Tourism Tuesdays Feb. 25, 2020

Revised date for tourism workshop is set for April 9

Can Mobile’s Mardi Gras good times roll year-round?

Two Muscle Shoals classic songs featured on television commercials now in heavy rotation

Food Network to film at Dothan’s Zack’s Family Restaurant

Secret History Tours offer a special glimpse into Mobile history and culture

Alabama State Games return to Wiregrass

Skybar expanding to include a waterfall and fire fountain

Museum Director Drew Green receives tourism certification

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website



Revised date for tourism workshop is set for April 9
The Alabama Tourism Department will host its Spring Tourism Workshop April 9. The workshop will be held in Montgomery at the Alabama Center for Commerce Building. The workshop is designed to inform our tourism industry partners, event organizers and anyone interested in enhancing tourism in their area. ATD’s staff members will attend this workshop, and you will have an opportunity for one-on-one time with each of them. So, mark your calendars and make plans to attend.

For additional information, please contact Rosemary Judkins at 334-242-4493 or via email at Rosemary.Judkins@Tourism.Alabama.Gov

Can Mobile’s Mardi Gras good times roll year-round?
From the article by John Sharp on

Two decades before Visit Mobile captured the spirit of Mardi Gras with an award-winning tagline, “Born to Celebrate,” Eugene Walter was angling for a party.

The so-called “Renaissance man,” who died in 1998 at age 78, was known to quip, “If all else fails, throw a party!”

Carol Hunter, spokeswoman with the Downtown Mobile Alliance, recently recalled the quote while pondering whether Mobile could pull off a year-round Mardi Gras vibe to anchor its tourism industry and further rebirth of its downtown.

“I think that whole inclination of celebrating life’s big and small moments has been part of our culture,” Hunter said. “Mardi Gras is absolutely a huge part of that.”

Indeed, Mardi Gras is Alabama’s biggest money-making festival because it embraces a multi-week fun factor. Can that atmosphere be embraced by the city beyond Fat Tuesday and for a full 365 days with more parades, events and Carnival or New Orleans-inspired businesses?

Mobile city officials are focused on boosting tourism and vowing to increase the number of conventions and leisure travelers to Mobile.

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson put the focus on Mardi Gras in April when he tossed out the concept of a year-round venue dedicated to Carnival. The location, according to Stimpson, would also serve as a spot for Mardi Gras balls and tableaus hosted by mystic societies while the 55-year-old Mobile Civic Center undergoes redevelopment.

Stimpson lasered in on a large warehouse at the Brookley Aeroplex, about 3 miles south of downtown. He spoke of transforming it first into a temporary home for Mardi Gras soirees by 2021. Then it would be transformed yet again, into an attraction similar in scope to Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World in New Orleans.

Mystic societies uniformly panned the temporary home idea – largely because the miles involved between Brookley and the downtown parade routes – and nothing further has been heard on it.

But the vision of a year-round attraction has caught on, both with civic leaders and with Mardi Gras aficionados.

Mardi Gras World in New Orleans, which opened as an entertainment attraction in the 1980s, is a 300,000-square-foot working warehouse where designers and their crews craft floats. Visitors, throughout, the year, are treated to mini-Mardi Gras parades whenever they visit.

“I think it’s doable in the city of Mobile,” said Stimpson. “I don’t know what that looks like or who would operate it. But yes, that’s a big part of our culture and heritage and we’d have to see what direction it takes.”

‘Expanded dramatically’
In many regards, Mardi Gras has found a permanent presence in downtown Mobile in the past 10-15 years. Statues of Mardi Gras characters – kings, queens, a court jester, trumpeter – border the 4-year-old Mardi Gras Park and have become a destination for meet-ups, photos and selfies. Historic markers have been unveiled that honor Mardi Gras history. Art shops and murals incorporate the many characters and traditions of Mardi Gras. And there’s the much-praised Mobile Carnival Museum.

“The Mardi Gras atmosphere has expanded dramatically in the past 20 years from a three-week type of event into a conscious awareness of it being year-round,” said Slade Watson, a Mardi Gras historian.

One of the newer Mardi Gras-themed spots in downtown is the Joe Cain Café, situated inside the historic Battle House Renaissance Hotel. The café takes the name of the man who famously restarted Carnival in Mobile following the Civil War.

Other places popping up around downtown with distinctively Carnival-esque names or connections are Jesters, Good Times, and the MoonPie General Store.

Downtown even welcomed the opening of a beignet shop – Mo’Bay Beignet Co. on the same day, Feb. 6, that the city lighted its first-ever Mardi Gras tree at Mardi Gras Park.

“The beauty of Mardi Gras is that it brings all kinds of people together,” said Mo’Bay Beignet Co. owner Jaclyn Robinson, who’s made a point to feature some of her Mardi Gras photography inside her restaurant.

Sales have been brisk as Carnival attendees drop in to sample the sugar-powered pastries. Robinson also provides a unique touch to her beignets by covering them in syrups that she’s created and marketed.

Mo’Bay Beignet, at its surface, might resemble something that a tourist would expect in New Orleans. But Robinson immediately shoots down any notion that her beignet shop is Mobile’s version of Café du Monde.

“Mo’Bay stands on its own,” she said. “It’s an original recipe that I made myself – my beignet’s signature syrups of buttercream and cinnamon were created by myself as well.” She said, “The beignets are quality and stand alone, but the syrups are a game changer.”

‘Birthplace of Mardi Gras’
Mobile shares French origins with the Big Easy, but has long attempted to keep its cultural distance from New Orleans.

But that appears to be changing a bit, too, with the arrival of New Orleans-themed eateries like Ruby Slipper in downtown.

“Those sort of New Orleans-centric businesses have come here and have been very successful,” said Hunter with the Downtown Mobile Alliance. “Was that a deliberate plan? I don’t think so. But it’s certainly a good fit for us.”

Mobile and New Orleans have long quibbled over which city can lay claim as having America’s oldest Mardi Gras. Mobile, in recent years, has marketed its Mardi Gras merchandise as the “Birthplace of Mardi Gras.” Alabama’s tourism department, two years ago, purchased a billboard advertisement along Interstate 10 new downtown New Orleans that read, “You are 114 miles from America’s original Mardi Gras.”

Mobile city officials have also long championed the city’s Mardi Gras as a “family friendly” alternative to New Orleans.

But New Orleans’ mystic scene is vastly larger, and the city itself is a global tourism magnet. New Orleans drew 18.5 million visitors in 2018. If the city were in Alabama, it would account for 72% of the state’s annual visitors.

“New Orleans has a resource we don’t have and never have had, and that’s a never-ending raging river of tourists everywhere,” said Steve Joynt, the owner and publisher of the Mobile Mask website and print magazine, the latter serving as a colorful annual Mardi Gras guide since 2013.

Joynt said, “When you’ve got that, you can do things like a Mardi Gras World where you’re siphoning in gazillions of people. We don’t have that and we’re not going to have that. We need to act accordingly.”

Joynt said there is nothing wrong with Mobile attempting to derive a “mini-New Orleans” vibe that’s a year-round allure. Aside from Mardi Gras, Mobile has antebellum-style homes and historic neighborhoods such as Oakleigh that, he said, rival the famed Garden District.

“I think what we have is pretty good,” said Joynt. “I think that if the mayor wanted to improve on those, let’s improve of those instead of coming up with something new.”

‘Mardi Gras … every weekend’
Another aspect of Stimpson’s vision is to have parades throughout the year at the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center to bring Carnival excitement to the many events and conferences there.

“We’ve engaged in conversations with Visit Mobile to create several micro-floats so we can do the identical thing they do at Mardi Gras World,” said Stimpson. “Those floats are being designed now … You create a parade atmosphere that doesn’t go all over the streets of Mobile, but it’s enough of a parade event so that conventioneers can say they have seen a Mardi Gras parade.”

Said David Clark, president & CEO with Visit Mobile: “We would take some of these floats and go to Cooper Riverside Park every weekend … so our visitors can experience it.” He said, “What I would like to see is Mardi Gras happening every weekend throughout the year so we can show our conventioneers the things we offer.”

Wayne Dean, a historian who has long portrayed Chief Slacambamarinico – the fictitious Indian chief character dreamed up by Cain in 1868 – said he would love to see some of the established mystic societies contribute to the year-round atmosphere.

“Even if it’s on the weekends, it would generate money and income, and excitement for people who are only in town for those weekends,” said Dean, who dresses up as “Chief Slac” and attends civic events throughout the year.

City Council President Levon Manzie said, “There is something unique in the feeling in the air that Mobile has during Mardi Gras season. It’s a uniqueness not experienced anywhere in the country with the exception of New Orleans. If we could, in some way, encapsulate that feeling and vibe and use that 12 months of the year, I think it would just be a win.”

‘Build on what you have’
But would all this lead to Mardi Gras overkill? Joynt said a year-round Mardi Gras atmosphere is akin to saying, “Christmas atmosphere year-round.”

Jeff Jordan, who has operated Mardi Gras & More on lower Dauphin Street since 2004, said that striving for a continual Carnival would dilute the actual Carnival.

“It only happens once a year,’ said Jordan. “I think really that if you try to do too much during the year, it takes away from that special time.”

In Jordan’s view, the best course for the city is to double-down on its efforts to revitalize downtown, which is also the heart of Mobile Mardi Gras.

“I think really one of the things the city has looked away from and is finally seeing a light on is the residential development downtown,” said Jordan, whose shop sells colorful beads, t-shirts and masks. “I grew up here and have been down here since the ‘60s. It was a hopping place then, but fell apart in the ‘70s and ‘80s. That is what made it fall apart. When the residents left, downtown crumbled.”

Ann Pond, a Mobile historian, said the success of a year-round Mardi Gras atmosphere will depend on the city’s ability to “take advantage of its burgeoning downtown” where hotels and entertainment venues are in easy walking distance of one another.

Pond advocates that the city consider engaging in a “well-organized and fully cooperative effort” led by a task force to develop a strategic plan to look at ways to highlight Mardi Gras throughout the year.

She believes a self-guided “Mardi Gras Walking Trail” would be a sought-after attraction in downtown Mobile.

“Build on what you have first,” said Pond. “Mobile has an ideally condensed and very walkable, aesthetically pleasing downtown with charming historic appeal. New developments are making this area even more livable and inviting. Taking advantage of this is crucial and the addition of a small-scale parade rolling through the streets periodically throughout the year would greatly enhance this new vibrancy, making Mobile a valuable tourist destination.”

‘Renaissance of Carnival culture’
No other place in downtown Mobile celebrates Mardi Gras throughout the year more than the Mobile Carnival Museum on Government Street next to Spanish Plaza. The museum opened in 2005, and has grown to become the city’s third most popular tourist attraction behind the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park and Bellingrath Gardens.

The museum is a historic home dating to the 1870s. Inside are displays that give tourists a sense of Mobile’s unique relationship with Carnival. One of the galleries displays the colorful and shiny gowns, trains and jewels worn by the queens of Carnival during Mardi Gras balls.

Cart Blackwell, the museum’s curator, said it’s not uncommon for the Carnival Museum to loan displays to other museums and art galleries around the city so that Carnival can be displayed and celebrated year-round.

Blackwell, like Jordan, said he sees the betterment of downtown Mobile and the continued growth of Mardi Gras going together. For instance, he said that along Government Street – where “sketchy places” like vacant lots once existed, are now popular parade watching spots.

He also provided some other examples: Serda’s, a popular microbrewery on a Government Street parade route, was once a car repair place. A crumbling American Legion post, also along Government Street, has recently been revitalized into a mystic society gathering space.

“Mardi Gras is Mobile’s greatest living tradition,” said Blackwell. “It has been embraced since the beginning. It’s increased in scopes and forms in recent years. I see it both continuing (that way) through the grassroots, civic, scholarly and artistic. We’re experiencing a particular renaissance of Carnival culture on so many levels.”

For the complete article please see

Two Muscle Shoals classic songs featured on television commercials now in heavy rotation
An iconic Etta James song is the payoff for a T-Mobile commercial that aired during the Super Bowl. During a 60-second commercial, after actor/comedian Anthony Anderson gives his mother a new phone with 5G service, she calls him from locations as varied as a movie theater and a nightclub. The commercial that ends with several cords of “Tell Mama!” has received more than 32 million views on YouTube. In a 2014 documentary the singer recounted the tough 1967 recording session with producer Rick Hall that generated the hit song.

Tom Cruise memorably danced in his underwear to “Old Time Rock and Roll” in a classic scene from the 1969 film “Risky Business.” Domino’s Pizza has parodied the scene almost frame for frame to promote that customers are alerted in advance for the arrival time for a home delivery pizza (in time to get dressed). This is one of the few songs that Bob Segar recorded that he did not write. Muscles Shoals songwriters George Jackson and Thomas Jones wrote it and hopefully will be paid.

Legendary Shoals bassist David Hood performed on both hits.

Food Network to film at Dothan’s Zack’s Family Restaurant
From the article by Sable Riley on

A film crew from the Food Network is coming to Dothan to film at Zack’s Family Restaurant, a local fixture for 14 years.

Owner Dianne Whaley said network executives contacted her Monday to ask if they could feature the down-home, cafeteria-style eatery in an episode about country cooking, but she didn’t quite believe it until she reached out to them again later in the week.

They confirmed with Whaley that a crew would be on site March 1 to see how she and her husband, Zack, cook some of their famous menu items just as their mamas made them.

Whaley said the execs did not confirm which show the segment would run on, but said it would be one of the more popular shows with a large audience on select streaming services.

“We’re excited about it,” Whaley said. “We’re honored to be chosen.”

The crew is coming on the staff’s busiest day of the week, when 800 to 1,000 people are usually served and lines typically stretch out the door and across the parking lot around lunchtime.

Whaley said a Food Network employee visited the restaurant shortly after Zack’s was in the running to be the named the home of Bama’s Best Fried Chicken.

“My mama always told us, hard work pays off,” she said. “We’re here almost every day. We’re very hands-on with our restaurant. We sacrifice a lot.”

Whaley said her customers and kitchen staff are to thank for the network’s consideration, as well as the recipes passed down through the generations.

“We want our restaurant to remind people of going to your grandma’s house,” she said. “It’s like going to visit your grandma. We’ve always got banana pudding and bread.”

She said the lone family restaurant — the Slocomb location was sold several years ago — already gets a number of out-of-town customers, but she is excited about the implications for Dothan of having her business featured on a national television network.

Zack’s Family Restaurant, on Headland Avenue, serves old-fashioned, family-style, Southern cooking, including a rotating menu of foods like fried green tomatoes (fresh from Slocomb whenever possible), seasonal vegetables (including turnip greens and collards), country-fried steak, fried okra, and — of course — fried chicken.

For the complete article please see

Secret History Tours offer a special glimpse into Mobile history and culture
From the article by Michael Tomberlin on

With a city as old and storied as Mobile, the places and landmarks seem to be begging to tell their tales.

Thankfully, they have Todd Duren to do it for them.

Duren is tour guide and owner of Secret History Tours, a company that offers a variety of walking tours in and around downtown Mobile.

“I guarantee everybody, even old Mobilians, will learn something that they did not know,” Duren said.

This being Mardi Gras season, Duren’s most popular tour is Masks & Moon Pies. You can tell you’re on the right tour if Duren is carrying a rake with cowbells dangling from the business end. As you might expect, the prop has a historic connection to Mardi Gras in Mobile.

“Some people call (Mobile) ‘the birthplace of Mardi Gras.’ I call it the ‘mother of mystics,’” Duren said.

That’s because the first mystic society – those secret organizations that are now built all around Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile and beyond – started in Mobile with the Cowbellion de Rakin Society.

As Duren tells it, some revelers on New Year’s Eve in 1835, led by Michael Kraft, broke into a hardware store and used rakes and cowbells to continue their raucous partying into the morning.

“The next day when someone would say, ‘What was the name of that organization that kept us awake all night?’ He said, ‘We are the Cowbellion de Rakin Society,” Duren said.

Some of Secret History Tours’ Mardi Gras tours end with access to balconies for parade watching.

There is also the Prohibition Cocktails tour that visits some of the city’s speakeasy locations and includes handcrafted cocktails. Three Centuries focuses on the rich history of the 315-year-old city. Automotive Alley has connections to industry and civil rights. Dark Secrets is full of ghost stories and spooky tales.

Each tour has its own meet-up spot where the journey begins.

Duren decided to start Secret History Tours after taking similar tours of cities like New Orleans.

“Our city has as much interesting things to talk about and show people as those other places do,” Duren said. “We have such a beautiful, charming, walkable downtown.”

This is Duren’s third year of doing the tours and he is pleased to see them growing in popularity.

“I’m having a good time and I seem to be getting a good audience,” he said.

As one might expect, Duren had to do a lot of research early on to learn all of the interesting history and put it together into a cohesive tour. Now, he can’t just casually walk downtown without stopping to note some interesting fact.

“A walking tour is different from a bus tour,” Duren said. “You have to put everything in a fairly contained, short amount of space and then you have to have interesting stories to tell. It’s more than just facts and dates. I always try to make it interesting and engaging for the audience. And so, I try to turn things into a sort of narrative that’s interesting for the guests.”

Customers can find and book tour dates on the Secret History Tours website. The company is also on Facebook.

“There’s something for everybody in our tours,” Duren said. “We usually offer two different tours at a time.”

Duren said Secret History Tours will in March offer Dark Secrets and Prohibition Cocktails.

He said around 75% of tourgoers are from in and around Mobile. Duren hopes the remaining 25% leave with a lasting, positive impression of Mobile.

For the complete article please see

Alabama State Games return to Wiregrass
From the article by Brantley Weatherford on

The games were created with the ASF Foundation in 1982 to teach the youth around Alabama the importance of academics, athletics, good citizenship, and healthy lifestyles.

The games were in Dothan from 2015-17 before leaving and some wonder if they left because it wasn’t popular.

“It is hard sometimes with travel,” State Games Director Dean Kelly said. “So, if we can move around the state occasionally every few years, then it gives another area to host it, and to be able to do that. It wasn’t certainly anything about Dothan that made us leave.”

The games cover a wide variety of sports from field sports like baseball, softball, and soccer to sports like tennis, swimming, and BMX.

When the games were in Dothan for 2017, it had a $2.3 million economic impact.

Dothan’s mayor said he wants it every year.

“Well, we were hoping that they’ll allow us to two years in a row, because once you kind of get the processes and procedures in place, it’s nice to be able to have the games in consecutive years,” Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba said.

The mayors of Enterprise and Ozark expressed their excitement too.

“So again this will be a plus for the city of Enterprise,” Enterprise Mayor William Cooper said.

“Folks you need to come down,” Ozark Mayor Bob Bunting said. “Just when we have that opening event, it’s like being at the Olympics.”

The games will be June 12-14.

For the complete article please see

Skybar expanding to include a waterfall and fire fountain
From the article by Hannah Lester on

Auburn’s City Council voted this week to approve an expansion of one of the city’s most popular downtown bars, Skybar.

Skybar’s expansion will include a third floor for storage as well as more restrooms, a waterfall and fire fountain for the second floor.

The proposed expansion was postponed from the Jan. 21 meeting and again at the Feb. 4 meeting. The council had not received enough detailed information at either meeting to vote on the issue.

Pat Grider, the owner of Skybar, made his case to the council Tuesday for the expansion.

Skybar has a 2,500-person capacity, Grider said, though it rarely fills up completely.

The second-floor area would be used more like a quiet zone, Grider explained, for people who want to get away from the rowdiness of the rest of the bar.

“Because we have so much entertainment in all the rest of the place, this is more going to be like for people who just want to get away from the crowd and just sit outside,” Grider said. “And it’s good because you can look forward and you can still see the campus … ”

The noise level is high in the bar and the waterfall could help muffle noise for the surrounding properties near the new second-floor area, he said.

“A lot of people like to take pictures and selfies when they graduate and stuff, so it would be a great little thing for people when they graduate, to take pictures with the waterfall and fire fountain,” Grider said.

The Planning Commission approved the expansion Jan. 9. Although the council held a public hearing on the matter, no residents spoke for or against the expansion.

For the complete article please see

Museum Director Drew Green receives tourism certification
From the article on

Cullman County Museum Director Drew Green recently completed a three-year continuing education program to become a certified Travel Marketing Professional. Green was one of 17 of 65 graduates to also receive the Festival and Event Planner certification from the Southeast Tourism Society (STS).

The graduates of the STS Marketing College received their certificates in Little Rock, Ark., on Feb. 10.

STS Marketing College hold week-long summer sessions at North Georgia College and University in Dahlonega, Ga. Instructors are travel industry professionals such as convention and visitors’ bureau executives, public relations practitioners, sales and marketing consultants and research experts.

“Our Marketing College program is designed to provide applicable tools and working knowledge that our travel and tourism professionals can immediately implement when promoting their destinations, attractions, hotels and events,” said Monida Smith, STS president and CEO.

Participants learn about online marketing strategies, creating eye-catching and engaging tourism brochures, social media content planning and distribution, Google analytics, travel and tourism research, community engagement, economic impact studies and budgeting. In addition to classroom work, students must also complete two projects that relate to their job while using skills learned in the program.

Green used what he learned in the program to increase participation in the Oktoberfest School Program and in promoting the Bicentennial Finale. He used social media channels and in-person visits to promote the museum’s Oktoberfest activities. “Because of this coordinated effort we saw a significant increase in the number of students attending,” said Green.”We were also pleased to welcome some first time schools from the county.”

Green said the college provided him with the information and skills to better promote Cullman tourism. “With so many natural attractions, events and venues, it is important that we get the word out to a broader audience, not just locals,” he said. “There are so many new avenues to market and promote tourism in our area and many did not exist 10 years ago. From new social media sites, websites, apps etc. Many of these are free or low cost so we can reach out to people around the world. Understanding how these work, and better yet how to make them work for you, is a valuable asset.”

He said the networking the college provides is also an on-going asset. “Our graduating class has a Facebook page where we can ask questions and share ideas. You can also learn from others experiences about what works and does not work in a similar location or venue,” he said.

According to the Alabama Tourism Department, tourism is was a $15.5 billion industry in 2018, with an estimated 27.7 million people visiting the state. In that same year, it’s estimated that $954 million of state and local revenues were generated by travel and tourism activities.

For the complete article please see

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website
With Alabama Tourism’s promotion Photo ALbum, visitors can upload their photos into our Photo ALbum template and have their book printed and shipped to them for free.

Such a great way to showcase your experience. To read more about the promotion, visit


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