50 People Who Are Changing the South in 2015
We surveyed the region to find the movers-and-shakers who are shaping the South with community-minded ideas and projects. From groundbreaking chefs to designers with a voice, these are the people you’ll want to keep an eye on this year.
Charlotte, North Carolina
There’s no denying the effect The Avett Brothers have on Southern music, and founding member Scott Avett is using that influence to build up another rich industry in our region: farming. Partnering with the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm in Concord, North Carolina (down the road from where he grew up), Scott and a group of local farmers work on this agricultural school that serves as a start-up base for young growers. The incubator program provides training and tools to help participants develop their business, thus cultivating the next generation of farmers and feeding the South’s agricultural culture.
Birmingham Mountain Radio
Birmingham Mountain Radio shook up the radio scene when it went from internet-only to FM station in 2013. Founded by Geno Pearson, Jeff Clanton, and Jeremy Harper, the station is an advocate for Southern music thanks to beloved shows like Reg’s Coffee House, Oh Brother Radio, and the Audiovore, which showcase regional bands through its programming and live events.
Ryan Butler and Ben Runkle, Salt and Time Butcher
Specialty butcher shops are having a moment in the South with spots like Spotted Trotter in Atlanta, Main Street Meats in Chattanooga, and Bottle & Bone in Birmingham. In Austin, Salt & Time takes it a step further, offering locals lessons in basic butchery, curing, and sausage making. And for the meat-loving, subscription-box fan, starting this month you can sign up for a six-month or yearlong membership to get $100 worth of Salt & Time provisions delivered to your door every month.
Sean Brock, Chef/Author
Charleston, South Carolina
It’s true, we give Sean Brock a lot of love at SL, but it’s for good reason. The chef behind critically acclaimed restaurants Husk and McCrady’s has become the poster-boy for modern Southern food thanks to his fervent dedication to authentic, locally sourced fare. Last year, the Virginia native released his first cookbook, Heritage—333 pages dedicated to his obsession with Southern foodways. And because the modern South is about so much more than heirloom beans and fried chicken—it reflects the cultural influence of newcomers to the community—last year Sean opened Minero, a thoughtful take on Mexican street food. In April, he plans to open Minero’s second location in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market.
Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, 21C Museum Hotels
This husband-and-wife hotelier team broke into the hospitality industry when the art lovers opened their first gallery-meets-boutique hotel, the 21c, in their hometown of Louisville. The duo seeks out cities with an up-and-coming art community to house their hotels, which now include locations in Bentonville, Arkansas, and Cincinnati, Ohio. This spring, 21C Museum Hotel Durham opens, with locales in Lexington, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and Nashville on the horizon.
Taylor Bruce, Wildsam
Just two years after launching his Wildsam Field Guide series, Taylor Bruce has published five guides to U.S. cities (Nashville, Austin, San Francisco, Detroit, and New Orleans) and will publish at least four more this year. The pocket-size guides feature stories of must-visit destinations as told through the people who call these places home. “We’re cultivating a different style of traveling, one that’s focused on heritage and culture,” says Taylor, a former Southern Living editor. Next up for Wildsam: Brooklyn, Charleston, San Antonio, and Los Angeles, plus a new website that launches this month.
Natalie Chanin, Alabama Chanin
The last year has been a busy one for Alabama designer Natalie Chanin: She launched her first line of machine-made clothing employing local seamstresses and creating pieces that are more readily available; created a limited-edition batch of socks, scarves, and tees made using organic Alabama cotton she and CFDA winning-designer Billy Reid planted in 2012; and opened a café and bakery. In 2015, Natalie continues to set the bar for design in the South, while helping revive Alabama's textile industry with the launch of A.Chanin Home—bedding, throws, quilts, and pillows all sewn in her Florence-based factory.
Maude Clay, Photographer
Since the 1980s, Maude Clay has documented Mississippi through moving photographs represented in her two books, Delta Land and Delta Dogs. Coming from a family of photographers (she began her career assisting her cousin, color-photography pioneer William Eggleston), Maude showcases the side of her state that is often left out of public discourse. “Mississippi gets laughed at a lot, but there is an enormous number of artists and authors who have come from here,” she says. “Since Eudora Welty in the 1930s, no one has created a comprehensive study of the Delta.” This fall, Maude publishes her first color-portrait book, Mississippi History.
Graham Colton, Fanswell
Oklahoma City, OK
Your favorite band is coming to town, and you can’t get tickets. What if you could host a concert in your own backyard? That was the question musician Graham Colton asked and answered with Fanswell. Wanting to create a platform for intimate shows, he created this app that allows fans to request private concerts in their own backyards, lofts, or living rooms. On the flipside, touring bands can fill empty dates on its schedule by requesting a host spot between bookings, thus bringing the fan-and-artist relationship one step closer.
Hillary Crittendon and Laura Martin, The SoGood
Laura and Hillary make it a breeze to find the best local purveyors in a city with the SoGood app. Covering seven Southern towns, with more coming this year, each business listed in the app has been vetted by SoGood girls, as well as other users who weigh in to boost the locale’s or artist’s street cred. Members also have access to travel guides for each city created by local tastemakers. Last month, the ladies took the show on the road with a series of pop-up shops that feature brands from the network, like Nashville’s Peter Nappi and Charleston’s Proud Mary, bringing the experience of curated, online shopping to life.
Kim Cross, Author
Former Southern Living editor Kim Cross’ March release is set to be among the most influential titles of 2015. What Stands in a Storm tells the story of the April 2011 tornado outbreak, one of the most devastating natural disasters to hit our region in the last decade. Painstakingly reported and told through a voice of hope, Kim’s literary debut honors the Southern tradition of storytelling and presents her as a new voice for the South.
Ryan and Travis Croxton, Rappahannock Oyster Co.
The South is in the midst of an oyster revival with farmers from Appalachicola to the Chesapeake ramping up the oyster economy. In the center of that is Rappahannock Oyster Co. In 2001, cousins Travis and Ryan took back the lease of the oyster grounds their great-grandfather founded in 1899, and set out to restore the area that was hurting from overfishing. The men now produce more oysters than the entire bay did in 2001, and through their sustainable farming techniques, they are able to do so without depleting the bay. Rappahannock takes its bounty straight to the masses through its restaurants in Topping, D.C., and Richmond.
Katie and Denny Culbert, Runaway Dish
Runaway Dish uses the pop-up supper club concept to reveal the culinary legacy of South Louisiana, one meal at a time. Denny and Katie, the husband-and-wife duo who mastermind the productions, bring together chefs, farmers, producers, and diners for epicurean fêtes ranging from traditional Cajun boucheries in Grand Coteau to avant-garde feasts in Lafayette and New Orleans. All proceeds go to support local nonprofits. And since Denny is a photographer by trade, the whole process (farm-to-table, literally) gets documented in a stylish culinary journal, with each volume a reflection of Louisiana’s heritage. We think they’re just hitting their stride.
Sam Davidson, Stephen Mosely, and Rob Williams, BATCH
What started out as a subscription service to deliver Nashville-made artisan goods (locally roasted coffee, handmade candies, letterpress) has grown into a company that’s expanded nationwide. Now they deliver themed boxes from Memphis, Charleston, and Austin to all 50 states. Last fall, BATCH opened its first brick-and-mortar store in the Nashville Farmers’ Market, and starting this year, customers can buy “Best of the South” boxes selecting items from multiple cities.
Lonnie Davis, The Jazz Arts Initiative
Charlotte, North Carolina
Through her nonprofit, The Jazz Arts Initiative, Lonnie Davis is bringing back Charlotte’s jazz roots. The New Orleans transplant and accomplished flutist draws on North Carolina luminaries like Nina Simone and Dizzy Gillespie to inspire the city’s musical rebirth through weekly concerts, workshops, and music programs in public schools. This year hosts a busy lineup, as Lonnie starts Jazz in Session, a quarterly series with the The Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.
Dave Dawson, The Urban Electric Co.
Charleston, South Carolina
After 11 years in the game, Dave Dawson and his team at Urban Electric push the South forward as a stronghold in the lighting manufacturing industry with their heritage-minded, yet totally fresh, designs. Every fixture is produced from start to finish in their 65,000-square-foot Charleston factory, and no material goes to waste. (All leftover pieces are saved for future projects.) Urban Electric has collaborated with fellow Southern-design-world bigwigs like Darryl Carter and Steven Gambrel, and you can find its work illuminating top restaurants nationwide—from Blue Plate Oysterrette in California to Charleston’s own The Ordinary—and giving the traditional crystal chandelier a run for its money in dining rooms and foyers across the South.
Theo Edmonds, Ideas 40203
Theo Edmonds is an artist with a vision to bring art-fueled prosperity back to downtown Louisville. IDEAS 40203, which Theo describes as a chamber of commerce for creatives, connects artists with corporations, nonprofits, and city leaders to create programs that inspire local change. Led by the idea that art can be a catalyst for a city’s revival, Theo hopes to expand IDEAS to other zip codes in 2015.
Craig Evans, Y’allsome
Los Angeles, California
North Carolina native Craig Evans has been out of the South for more than a decade, but that has only served to strengthen his appreciation for the region. Last year, the L.A.-based creative director used his graphic design and branding skills to launch Y’allsome, a brand of shirts, posters, and hats that promote Southern pride. Everything—from the Missouri-sourced hats to the Georgia-made embroideries—is from the South, and proceeds go toward finding homes for children in the region who are in foster care. This year, Craig adds kids’ tees and accessories like totes and barware to the collection.
St. Louis, Missouri
Four beer-loving ladies, Katie Herrera, Libby Brown, Kristen Chalfant, and Colleen Kirby, launched Femme Ferment to redefine the role of women in the male-dominated world of craft beer. Aside from hosting networking events like happy hours for female brewers and beer lovers, the ladies add an educational series to the roster this year, as well as a collaboration with hometown brewer Schlafly to celebrate Femme Ferment’s first birthday in May.
Becky and Scott Harris, Catoctin Creek
In the middle of Virginia’s wine country, Becky and Scott Harris are making what may be the most Southern of spirits. While many craft spirits claim the title of “handmade,” Catoctin walks the walk with its line of whiskeys, gins, and brandies that are made start-to-finish in Loudon County using locally sourced fruits and rye. Other materials, such as boxes and services, also come from the area, and the team gives back to the land by donating its spent rye mash for cattle farmers to use as livestock feed. Expanding its regional reach, Catoctin creates specialty products for top bartenders and hotels in the Virginia and D.C. area.
Kathleen and Mariana, Croghan’s
Charleston, South Carolina
Since 1907, Croghan’s has anchored the city’s main shopping thoroughfare on King Street. Now, the fourth generation is stepping in to continue the family tradition. Sisters Mariana and Kathleen Hay are bringing fresh energy to the estate- and fine-jewelry business by adding contemporary lines like Elizabeth & James and Gerard Yosca, as well as brands with a lower price point to Croghan's stock. The latest addition? The Goldbug Collection—earrings, bracelets, and necklaces that Mariana makes in-house featuring the city’s unofficial mascot, palmetto bugs.
Bobby Heugel, Clumsy Butcher
Bobby Heugel put Texas cocktails on the map when he opened Anvil Bar & Refuge in 2009. Since then, every spot he and his Clumsy Butcher team open (including Hay Merchant, charity-driven Okra Saloon, Pastry War, and Julep) is as successful as the last. This year, Bobby launches a site that provides bartenders with straight-talk advice about opening a bar. And keep an eye out for new locales and a cocktail book in 2015.
Jen Hidinger and Ryan Smith, Staplehouse & Giving Kitchen
The South is known for its sense of community, and this bond is especially strong in the food world. In 2012, Jen’s husband, Ryan Hidinger, was diagnosed with stage-four cancer before they could finalize plans for their dream restaurant, Staplehouse. The Atlanta restaurant community banded together to support the couple’s living expenses during their time of need. Jen was inspired by her friends’ generosity and teamed up with her brother Ryan Smith to found the Giving Kitchen, an organization that offers financial assistance to Atlanta restaurant employees when they are unable to work. In homage to Ryan, Jen and her brother open Staplehouse this spring as Atlanta’s first nonprofit restaurant with all net earnings going toward the Giving Kitchen.
Malcolm Gage and Cordey Lash, Ophelia’s Soul Food
Food courts and soul food are probably the last things that come to mind when thinking about healthful eating, but Malcolm Gage and Cordey Lash want to change that. After winning Food Network’s “Food Court Wars” competition, the home cooks opened Ophelia’s Soul in the Collin Creek Mall, dishing out hearty dishes like chicken and waffles, fried fish platters, and peach cobblers, minus the excess fat and calories. The guys use fresh ingredients, prepare everything daily, and use lighter substitutes for health-conscious updates on Southern classics. Next up, Malcolm and Cordey plan to open other Ophelia’s outposts and publish a cookbook.
Rhiannon Giddens, Musician
Greensboro, North Carolina
The Carolina Chocolate Drops leading lady branches out on her own with the release of her first solo album, Tomorrow is My Turn, in February. Produced by T. Bone Burnett, the record is a collection of covers of fairly unknown tracks by artists like Dolly Parton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Hank Cochran that have inspired Rhiannon and paved the way for female musicians. Like with the Chocolate Drops, Rhiannon’s new work continues to represent African-American folk, while propelling the strength of female musicians.
Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., Kennedy Prints!
At the head of letterpress printing’s revival is Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr.—a former computer programmer who has been cranking out his vibrant, humorous posters and books since the 1980s. His work has a heavy emphasis on African-American culture, and many of his prints feature famous quotes and names from the Civil Rights Movement. Although Amos recently moved his printing plant to Detroit, his art continues to embody the spirit of his native South. In 2015, the artist introduces 6-inch by 8-inch, mail-friendly “postercards.”
Rick Lowe, Project Row Houses
A painter by training, Rick Lowe is the founder of Project Row Houses, which has transformed 22 shotgun houses in Houston’s Third Ward through art. Part art program, part community revitalization effort, Project Row includes arts education, organic gardening programs, and partnerships with local architects and artists to preserve one of the city’s oldest African-American neighborhoods. A recipient of the prestigious 2014 MacArthur Genius Grant, the Alabama native sets a new bar for neighborhood revitalization.
Tasia Malakasis, Belle Chevre
As the owner of Belle Chevre, Tasia Malakasis has turned the town of Elkmont, Alabama, into an internationally recognized cheese-making source. This March, Tasia, an Alabama native, publishes her third book, this time teaming up with our editors for Southern Living Southern Made Fresh—a collection of Test Kitchen-approved, farm-inspired recipes. She's also at the center of Elkmont's revitalization, advocating for more businesses to follow her lead in setting up shop in this North Alabama town.
New Orleans, Louisiana
You can’t talk about New Orleans jazz without mentioning the Grammy Award-winning artist and founding artistic director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. This year, Irvin Mayfield debuts a permanent home for the orchestra, The New Orleans Jazz Market. Opening in March 2015, the locale will be the first venue in the South completely dedicated to jazz performances. Along with this premier space, Irvin and the NOJO also have a new album and world tour on the books for 2015.
Molly McDowell and Mary Hull Palmer, Outside the Box Fine Arts
This art-purveying duo branch out beyond the traditional gallery experience by pairing art lovers with interactive events that breathe fresh life into the fine arts. Instead of your standard cocktail receptions and artist talks, Mary and Molly host experiences like artist-led architecture tours of Charleston and plein air demos in places like Sea Island, Georgia.
Miles McMath, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
At a hospital, dining options are more Jell-O-to-tray than farm-to-table, but James Beard Foundation-recognized chef Miles McMath and his crew, who prepare 2,500 meals a day at pediatric hospital St. Jude, are using an on-site, organic garden and a network of heritage-breed farmers to change that. “At the hospital, food is one of the only things that can bring them a little piece of home,” he told us when he stopped by the SL Test Kitchen. “I love playing a part in that.”
Bill Mitchell, Billiam
Greenville, South Carolina
Billiam founder Bill Mitchell quickly built a successful career out of making tailored denim with fabrics sourced from and sewn in the South. Every pair of jeans is stitched in Bill’s Greenville studio using fabrics made from recycled North Carolina fibers that are milled at the storied Cone Mill in Greensboro. Last fall, Bill opened his first storefront in downtown Greenville, but it’s what the 27-year-old entrepreneur is doing to give back that has us taking note: 20 percent of all Billiam sales goes toward fighting human trafficking in Atlanta.
Andy and Charlie Nelson, Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery
In a time when upstart micro-distilleries are booming across the country, the story of Nelson’s Green Brier is one of rebirth. Brothers Andy and Charlie, the great-great-great grandsons of Charles Nelson, whose whiskey production outpaced Jack Daniel’s 13-fold before Prohibition, have reclaimed the Nelson’s Green Brier name with their newly opened distillery and tasting room in Nashville. The first batches of their wheated whiskey, fresh off the copper pot still (named “Miss Louisa” after their triple-great-grandmother), sit in charred oak barrels, waiting to come of age. In the meantime, you can sample the un-aged product and get the full background on a tour of the distillery. Because, like good Southern sons, they’re just as invested in their story.
Laura Vinroot Poole, Capitol and House Account
Charlotte, North Carolina
With her progressive and stylish boutiques Capitol and Poole, Laura redefined Charlotte’s fashion scene. Last year Laura launched House Account, a mobile app that allows you to shop locally run boutiques all over the South from the convenience of your phone. The ingenious feat helps sustain independent retailers in a time when e-commerce is taking over. Next up, look out for Laura’s first shopping outpost for men opening in the Queen City this year.
Brian Preston, Lamon Luther
Brian Preston of Lamon Luther takes a benevolent approach to business by employing homeless men and women in Georgia and training them to become skilled craftspeople, building everything from cutting boards to dining tables. This year, Brian and his team launch the Legacy Collection—furniture and kitchenware made from Southern barn wood.
Bailey Quin, Biscuit Home
An all-around powerhouse in the interior design world, Bailey Quin is the creative mind behind Biscuit Home—a trifecta design studio, home boutique, and bedding line. She’s working hard at making every Southern lady’s obsession with tailored, bespoke-like bed linens reachable with her affordable and American-made blankets, sheets, and duvets. Launched just two years ago, Biscuit Home has grown from a 1,200-square-foot studio into a 10,000-square-foot multipurpose space. This year the designer branches out into pajamas and quilts.
Brooks Reitz, Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. & Neighbourhood Restaurant Group
Charleston, South Carolina
Brooks democratized craft cocktail making with Jack Rudy Cocktail Co.—his brand of tonics, cherries, and bitters that help amateur drink makers elevate the home bar. Last year, Brooks set out to put his stamp on Charleston’s food scene with the creation of Neighbourhood Restaurant Group with restaurateur Tim Mink. Their first spots—Leon’s Oyster Shop and St. Alban—are already being lauded by food lovers. Next, fans are anxious for Brooks’ forthcoming restaurant, as well as a foray into spirits for Jack Rudy, and the expansion of Khi Khi Milk Co., a line of Vietnamese cold-press coffee he co-founded with Charleston native Michael Claisse.
Nely Rodriguez, Fair Food Program
Nely Rodriguez helped launch The Fair Food Program through the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to set better work standards for Florida’s tomato farmworkers. The program focuses on connecting major companies—including McDonald’s and Whole Foods—with farms that follow the specific guidelines set by the FFP to improve wages and work conditions in the fields. In a major nod to her team’s efforts, last summer Walmart signed an agreement to get onboard. Now farmers and activists in other states are using Nely’s model to improve farming conditions in their state.
Carrie Rollwagen, Writer
After spending a year shopping only from independently owned businesses, Carrie Rollwagen published The Localist in November. In it, she takes an educational, non-preachy approach to promote a shop local or “localist” movement. “Much like with the locavorism, we can make a big change in our community by shopping from local businesses,” she says. This winter, Carrie sets on an East Coast book tour traveling to destinations by train. You can follow along at carrierollwagen.com/blog and share your own #localist story.
Alon Shaya, Shaya
New Orleans, Louisiana
Few cities embrace the South’s diverse culinary roots like New Orleans. This year, the Crescent City expands its culinary portfolio with the opening of Shaya, an Israeli restaurant headed up by Domenica’s executive chef, Alon Shaya. In this next joint venture with James Beard-winning chef John Besh, Alon shows off the foods of his native country and fills underrepresented space in the South’s rich dining scene. Expect Israeli dishes made with local ingredients that meld NOLA heritage with Mediterranean staples.
Elaine Sheldon, Documentary Filmmaker
Charleston, West Virginia
After graduating from West Virginia University in 2009, Elaine Sheldon created Hollow, an award-winning documentary that uses film, photography, and art to shed light on oft-forgotten rural West Virginia and its people. Breaking the mold on movie watching, Elaine made Hollow an interactive film, in which viewers scroll and click through multiple storylines. Next up, the young filmmaker takes to documenting the lionfish invasion problem that is threatening marine diversity in the Gulf and Atlantic with a short-film-and public-art project she is working on in Miami.
Single Lock Records
Muscle Shoals, Alabama
The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, and Wilson Pickett make up a drop in the overflowing bucket of legendary musicians that recorded in The Shoals. John Paul White, Will Trapp, Ben Tanner, Reed Watson, and Jonathan Oliphant of indie record label Single Lock are working to make their tiny river town a recording destination once again, starting with critically acclaimed acts on the rise like St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Belle Adair.
Square Feet Studio
The team of seven architects and interior designers at Square Feet set the standard on Atlanta’s special brand of rustic-meets-sleek restaurant and retail design that inform the rest of the region with spots like Kimball House, Sid Mashburn, and The General Muir. Coming this year is a new Little Tart Bakeshop, The Cockentrice, and Staplehouse—highly anticipated restaurants that no doubt will be as beautiful as they are tasty.
PJ Stoops, Fishmonger and Chef
Texas native PJ stoops returned home from living in France and Thailand in 2006. Armed with just a van and a cooler, he became the day-fresh-catch purveyor of choice for top Houston restaurants such as Reef and Feast. Bothered by the tons of bycatch (small fish and other animals that get drafted in fishermen’s nets and discarded, dead or alive, back into the ocean), PJ convinced the men to hold on to their “trash” fish, and the Houston chefs to incorporate bycatch into their menus, in turn changing Texas seafood. This spring, PJ, a chef by training, opens his first restaurant, Foreign Correspondents—a tribute to the foods he cooked and loved while living in Thailand.
The Bitter Southerner
Chuck Reece, David Whitling, Butler Raines, and Kyle Tibbs Jones are reviving Southern storytelling. Delivering one long-format story every Tuesday, The Bitter Southerner site covers everything from homegrown music to Southerners’ love of dogs to Mississippi gas station food. With just over a year under its belt, BS already counts 9,500 Twitter followers and 37,000 Facebook likes, proving that in the South a good story is something that will never go out of style.
Rosa Thurnher and Regina Weird, Factory Girls
There’s a strong pool of fashion talent in the South, but budding designers often take off for big cities like New York and L.A., where industry resources are bountiful. To counteract that, Rosa and Regina teamed up last year to create an incubator where designers could share resources to jumpstart their clothing labels. Factory Girls provides workspace, tools, pattern and sample makers, as well as showroom space and branding help to young designers. “We have to keep designers in the South, if we want to elevate the image,” Regina says. “Atlanta is the perfect place to create a fashion hub: We have SCAD, a major airport, and a strong retail culture.” Next year, the women will add resources for accessory designers, and an event similar to Fashion Week for Atlanta, with a strong focus on education and community building.