.

Gunn has served on the board of directors of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners.  He is a past member of the Destination Marketing Association International Foundation Board and has served on the board of Certified Meeting Professionals.   NCBMP named him the “Supplier of the Year” in 2001.  In 2004, he was honored with the Venue de Milo Award from the Meeting Industry Ladies Organization, Ltd.

In 2007, Gunn received the Apex Award from Black Meetings & Tourism magazine.  The Alabama Tourism Department named him “Tourism Executive of the Year” in 2009, the most prestigious award in the state’s tourism industry. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Alabama Travel Council.

Alabama artists and craftspeople

Alabama is home to a vast number of talented and creative artists and craftspeople who produce a wide variety of items including, but not limited to, woodwork, paintings, ceramics, fabrics and a lot of food.

The Alabama Tourism Department is looking for information about these artists and crafters and their products.  We are interested in the home-grown cottage industries rather than the industrial giants.

Please send information about people and their products, including contact information, to Peggy Collins, or call 334-242-4545.

Alabama Tourism Department (ATD) upcoming events

Nov. 8 – 10               Welcome Center Retreat, Embassy Suites, Tuscaloosa


Tourism Tuesdays is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry.

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Alabama Tourism Department