Tourism Tuesdays February 21, 2017

Facebook co-founder, CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes Alabama first stop on nationwide tour

Smithsonian features Fame Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

“Alabama: The Making of an American State” book talk by Ed Bridges at EarlyWorks Museum

Birmingham Civil Rights District national monument designation featured in International Travel Writers Alliance newsletter

TrekAmerica’s Deep South media trip to highlight Birmingham

1 Alabama restaurant, 5 chefs named James Beard Awards semifinalists

Music show filmed at Lyric will air on APT featuring Ruben Studdard

Cable docuseries set to portray the life of ‘modern-day cowboys’ in South Alabama

Huntsville honored by International Downtown Association as Project of the Month

Noccalula Falls Park to reopen March 1

World Heritage and U. S. Civil Rights Sites Symposium

Hospitality & Tourism Workforce Summit at University of South Alabama



Facebook co-founder, CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes Alabama first stop on nationwide tour

From the articles by Ivana Hrynkiw and Prescotte Stokes III on

Alabama was the first stop on a nationwide tour for Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, visited Mobile and Bayou La Batre on Saturday. They attended church services, watched a Mardi Gras parade, and stopped in The Haberdasher for a drink, Zuckerberg said on Facebook.

“We had lunch with Dominick Ficarino, a fourth generation shrimper, and workers from the local fishing business right on the dock… One of the families we met were the Zirlotts — they run an oyster farm and are succeeding by using Facebook and Instagram to show their product directly to chefs,” the social media mogul said in his post.

“In Mobile, we joined a baptist church for services this morning and saw how the church provides an important social structure for the community. We saw a Mardi Gras parade and met folks at a bar who were part of a women’s organization that has created a float for the parade every year for decades.”

Richie Gambino, who owns the Italian restaurant next door to The Haberdasher, snapped a few pictures of Zuckerberg and his wife while they were having drinks after the parade.

“They were both extremely nice … the bar crowd was a little star struck of course and a few people just had to go over and talk to them, but they were very gracious about it,” Gambino said.

Gambino said Zuckerberg had a drink, “tipped very well,” and left. 

“We are all part of many communities. The strength of these local communities is what makes up our social fabric and that’s what enables us to come together as a global community as well,” Zuckerberg posted.

“Just met Zuckerberg and his bride at the Haberdasher. He said no pics but I snapped a few anyway. I wonder if he kicks me off FB,” Gambino captioned his photos on Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg opts for fried seafood in Mobile, fried chicken in Camden

It’s not everyday a billionaire tech entrepreneur quietly waltzes into a local restaurant in downtown Mobile, in a black mock neck sweater and jeans, and asks for a seafood platter.

But, that’s exactly what Facebook founder & CEO, Mark Zuckerberg was in the mood for when he was on Dauphin Street Saturday night, according to Wintzell’s Oyster House, Communications Director Clay Omainsky. 

“He ordered the Fried J.O. Platter,” said Omainsky.

If you’re curious as to what’s in that fried seafood platter? Wonder no more, it’s filled with premium white fish, oysters, shrimp, stuffed crab and scallops, fried to a flavorful finish, with no substitutions, please.

Before Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, who enjoyed a bowl of gumbo, could place their order for a dozen of chargrilled oysters as an appetizer, Wintzell’s workers had to check Google images, one of Facebook’s competitors, just to be sure it was actually the powerful tech couple.

“We didn’t know in advance and one of our servers recognized him and said, ‘I think that’s Mark Zuckerberg,” said Omainsky. “They googled it and saw he was in Mobile and said, ‘Oh wow that’s definitely him.”

He said the manager on duty at the time came over to greet Zuckerberg and his wife. Zuckerberg told the manager that Wintzell’s had been recommended to him.

“I’m not sure if it was by a person or recommended to him through Facebook or the internet, but he raved about having a great experience and was very friendly,” said Omainsky.

After their appetizer and main course, Zuckerberg and his wife were treated to some homemade bread pudding, on the house. 

In a post on Facebook, Zuckerberg and his wife, said the stop in Mobile was not just a random hangout. The couple kicked off a road trip on Saturday (Feb. 18) as part of a trek through the South as part of their challenge to visit every state in the America.

Zuckerberg stated that since Mobile and Bayou La Batre are considered the seafood capital of the state of Alabama, they not only had lunch at Wintzell’s, but they dined with Dominick Ficarino, a fourth generation shrimper, who runs Dominck’s Seafood in Bayou La Batre.

“I’m looking at more of the world through the lens of building community these days,” said Zuckerberg.

He said that the locals he came in contact with shared their stories of perseverance through Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf oil spill and more.

While in Mobile the couple also visited the Aimwell Baptist Church, enjoyed a Mardi Gras parade featuring OOI and Neptunes Daughter’s and also socialized with locals at the Haberdasher bar on Dauphin Street afterwards.

Zuckerberg said he wants to understand the intricate wrinkles in the social fabric of communities much like Mobile to see what enables people to come together on the smaller scale and global scale.

But, even billionaires can seem a little bit awkward trying to start up a conversation with strangers in a new city.

Alan Anderson, 31, a Mobile native said he and a friend went to the Haberdasher Bar after the parade Saturday night and ended it up sitting next to Zuckerberg and his wife.

“I’m sitting next to his wife in the booth and I don’t say anything I barely look at them,” said Anderson “then they look over and they look like they wanted to engage I could tell.”

He said he broke the proverbial ice of silence and awkward glances with, “Hey I’m Alan,” to Zuckerberg’s wife, Priscilla Chan.

“Then she said, ‘Hey i’m Priscilla,’ and Mark reached his hand out and said, ‘Hey i’m Mark,” said Anderson.

Alan said his first assumption was that they were in town for Mardi Gras, but to his surprise, the couple said they were on a road trip.

“They were like, ‘Yeah we are just traveling the country and we want to know what to do in Mobile,” said Anderson.

After being put on the spot, Anderson said he blurted out several places he could quickly think of.

“I wanted to tell them a million things, but I told them definitely Mardi Gras,” said Anderson “I told them to go to Callahan’s, the Riverfront, the Mardi Gras park, just the things I’d want tourist to see in Mobile.”

He said after trading stories about road trips in California, Priscilla wanted to know a lot about delta blues music in Mississippi.

“As far as it being the birthplace of the blues and all that,” said Anderson “I told them to check out Clarksdale, Tupelo and Cleveland, Mississippi.”

Once the conversation shifted to music, Alan said he mentioned his band, called Bunch, and Chan became more intrigued. She wanted to know more about creating music.

“I play the keys and she wanted to know the difference between the piano and an electric keyboard and what I feel more comfortable playing,” said Alan “She seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say and so did Mark.”

Throughout the conversation, Alan said he couldn’t help, but think that he just shook the hands of billionaires.

He said he also offered to buy Zuckerberg and his wife a drink.

“They smiled and held up their drinks and said, ‘thank you but we’re drinking already,” said Alan. “but we sat and talked for like 20 or 30 minutes.”

Zuckerberg and his wife continued their road trip on Monday afternoon stopping at Jackson’s Fried Chicken Restaurant in Camden, Alabama for lunch.

At Wintzell’s, Omainsky said they’ve had their share of stars visit ranging from, Nicholas Cage to Ryan Reynolds to NFL coaches during Senior Bowl week, but Zuckerberg left a lasting impact on the workers.

“He definitely has to be one of the greatest and most gracious celebrities to come through,” said Omainsky.

For the complete article please see and

Smithsonian features Fame Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

Travel writer Jennifer Bilock visited the state in October as part of an Alabama Tourism Department press trip conducted by Verna Gates

From the article by Jennifer Bilock on

On January 9 of this year, an important piece of American music history opened its doors for public tours in Sheffield, Alabama. The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (otherwise known as 3614 Jackson Highway) officially reopened for tours and recording sessions for the first time since 1978. It had closed following years of notable recording sessions with a long list of major artists, from the Rolling Stones and the Staple Singers to Willie Nelson and Rod Stewart.

With its reopening, the facility joins the ranks of studio tours already available to travelers along the Americana Music Triangle. This driving tour is comprised of routes between Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans, all designed to help travelers connect with the history and culture of this small corner of the U.S. that birthed nine distinct musical genres: Blues, Jazz, Country, Rock ‘n’ Roll, R&B/Soul, Gospel, Southern Gospel, Cajun/Zydeco and Bluegrass.

FAME Studios

Some of the biggest artists in music history have recorded at FAME Studios—including Paul Anka, Etta James, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Duane Allman, and Donny Osmond, to name but a few. The studio is also famous for launching the Swampers (actually named the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section) who played as FAME’s session band and eventually went on to open their own studio. The Swampers became so well known that they were even mentioned in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic “Sweet Home Alabama.” Among the most recent international acts to record here is Finland’s Anna Puu, and the studio continues to attract artists from across the world looking for that famous “Muscle Shoals sound.” Want to know how it feels to be a recording artist? Step into one of the isolation booths and belt out a few notes of your own.

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

If you’ve ever dreamed of sitting at Paul Simon’s piano or lounging on the Rolling Stones’ couch, here’s your chance. The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio has officially reopened for tours. The studio was originally started by The Swampers after leaving FAME Studios, and the unmistakable sound they brought with them to the new studio pulled in major acts—from Paul Simon and the Stones to Bob Seger and even Cher, who featured the studio’s exterior on one of her album covers. In addition to tours of the historic space, it will soon begin to welcome recording musicians for new sessions.

For the complete article please see

“Alabama: The Making of an American State” book talk by Ed Bridges at EarlyWorks Museum

Dr. Ed Bridges will be discussing his new book “Alabama: The Making of an American State” at the EarlyWorks Museum in Huntsville on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 4 p.m.

Bridges served as director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History for thirty years and was a past president of the Alabama Historical Commission.

The 264-page book traces the state’s history from the earliest fossil records to the upheavals of the Civil War and the civil rights movement to modern events. Bridges explains major events in Alabama’s history and makes clear the unique social, political, economic, and cultural forces that have shaped our state.

The richly illustrated book was published in cooperation with the Alabama Bicentennial Commission and includes drawings, maps and archival photographs.  

The book talk will be in the Grand Hall of the Early Works Museum and is open to the public.

Birmingham Civil Rights District national monument designation featured in International Travel Writers Alliance newsletter

By Grey Brennan


An article on naming the Birmingham Civil Rights District as a national monument has been featured by the International Travel Writers Alliance. The article, in their mid-February bulletin, included a color photo taken in Kelly Ingram Park of the limestone sculpture of three ministers kneeling in prayer.


The United Kingdom based International Travel Writers Alliance is the world’s largest association of professional travel writers, editors, broadcasters and photographers.  Their twice-monthly bulletin is emailed to their Alliance members to provide story ideas and background information to fellow journalists.


Ashley Gibbins, the Chief Executive of the Alliance, visited Alabama in 2014 and meet with Grey Brennan and local CVBs. The trip was coordinated by Alabama Tourism’s UK office.  This latest release on Birmingham was submitted to editors of the International Travel Writers Alliance by Surinder Manku, the public relations consultant for Alabama in the UK.

TrekAmerica’s Deep South media trip to highlight Birmingham

By Grey Brennan

A group of bloggers from the United Kingdom will visit the Deep South in early May on a media trip for TrekAmerica’s Deep South BLT tour.  The bloggers will experience the tour much the same way as a tourist would except they will be blogging daily about their experiences.

The promotional effort is part of the Deep South alliance of southern states and Alabama’s UK In-Market public relations agent, Surinder Manku.

The tour begins and ends in New Orleans, with Birmingham as the second day destination city. In Birmingham they will experience the history of the Civil Rights movement. 

TrekAmerica is a brand of Grand America Adventures- a small group adventure specialist from the UK offering camping, lodging, walking and family adventures in the USA.  The Birmingham CVB is assisting Global Travel Marketing and the Alabama Tourism Department in hosting the tour.

 To see the tour see

1 Alabama restaurant, 5 chefs named James Beard Awards semifinalists

From the article by Bob Carlton on

Birmingham’s Highlands Bar and Grill and its pastry chef, Dolester Miles, and chefs David Bancroft of Acre in Auburn, Timothy Hontzas of Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood, Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse in Alexander City and Bill Briand of Fisher’s Upstairs at Orange Beach Marina in Orange Beach have made the James Beard Foundation’s preliminary list of semifinalists for its 2017 culinary awards.  

The Beard Foundation’s restaurant and chef semifinalists were announced last Wednesday.

Highlands Bar and Grill is a semifinalist for the country’s most outstanding restaurant. Highlands has gone on to be a finalist for the top restaurant award in each of the past eight years but has yet to win.

Also, for the fourth year in a row, Miles, Highlands’ longtime pastry chef, is one of the semifinalists for the country’s most outstanding pastry chef. Miles went on to be a finalist for the award last year, but did not win.

SpringHouse’s McDaniel is a semifinalist for the fifth straight year for best chef in the South.

Acre’s Bancroft and Fisher’s Upstairs’ Briand are semifinalists for best chef in the South for the second year in a row.

Hontzas, who opened his meat-and-three Johnny’s Restaurant in Homewood in 2012, is a first-time semifinalist for the best chef in the South award.

There are 20 semifinalists in each category, and the field will be narrowed to five finalists on March 15.

The overall winners will be announced at the annual James Beard Foundation Awards ceremony on May 1 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Previous James Beard winners from Alabama include:

– Highlands Bar and Grill’s Frank Stitt, for best chef in the Southeast in 2001.

– The Bright Star in Bessemer, the America’s Classic award in 2010.

– Chris Hastings of Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club, for best chef in the South in 2012.


For the complete article please see

Music show filmed at Lyric will air on APT featuring Ruben Studdard

from the article by Greg Garrison on

The gospel-infused musical presentation “This Train: A Soulful Alabama Musical and Dance Celebration,” filmed as a live show at the Lyric Theatre in Birmingham, will be aired on Feb. 24 at 10 p.m. on Alabama Public Television.

The event was produced by UAB Music Professor Henry Panion III for the Fred Shuttlesworth Awards Show in November.

The show was based heavily on “This Train,” a gospel record by local jazz guitarist Eric Essix, who performed in the show at the Lyric, Panion said.

“American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard performed a cover version of the classic Sam Cooke song, “A Change is Gonna Come,” which was released as a single on Feb. 17.

 “The performance came out so great,” Panion said. “The way he interpreted the song – it’s not a song you can take liberties with. He’s done a wonderful job of interpreting and adding his own vocal inflection.”

The show featured the Birmingham Sunlights gospel choir and gospel singer Belinda Peoples.

“The show is so beautiful,” Panion said. “It’s really an all-star Alabama show.”

For the complete article please see


Cable docuseries set to portray the life of ‘modern-day cowboys’ in South Alabama

from the article by Jared Boyd on

INSP, a cable television focused on family entertainment, has announced an upcoming program focused on rural life in South Alabama.

The network ordered a nine-episode run of “The Cowboy Way: Alabama,” a show spun-off from popular CMT dating competition “Sweet Home Alabama.” In an e-mail to, Andrew Glassman, producer of both series detailed what viewers can expect from the new program.

The show follows “Sweet Home” alums Bubba Thompson and Cody Harris, along with cowboy Chris “Booger” Brown, as they keep ranch traditions alive in the world of fast-paced technology and media.

“When we met them on ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ they were spirited young suitors seeking love. Now they have found it, and, in Bubba’s case, he and his wife welcomed a little baby girl over Thanksgiving,” Glassman says.

Although families are the focus, cameras will follow the show’s three leading men outside of the home, as well. Each of the men have enterprises in the ranch world. Thompson is a full-time rancher and carpenter, Harris is a rodeo champion and cattle dealer, and Brown is a cattleman and horse trainer.

Glassman and crew began filming in the Baldwin County area in early winter. According to INSP, the first season of the series will air in August.

For the complete article please see    

Huntsville honored by International Downtown Association as Project of the Month

From the feature IDA Project of the Month:

Like many city centers, Downtown Huntsville, Alabama, is fortunate to have a significant public library where patrons can engage in research, attend concerts, participate in continued education, and, of course, borrow books.

Unfortunately, the Downtown Public Library is located on the perimeter of the city center, away from much of the residential and office population.

Recognizing this, Downtown Huntsville, Inc. convened a strategy session in 2015 to discuss how to bring free books, magazines, and other types of media closer to where people live, work, and play in the city center. The result is a partnership between Downtown Huntsville, Inc., Arts Huntsville, the Huntsville/Madison County Public Library System, the Huntsville Times, and the City of Huntsville. This partnership developed a novel way to meet the goal of making books and other media more accessible.

The Project

Partners adaptively re-purposed unused Huntsville Times newspaper racks by converting them into free library book borrowing stands. Each “Book Box” is placed in an easily accessible and heavily walked area of the city center, such as outside high-density residential units, office buildings, and the downtown YMCA.

Adding Art

However, rather than simply replace newspapers with books in these unused stands, the partners also included an emphasis on public art. To accomplish this, Arts Huntsville promoted the project among the local arts community. Local artists were invited to submit proposed Book Box designs and the winners were commissioned to create one box each.

Once the current locations were selected and the Book Box designs were completed, the Public Library system stocked the boxes with books. The Public Library carefully and continually stocks the Book Boxes with titles and genres that appeal to all ages.

The Book Box program has been popular throughout the city, with more than 2,000 books borrowed in the first year. To date, the Book Boxes have received extensive print, television, and social media coverage.

The Book Box program won the Downtown Achievement Pinnacle Award in 2016.

For the complete article please see


Noccalula Falls Park to reopen March 1

From the article by William Thornton on

The City of Gadsden announced Monday that Noccalula Falls Park is reopening March 1 for the 2017 season.

The park has been closed this year for renovations. City officials say “some big improvements” for park facilities will be on tap for visitors. Among the changes:

*Renovations on several buildings in the Pioneer Village.

*Improvements at the Petting Zoo and Barn, including new doors and exterior improvements.

*More signage, including four map kiosks in the park.

These changes came in response to suggestions from visitors. Some of the construction work is still ongoing.

The park will be open, beginning March 1, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. Summer hours will begin Memorial Day weekend. The mini-golf park will be open from 2 to 9 p.m. Friday and Sunday, and Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Season passes are now $15 per adult or $10 for seniors, military and children ages 4 to 12. Each individual will receive a personalized pass.

One-day passes for adults remain $6, child admission, ages 4 to 12, will be $4, and 3 and younger remain free. A new discount combo pass for park admission and mini golf is available for adults at $8, $6 for seniors, military and children. 

The Spring season kicks off with the ‘Smoke on the Falls Barbecue Festival’ and the ‘Smoke Your Buns 5K’ run in April, with May celebrated as the ‘Month of Mini-Golf’ and a focus on ‘Go Camping.’

For a complete calendar of special events visit the website

For the complete article please see

World Heritage and U. S. Civil Rights Sites Symposium

April 20-22   –  Atlanta, Georgia

A gathering of scholars, historic preservationists, property owners and stakeholders to discuss a World Heritage serial nomination for historic sites associated with the U. S. Civil Rights Movement.

The Georgia State University World Heritage Initiative has embarked on an effort to nominate a group of U. S. Civil Rights Sites to the World Heritage List, thereby achieving for these historic places associated with the modern struggle for race reform in America the highest possible level of global recognition possible.

Owners of historic properties associated with the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, movement scholars and historic preservationists will gather in Atlanta, April 20-22, at the World Heritage and U. S. Civil Rights Sites Symposium to discuss preparing a Serial Nomination for the National Park Service to propose to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.

Free and open to the public, the Atlanta Symposium will feature sessions explaining the objectives of the Initiative, the World Heritage nomination process, and what might be expected for property owners and relevant stakeholders of historic sites if they received such a designation.


Symposium Schedule

Thursday, April 20: Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site

407 Auburn Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30312

3:00-5:00 pm – Tours of the MLK, Jr. Historic Site

5:30 pm – Opening Plenary Session: What is World Heritage? Stephen Morris, Chief, Office of International Affairs, NPS; Phyllis M. Ellin, Historian, World Heritage Program, NPS

7:00 pm – Reception

Friday, April 21: Plenary Sessions

GSU College of Law

85 Park Place NE, Atlanta, GA 30303

9:00 am – Orientation Coffee with Committees

10:30 am –  Plenary Session: The Global Significance of U. S. Civil Rights Sites, Waldo E. Martin, Jr., University of California, Berkeley; Patricia Sullivan, University of South Carolina

1:30 pm – Plenary Session: Authenticity and Comparatives in World Heritage Analysis, Alissandra Cummins, former Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO; Susan Snow, Archeologist & Coordinator, San Antonio Missions World Heritage Site

3:30 pmPlenary Session: Designation and Preservation Management, Paul Hardin Kapp, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Tomlan, Cornell University 

5:00 pm – Reception

Saturday, April 22: Breakout Sessions

GSU College of Law

85 Park Place NE, Atlanta, GA  30303

9:00 am – Committee meetings for Scholars, Preservationists, Property Owners and Stakeholders

11:00 am – Concluding Plenary Session: U. S. Civil Right and World Heritage; final reports 

Make plans to attend the Symposium to learn more about this exciting opportunity to gain World Heritage status for U. S. Civil Rights Sites associated with America’s human rights struggle. 

To register or to request more information about the symposium:

Accommodations are available at the Marriot Residential Suites in downtown Atlanta, in easy walking distance of the Georgia State University School of Law Auditorium and to the trolley line to the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site and Ebenezer Baptist Church. A special group rate of $135 per night is available until March 20.

You can make your hotel reservation directly here.

Hospitality & Tourism Workforce summit at University of South Alabama

The University of South Alabama (USA) in Mobile will hosts its inaugural Hospitality & Tourism Workforce Summit on March 5-6.

The purpose of the summit is to discuss public-private collaboration efforts to help meet the workforce needs of the growing Gulf Coast hospitality and tourism industry. 

The summit is proposed and supported by the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management’s Advisory Board. The advisory board consists of industry leaders and experts from various hospitality and tourism sectors from Mobile and Baldwin counties, other areas in Southern Alabama and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

There will be a reception on Sunday, March 5 at the Pillars and the summit will be March 6 at the Mobile Convention Center. Proceeds from the reception will go towards Department of Hospitality and Tourism scholarships and proceeds from the summit itself will be used for workforce initiatives and future summits.

The summit will also provide excellent learning, mentoring and networking opportunities for USA students.

More information and summit registration is available at:

USA is seeking corporate sponsorship to help reduce costs for participants and provide financial assistance for Hospitality and Tourism Management students.

For more information on sponsorship please contact Aimee Meyers or Amanda Donaldson. Aimee can be reached at or 251-414-8276 or Amanda, at or 251-341-3859.



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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