story and photography by Hannah Kicklighter
According to the U.S. Census, 34.9 percent of Clarke County residents are living below poverty level. For the kids living in these homes, schoolwork is not always a top priority. In light of this, programs like Title I and Thomas Lay have stepped in to help.
Title I is a Federal Program Grant implemented in school systems across the country as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to help children at risk of falling behind in class.
Erin Buckley, director of the Athens–Clarke County Title I program, says that the funds for this program are given to schools through a formula tied to Free and Reduced Meals. Essentially, the program receives money based on how many children qualify for free breakfast and lunch according to their parent’s income.
One example of where this money is being used is Parent University. This three-session course teaches parents how to be teachers for their own children. Parents are taught sight words, vocabulary, or literature depending on the level of their child.
Title I uses programs like these, paired with instructional development, to improve the grades of children at risk in schools and better level the playing field for children in impoverished homes.
Thomas Lay, or T-Lay as people working closely with the program like to call it, picks up where the school leaves off. Monday to Friday from 3pm-5:30pm, children from Athens-Clarke County schools come to the volunteer-based program to do homework and play with friends.
Co-Executive Directors, Candace Flagg and Margaret Connolly, agreed that the program gives structure to the kids when they may not get it at home.
“We’re the thing they can come to every single day and that won’t change,” says Connolly.
Afternoons start with homework. Ideally, each child would be paired up to work one on one with a mentor. But since there are an average of 40 kids and about 25 mentors daily, the volunteers tend to help the younger children most and the older children when needed.
The program aims to boost the idea that completing high school and moving on to college is possible. College students serve as role models for these kids. “It’s important to make sure they know school is important,” says Flagg.
After the homework and studies are finished, the children get their choice of the daily club or playing on the playground.
During one visit, a group of about 5 little girls were learning to crochet. They twisted purple and pink yarn around metallic purple needles, and laughed when I told them I did not know how to crochet. One of the girls thrust out her yarn to me with a smile. She said that it was easy and that even I could learn how it’s done.
The Thomas Lay program is funded by The University of Georgia Honors Program, and is looking for more volunteers.
Programs like Title I and Thomas Lay show children in impoverished situations how important education is to their future. These kids in the Athens-Clarke County area know what poverty feels like. But with education and structure, they can succeed in school, and maybe one day become fellow bulldogs.
As if Athens doesn’t already have top-of-the-line food venues, there are now even more to add to the list. From wood-fired pizza to innovative Asian cuisine to unbeatable brunch, these restaurants have what it takes to satisfy any craving!
Brixx: Wood Fired Pizza
Brixx: Wood Fired Pizza is not an average pizza joint. Located on West Washington Street, customers can stop by and enjoy an open, contemporary atmosphere, grab some brew from their list of 24 beers on tap, and enjoy a one-of-a-kind pizza fresh from the oven. Not only is the pizza stone-baked, but there is wood thrown in the oven to infuse the pies with a mouth-watering fiery flavor!
Having only been open in Athens since March, Brixx has already attracted a good deal of customers and achieved most popular menu items.
“For the men, it’s the Bronx Bomber, and for the Ladies, the Greek Pizza,” says manager Bradwell Lane.
Brixx’s unique draft selection includes beers from breweries across the country as well as local brews. Customers are bound to find a beer to satisfy whatever type they crave at Brixx. The restaurant offers 14 different wines, from Chardonnay to White Zinfandel, for wine lovers. Order a glass, or even a bottle, and pinkies up!
For health nuts, Brixx offers an extensive gluten-free menu, including gluten-free crust, ample gluten-free toppings, salad, and even gluten-free beer.
Brixx is open late night, too! They are open until 2 a.m. Monday-Saturday and midnight on Sunday. Party animals can stop by after downtown and satisfy those late night cravings.
Being college students comes with the inevitable stereotype of an empty wallet. Once again, Brixx comes to the rescue. Come in anytime past 10 p.m., and enjoy buy-one-get-one FREE pizzas and buy-one-get-one FREE beer. Who could pass up a deal like that?
It’s clear that Brixx targets several audiences: the beer-lovers, the wine-drinkers, the carb-junkies, the health-conscious, the night-owls, and those on a budget, so don’t forget to stop by!
Iron Factory isn’t the typical Korean restaurant. Located on Washington Street where Farm 255 used to be, it’s one-of-a-kind and has tons to offer! This Korean Barbecue joint delivers its food with a twist: cast-iron skillets are placed on each table, so the food cooks right in front of the consumer.
Iron Factory delivers a variety of sizzling entrees, including chicken, Bulgogi Steak and Prime Ribeye, cooked fresh to order.
“My personal favorite is the Red Pepper Pork Belly,” manager Zach Evans says.
In addition to their succulent menu selections, Iron Factory offers private parties in elegant, spacious rooms that seat up to 40 people with huge flat screens for karaoke.
Ideal for celebrating birthdays and special events, Iron Factory offers any type of drink imaginable: draft beer, domestic beer, premium beer, champagne, wine, sparkling wine, martinis, cocktails, frozen drinks and more. They even have a chocolate milk drink with chocolate liqueur for a dessert with a kick.
Iron Factory stays open late until 2 a.m. Monday-Saturday and midnight on Sunday. The restaurant features a large, outdoor seating area that adds to the late-night social atmosphere, as well as live music.
Before Iron Factory, it would take a 60-mile drive to Atlanta for Korean barbecue, but now the drive is less than five.
Who doesn’t love Sunday brunch? Better yet, who doesn’t love Sunday Brunch at J. Christophers? The new location on South Lumpkin Street opened in April and has a lot to offer when it comes to breakfast, lunch and the in between: brunch. J. Christopher’s offers something delicious to satisfy a craving of something sweet, wholesome, and hearty. Open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Sunday, J. Christopher’s provides the opportunity to stop by and fuel up before class, grab a late lunch after leaving campus, or enjoy a weekend brunch with friends.
For breakfast and brunch, Manager Chris Santarufo recommends J. Christopher’s most popular item, “Benny,” the traditional but tried and true Egg’s Benedict with poached eggs, savory Canadian bacon and rich hollandaise sauce on a warm English muffin.
Sweeter options include the breakfast parfait, chocolate chip pancakes, and of course J. Christopher’s signature dish, the blueberry crunch cakes: a combination of fluffy house-made pancakes, fresh blueberries and crunchy granola.
Healthier menu choices include J. Christopher’s low-fat “Healthy Starts,” such as a turkey sausage platter, a turkey bacon platter, an egg white sub, and even Atkins and South Beach Diet dishes.
With its welcoming, family-friendly environment and a touch of tasteful modern artwork, J. Christopher’s provides a new place to break bread and build bonds. So Skip Mama’s Boy next time, and come try J.C’s!
Taqueria Tsunami calls itself “A Tidal Wave of Flavors,” and that label couldn’t be more accurate. This Latin-Asian kitchen located on Epps Bridge Parkway is definitely full of unique flavor.
The restaurant’s shrimp tempura taco won an award at The Taste of Marietta with a blend of shrimp tempura topped with Asian slaw, fresh cilantro and a hoisin-lime aioli. But shrimp isn’t where it stops.
Other menu items include The Gringo Taco with beef, queso, lettuce and pico de gallo, the Aloha Taco with teriyaki chicken, pineapple pico de gallo and spicy mayo, The BBQ Short Rib with Kogi BBQ ribs topped with cucumber salad, and so much more! The endless flavors at Taqueria Tsunami provide plenty of variety.
On top of the one-of-a-kind tacos, they offer an array of starters, bowls, quesadillas, desserts and salads. For special events, Taqueria caters the real life of the party: Flavor!
They may label the restaurant “A Tidal Wave of Flavors,” but the name of the restaurant holds significance beyond an assortment of seasonings. Taqueria Tsunami gives back to the community by supporting tsunami relief organizations. In addition, they donate a portion of their sales to the Georgia Red Cross. If sharing a meal brings people together, this cultured cuisine might be just the flavor Athens has been missing.
by brianna blackman / photography by lauren maldonado
For some, 13.1 miles is about a 15-minute drive. To Cory Shaw, it’s an hour and 50 minute run, also known as AthHalf. Shaw, a senior advertising major from Roswell, ran his first half marathon last year during the annual race.
“It was one of the hardest things I had to do in my life,” Shaw says.
But despite it being the hardest thing he’s done, Shaw is training to run the race again this year. Being a new runner, he describes it as an experiment that he plans on continuing. Now that he knows the course of the race, Shaw is able to adjust his training schedule to better accommodate the grueling hills of Athens for race day on October 19 starting off with three miles and building up each week. He’s gotten familiar with the Athens area by changing up his course every time and running where the crowds are.
“I love running where the people are,” Shaw says. “Just seeing people inspire me to go faster.”
Shaw isn’t alone in his AthHalf journey. Christina Martin, a first-time runner from Peachtree City, has found another way to prepare for AthHalf. Martin, a graduate student at Georgia State University going for her masters of public health, uses a Pinterest page that she found known as couch potato to half marathon. Similar to Shaw’s method, it’s a guide that slowly moves runners up in mileage over ten weeks. Of course, there are some worries to running a half-marathon for the first time.
“I’m most worried about not finishing,” Martin says. “That’s definitely my biggest fear. In my head, I know I could do it, but there’s a time limit and that causes fear. I worry I’ll get to mile 10 and be like ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”
Martin’s worry of not finishing the race is a common fear. In Shaw’s point of view, running 13.1 miles can be taxing physically, mentally, and spiritually. Each runner has their own inspiration to reach the finish line. For Martin, it’s her sister.
“She did this race last year to raise money for our aunt’s father, who passed away from cancer,” Martin says. “I saw her do this beautiful thing, and I told myself one day I will run a half-marathon. Didn’t really think that would be this year.”
For Shaw, it was after a nation’s tragedy.
“I actually started running after the Boston Marathon,” Shaw says. “Being able to run for those that can’t run anymore because of the event is why I was inspired to do an AthHalf, or a half-marathon.”
According to the AthHalf website, the half-marathon starts on Clayton Streets, runs up and down the hills of Athens and ends at the Tate Student Center parking lot. As Martin stated, the race does have a time limit of four hours before the course and finish line is deconstructed. However, there are training groups put together by AthHalf that a person can work with in order to keep under that time. The money from the registration fees benefits AthFest Educates, a nonprofit organization that gives out grants to schools, nonprofits, and government agencies in the Athens area that provide educational programs in fine arts for people in kindergarten to fifth grade.
Story and Photography by Ian Palmer
Athens is a city brimming with life and culture. It is a center for music and arts in the southeast, and an exciting culinary scene has emerged in the past decade. In rhythm with these offerings, Athens also has a growing identity in the world of craft beer. Not only are breweries popping up in town, but bars and restaurants are providing an increased selection of regional and national beers. Plus, local consumers are taking notice and buying into the growing trend. The industry is at an exciting early stage in Athens, and right now is no exception, as local craft brewers are beginning to showcase their unique seasonal beers and special releases for the fall period.
Fall is a season of flavors, which is evident in the seasonal beers currently showing up in Athens. Terrapin’s five-year-running Pumpkin Fest is out now, as well as its Moo Hoo milk chocolate stout. It’s also releasing Coo Coo Fest this fall, a southern inspired fest beer brewed with real grits from Helen.
Officially opened in April, Creature Comforts Brewing Company is the most recent addition to the group of brewers in Athens. They won’t be releasing any seasonal beers until the winter, but they have several special releases happening this fall, including the first canned batches of Athena and Tropicalia, two of their year-round offerings. At downtown brew-pub Copper Creek, head brewer Matt Buley is serving his Pumpkin Ale, which is so popular he makes three full batches every fall.
Seasonal brewing is no new thing. According to Blake Tyers, a brewer at Creature Comforts, beers have always been brewed seasonally to go along with special occasions and to coincide with changing roles throughout the year.
“A lot of beer styles, from a historical sense, come from certain seasons. Dopplebock (a German lager) were always brewed during Lent. Saisons were historically made by seasonal workers in the harvest season,” says Tyers.
Beers are also seasonally brewed because of when certain materials come in. For example, Matt Buley says, “The Belgians like to use a lot of candy sugar, which comes from beets. So when you have beets available is when you’ll start seasonally brewing some of the farmhouse beers.”
In addition to having historical significance and utilizing unique ingredients, Spike Buckowski, the brewmaster at Terrapin Beer Company, points out that seasonal brewing is an integral part of craft brewing because it generates good business.
“If you just did your four core beers all the time, it would kind of get boring. One of the reasons why we do our seasonal beers and our side projects is to come up with new beers that keep Terrapin fresh in people’s minds,” says Buckowski.
Not to mention, seasonal brewing simply goes along with the spirit of craft beer in general. The craft brewing industry is special because it allows for experimentation and creative, non-uniform brewing. Brewing seasonally lets brewers go even further in using unique ingredients and making one-of-a-kind recipes. Also, breweries can safely go a little crazy with their seasonal beers because they don’t have to worry about sustaining them for a whole calendar year.
“Seasonal brewing allows us to brew things that people don’t necessarily want to drink year round,” says Tyers.
While the new fall offerings are sure to create their share of buzz, on the national scale of craft beer, Athens is still a very small player. To provide some perspective, the state of Georgia has somewhere around 30 craft breweries. That’s less than the number of breweries in Asheville, N.C. alone. Only a handful of those 30 are located in Athens, with Terrapin and Creature Comforts being the only full production facilities in town. However, Athens has come a long way in the past couple of decades and all signs point towards continued growth.
“In 1995, selling a pale ale to somebody was difficult. That was a hard sell. Since then, what we’ve seen is a lot of restaurant and bar owners become very concerned about widening their tap selection. That wasn’t really the case outside of a few exceptions like 5 Points Bottle shop. People got more and more into that, and it’s developed,” says Buley.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the primary contributing factor of Athens growth in the craft beer scene, and it’s hard to predict what will continue to sustain it in the future. Restaurants and bars like Trappeze Pub and The Globe have certainly paved the way in offering wider beer selections, but there seems to be an agreement that the people of Athens play the most significant role. “If you look at Athens, there are a lot of people who care about all things artisanal. We have a great farmers market and an incredible restaurant scene. People care about good ingredients and having a great product made locally. We provide a hands-on craft product, and I think people appreciate that, whether it’s beer or food or anything,” says Tyers.
According to Buckowski, an increase in educated, beer-savvy consumers has been the best asset in spreading the appeal of craft beer in Athens. “As people start to venture out and drink craft beers, they get the fever, and it just grows by word of mouth,” says Buckowski.
It’s a good time to be a craft beer lover in Athens. Not only are exciting, fall beers showing up, but the craft beer scene in general is really starting to grow. Creature Comforts is starting to expand, a new brewery called The Southern Brewing Company is set to open in Athens in the coming months, and veteran mainstays like Terrapin and Copper Creek continue to churn out unique beers that are expanding craft beer interest daily.
Athens’ craft beer may still be relatively new on the scene, but luckily it’s fueled by a spirit of support and collaboration among its brewers. Creature Comforts is releasing a collaboration beer this season with Seventh Son Brewing Company in Columbus called Southerly Love, and similar collaborations between breweries are happening all the time.
There’s plenty of friendly competition, but for the most part the small community of brewers in Athens consider themselves fans of each other’s work. Buckowski’s belief is that help and support between breweries is mutually beneficial. “What we’re all trying to do is expose the craft brew drinker to great craft beer. So the more breweries that hit town, and the more breweries that open up here, it’s only going to open more people’s eyes and everybody’s sales are going to go up.”
An Explosive Thanksgiving
Most people envision the Fourth of July when they think of explosive holidays. At the Hammond household, Thanksgiving is when the real fireworks happen.
Every November, Ben Hammond, a sophomore mechanical engineering major from Monroe, and his family blow things up on Thanksgiving Day using explosive targets and lots of guns. They have been doing this for the past five years. “My big extended family all comes and they bring four or five guns each because they really like guns,” says Ben. His grandfather has a collection of vintage items, so their guns look like the came out of a Civil War armory.
The Hammond family has a fully functioning shooting range in their backyard where all of the festivities take place. Exploding targets are attached to trees, kerosene tanks and pretty much any item that will produce a fantastic explosion. “Five pounds of that stuff will blow up a cement mixer,” says Ben of the exploding targets.
Of course, this fiery activity is not without risk. While the Hammonds do their best to keep safe, there have been some inevitable mishaps. One such occasion was when Ben accidently blew up his mother’s walking bridge. She eventually forgave him.
Ben acknowledges that this Thanksgiving activity may not be the ideal way to celebrate for every family. But for the Hammonds, controlled destruction is a bonding experience. “It keeps the tensions down,” Ben jokes. Next year, they might just blow up that cement mixer.
Chinese for Christmas
The beloved holiday movie “A Christmas Story” features a family eating Chinese food on Christmas Eve because that is the only restaurant open. Ashley Cown, a junior interior design major from Athens, and her family have adopted this same quirky tradition.
Originally, the Cowns weren’t trying to recreate the movie scene, but they quickly realized that their Chinese takeout ritual was a pop-cultural coincidence. “One year, someone had the idea to order Chinese food, and it just stuck,” says Ashley. The Cowns have been doing this for the past five years.
They certainly aren’t alone in this tradition. While “A Christmas Story” was fictional, it accurately portrayed the fact that Chinese restaurants are open on the holidays when even grocery stores are closed. It is, by default, the best option for eating out on Christmas.
It’s no surprise that the first year Ashley’s family ordered Christmas takeout, she ran into one of her friends with her dad at the restaurant doing the exact same thing.
For Ashley, Christmas tastes a lot like sesame chicken with white rice. And she loves the flavor.
One look at their woodshop in Watkinsville is enough to reveal that Matt and Ben Hobbs aren’t ordinary carpenters. If you asked the two brothers, who run a furniture business called Sons of Sawdust, they would probably describe themselves more as storytellers. Instead of normal 2X4’s and power tools, Matt and Ben’s shop is filled with piles and piles of old, weather-worn, misshapen planks of wood. The Hobbs brothers fashion handcrafted tables out of these dusty old boards because they believe each piece of wood they find has a special story to tell.
The story of Sons of Sawdust starts from a state of desperation. Ben, who worked for a construction company, had injured his leg and was unable to work, but he had bills to pay and was quickly falling into debt. Meanwhile, Matt, who at the time was working as web designer, had just built a handcrafted farm table for his wife. One day Ben got a call from a guy who was tearing down an old house and wanted to get rid of the wood, so the brothers jumped on what looked like a good opportunity.
“We just put two and two together and got the load of wood, built a table or two, put them on Craigslist and orders just started flying in. It didn’t really start slowing down, so we figured we were on to something,” Ben says. And thus, Sons of Sawdust was born.
The business may have originated from a stroke of luck in a desperate situation, but the Hobbs brothers’ story as woodworkers has been much longer in the making. Sons of Sawdust has existed for less than a year, but Matt and Ben started working with wood as children with their grandfather, who they credit as their primary influence when it comes to craftsmanship as well as character.
“Our grandfather taught us at a very young age how to work with our hands, and how to be men of integrity. I don’t remember him specifically telling me ‘yes, do this’ or ‘no, don’t do this,’ but he would instinctively coach us so well that we thought we were doing it on our own. It’s interesting how intuitively it comes to us years down the road now. When we’re building something, and we come up to a problem, we just solve it, and I know it was our grandfather’s coaching that gave us that ability. We’re carrying on his legacy through the woodworking we’re doing, and I think that’s a powerful story,” says Matt.
Matt and Ben’s grandfather passed away six years ago, but they are sure that if he was still alive, he would be in the shop with them every day, having the time of his life. To honor his legacy, the brothers make the first cut of each table they build with one of their grandfather’s hand saws that he left to them. It’s their way of continuing to tell his story while bringing him into what they are doing.
In addition to telling their own story, Matt and Ben also want to tell a story with each table they make. According to them, the best stories are waiting in their own city, in the bones of buildings built generations ago.
“Most of our wood comes from houses or barns that were built in the 1800s. We always try to aim for stuff that’s at least older than 100 years. We also try to keep it local. Keeping it right here in town makes it even more special. It’s like, this wood was from a tree that was probably 100 years old when it was cut down right here in Oconee or Clarke County, and it was part of a house where a family lived for 70 years and then it got torn down, and then we went and got it and turned it into something that’s going to go into another house for maybe another 70 years and just kind of keep it alive,” says Matt.
“Our wood comes from the woods here. It’s not reclaimed from England or something that sounds fancy. It’s from right next door,” adds Ben.
Each piece of wood Matt and Ben use has a unique history of its own, as do the people they get it from. In their hunt for old houses and barns they often get to experience the rich family histories of their community. They encountered one man who sold them the wood from an old, rundown chicken shack on his property. After getting to know him, Matt and Ben learned that the chicken shack had been built with the wood from a schoolhouse built in the 1890s, of which the property owner’s grandfather was the founder. In their hunt for good wood, the Hobbs brothers have found many great family stories like this, and by recrafting the wood they find into tables, they are able to connect with those families and continue to tell their story for several more years.
Building tables with local, reclaimed wood obviously carries more significance than working with boards from Home Depot, so it’s no surprise that the process is also much more difficult and painstaking than normal woodworking.
First, the brothers have to treasure-hunt around Athens for old houses and barns with wood that fits the criteria for their tables. Once they’ve found a winner, they demolish the building, load up the wood and bring it to the shop. Next, they have to de-nail it, treat it for mold and mildew and sand it down.
“Sanding is really where you get a lot of the character,” says Matt. “When the wood comes in, it’s filthy and has dirt all over it. Sanding it down is such a beautiful process because you start seeing the texture in the wood from the saw marks and the different colors and hues.”
After sanding, Matt and Ben cut the wood to length and put it together to construct a table. This is where things get particularly tricky. Wooden boards cut in the 1800s with circular saw blades are very inconsistent in size and shape. Because of this, the brothers will often go through the entire process of sanding, measuring and cutting a board only to realize that it won’t fit on their table and that they have to start the whole process over with a new piece of wood. “It’s very tedious, and there’s a lot of rework to everything we do just because these old boards are tough to work with,” says Matt.
However, it’s all worth it because the rough textures and age-worn shapes of the old boards are what Matt and Ben value most about their tables, and they’re what best tell the story of the wood it came from. “Part of our vision and our aesthetic is the character and imperfections of the wood, and letting it speak for itself as opposed to just completely wiping it clean,” says Ben.
It’s this raw quality of their tables that draws new customers to Sons of Sawdust each month. In the short time they’ve been in business, Matt and Ben have expanded their clientele from a small group of friends and family to customers from all around the state who share the Hobbs’ affinity for well-crafted furniture that has significance beyond its functionality. “The customers that we’re looking for and that are looking for us are the ones who just love and appreciate old wood. Those are the people that are always going to be happy because they love the story, and they love where the wood came from,” says Matt.
Matt and Ben’s own story is as good as the ones they tell through each table they make: two brothers treasure-hunting for old wood to make tables with their grandfather’s tools. It’s a simple story, and they intend to keep it that way. Because, like the wood they use, good stories just get better with age.
It’s that time of year again. We’re all heading home and need a way to impress those old high school friends. The easiest way to accomplish that is to throw a holiday party. You will be able to get all of your old comrades back together and enjoy the party with three main components: food, decorations and outfits.
The best way to get people excited about a party is the food. Most people are familiar with traditional holiday meals that include baked hams, deviled eggs and green beans. And, it can get pretty redundant after the third holiday bash. Instead, try latkes, a pancake made of grated potatoes, holiday enchiladas, made by using red and green salsas, or Italian Wedding Soup filled with meatballs. Unconventional holiday menu items are just a quick Google search away. You can get your friends in on the fun by assigning each person a different part of the world and ask them to bring over a dish from that region’s holiday festivities. Not only does this give everyone a break from the typical menu, but also there is a chance that you will find a new holiday favorite.
Decorations are a big part of the holidays. From the lights to the ornaments, buying all of these items can get pricey on a college budget. Invite some of your friends over and throw an ornament exchange party. Here’s the catch–you have to get crafty. Pick whatever theme you like: winter, the beach, nature, a city–anything. Then, tell your friends how many people will be participating in the exchange. If 20 people attend, each person will make 20 of the exact same ornament according to the theme. Once everyone gets to the party, they will exchange their ornaments with another person. You’ll leave with 20 new ornaments to fill up a tree.
Finally, there are the outfits. At this point just about everyone has either attended or thrown an ugly-sweater party. They can be a ton of fun, but it’s time to change things up a bit. Let’s take it back to better times. Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” is the idea for this one. There is a strict dress code for this party: suits and ties for the men, and evening gowns for the ladies. If footage from the 1950s and 1960s makes you itch to get dolled up, this is your party. Even if you don’t have the funds to set out fine china and decadent decorations, it’s still fun to be able to dress up with your friends and pretend you were born in an earlier decade.
The holidays are a few months filled with tradition, but it’s time to break that mold. Going home for the holidays doesn’t mean you need to go back to the same party you have attended since you were in diapers. Go home and use some of these ideas to throw your own. Be creative, hang out with friends you haven’t seen in a while and have a very happy holiday!
Downtown Athens’s new entirely vegan restaurant fills you to the brim with peace the moment you stroll through the teal wrought-iron gate with its name, “Echo,” woven in. Officially open since Sept. 3, founders Vanessa and Juan Molina bought Echo hoping it could harbor an array of simple gems and healthy menu items that delight visitors, like their all-vegan bar. The downtown nook’s eclectic, chalkboards-and-Mason-jars style is a combination of Molina’s ideas, her friends’ art pieces, hand-me-downs from previous tenant Farm 255 and wood and iron relics from the building’s past as a cracker-machine factory.
Vanessa Molina, white-blonde and bespectacled, grew up on a farm in southern Georgia. She wasn’t a big fan of meat because of her beloved pigs, cows and horses, but her mother’s cooking taught her to crave vegetables from a young age. “I know Southern food in and out; everyone in my family is from Georgia,” she says.
Molina nods frequently as she speaks, and her voice is like that of a kind college professor who’s had extensive experience explaining her subject. She keeps packets on hand about the benefits of eating vegan. “I think it’s fun to try to make Southern food out of a vegetable or a bean or grains,” she says.
Molina and her staff’s pride about the menu radiate throughout the large room. Paddy, the host, raves about the vegan barbecue plate — made with jackfruit instead of pork, I could hardly tell it wasn’t meat. Plus, ordering a dish made with an up-to-60-pound fruit is a novelty. “It’s the biggest fruit in the world,” Paddy says, gesturing so enthusiastically that his brown curls vibrate. Also on the menu: a many-ingredient burrito, a chickpea and sweet potato burger, hand-cut Belgian fries and a pomegranate margarita.
Fran Sommerville, a white-haired Southern belle from Marietta, Ga. frequented the Molinas’ former restaurant with her husband and followed them to their new location. “We were [Vanessa and Juan’s] very first customers at Broad Street Coffee,” she says. The Sommervilles have tried vegan cafés all over Europe, and they classify Echo as one of the best. “They have two great chefs here, Will and Carol… We stayed in Athens an extra day so we could eat here tonight. We have such an appreciation for Vanessa and what she’s created here.”
The Molinas met while students at the University of Georgia, when Juan played in Time Toy and Squalls, two local bands. They moved back to Athens less than two years ago, started Broad Street Coffee, eventually outgrew the space and Echo was born. “I’ve always loved this space and even though I thought it was too big, I wanted to take a chance and help make it grow,” Molina says.
And grow it has. The building has blossomed into a peaceful oasis, with bite-size copper leaves delicately covering the outdoor seating area. Little glass baubles on a string reflect the clouds by day and serve as tiny beacons by night. Inside, ancient dark-wood rafters raise the ceiling high and an open kitchen with Tiffany-blue walls remains one of the room’s main focuses.
Will Cantrell, the main cook and kitchen manager at Echo, went vegan six years ago. He’s a redhead from Statesboro with the twinkling blue eyes of a kind grandfather despite being in his 20s. “I’ve always tried to have as little negative impact on the world around me as possible, and I just kind of saw that my support of the industries that create animal products for human consumption are toxic to our environment,” Cantrell says.
Molina cites her love for animals as the reason she became the first vegan in her family. “I feel the same as any animal,” she says. “The pig is equal to me, a cow, a dog… I don’t even
feel superior to an ant.” When traveling in big cities for work, it was easy for Molina to find vegan-friendly restaurants, so moving back to Athens was a difficult transition. “[Echo] started as a small idea and then I thought it might be a good idea to expose more people to why veganism is important,” Molina says, wrapping a black scarf around her neck. She looks like the kind of person that gets cold easily.
To one side of the glass double doors to 255 W. Washington St., the wall is made up of old, weathered brick. On the other side stands new brick of bronze, brick-red and plum tones. The building’s colorful past has melded with its future as downtown Athens’s premier vegan restaurant, creating a new and beautiful whole out of a collage of parts.
HAYDEN FIELD AND FRANCESCO RICAPITO
An explosion of color permeates the hustle and bustle of the medina fish market in Sfax, Tunisia. Within the 9th century mud-brick walls of the “old city” abides the pungent smell of octopus tentacles, sharks, clams, and more kinds of Mediterranean fish than the average buyer could name. Only men sell their wares behind the fish-strewn counters, but they range in age from a young boy with a baby face struggling to carry a full bucket to an old man whose face has been beaten by the sea and weathered by the sun. Every fish seller’s story is different: one has the best octopus, someone else has the best tuna, another has bought a small shark from a fisherman and now he proudly displays it on the counter before him. Sfax’s inhabitants don’t usually buy fish from a fixed seller, but it’s common knowledge which one has the best quality of each type of fish. In front of a very small counter near the center of the market sits a 78-year-old man named Ali, whose blue-rimmed brown eyes have seen clients pass his counter for the last 60 years. Although he has worked four days every week for decades, he stands upright with a wide grin and a fierce handshake. He speaks in Arabic, but one can understand what he’s saying just from the manner in which he speaks and gestures. For him, selling fish is not a job, habit or hobby—it’s a style of living. Peaceful and matter-of-fact about the occupation that dominates his life, Ali says he is too passionate about his job to ever retire and that he will probably continue to sell his fish for the remainder of his life. Ali’s children already help their father work, and he feels confident that his family will continue to sell fish after his lifetime. Ali looks like one of the few people that seem to have found their place in the world, and his place is here in the Sfax fish market, next to his fish.
Amir, a 16-year-old seller who seems older than his years, is seated on a narrow counter not too far from Ali. A young man with a mischievous smile and unruly eyebrows, he wears an electric-blue watch and a “harkous” tattoo of the first letter of his girlfriend’s name. He has been working here for three years, and he comes every day except Monday, when the city’s medina is closed. For him, selling fish is just a hobby — his father is the real owner of the counter. Amir’s father wakes up every day at 5 a.m. to buy from the fishermen, but Amir usually wakes up a few hours later and heads directly to the fish market. With a sudden smile, Amir calls out “Hamdullah!” from his casual position atop the counter. Business is going well, and he says he sees himself working here for the rest of his life. If after three years he still sees this as a hobby, Amir has probably found his place in the world as well.
Amin’s and Amir’s accounts are just two examples of all the stories that lie behind the counters full of fish. The fish market hasn’t changed much in past years; what really changes are the stories. Each seller is living his own narrative in a place buzzing with orderly chaos — something one would be hard-pressed to find in a supermarket. The people of Sfax visit their medina’s fish market not only to buy fish, but to meet like-minded souls, to continue relationships and, most of all, to experience the heart of their city. This is why places like this are precious and should be preserved — they represent a style of life that is today becoming rarer and rarer.