By Sam Burnham
Summer is here and for so many throughout the South that means fun in the sun and surf along the Gulf Coast. Growing up in Georgia, when people said they were headed to the beach they meant Panama City. Occasionally you'd encounter someone who was headed to Destin or maybe Ft. Walton Beach. My family had enough of a peninsular Florida influence that this infatuation with Panama City was bizarre. My childhood beach experiences included Daytona, Ormond, Jacksonville, and St. Augustine. In fact, I visited South Beach on Martha's Vineyard and a secluded beach on Salt Cay, Bahamas before I ever stepped foot in Bay County Florida.
These days, Panama City, and Daytona for that matter, is a picture of an urban center with a strip of white sand. There's just not much there for a small town guy looking for some relaxation that only comes from some peace and quiet. But all the cool kids are doing it. Even Gulf Shores/Orange Beach (our go-to since 2001) and Ft. Walton (our other choice) have really picked up in traffic, crowds and noise.
I can get all that in Atlanta and spend a lot less money.
Enter Summer 2017, stage right.
I think I have found an ABG approved option to the summer beach vacation. It's options plural, really, as is usually the case. I often say that big problems tend to require many small solutions and the beach is no exception. Let's talk about The Beaches of South Walton along scenic Highway 30A. The highway is part of what makes the area great. It's a two lane blacktop that veers off US 98 in Walton County and connects a string of small communities that each have their own feel, personality, if you will. Some of the places are old. Some are recent developments. This is by no means an exhaustive critique of the 30A beaches but I would like to offer a few of my insights on the places I was able to observe.
Blue Mountain Beach
Blue Mountain was our base of operation on this trip. Far removed from the high-rise condo structures in Panama City and Gulf Shores, this neighborhood is peppered with houses with very few businesses of any sort. The colorful structures rise up from the thickets of scrub oaks and spiky palms. But there is nary a mountain in sight. There is an ice cream shop, the Creamery, that I never made it to because the line was stretched out into the street all three times I dropped by. I'm guessing it is good. I can vouch for the ice cream at Buddy's Bike Rentals. The wait was much shorter and the treats good.
Developed by the St. Joe Paper company and designed by the same folks who produced the Disney town of Celebration, WaterColor is a lovely splash of color as well as brick streets. The community has an architecture that mashes well with the landscape. Speaking of landscape, the use of trees and other plants is excellent. The neighborhood has a very homey feel to it. It's very classy without being too posh. When I passed through on bicycle, there were people walking and biking around. There were a few places with tents set up offering kids activities and such. It's still a relatively quiet destination that is just a short walk or bike ride to Seaside, which we'll discuss next.
Seaside is a planned (er...mostly) community that you may have seen in the Jim Carey movie The Truman Show. There is talk that it earned that role because it came across as fake, almost too good to be true. If it is too good to be true, it still convinced me that it was, in fact, true. Along 30A, Seaside is the happening place. That is the one stretch of the road that had moderate traffic. It slowed but it was not the parking lot you experience in other places. It is easily navigated by bike or on foot. Much of the architecture is based on the old Florida designs and that tugged on the heart strings a bit. The community's center is a park that includes a stage area for open air music and drama, restaurants and shops, food trucks made from old Airstream campers, and a quaint little post office that I dare you to try to not photograph. I had to grab a few pictures, I just couldn't help it The interfaith chapel is a breathtaking wedding venue.
Seaside was a little crowded for my taste. A good place to drop in, have a little fun, and then slip back down to a place more my speed. A touch busy but beautiful just the same.
Let's talk about Alys Beach. When you pass through Alys, it will absolutely grab your attention. The stark white structures and statuary put a modern twist on the beaches along this highway. The cars and amenities indicate that there is money in Alys Beach. I'm honestly not a fan of the architecture. I don't think it blends well with the landscape. I don't think that I could get comfortable there. Between the harsh angles and bleached appearance, I'd be scared to sit down anywhere. It seems sterile, perhaps even starched. Don't get me wrong, it's a sight to see. I'd suggest a ride through. If you're into the modernist thing, I'd say stay there. But I'd feel much more at home in Grayton.
Grayton was my favorite of all the communities along 30A. It appears to be the oldest with the first homesteader showing up in the 1880s. The homes have a vernacular feel to them. Even the larger buildings fit neatly into the design scheme of the village. There are a few places for food and drinks. The beach offers an access for boat launching for the gulf while another ramp gives boat access to the lake on the east end of town. There is a lot of shade along the streets. The whole feel of the place is relaxed. Grayton seems to look at you from the porches and call out for you to slow down, take a load off. I'm not saying it is the 12 Southerners with a sand dune but it is about as close as I expect to get to that. I thought so much of this place that I visited it just about every day on bicycle. I'd recommend a stop there for anyone.
I plan to dive deeper into the finer points of 30A this summer. There is more to discuss but this is an overview of the area.
See you soon.
By Sam Burnham
I was back in Atlanta for an appearance on GPB's On Second Thought on Friday. Afterwards, I headed back over to Home grown GA for a Comfy Chicken Biscuit and also to talk to Kevin Clark, chef and owner of that establishment. After my review of Home grown, he had contacted me wanting to talk.
I can't imagine meeting a friendlier or more personable guy anywhere. He spoke of his employees and his customers as if they were his friends and neighbors...because mostly they are. He pointed out that people were happy to be there. It wasn't like North Korean propaganda. He was really stating the obvious. The dainty fork, coffee, and egg flowers on the logo are not some feel good facade. They represent the place as much as any image can.
But down to business. We talked about a well-known chain that can be found in the area, and likely in yours as well. This establishment, like many others, has signs reading "Please reserve booths for parties of two or more". He explained, in modern business spreadsheet style there is a formula to figure out how much money a seat is worth. One person at a table for four is costing the business three seats worth of cash. "I don't care about that" was his feeling on the formula. He stressed that he trains his employees to pay attention to the guests to the point that if someone returns, they get recognized and treated accordingly. For him, the business is not about formulas or spreadsheets. It's about people. If his customers are happy with their experience, he is happy. And as counter-intuitive as that sounds, he's running a successful business. He's making a living with happy employees and happy customers.
This all goes back to many experiences over my life that have taught me this simple business model: Provide a quality product or service, buy and sell via deals that are good for all parties involved, treat employees and customers as if they are important (because they are), and run an honest business.
This business model is not a secret. I'm not pretending to be promoting an idea I hatched in the drone of the tractor the other day. This is the business model that made Truett Cathy and Sam Walton very wealthy men. It's the business model used by the company that employed my dad in my youth. It's the business model a former employer of mine used to run a successful business out of a shed in his back yard for over 20 years without a business card, much less a web site.
No, what I'm sharing is not new. But it is the way of ABG to pick up something that hasn't been used in a while, dust it off, polish or paint it, and offer it up to anyone willing to look. So here it is, a fool proof business plan that has been used by people with household names for centuries but is quite neglected by large businesses in America. Use this plan. Do business with other people who use this plan. No matter how big your business gets, be too small, too friendly, too service-driven, too successful to fail.
By Sam Burnham
The search for stories, photos, adventure, and vintage goods carries us all over this state and beyond. Ringgold, near the Tennessee line is a frequent destination. This quaint Southern town has a vibrant downtown in which shops, businesses, and restaurants fill the historic downtown buildings.
On our last visit there, we asked the cashier The Ringgold Feed & Seed where we should eat. We wanted somewhere locally owned and operated. Her recommendation carried us to Richard's.
Richard's is one of those places every Southern town should have. The waitresses, quick with a "sweetheart", run around working like bees but, when asked about it, claim that they don't have very much to do.
The menu rotates. Oh you can get a burger or pork chop any day of the week but each day has two entrees and if you want one of them, you go on that day. The sides rotate somewhat as well to correspond with the meat of the day.
I wasn't hankering for meatloaf or Italian roasted chicken, so I took those fried pork chops from the everyday menu. As much as I like applesauce with my pork chops, the fried okra and mashed potatoes with white gravy called out and I went with that. Leigha took the meatloaf and the same sides, hold the gravy. I think she was disappointed that I didn't choose different sides so we could critique further but now we can offer two votes for the fried okra and mashed potatoes. Especially the okra, which was not mushy or messy. It was crisp like it should be. very tasty. The mashed potatoes were tasty as well.
The meatloaf was moist, they are generous with the onion and ketchup. It was very flavorful. Leigha says it was just how she likes it. The pork chops were a generous portion. They were breaded and cooked in a manner so that they didn't reduce to meat and mush once I started cutting them. They we delicious and I would definitely choose them again. Cornbread muffins and sweet tea rounded the meal out well.
The friendly atmosphere and the locals on a first name basis with the wait staff combined with an excellent meal and an great price (we both ate for under $20) make Richard's worth the short drive past the Cracker Barrel and other chain joints that sit just off the interstate. If you are hungry in the Ringgold area, get off at Exit 348, drive on into town and give them a try.
Richard's Restaurant and Catering is located at 906 Lafayette St in Ringgold. They are open Mon-Fri 6:30 am to 8 pm and Saturday 7 am -11 am.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire