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JCVB Blog

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau BLOG is published weekly with news and feature articles on visiting the county.

Six Millionth Hot Dog To Be Sold

Six Millionth Hot Dog To Be Sold

 Reprinted with permission from the Kenly News. An article written by Keith Barnes.

 
Based on calculations from previous sales totals sometime during June or July The Grocery Bag, located inside the Percy Flowers Store complex 6½ miles east of Clayton on N.C 42, will be serving its six millionth hot dog. Considering when and where the business began that’s quite an accomplishment by any standards. The history of The Grocery Bag goes back to the fall of 1972 but at a different location some 3½ miles away at the old Roy Hinton Store on Buffalo Road. Tommy Fitzgerald of Selma had just quit his job at the Winn-Dixie data processing center in Raleigh so he and his brother Duncan formed a partnership and purchased the store from Roy Hinton. They re-named the business The Grocery Bag but shortly thereafter Tommy Fitzgerald bought out his brother and became sole owner of the business.

During its early years The Grocery Bag was a combination country store, tire business and lawn mower repair shop along with having two pool tables in the back room that helped keep the business afloat. “It was a learning experience,” said Fitzgerald. “One of the best motivators in the world is hunger.”
Fitzgerald said Percy Flowers, a legendary figure in Johnston County history, used to come by the store and jokingly scold him about being able to sell his gasoline so cheap. “Mr. Flowers asked me if I’d be interested in running his store, Percy Flowers Store, that was located at the intersection of N.C. 42 and Buffalo Road,” said Fitzgerald.

The two men tossed the idea back and forth for years but before they could agree on anything Percy Flowers died in 1981. Fitzgerald said he had “struggled along” at the original location for 10½ years and following Flowers’ death Fitzgerald wrote a letter to his widow, Delma Flowers, expressing an interest in renting the Flowers Store. One thing led to another and they eventually worked out a lease arrangement. Fitzgerald said when he moved into the new location he only sold typical country store items like “sardines and beenie weenies” but after a few weeks he had an idea he wanted to try.

“I used to visit Winslon Kornegy’s hot dog stand in Selma and enjoyed eating his hot dogs,” said Fitzgerald. “I bought me a crock pot, a hot dog steamer and heated up some chili in the crock pot.”

A man named Mr. Boykin and his son, Bud, stopped by and I made them each a hot dog,” said Fitzgerald.  “They were the first hot dogs we made and we just gave them away.”

“Alonza “Jack” Watson came in next and he actually bought the first hot dog,” said Fitzgerald. “Later on the same day some guy wearing coveralls came in and smelled the hot dogs cooking.”

“He asked ‘Are they any good?’ said Fitzgerald. “I told him they were so good they were almost famous.”

That phrase from the first day of the hot dog business opened stuck immediately and is still used today as part of the slogan. Fitzgerald figured he might be onto something good so he bought some Carolina Packers Hot Dogs, Stevens Chili (made in Smithfield), Holt Lake (Four Oaks) coleslaw and some buns, fresh onions and mustard and, presto, he was in the hot dog business. He hired Betty Fleming to run the cash register and a high school student named Shelly Parrish to make the hot dogs, and the rest is history.
The Grocery Gag Staff
Fitzgerald prepared a simple formula to go by; “Fix it like you’re going to eat it yourself, with a smile on your face, and they all come with a guarantee,” he said. “If the person behind the counter doesn’t have the right attitude you don’t have anything.”

“Our mission and primary goal at The Grocery Bag is to be the friendliest convenience store you’ll ever visit,” said Fitzgerald. “If you come to our store without a smile on your face we want to make sure you smile before you leave.” The business has evolved and now boasts 24 employees, plus Tommy Fitzgerald and his wife, Donna. The Grocery Bag has become something of a destination not only for the local clientele but some customers who come from many miles away just to get a Grocery Bag hot dog.

“We have some people stop by who say they don’t even eat hot dogs but they come here to get one of ours,” said Fitzgerald. Every day, particularly around lunchtime, the place is a beehive of activity as a staff of around 10 on duty at a time prepares hot dogs at the counter for hungry customers. In the early years 200-300 hot dogs sold was a good day but today they average 1,300-1,400 per day and have gone as high as 1,729 according to Fitzgerald.
Hamburgers and cheeseburgers have also been added to the menu but not french fries.


Fitzgerald said the person that orders hot dog number 6,000,000 will be the recipient of major prizes including hot dogs for life at The Grocery Bag.


He said the success of The Grocery Bag has been due to several factors including a friendly and hard-working staff, the many patrons who have visited over the years and the Flowers family who allowed him to get started and continue at the same location. opportunity I was afforded by Delma Flowers initially was the starting point,” said Fitzgerald. “And being a part of the Rebecca Flowers (Percy Flowers’ daughter) vision in the growth and development of Flowers Plantation has been remarkable.”
 

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The Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina

The Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina

I was going to start this blog off with the phrase, "can you think of anything more southern than ham?". But then I started to think about sweet tea, pecan pie, fireflies, and moonshine. So, I took a step back. The history of ham reverberates back in time to an era and place far from the American South. There is no denying however, that the South has a tradition of taking the pig and making it our own. One first thinks of barbeque. I'm going to talk about curing.


Master of the Cure


Let's begin by understanding the difference between curing meats and being a Curemaster, like Rufus Brown from Johnston County Hams in Smithfield, NC. According to the website Johnston County Hams are the epitome of a very Southern tradition. Our hams are the result of a traditional curing process Sam and Rufus discuss their Lady Edison product at the Smithfield Ham Shop at Johnston County Hamsdeveloped, perfected and handed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years dating back to the first American colonists. While many understood the process, and curing meats was a widely used practice, a few curemasters were able to fine tune their recipes, practices and techniques to a point of pure mastery.

It is this mastery that southerners are so proud of and the reason that ham finds itself at the center of our family dinners and cherished recipes. This tradition and taste is honored at events like the Ham & Yam Festival, held every May in downtown Smithfield. Johnston County Hams was started in 1946 but began receiving national attention in the late 60's. Curemaster Jesse Brown refined the curing process down to a science, consistently producing a finely aged, delicate, not-too-salty cured ham. His son, Rufus Brown carries on the cure legacy at Johnston County Hams.

And now, a partnership between Rufus Brown and Sam Suchoff is poised to usher in a new era of high quality and delicious pork. The product is called Lady Edison and she is the Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina. It sounds sexy, intriguing, exciting. It sounds like it goes great with red wine. Since you already know Rufus and his incomparable background in curing, you should know that Sam runs The Pig restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC. As Sam tells it, "I first met Rufus 7 years ago when I called up Johnston County Hams to see if they would cure out some hams for a friend of mine.  He's been my ham guy ever since!" An instant camaraderie.


A Savory Product. A Sustainable Idea.


Lady Edison is a labor of love and a product whose quality is based on patience and time. Sam uses his contacts as a barbeque restaurant owner to partner with hog farmers that sustainably raise hogs and are members of the North Carolina Natural Hog Growers Association. This means that the pigs are raised on open pastures without the use of antibiotics or added hormones. The reason the partnership works so well Lady Edison Logois that every part of the pig is utilized. Hogs are purchased whole by Sam and then processed at Acre Station Meat Farm (locally owned and operated in the eastern part of the state). Sam then takes the bacon, barbeque, and other useful parts for his restaurant, while Rufus takes the hams to his ham shop in Johnston County to start the process of making Lady Edison. Before I discuss the process, it may be helpful to explain to those not in-the-know that pork curing is also called putting-up or hanging hams. This is because the curing process demands that hams are literally hung in the air to cure.

According to Sam and Rufus the process involves the hams being hand rubbed with a dry blend of sea salt and sugar... and held at near freezing temperatures for 40 days. These “winter days” allow the cure to penetrate the meat as it extracts moisture. The hams are then rinsed and hung at spring-like temperatures with a “steady breeze” that facilitates the equal penetration of salt throughout the ham and removes excess moisture. Next, the hams are hung in the smokehouse and exposed to a light hickory smoke—imparting signature flavor before the final aging process begins. This final stage of maturation occurs in a warm and semi-humid aging room where the hams hang over hickory sawdust. It's these conditions under which the ham really comes into its own.

Lady Edison is a savory pork experience, more buttery than salty. It's comparable to its Spanish counterparts and the serving recommendation is thinly sliced and raw like prosciutto. Rufus and Sam's partnership has already proven fruitful. Lady Edison products can be found on menus in over 25 restaurants across the state and country. Raleigh restaurants like Gravy, Asheville restaurants like Bull & Beggar, and even places as far off as Manhattan and Kiawah Island. Restaurants and chef's that use the product in tapas, salads, and other dishes report rave reviews. I've tried it myself and can speak to the deliciousness. The extra aging on the Lady Edison product gives a supple texture and a melt-in-your-mouth flavor that would pair well with cheese and, as I earlier surmised, red wine.

There is nothing more central to a Christmas dinner or an Easter lunch, nothing more coveted at a cover-dish, then a country ham or country ham biscuit. Lady Edison invites you to try an extra fancy country ham. A ham above the rest. In the South we take pride in doing certain things real slow. But, that's because patients often lends itself to reward. Your next dinner out, look for Lady Edison on the menu at your favorite restaurant and give the Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina a try.

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First Class Racing Facility in the Land of Motorsports and Moonshine

First Class Racing Facility in the Land of Motorsports and Moonshine

 
Racing is just about as southern as sweet tea, mason jars, and Cheerwine.


And it's a sport that is authentically North Carolina - NASCAR racers will forever live in the shadow of those who raced moonshine across county lines under the watchful eye of the prohibition-era lawman. And racing is about to get a new home in Johnston County, NC. Built outside of Benson, GALOT Motorsports Park overlooks land renowned for its rural heritage and moonshine-making history. How appropriate then for the area to now also be home to a first class racing facility. Like the merging once again of two inexorable things that time has separated.

GALOT Motorsports Park was formally known as the Dunn-Benson Dragstrip. In August 2013 Mr. Earl Wells bought the facility with a simple mission in mind: to build a race track that racers could depend on and a first class facility that would maximize the race fan experience. As visitors to the park will discover when it opens officially this Spring, Mr. Wells certainly accomplished his mission.


 GALOT is a state-of-the-art facility designed with the race fan and racer in mind. The facility features stadium seating for 9,000 spectators, two LED video boards, an indoor concession and souvenir stand, along with two climate controlled tower suites," according to Charles Myers, the Media Relations Coordinator.

Racers will have the benefit of a climate controlled starting line, asphalt parking, a speed shop, and 70 R.V. electrical hook-ups. GALOT Motorsports Park is also certified as the flattest racing surface in the world, which will allow racers to obtain maximum performance.


True to the Racing Spirit of the Sport


The park is racing at its finest, but also at its purest. As a child I lived only a few miles from a motorsports park. Locals and visitors alike would flock to races on warm summer nights. Even from miles away I could stand in my backyard and see the white glow of the bright lights blotting out the lowest stars in the sky. I could hear the hum of powerful motors racing together to the finish line. For fans of the sport, racing is in the blood and it leads to a passion for other sorts of events. GALOT hopes to provide a variety of events to become a true entertainment complex.


According to Charles, GALOT also has a dedicated tractor pulling venue. In addition, the pit area of the track is paved, allowing GALOT to be used for a wide range of driving events. In it's opening year GALOT already looks to host multiple events starting in late March going throughout the rest of 2016.

They will host the NHRA Division 2 Lucas Oil Divisional, which will attract the best racers from all over the east coast. And if you are into fast, heads-up drag racing, GALOT Motorsports Park is scheduled to host the PDRA DragStock event where cars will accelerate from 0 to 250 mph in just 3.5 seconds.

Charles adds that, "if drag racing is not your 'cup of tea' then you might enjoy our Mule City 300 which happens to be the first NTPA Grand National Tractor Pull of the 2016 schedule." GALOT even plans to host an event this year where Monster Trucks take center stage!

Whether it's the noise of the crowd, the thrill of the speed, or the impressive horsepower, GALOT Motorsports Park aims to be your new go-to entertainment venue for an old southern tradition. Find out more information on their website and don't forget to check out the upcoming events calendar. And while you're in Johnston County for motorsports and moonshinecheck out all the other things we have to offer so that you can make your GALOT experience a weekend trip for the whole family.

Ready, Set, GO!

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Bureau News and 2015 Annual Report

JCVB Visitor CenterThe Johnston County Tourism Authority welcomes new board members, presents 2015 Annual Report to County Commissioners, and elects officers to lead the board and oversee the operation of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau.  

We are always excited to welcome members of the community to serve on the Tourism Authority Board to help lead the efforts of tourism promotion and development for Johnston County. All board members serve on either the Marketing Committee or Special Projects Committee which work directly with the staff on establishing the annual budget and overseeing all projects by the bureau.

Randy Capps, owner of Shandy Communications whose company prints the Four Oaks Journal, was appointed by the Four Oaks Chamber of Commerce.  Capps replaces Stacey Lee, who resigned in November due to work commitments.  Randy has work experience in journalism and worked for the Fayetteville Observer for eight years.  

Rick Childrey, President of the Greater Smithfield/Selma Chamber of Commerce was appointed by the County Commissioners for a three-year term.  Childrey replaces Warren Stancil, who resigned in August of last year. Childrey has a long-standing relationship with the Visitors Bureau, as the offices for the bureau staff were once located in the Lee House on Outlet Center Drive.  Childrey has been the President of the Smithfield-Selma Area Chamber since 1986.

Election of Officers and Committee Chair Appointments...

The board held open elections for officers to serve for two-year terms.  Keith Brinson, of Farm Bureau Insurance appointed by the Smithfield/Selma Chamber, was elected Chairperson.  Scotty Henley, Executive Director of The Clayton Center appointed by the Clayton Chamber of Commerce, was elected Vice-Chairperson. Lynn Daniels was reelected as Secretary of the Authority, a position she has held for the past two years.

Ernie Brame, Manager of Kenly 95 Petro, was appointed as Chairperson of the Special Events Committee.  Rosa Andrews, Johnston Community College, was appointed Chairperson of the Marketing Committee.  New board members Randy Capps and Rick Childrey will both serve on the Special Project Committee which oversees the Capital and Special Events grant programs.

2015 JCVB Annual Report...

During an extended board meeting the Tourism Authority presented the 2015 Annual Report to the County Commissioners. Highlights and staff accomplishments from 2014/2015, the year-end financial statement, visitor spending numbers and overall state of tourism for Johnston County were discussed. To download or read the JCVB Annual Report -- CLICK HERE. 

Other bureau news...

Sarah Campbell, Sports and Leisure Sales Manager, is attending the Southeast Tourism Society, Marketing College to further her education in destination marketing.  This three-year, week long course introduces Sarah to a curriculum of courses designed to teach marketing techniques from all facets of the tourism industry.  Upon completion of the three-year Marketing College curriculum, she will receive a Travel Marketing Professional (TMP) certification.

In January, the Visitors Bureau began the second year of the JoCo Hospitality Association, a membership based tourism industry advisory committee to the authority.  Invitations were sent to area businesses to become members, cost is $50 for the organization.  The group meets four times a year on the fourth Tuesday at 2pm in January, April, July and October.  Guest speakers and workshops are held for education and networking for the group to foster better relationships in the tourism community in Johnston County.

Also in January, the Johnston County Sports Council members attended the County Commissioner's Jan. 4th meeting to continue the discussion on the recommendations from the County-wide Parks and Recreation Master Plan. Since the completion of the plan in April, the Visitors Bureau staff continues to work on low-impact recreation projects like Bike Route Signage and Boat Ramps on the Neuse River.  Larger projects like the completion of the Mountains to the Sea Trail are topics the Sports Council wants to address with the commissioners, and having a dedicated staff person to pursue the plan's recommendations.

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau oversees the marketing efforts for the county to attract and serve visitors, therefore increasing the economic impact for the local economy.  In addition, the Towns of Benson, Kenly, Selma and Smithfield have a 2% occupancy tax that is managed by the Visitors Bureau and is dedicated to each town's marketing efforts.  To learn more about the Johnston County Visitors Bureau, please contact Donna Bailey-Taylor, President/CEO at 919-989-8687 or visit the website, www.johnstoncountync.org/working-with-the-jcvb

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Get Tickets to the Beer, Wine, Shine, and Dine Tour

Get Tickets to the Beer, Wine, Shine, and Dine Tour

The Ultimate Craft Beverage Experience


In September of last year we announced that Clayton Food Tours had partnered with the Johnston County Visitors Bureau to offer a new Beer, Wine, Shine & Dine Tour as a guided tour of the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail with lunch. It's a great way to explore the trail while letting someone else do the driving! Much to the delight of attendees, the November inaugural tour was a huge success. So, cheers to that!

The Beer, Wine and Shine Trail currently has 2 craft breweries, 2 family-owned wineries, and one moonshine distillery. Johnston County is conveniently located to I-40, I-95, and the Triangle area. So if you're a local or a visitor, the tour can be a great way to extend your exploration of Raleigh breweries, wineries, and distilleries. Due to travel time and allowing for ample time to tour and taste at locations, each tour will involve only one winery, one brewery and the distillery along the trail. This will be an exciting and relaxing way to enjoy Johnston County’s growing beverage scene. This tour is great for couples and friend groups celebrating special occasions.

Beer, Wine, Shine, and Dine Infographic


The spectacular news is that the 2016 tour dates have been released!


March 19 -- Hinnant Winery, Broadslab Distillery, Double Barley

May 21 -- Gregory Vineyards, Broadslab Distillery, Deep River

October 1 -- Gregory Vineyards, Broadslab Distillery, Deep River

November 12 -- Hinnant Winery, Broadslab Distillery, Double Barley

The first tour, offered on March 19th, will include Hinnant Winery, Double Barley Brewing and Broadslab Distillery. Lunch is to be provided by Simple Twist located in downtown Smithfield. The motorcoach will depart at 11:00am from Double Barley Brewing, where the tour will end at 5:00pm. There is ample parking around the back of the brewery where participants can safely leave their car. It is recommended that you arrive at least 15 minutes early to check-in.

The cost is $89 per person. Welcome bags will be provided by the Johnston County Visitors Bureau. Space is limited, so call (919) 585-4498 today to reserve your spot. You may visit the Clayton Food Tour website to purchase your tickets. If you would like to explore more of the trail on your own, or share it with your friends, more information and a map is available on the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail website.

 

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Valentine Events in JoCo

Valentine Events in JoCo

If you're looking for a date night activity in the month of February to celebrate Valentine's Day, then look no further. Johnston County has wine, chocolate, romantic horse rides, delicious dinners, and musical performances. Find your perfect date below. 

Tickets and information for each event can be found by following the link, simply click on the title of the event you are interested in. 

 

Evans Jewelers Sweets, Treats, & Sparkles

Everyone who comes to enjoy wine tasting and jazz music will receive a 1ct cubic zirconium, but one lucky winner will receive a Forever Us, Diamond Two-stone ring!

February 5th from 5:00OM-8:00PM

 

Black Creek Hill Farms Valentine's Day Couples Trail Ride

Includes a private guided 1 hour trail ride for two. Afterwards you will be served a simple picnic lunch with beverage of choice.

February 13th at 10:00AM

 

Spend an evening with Franc D'Ambrisio

Acclaimed as the world's longest running phantom, enjoy interpretations of Franc's favorite Broadway hits including pieces from The Phantom of the Opera.

February 13th at 8:00PM

 

Valentine's Day Dinner and a Show at Hinnant Vineyards

Memories Are Made of This, a Valentine's Dinner & 50's Musical Tribute Show. Each ticket includes a full course meal, the show, & a glass of wine.

February 13th at 6:00PM

 

The Clayton Piano Festival presents the 4th Annual Valentine's Day Gala at Brick & Mortar

Ticket price includes dinner, drinks, concert, and dessert.

February 13th at 6:30PM

 

Truffle Making Class at Gregory Vineyards

Enjoy a fun fill afternoon of learning to make your own decorated molded chocolates & ruffles while enjoying the delicious wines of Gregory Vineyards.

February 14th, classes begin at 11:00AM, 2:00PM, and 6:00PM

***A special truffle making class is being offered at 1:00PM and includes a voucher for dinner at Lane's Seafood & Steakhouse. 

 

The Night of the Iguana at Neuse Little Theatre

Written by Tennessee Williams and also made into a 1964 movie starring Johnston County native Ava Gardner, this play promises conflict, humor, and steamy romance.

February 19th-21st and 26th-27th, show begins at 8:00PM

 

 

Deep River Beer Dinner with the Wandering Moose food truck

Come join Deep River for their first ever beer dinner at the Deep River Taproom. With each ticket you will receive 5 beers and 4 courses of mouth watering food.

February 24th at 6:30PM

 

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Valentine Events in JoCo

Valentine Events in JoCo

If you're looking for a date night activity in the month of February to celebrate Valentine's Day, then look no further. Johnston County has wine, chocolate, romantic horse rides, delicious dinners, and musical performances. Find your perfect date below. 

Tickets and information for each event can be found by following the link, simply click on the title of the event you are interested in. 

 

Evans Jewelers Sweets, Treats, & Sparkles

Everyone who comes to enjoy wine tasting and jazz music will receive a 1ct cubic zirconium, but one lucky winner will receive a Forever Us, Diamond Two-stone ring!

February 5th from 5:00OM-8:00PM

 

Black Creek Hill Farms Valentine's Day Couples Trail Ride

Includes a private guided 1 hour trail ride for two. Afterwards you will be served a simple picnic lunch with beverage of choice.

February 13th at 10:00AM

 

Spend an evening with Franc D'Ambrisio

Acclaimed as the world's longest running phantom, enjoy interpretations of Franc's favorite Broadway hits including pieces from The Phantom of the Opera.

February 13th at 8:00PM

 

Valentine's Day Dinner and a Show at Hinnant Vineyards

Memories Are Made of This, a Valentine's Dinner & 50's Musical Tribute Show. Each ticket includes a full course meal, the show, & a glass of wine.

February 13th at 6:00PM

 

The Clayton Piano Festival presents the 4th Annual Valentine's Day Gala at Brick & Mortar

Ticket price includes dinner, drinks, concert, and dessert.

February 13th at 6:30PM

 

Truffle Making Class at Gregory Vineyards

Enjoy a fun fill afternoon of learning to make your own decorated molded chocolates & ruffles while enjoying the delicious wines of Gregory Vineyards.

February 14th, classes begin at 11:00AM, 2:00PM, and 6:00PM

***A special truffle making class is being offered at 1:00PM and includes a voucher for dinner at Lane's Seafood & Steakhouse. 

 

The Night of the Iguana at Neuse Little Theatre

Written by Tennessee Williams and also made into a 1964 movie starring Johnston County native Ava Gardner, this play promises conflict, humor, and steamy romance.

February 19th-21st and 26th-27th, show begins at 8:00PM

 

 

Deep River Beer Dinner with the Wandering Moose food truck

Come join Deep River for their first ever beer dinner at the Deep River Taproom. With each ticket you will receive 5 beers and 4 courses of mouth watering food.

February 24th at 6:30PM

 

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JoCo Takes a Bite Out of Triangle Restaurant Week

JoCo Takes a Bite Out of Triangle Restaurant Week


 JoCo Takes a Bite Out of Triangle Restaurant Week


It is times like these that it is important to remember that Johnston County is part of the Triangle. We share news. We share an area code. And we now share events. If you've never heard of or participated in Triangle Restaurant Week, you're in for a delicious surprise. Restaurant Week celebrates the best culinary adventures to be found at Raleigh restaurants and other area dining establishments. Chefs serve up unique, creative menus offered at excitingly low prices. It's a great time to explore the amazing tastes that the Triangle area has to offer.

Triangle Restaurant Week

Don't just take my word for it. The Triangle Restaurant Week website declares, "Triangle Restaurant Week is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants. During TRW, participating restaurants offer special three-course menu options and fixed pricing, a great opportunity for residents and visitors alike to indulge in the area’s finest cuisine! No reservations, tickets, or passes required."

This year, Johnston County's own Manning's is taking on TRW. Located in downtown Clayton just 30 minutes from Raleigh. "Manning’s Restaurant offers a combination of both modern creative and traditional southern style dishes. Our southern regional themed restaurant portrays our Chef Howard Manning’s favorite dishes growing up in the Carolinas with a modern twist." Visit the Manning's website for more information, menus, and hours. Or give them a call at (919) 585-7005.

Restaurant Week is happening now! The last day to enjoy these amazing menus at these wallet-friendly prices is this Sunday, January 31st. The good news is that events in Raleigh like this happen every year. Triangle Restaurant Week will be back, and back in JoCo, next year!

Expanding the Triangle, Adding to the Plate

Manning's Cheesecake


Manning's is participating with a four-course meal priced at $30 per person, plus tax and gratuity. The menu includes: a crab cake appetizer, your choice of either a bowl of gumbo or a side salad (pro tip: the spicy avocado ranch dressing is to die for), a 1/2 rack of BBQ ribs with coleslaw and fries, finished off with a slice of cheesecake.


The prix fixe menu does not include drinks, but Manning's has a full-service bar with mixed drinks and wines that can be paired with your meal. They also have local craft beer on tap. Try a Double Barley or Deep River brew made right here in Johnston County. Finish your Manning's Restaurant Week experience by visiting these two breweries. Deep River is just a few miles down Main Street from Manning's and Double Barley is a quick 10 minute car ride away.

So, if you're visiting Raleigh, the Triangle area, or Johnston County this weekend, stop by Manning's for a southern style dinner at a great price. And be sure to check out all the other restaurants participating in Triangle Restaurant Week. Bring your appetite!

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Meeting Expectations in Johnston County

Meeting Expectations in Johnston County

Let Johnston County Host Your Next Meeting

Last week on the blog, I discussed getting married in Johnston County. I'd like to segway that topic into a related one... groups. For many of the same The Clayton Centerreasons JoCo excels as a wedding destination, we also offer robust venue, dining, transportation, and fun break-out options for groups. This includes wedding guests, family reunions, motorcoach and tour groups, corporate meetings and events, as well as sports tournaments.

To find the perfect space for your group, read through our meetings and facilities guide. Selecting your venue is important to more than brides. Find venues that range in size and amenities offered. You can also look into unique venue options like wineries, breweries, and even outdoor locations.

For tour operators we have recently created brand new Johnston County itineraries, highlighting the many thematic ways to introduce visitors to the area. Options include craft beverages, history, agritourism, or even shopping. Itineraries can be requested through Sarah Campbell with the Johnston County Visitors Bureau at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 919-989-8687.

Adventuring Out of the Meeting Room

Speaking of things to do, that's another excellent reason to select Johnston County for your next trade show, reunion, corporate retreat, or tournament. When your attendees/guests/clients aren't with you, there is plenty of things for them to do. The Carolina Premium Outlets provides multiple branCarolina Premium Outletsd name stores like Coach at excellent prices. Not to mention the many historic downtown areas in the county filled with boutique shops, antique stores, and art galleries. Chef-owned dining establishments offer locally-sourced, southern cuisine. Contact our local restaurants about private rooms for lunches, dinners, or cocktail receptions.

Theaters and museums provide indoor entertainment and historical depictions of Johnston County's agricultural and civil war heritage, as well as highlight our local Hollywood star Ava Gardner. Local wineries, breweries, and distilleries offer tours and tastings across the county. In addition, multiple golf courses can provide a needed afternoon break between meetings.

Johnston County also has locals specializing in transportation, catering, musical entertainment, and even performance art that can help you add an extra level of wow to your group events. For help organizing your next event, or if you have a question, again please contact Sarah Campbell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 919-989-8687.

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Johnston County Wedding Expo(s)

Johnston County Wedding Expo(s)

Say I Do in JoCo


Locals and visitors alike seek to make Johnston County their wedding destination. A JoCo wedding can be rustic, unique, elegant, outside in a vineyard, or inside a whimsical historic home. And with the right team, it can be all those things at once.

I have worked on the fringes of the wedding industry for years. Never as a planner, but as a provider of wedding services and a member of an association comprised of event planners. Weddings can be exceedingly elaborate or frugally modest. I have never been married, but I have lived through some weddings, let me tell you, and I have two pieces of advice.

The first tip is this: designate a wedding planner. Notice that I did not say hire. I said designate. Wedding planners are angels from God sent to organize chaos into control, cheer in your corner, wipe the sweat from your brow, fight some of the harder battles for you, and make it look like walking on air. This makes them exceedingly qualified to get you from "She said yes!" to the post-reception send-off with supreme grace. This can also make them expensive depending on the level of service you are asking of them. You certainly get what you pay for (in the best possible way). However, in the event that you cannot hire a wedding planner, designate a trusted friend or family-member (not an immediate family member) who you trust to be honest, organized, and un-biased. If it helps, call them a wedding coordinator. They will help you coordinate all the details that you can't quite accomplish on your own. After all, someone has to tell the wedding party when to walk down the aisle while you stand out of sight of your groom.  

The second piece of advice is this: go to a wedding show held within the geographical region that you wish to get married. This holds especially true for destination weddings. If you are not familiar with the area, a wedding show will introduce you to vendors within the local wedding industry. If you live in the area you want to be married in, you're not off the hook. Even if you have been planning your wedding since you were 5 years old (twice-over now that you have a Pinterest), you don't know what you don't know until you attend a local wedding expo. How many cake makers, reception venues, florists, transportation companies, caterers, and wedding planners are in your area? You don't know. Because even though you live here, you've never gotten married here. Or maybe you have... this is a judgment free zone.


Experience a Wedding Expo


The excellent news is that there will be 2 wedding expos in the month of January in Johnston County. Locals are welcome. Non-locals are also welcome. If you live in the Triangle area, or in any area surrounding JoCo, but you don't want a Raleigh wedding, or you want a little hint of a destination wedding without having to travel so far... come get to know JoCo. We've got bride-choice wedding venues and southern hospitality at the ready.

The 2nd Annual Bridal Expo is happening at The Farm this Sunday January 10 from 11AM to 4PM. This event is FREE but to save time, plan on registering here before you come. There will be dozens of vendors on site for you to talk to about your upcoming big day! The Farm itself is also a venue and tours will be conducted every hour beginning at 11:30AM.

The 2016 Clayton Wedding Expo is on Saturday, January 23, from 11AM to 4PM at The Clayton Center. Discover the latest bridal trends as you chat with vendors about everything from venue selection to catering and from bridal fashions to honeymoon destinations. The Clayton Wedding Expo is free and open to anyone planning a very special event in the coming months. Pre-registration for the Expo is not required, but it is highly recommended and can be done here. The first 100 pre-registered brides will receive a free gift bag.

You can also browse a list of wedding venues in each town within the county at any time at the Johnston County Visitors Bureau website here. We are all here to help you say I Do in JoCo!

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As Long As There Is You and Food

As Long As There Is You and Food

In a recent article published on the Southern Foodways Alliance website, Johnston County native Emily Wallace discussed the battle between Smithfield, VA and Smithfield, NC to be Ham Capital of the World. The article, called Ham to Ham Combat is both fascinating and funny. You can read it here.

More importantly, her interview with Johnston County Hams owner Rufus Brown produced quite the interesting quote, highlighted below.


Today, Brown says, the majority of local customers buy hams just once a year for their holiday tables. Folks call relentlessly. “I tell some of the people who work here, I say, ‘Listen. Their whole house could burn down, they could lose all their presents, but if their refrigerator made it through the fire with that ham in it, that Christmas would be fine,'” says Brown. “They say, ‘Nah, you’re crazy!’ But I say, ‘Once you get through one Christmas, you’ll see.'”


As a native of Johnston County myself, I can add validity to Brown's conviction that what matters most to locals around the holidays is food. It always seemed particularly cruel to me that the Grinch not only took presents and decorations, but emptied out the contents of all the kitchens in Whoville. What sort of monster takes the Roast Beast?!

This notion stems from a deep belief I have ingrained in me as a southerner that any obstacle, hardship, or unpleasantness we face shrinks to insignificance when we gather around a table filled with food and good company. And maybe that's not strictly southern, maybe it is simply human. But, our belief that presents and decorations are secondary to the tradition of a holiday meal shared with friends and family is not the only "food tradition" that southerners hold dear.

In fact, a good look at the history of southern hospitality reveals an unwavering notion that food is how you show that you care. When a family suffers a tragedy, when a new neighbor moves in, and on every major holiday, people provide food in support and in solidarity. As we mourn together and celebrate together, Johnstonians know that the best way to say 'I love you' or even 'Merry Christmas' is through providing nourishment - pies, cakes, casseroles, pudding, and, yes, ham. Below is a picture of the coveted Johnston County Christmas ham.

Johnston County Hams
Instead of attempting to describe how amazing this ham is, I'll let Johnston County Hams do it for me, "For over 60 years and across two generations of renowned curemasters, we at Johnston County Hams in Smithfield, North Carolina have hand crafted "cured" country hams inspired by the techniques used by America's early colonists."

Another family-owned Johnston County establishment catering to our obsession with food is Atkinson Milling Company. Open since 1757, no I did not type a number wrong, and owned by the Wheeler family going on three generations now.

I asked Andrew Wheeler, third generation Wheeler at Atkinson's, to share what Christmas means to his family. He said that Christmas for the Wheeler family is always celebrated on Christmas Eve at Grandma and Papa's house (that's Betty and Ray Wheeler, the first Wheelers to own Atkinson's Mill, pictured below), "Traditionally, Grandma cooked the whole spread. The foods that are Wheeler family traditions are fresh greens, Grandma's macaroni and cheese, a BIG pot of chicken pastry (Atkinson's of course) and hushpuppies (obviously Atkinson's as well!). The greens are always grown and delivered that week by Colon and Coy Batten, longtime Wheeler family friends."

Ray and Betty Wheeler
But he can't just list the food, because, as I have pointed out, food means more than something to eat, it means heritage and home, "Papa loves Grandma's homemade macaroni and cheese, so it is a staple. And Grandma always made the best pastry. It was perfectly seasoned and never stuck together. The hushpuppies are significant to our family because our Atkinson's Regular Hushpuppy Mix was Grandma's own personal recipe and the very first product our company ever made after plain cornmeal."

"After everyone eats, all 34 of us (yes there are 34 of us, hence the BIG pot of pastry) pile into the living room to open gifts. In recent years Papa has taken over the gifting from Grandma and it is always a lot of fun to see what he picked out for everyone. He gets all the grandchildren a gas card and a funny gift. For example, last year my wife received a bottle of aftershave and I got a can of soup.  It is always a treat to laugh at everyone's crazy gifts and his unique spellings of all our names (Papa is known for his inventive spelling). While all the gifting is going on some of the children and grandchildren have a little wrapping paper fight. Grandma scolds everyone saying that she is going to take a switch to us all. In my 26 years she never has; we're all starting to think she's not entirely serious."

Atkinson offers a wide range of cornmeals, biscuit mixes, breaders, and grits. The best product for the holidays, in my opinion, is the Atkinson's Cinnamon Flake Biscuit Mix. Try using it to make the cinnamon roll recipe on our website here. You can get more Johnston County Christmas recipes here.

No matter your holiday tradition, favorite foods, or family recipes, I hope that you, like the Wheelers, are gathering together with those closest to you. Merry Christmas from Johnston County! May your new year be filled with more nourishment then a slice of Johnston County Ham on top of a warm, buttery Atkinson Milling Company biscuit.

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Tis' the Season & Snare

Tis' the Season & Snare

If you read my Journey blog or any of the JoCo Has Talent series blogs you'll already know two things. One, I love music on a very personal and visceral level. Two, Johnston County has some amazing and talented people trying to make it in the music business. In this week's blog I'm talking to Casey Austin Allen, a Four Oaks native and one half of the duo Season & Snare. The other half being Autumn Rose Brand. If you're wondering about the name of the band, Casey plays drums and Autumn is, well, named after a season. And it's always ladies first, so Season & Snare. The duo was formed in March of 2014, and yes, they are more Karmen than HoneyHoney. Which is a musical way of saying they are a couple. Below, Casey answers my questions about Season & Snare, the music industry, Johnston County, and dating your business partner.

As it turns out, musician was not Casey's first career choice, "I was actually gonna be a Power Ranger. But, it turns out, that's not really a job." I can sympathize, seeing as my Hogwarts letter is STILL lost in the owl mail somewhere.

Like many young kids whose parents aren't quite sure what to get their children for Christmas, Casey received a drum set one year, "I didn't ask for one, but I had fun banging on it randomly for a year until an older friend of mine came over one day and tapped out a beat on it. I just had this moment of epiphany, like, you can make purposeful noise with that?!"

He got lessons at 15 and became so good that he graduated high school early in order to tour with a metal band. He did that for four and half years, which isn't as weird as it sounds Casey says, "if you want to play at a very high technical level as a drummer you either need to play metal or jazz."

 

Casey at the Drums

 

He joined the band through a mutual friend and left when he realized he had a real passion for singing... not screaming. Along the way he picked up guitar, piano, and song writing. Then, in 2014 he met Autumn at a studio session in Raleigh that he had booked to play drums. They still do a lot of concerts in Raleigh, where they have ties to the music scene.

"Instead of going on a normal date we started writing music together and the connection was instant. We both have a love for pop and folk. Our sound inspiration comes from bands like the Civil Wars and Broods. We complement each other in what we bring to the music. I'm from Johnston County and so sometimes a little southern, country, rock sneaks in. Autumn is from Seattle so she sometimes tempers the songs with a soft, rainy day vibe."

I asked how their writing sessions go, "normally one of us gets an idea and then we bring it up to each other and continue together. I think the fact that we're dating makes our song writing better, it adds honesty. But, it can be difficult too. To set aside your relationship and make decisions as business partners."

Listening to Casey define their roles in the band, I get the feeling that having clearly defined tasks is what makes it work, "Autumn does a lot of the marketing and booking. She's great at it. And we've both become very savvy with social media, especially Periscope. That's where we caught our big break."

Periscope is a live-streaming service through Twitter. You jump on the app, start recording yourself, and Twitter let's people know that you're doing something cool on camera, giving your followers and other twitter members a chance to click a link and watch you. So, basically, Season & Snare can put on a concert in their living room whenever they want thanks to the internet.

"The unfortunate thing is that the music industry isn't just about talent and drive, it's about luck." But Casey says that a lot of talented and business-minded artists are turning to the rapid changes in technology and communication to gain an audience and following.

Season & Snare's big break (where talent, hard-work, internet savvy, and luck came together) took place during a Periscope session that started with 15 people logged-in to watch Autumn and Casey jam in their living room, per usual. Except that night they watched the hit count (the number of people currently watching them) jump from 15 to 100 to 1500. It turns out Aaron Paul, star of the hit TV show Breaking Bad, had stumbled upon their Periscope session and digged their music, tweeting out Season & Snare to his 2.5+ million followers.

 

Aaron Paul on Twitter


But, wait, it gets better. Because of that one session, Season & Snare ended up being the first live feed to go "viral" on Periscope. So the company contacted Casey and Autumn, congratulating them on their success and talent, thanking them for using the platform, and inviting them to play at one of the first Periscope Summits in NYC.

I asked Casey what that feels like, "It was crazy! We're performing and speaking at the next summit in San Francisco coming up soon. Our success with Periscope has given us a bigger following on the west coast than we have in our home state. That's the power of the internet."

I asked if he thought the internet would ever make labels obsolete, "I don't think they'll ever be obsolete, having a record deal can make a lot of things easier. But social media and crowd-sharing is making it easier for independent artists to compete in the market, to make it without a label. Ideally, Season & Snare would like to be an independent band with a good distribution company."

The bigger you get as a band, the more you travel. Both nationally and internationally. I wanted to know what Casey misses most about JoCo, "the first time I went to NYC was a little shocking. Everyone walks with their heads down, not making eye contact. In Johnston County, you can be a complete stranger but we make eye contact with you, we nod, we say hello. Southern hospitality is the best. It's nice to return and feel welcome."

Speaking of returning, Season & Snare will be making Four Oaks, NC their base of operations for a while. In between recording music and touring, Casey and Autumn will be opening up a music school in their home, his grandparents old home actually. Casey was very close to his grandparents, who lived next door to him growing up. In fact, he recently released a song he wrote about their love for each other. Called To Ann, With Love. You can listen to it and learn more about it here. Be prepared to cry. The song is absolutely beautiful both musically and lyrically.

With their love and support of him, it feels right that the home his grandparents shared will be a place for making and sharing music. Johnston County doesn't have a lot of places that kids can go outside of school to learn music appreciation, especially early in life. Casey is hoping to change that, "we'll be teaching drums, guitar, piano, violin, and maybe a few more."

Best of all, Season & Snare have their very first EP debuting late this month. In conjunction with a TV show. Yes, you heard that right!  On December 22, ABC News is doing a special on new social media trends, and Periscope will be a part of that. One part of the special is about how new bands are using apps like Periscope to reach new, larger audiences, and Season & Snare will be featured in the segment which will air nationally. Be on the look-out for more news regarding the EP release date on the Season & Snare Facebook page - and LIKE them while you're there.

It was an incredible experience to sit down with Casey and talk music. As it always is when I speak with one of the many talented artists that come out of Johnston County. I get to play Rolling Stone reporter for a day. Hopefully soon, you'll see Season & Snare on the cover of Rolling Stone for real. I'm certainly glad that they're chasing their dreams and that they've decided to share their music and talent with Johnston County along the way. Casey is optimistic you'll be able to see them perform in the county at some local gigs they hope to book in 2016. And, if not, there's always Season & Snare on Periscope.

UPDATE: You can now listen to snippets of Season & Snare's new EP Seek here, and follow the link to purchase on iTunes! Happy Listening!

 

Casey & Autumn

*Blog Cover Photo Taken by Daniel Scheirer.

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A Potter. A Preacher. A Process.

A Potter. A Preacher. A Process.


"Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." Jeremiah 18:12


As a child in Duplin County, Frank Grubbs remembers digging in the clay at creek beds to mold little works of art. Of course, at the time, he didn't have a wheel or a kiln, but he was a persistent potter. His little hands would work the clay into what he imagined and then eventually the rain would wash it away. Grubbs has always been artistically inclined. But his art has evolved rather slowly in iterations that parallel the stages of his life. From his small creek-clay creations to his obsession with modeling clay in high school art class, to his senior year at Atlantic Christian College when he found himself in an Intro to Ceramics class.

A life-long career in the ministry has rivaled a life-long passion for pottery. The latter of which was truly sparked during a field trip during the Intro to Ceramics class, "it was a field trip to the studio of Dan Finch Pottery. He had a studio in an old converted tobacco barn. I knew one day I was gonna be a potter with an emphasis on wheel thrown pottery." This conviction led Grubbs to buy his first wheel and kiln in 1978, he still has both. After 41 years in the ministry, and counting, he is getting more serious about pottery. Not just about selling it or making a business out of it, serious about the art itself and the joy he finds in it.

"It's like Christmas morning every time I open the kiln, when that feeling goes away I'll quit." I asked him what he meant by that, "pottery is an ancient art that has evolved over time through wonderful accidents discovered by potters before me along the way. And yet no two pieces of pottery are ever truly identical. Even with all the controls and knowledge and experience, I have no idea what I'm gonna get when I open the kiln. Even if I repeat the process exactly, a piece of pottery can emerge different from the piece before it."


"Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." Isaiah 64:8


What I took away from my time in Frank Grubb's studio, which exists between his home and a barn out back, is that pottery is in fact a process. It goes a little something like this: raw clay to some sort of formation, to a kiln firing to a glaze application, to a glaze firing and then finally any sealing or setting. But Grubbs says he has never been very comfortable with glazing, and a lot of the work he does, and continues to experiment with, is called alternative firing. This includes barrel firing, pit firing, and a method called raku. The last of which involves decorating the pot while it is still hot from the kiln (and when I say hot I mean over 1,000 degrees hot). Grubb's pottery is most known locally for his unique application of horse hair during the raku process but you can really add anything - other types of hair, sugar, alcohol, or even feathers.

Grubbs says that raku is about careful temperature regulation, "if the pot is too hot the horse hair bounces off and disintegrates. If the pot is too cold the hair simply melts into the pot without leaving a mark. I have found that the best temperature range is between 1150-1200 degrees."

Walking around the house and studio is an amazing experience, with so many different shapes, styles, and colors of pottery jumping out at you. You can actually see everything for yourself tomorrow, Saturday, December 5th. For the past 2-3 years Grubbs has done an Open House and this year it will be at his home. You can show up any time from 10:00AM to 9:00PM. The address is 101 Cobblestone Court Smithfield, NC 27577. And it's the perfect season to purchase pottery as a gift. You will be able to purchase a truly unique piece of art during the Open House to give a friend or family member. If you are reading this from another town or state and would like to purchase your very own piece of Frank Grubbs pottery, then good news... he ships! You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A preacher who is a potter. Or a potter who is a preacher? Both take patience. Both instill a sense of wonderment over works wrought.  Frank Grubbs is both talented and extremely passionate about his art. It was mesmerizing to hear him talk with such enthusiasm. It made me want to try pottery. To make something with my hands. Owning a piece of pottery, crafted with hands that pour love into its making, is probably as close as I'm going to get though. But you can get that close too. Tomorrow. At the Frank Grubbs' Pottery Open House.

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Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday

Everyone has their own opinions surrounding Black Friday. Some would classify it an obsession. Some, a tradition. While others find it's slow erosion of Thanksgiving Day and family-time appalling. Whether you're spending Friday the 27th of November in front of the couch or in line at a store, you certainly have the next day, Saturday the 28th, to go shopping or shop some more. And the Saturday after Thanksgiving has, for the past 5 years, been known as Small Business Saturday.

Started in 2010 and championed by American Express, Small Business Saturday is one day out of the year where shoppers are encouraged to focus their attention and buying-power on small, locally-owned businesses. These are the shopkeepers on the corner, the chefs serving-up homegrown dishes in the kitchen, the artists and growers and merchants on main streets across the country. They have hand-made, hand-picked, and personally-selected items in their stores that would make the perfect Christmas gift for someone on your list. They can help you pick the most cheerful decorations, the perfectly-paired wine, or provide a warm meal to keep you going while you shop the day away.

The best part is that whether you're a local or a visitor to Johnston County this holiday season, small business shops and restaurants are all around. They're waiting to welcome you this Saturday. In fact, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau (JCVB) has been working on creating and posting videos that highlight all the many things to do along the main streets in Johnston County. You can view the Benson video here and the Clayton video here. Don't forget about Four Oaks' boutiques and general store, Selma's plethora of antique shops, and Smithfield's downtown offerings. Keep on the lookout for videos coming about these area's as well. This Saturday would be an excellent time to check out all these downtown areas for yourself.

It is on days like Small Business Saturday that we can reflect on how important these businesses are to our local economy. And tourism, by definition, exists to support and sustain the success and growth of these businesses by bringing in visitors from outside the county to enjoy everything that JoCo has to offer. So this Saturday, thank a small business owner and get all your friends and family Christmas presents that have been "sourced-locally".

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Honoring the Legend and the Lady that was Ava Gardner

Honoring the Legend and the Lady that was Ava Gardner

This morning I stood by the side of the road on the sloping lawns of Sunset Memorial Park Cemetery to bear witness with around 2 dozen other people. I stood in the cold sunshine and watched as the historical marker of Ava Gardner was revealed by her remaining friends and family. It was a beautiful ceremony in which the Director of the Ava Gardner Museum, Ava's great niece, and Ava's nephew all offered words on who Ava was and what she meHistoric Markerans to her home county of Johnston.

For those of you who don't know, public figures of historical significance must be deceased for 25 years before the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources will erect a roadside plaque in their honor. Ava passed away in 1990, exactly 25 years ago. But she would be 93 today; her birthday is in fact Christmas Eve. Ava's marker, as you can see from the picture, rests 100 yards away from her gravestone.

This week there have been 2 events related to the dedication of this historic marker. Both involving the Ava Gardner Museum, Ava's family, and also Ava's long-time companion and housekeeper Carmen Vargas. A private dedication took place at The Carolina Theatre in Durham, NC on Wednesday the 18th of November. Following his performance at the theatre that night, Ava's step-son Frank Sinatra Jr. was kind enough to join guests in honoring Ava and to say a few kind and passionate words. By his own admission he interacted with Ava very rarely, but she once showed him a great kindness at a difficult time in his life; something she did not have to do and something he reminisced he will never forget.

I thought about Frank Sinatra Jr.'s words as I stood in front of the marker this morning at the public dedication ceremony listening to those friends and family members who knew Ava discuss their memories of her. It seems to me that every time I hear somebody talk about Ava Gardner, someoAva Posed in a Field ne who knew her, it is never about how big of a star she was... it is always about how big of a person she was. Her genuineness. Her love for her corgis. Her zest for life. Her early and passionate involvement in civil rights.

On paper Ava Gardner is still one of the biggest stars Hollywood has ever known. She remains ranked by the American Film Institute as the 25th most popular screen actress of all time. She is Johnston County's Cinderella story. A girl from Grabtown that became a star. Her legacy remains alive in Smithfield, NC where her museum brings in people from all around the world and where a plaque now marks her final resting place so that fans (old and new) can pay their respects.

But Ava Gardner was more than a star. She is more than her story. Being present at both dedication ceremonies was like watching Ava come off the paper, like watching her come alive again. To be able to see Ava through the eyes of the people who love her, who spent time with her, who knew first-hand her kindness and humor and spirit. It was an honor. To understand how humble she was. How fierce and feisty. To be awed by the unapologetic way she lived her life. It makes her seem all the more real. Because she was a real person.

In the years and decades to come there will pass a time when no one will be here to speak for her. To recount first-hand who she was. How proudly southern and proudly JoCo she was. All we will have is the historic marker and the Ava Gardner Museum. They will remain her legacy. A legacy worth protecting to anyone else who calls themselves a lover of Johnston County, a fan of Ava Gardner, or a believer in unapologetic living and southern hospitality.

I encourage you to visit Ava's museum. To go by her grave and her brand new historic marker. Spend some time with one of the most beautiful women the world has ever seen. Who soared to great heights, and kept her (bare)feet firmly planted in the Johnston County soil.

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Johnston County Visitors Bureau Wins Awards at Tourism Leadership Conference

Johnston County Visitors Bureau Wins Awards at Tourism Leadership Conference

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau was recently honored with 2 awards, presented at the recent annual North Carolina Tourism Leadership Conference, held each year by the Destination Marketing Association of North Carolina. The JCVB won a Gold Destination Marketing Achievement Award in Advertising for their Girlfriends Getaway Print Advertising Campaign. In addition, they also won a Gold Destination Marketing Achievement Award in Online Communications for the Bureau's weekly blog.

Outlet shopping is by far the largest attraction for Smithfield/Johnston County with more than 7 million shopper choosing to visit, shop, spend the night, and it continues to be the driving force for economic development for the tourism industry in Smithfield.  The Girlfriends Getaway advertisingDMANC Awards 2015 promotes the packaging of this attraction with others in the Smithfield area to encourage female shoppers to turn a shopping trip into an experience. Hotels that up-sale the package are averaging 10 per weekend, and others are averaging 2-3 per weekend.  Room nights generated in the last 12 months estimated at approximately 748 with eight hotel partners.

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau's weekly blog posts present a unique medium for announcing important tourism-related events and news, as well as serving as a platform to tell the stories of Johnston County's people and places. The top blog posts of the year included the opening of Johnston County's first legal moonshine distillery, the opening of two new chef driven and farm-fresh restaurants, the announcement that a major county event would be growing, and the story of a local girl working to make it big with her music. In total, these four top-producing posts generated 18,787 views to the blog page on our website so far.

Donna Bailey-Taylor, President/CEO of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau, was also honored by the North Carolina Travel Industry Association (NCTIA) with the organization’s 2015 Public Service Award. NCTIA’ s Public Service Award is given to individuals and/or organizations for outstanding career contributions for the betterment, welfare, progress, recognition, promotion and development of the travel industry of North Carolina.  Previously known as the Bill Sharpe Award, the Public Service Award is awarded annually (since 1987) in honor of Bill Sharpe, the state’s first tourism director.

For more information on the N.C. Travel Industry Association and the Public Service Award, visit
www.seenc.org/awards.

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American Music Jubilee Christmas Show Is Here

American Music Jubilee Christmas Show Is Here


It has not escaped my notice that I recently posted a blog in which I lamented the retail-driven erasure of November and ThanDown Home Christmas ksgiving (a wondrous time of year). I do believe I firmly stated the Johnston County, and Southern, tradition of letting seasons and holidays pass as they will. No rushing. No jingle bells until all the colorful leaves have left their trees. And I still stand by that 100%.

But there are some of us, yes me included, who LOVE Christmas. And if you love Christmas sometimes it takes a little more than 31 days to contain your Christmas cheer. So, starting in November I find little ways to celebrate my BIG love for all things Christmas. One way to do that is to get tickets to the American Music Jubilee's Down Home Christmas Show.

It's an evening of southern hospitality, great American music, and side-splitting comedy that will delight audiences of every age. Add a couple of surprise guests, like Santa and his friends, and this show is guaranteed to get you in the Christmas spirit!  A touch of Branson and a touch of Myrtle Beach, American Music Jubilee includes a ten member cast that skillfully combine comedy skits with traditional and modern Christmas music.  
Christmas Pajamas Skit
The 2015 Christmas season shows started November 6th and will run through December 21st. The shows begin at 1:40pm and 7:40pm each day. Admission charges are $28.50 for adults with special pricing available for children, balcony seating, and groups of 15 or more. Groups should call ahead.

The reason the Jubilee starts their Christmas show in November is because so many people want to see it, and because some people like me want to experience a little Christmas before December 1st. Just remember to make the most out of your Down Home Christmas Show experience by exploring Selma before or after the show. Selma has over 20 antique and specialty stores as well as outlet shopping.  A variety of quaint hometown dining establishments are available for a pre-show lunch or dinner.  

For more information and for tickets call 1-877-843-7839 or (919) 202-9927. You can also visit the website at www.amjubilee.com for a full performance schedule.

Happy Holidays (a little early) Ya'll!

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"Video" Proof that Downtown Clayton is the Perfect Getaway!

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Buy a Bottle at Broadslab

Buy a Bottle at Broadslab

 

We have reached at least a temporary closing to our Meet the Makers. Broadslab Distillery is the last of the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail locations to be discussed in this blog series. Broadslab's owner and master distiller Jeremy Norris is the last maker in Johnston County to fall under the craft beverage industry. However, that does not mean that Jeremy is the last maker I will have the privilege of sitting down with. It is my hope to extend the Meet the Makers series into other blogs, regarding artisans and artists throughout the county. So, stay tuned. Meanwhile, onward with boasting about Broadslab!

One For The Road

Craft distilling is a growing industry across North Carolina. And like wineries and breweries, distilleries not only boost the econoTasting at Broadslabmy through production and sells, but through drawing tourists to the state who are interested in tasting vodka, bourbon, gin, whiskey, and authentic southern moonshine. North Carolina has always been, shall we say, notorious for the illegal home brewing of such beverages, but distillers have been able to legally make it (with the proper permits) for years now. But, did you know, that distillers have not always been able to sell their own product on-site at the distillery until this month?

Benson-based Broadslab Distillery has been offering tours and tastings since March of this year. But, in order to buy the product, visitors to the property where Jeremy makes his "shine" would have to leave the farm and drive into Benson, to the nearest ABC store, to lay their hands on a full bottle of product. This year NC legislators voted to change that. For the first time in over 100 years, visitors to Broadslab can purchase a bottle of shine from Jeremy.  One bottle. Per person. Per year. For those visitors from states with more liberal alcohol laws this may sound restrictive. But for the members of the North Carolina Distillers Association it's a step in the right direction... and hopefully a singular step on a longer path to making our state a mecca for visitors looking to experience authentic southern liquor.  I invite you to visit and give Broadslab a try. You can now take one for the road! The tasting room is located right off I-95 in Benson, NC near the intersection of I-40 and I-95. This makes Broadslab convenient from the Triangle if you're looking for things to do in Raleigh or you want to expand your tour of Raleigh distilleries.

The Real Deal

Jeremy is what we would dub the "real deal", with a back story about growing up in a family of moonshiners in a community known for the trade.Broadslab Legacy Shine Gold Medal Unlike some distilleries in the state using moonshine stories as a marketing ploy, Jeremy is building a brand whose story has honest origins. Jeremy was raised by his grandfather, and helped him on the farm for many years as he ran a produce stand there at the house, now the tasting room.  His grandfather's heart and hands and spirit tended the land and his shine stills once dotted the landscape back before Jeremy was born.

The Broadslab recipes are the embodiment of a 5 generation legacy and were passed down by the great-great grandfathers on both sides of Jeremy’s family. One of them, William “Bill” McLamb, was active in the dawn of the moonshine trade and distilled smooth, sipping whiskey long before prohibition. But it was Jeremy’s grandfather, Leonard A. Wood, who eventually passed on the family recipe.

Once moonshine became legal in NC Jeremy saw the opportunity for his family to turn a lawless legacy into a labor of love operation. His grandfather Leonard finally agreed to share his knowledge, recipes, and oral shine history. And so they toiled together, perfecting the process and arguing between decades of tradition and modern techniques. As Jeremy’s mentor and personal advisor, Leonard was integral in building the Broadslab still, but passed away before opening. Since then, Jeremy has purchased land from his family to own the farm his grandfather loved so much.  Jeremy has roots in the land like many other Johnston County farmers. The distillery sits in the footprint of many of his stills on the family farm outside Benson, NC.

From Dirt to Bottle
Broadslab Legacy Reserve Shine Bronze Medal
As far as Jeremy knows, he is the only distillery in the state that is growing the grain, harvesting and processing it, and making it all with natural ingredients. If you're standing in the Broadslab tasting room, you're standing on the land that the corn in your whiskey was grown on. There will be no additives, artificial ingredients or syrups in Broadslab products.  Some are even considered organic for those foodies that seek out that designation. But, there are some other important "organic" ingredients to Broadslab Distillery's product that make it truly one of a kind. The hand-crafted love that goes into every step in the process is one ingredient. From "dirt to bottle", Jeremy is the engine behind the process putting that drink in your hand.

Jeremy's grandfather told him there are two kinds of shine, the shine you sale and the shine you drink.  Jeremy is making the shine you drink.  He has altered the methods his grandfather used to pour off the harsh chemicals that are in front of the "drinking shine", and he cuts off the still before the bitter taste at the bottom effects the product.  This "sweet spot" so to speak is the fine product Jeremy is producing. Jeremy has remarked more than once that his grandfather would get upset that Jeremy was "wasting" a portion of the product in order to craft a better taste. While Jeremy understood the practicality behind his grandfather's idea, he wanted his product to be a smooth as possible.

And Now, Award-Winningb2ap3_thumbnail_Apple-Shine-Medal.jpg

The hand-crafted glass of Broadslab shine or rum you sip on in the tasting room doesn't just have your basic white lightening ingredients in it. It has the weight of a war between the lawful and the lawless. The sense of secrecy as hands toiled to distill in the dead of night or run boxes up the river under cover of darkness. The smell of wild southern nights, gun smoke, and pure grain alcohol. The taste of sizzling lightening tempered by time and passion into a smooth and robust drink.

If you don't believe me, believe the judges at the Blue Ridge Spirit Competition this year. Jeremy took home Gold for his Legacy Shine, Silver for his Apple Shine, and Bronze for his  Reserve Legacy Shine. Congrats to Jeremy and Broadslab! 

Visit Broadslab Distillery for the shine and you certainly won't be disappointed.  But stick around for the stories and you'll find yourself perched on the barstool long after the shot glass in your hand runs dry. The tasting room is open Thursday through Saturday, starting at 12N, with tours, tasting, and shot glass for $12.00. Find out more at -- www.broadslabdistillery.com.

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Wine, Weddings, and Wonderful Food Meet at Gregory Vineyards

Wine, Weddings, and Wonderful Food Meet at Gregory Vineyards

 

Cruising the expanse of road that leads you through Gregory Vineyards and up to the tasting room gives you time to take-in the idyllic view. Rows of grapevines stretch out over an expanse of green grass as it slops gently towards the calm waters of a large pond. It would be easy to sit and rest on the porch with a glass of wine with nothing to do but soak-up the autumn sun.

If you have been following along on the Meet the Makers blog series then you know by now that North Carolina has almost 200 wineries and a booming wine industry that not just locals but visitors, from all over the nation and world, enjoy. You also know that Johnston County has talented artisans working in various industries; JoCo can now boast 2 wineries, 2 craft breweries, and a moonshine distillery. Tourists can visit all 5 establishments on our Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail and many visitors are led to the county by other beer, wine, and spirit trails that extend across the state.

 

Greogry View


It is because of this growing relevance between beverage crafting and tourism that I started Meet the Makers. In this installment of the blog series I sat down with Lane Gregory, owner and winemaker at Gregory Vineyards to discuss what he does every day and what's around the corner for the vineyard.

 

A Serendipitous Start


One of the first things Lane told me about Gregory Vineyards is that the grapes were originally meant to be ornamental, "a winery was not the purpose of the vineyard. I put the vineyard in as a backdrop for weddings."


To clarify, in 1987 the Gregory's opened Lane's Seafood, a delicious restaurant that enjoyed many years of prosperity. Then, when Lane wanted to spend more time with his children, he left it in the care of a couple who just couldn't manage it like they thought and the restaurant closed for a time. In 2009 the Gregory's reopened the restaurant building, on their beautiful land, to host weddings. The vineyards were planted at that time because Lane thought they would make an excellent backdrop to the weddings and the guests who came to the restaurant to dine.

Gregory Wines
But, when you plant vineyards you are also growing grapes as Lane pointed out, "We had to do something with the grapes. In 2011 the winery opened. We have 12 acres now and we run a small but successful operation." Gregory Vineyards produces award-wining muscadine wines. When asked why he doesn't make a merlot Lane says it's due to the Eastern North Carolina climate. Not all varietals do well, but muscadine grapes flourish and 2014 was a bountiful harvest, making 2015 an excellent wine year for Gregory. Lane says he expects that 2015-2016 will be similar.

Lane plans to expand the vineyard, planting 8 more acres within the year and eventually hopes to add between 20 and 30 acres. Expanding the vineyard means expanding production. The Gregory's still sell almost 100% of their wine on-site. They do not mass distribute and they do not sell in grocery stores.

I asked Lane what he plans to do with more grapes, "we're already licensed to make wine, beer, and liquor, we've just chosen to focus on wine. We are moving in the direction of distilling brandy for fortified wines. In fact, the first fortified wine product hits shelves soon - called Fearless.  Fortified wine means distilling an un-fortified wine and taking the alcohol from that process, which is brandy, and then adding it back into another wine." At that point, the wine goes from less than 16% to 18-20%. Legally a winery can sell wine with up-to a 24% ABV.

 

A Labor of Love



So, what does Lane Gregory like most about making wine, since he didn't particularly start out to become a vintner? "If I can make wine, anyone can make wine," he jokes, "But, really, it's basic chemistry. And a lot of fun. I think that my years in the restaurant business gave me the ability to blend wine well and to pair the wine we make with the food we serve in the restaurant."

 Almost every unique wine has a creative label and person associated with it, "my wife and I visited a lot of wineries and for the most part Winery-Signwe found that the wine had a generic or esoteric name. We wanted our wine to have a story, most are named after good friends and family members."

People come from all over to have dinner at Lane's Seafood & Steakhouse, and to taste the delicious muscadine wine. Gregory Vineyards gets visitors from Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, and Flordia to name a few. Lane says a lot of them are in the area to visit family and are looking for things to do. Gregory also hosted the NC Grape Stomp Festival this year a few weekends ago and around 3,000 people attended. The vineyard also hosts weddings for most of the year now from early spring to early winter, the original plan if you remember, and did over 100 events last year.

I asked what the future held and Lane said that for now, he and his wife are content to grow the vineyard and the business at a manageable pace. He hinted that there would be more initiatives to unveil very soon. Exciting! I love to see small, local business booming. Lane said that even with growth they will remain a Mom & Pop operation, "I still call it a hobby, but a hobby that works me pretty hard."

If you are interested in a wine tasting, a delicious surf and turf dinner, or holding a wedding - possibly all three? - feel free to contact Gregory Vineyards. And if you have a Saturday afternoon free, go sit a spell on the porch with one of the best views in the Johnston County.

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Beer Wine & Shine Trail

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Travel around the county to four award-winning wineries, two breweries and get a taste of brandy along the way!  Receive a Free $30 coupon book when you complete the trail.

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Meeting Planners

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Johnston County offers conveniently located and affordable conference facilities for meetings, reunions, and unique destination weddings sites.  Why not select a historic home or horse farm for your next event?

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Group Tour Operators

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Groups have discovered exits along I-40 and I-95 for outlet shopping, music theatre, museums and heritage sites.  Call today for custom itinerary planning.

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Hotel Packages

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We have created several special hotel packages including a Girlfriends Getaway for outlet shopping, we know you need a break and great deals on shoes!  Click here to book your getaway today.

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