Erin and Ben Napier, Our Favorite Small Town Champions, Join This Week's Biscuits & Jam
About Biscuits & Jam: In the South, talking about food is personal. It's a way of sharing your history, your family, your culture, and yourself. Each week Sid Evans, Editor in Chief of Southern Living, sits down with celebrity musicians to hear stories of how they grew up, what inspired them, and how they've been shaped by Southern culture. Sid takes us back to some of their most cherished memories and traditions, the family meals they still think about, and their favorite places to eat on the road.
Episode 13: July 13, 2021
Erin and Ben Napier are the husband and wife renovation team from the hit HGTV series Home Town, which premiered in 2016. By shining a spotlight on their small town of Laurel, Mississippi, Erin and Ben have introduced millions of fans to the charms, quirks, and history of their community. But after helping spur the growth and prosperity of their own town, the Napiers were inspired to hit the road, launching a nationwide search to find another town that needed a helping hand. In May of this year, they launched a new series called Home Town Takeover, which is based on an ambitious plan to recharge and revitalize Wetumpka, Alabama. In just a few short months, they renovated homes, businesses, and the lives of a beautiful small town that was devastated by a tornado in 2019.
On the House Erin Grew Up In
Erin: "My parents still live in it, and it's out in the country with a lot of land and a big pond in the backyard. It's kind of paradise. They have this great back porch that's kind of an outdoor kitchen and it was a great house to grow up in. And Mama let me decorate my own room when I was in seventh grade and I put cloud wallpaper on the ceiling and painted a mural on the wall, and it's still exactly the way it was when I was in seventh grade. So, yeah. It was an awesome way to grow up."
On the Cook in Erin's Family
Ben: "I can speak to this. And I don't think that my mother-in-law would mind. But, Erin's grandmother—was the family cook. And Erin's mom was always a good cook–and Erin's mom has written about this, about how she had to learn… to love it. And that it was about the love that you put into it and the love for the people that you were cooking for, not necessarily the love of cooking."
Erin: "It's true. She has filled Mamaw's shoes the best she can. Mamaw wears size 5 shoes but they were really tough to fill."
On the House Ben Grew Up In
Ben: "Growing up, we didn't have a house that we grew up in. My parents are both United Methodist preachers, and anybody who knows anything about the United Methodist Church knows that preachers move. And so we lived in several little small towns and big houses, small houses, really dumpy houses and some really great houses. When I was probably around 22, at school at Ole Miss, and having to fend for myself and feed myself, I called my mom one time and I said, you know, I owe you an apology. I said, I don't know how you and Daddy afforded to feed four of me, much less myself, because I'm going broke just trying to eat three square meals…"
On Hometown Being More than a Renovation Show
Erin: "The home reno part is what put us on TV. It's rarely the thing that people reach out to us about. Out of all the emails and questions we get, a third of them pertain to the renovation. Two thirds pertain to what it means for people to have hope and living in a small town that's struggling."
Ben: "Or they want to know about the people on the show."
On What People Say About Them Being Real Champions of Small Town America
Erin: "We are two of many, many people who have been working so hard to make Laurel feel alive. And I wish that people could see that two people don't do it. Two people definitely can't do it…We get to be the mascots of it."
Ben: "People come and they visit on a weekend and they see Laurel and they see our stores and they see my pickup truck. And they take a picture with it and they see the houses that we've done on the show. And they think that that's it, but what they don't see are the people who organized the lighting project in downtown Laurel. They don't see the people who organize the Mississippi Made event that's happening this weekend."
Erin: "Yeah, everybody's valuable. So valuable."
On What It Means to Be Southern
Ben: "To be Southern is to be where my people are from… I lived in North Carolina for a while and North Carolina is very much Southern but it is not where my people were from. And I love North Carolina, it's one of my most favorite places to visit but Mississippi is where my family's from. This is our home… It's my granny's fried catfish. My grandmother's brownies, swimming in the creek, playing with my brothers, that's for me, this is where my people are from."
Erin: "It means being great storytellers… My mama is this incredible writer and her stories make the South—you can taste it. You know what I mean? And I guess I inherited some of that. But the storytelling, you know? We have the best writers. Everybody knows it."
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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