This week witnessed the opening of celebrity-owned restaurants on both sides of Mobile Bay — on consecutive days — adding to the mix of choices available for both locals and tourists out and about in the area during the holiday season.
TV personality and cooking show host Paula Deen arrived in Foley Monday to hold a grand opening for her latest Family Kitchen restaurant in OWA, a massive 520-acre entertainment complex owned and operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. The 8,000-square-foot space follows the footprint of her three other locations, with seating capacity for nearly 300 patrons.
The new eatery also created 150 local jobs in the area upon opening, meeting needs for executive chefs, managers, line cooks, prep cooks, bakers, dishwashers, bussers, bartenders, servers, hosts and retail sales associates. At the event, Savannah, Georgia-domiciled Deen mentioned spending a significant amount of time down on the central Gulf Coast during childhood, so the return to Foley was a bit of a homecoming.
In addition to the opening, Deen also held a book-signing event. This will be the fourth site to open under Dean’s “Family Kitchen” label. Other locales include Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Branson, Missouri.
On Tuesday the former Applebee’s site located at 4940 Government Blvd. in West Mobile, recently leased by 25-year-old, Mobile-based rap star Yung Bleu (born Jeremy Biddle), held a soft opening, repurposed as a soul food kitchen called Gwen’s Home. The event was held for a smallish crowd of around 300 and was attended by family, friends, music industry celebrities and media.
Among those in attendance was Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based, Atlantic Records-signed artist Boosie Badazz (formerly known as Lil Boosie). In 2017 Yung Bleu first shot to stardom after signing a record deal with (then) Columbia Records-affiliated imprint Badazz Music Syndicate; he attracted attention from the label via Instagram. Later that year, Yung Bleu saw major success after his song “Miss It” went viral on YouTube, garnering over 1 million views in a few weeks.
According to restaurant general manager Al Savage, expectations are to hold a grand opening in late December, sometime after Christmas. The 5,475-square-foot space has been completely renovated and staffed with around 40 local workers. John Vallas with Vallas Realty handled the transaction for the tenant.
Per Vallas, the relationship with the rapper was originated by his son, John Paul Vallas, a 22-year-old college senior studying economics at Auburn University. “John Paul was following Yung Bleu on Instagram and reached out to him to start a dialogue after noticing that the rapper was interested in opening a restaurant in Mobile,” Vallas said.
On Wednesday, Dec. 11, Atmore-based United Bank held a grand opening for their latest 2,500-square-foot loan office located at 27555 U.S. Highway 98 in Daphne. The property was originally constructed in 2008 as part of Chatham-based First Community Bank. In 2017 the site was acquired by Hattiesburg, Mississippi-based banker The First for regional expansion purposes, but shuttered soon thereafter.
United Bank acquired the space in March 2019 for $1.35 million and hired Fairhope-based architects Walcott Adams Verneuille to spend an additional $200,000 in site upgrades. The branch also hired nine additional employees prior to opening to handle operations.
America’s Thrift Stores is leasing some 16,700 square feet of retail space located at 1200 N. McKenzie St. in Foley. The space was formerly occupied by a Fred’s store, part of the Memphis-based chain’s 557 stores in 15 states that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year. The retailer plans to open in Spring 2020. Amanda Goldman with Stirling Properties represented the landlord in the transaction. Greg Haag with Haag Brown Commercial worked for the tenant.
Andrew Dickman with Stirling Properties recently reported an 8,400-square-foot office and warehouse space inside I-10 Commerce Center and located at 30466 Sgt. E.I. Boots Thomas Drive in Spanish Fort was recently acquired for $1.37 million by a local speculator. Dickman represented the buyer in the transaction and Richard Inge with Inge & Associates worked for the seller.
USA’s Gassman recognized for excellence in Cancer Research
Mobile cancer researcher Natalie R. Gassman, Ph.D., has been named the recipient of the 2019 Mayer Mitchell Award for Excellence in Cancer Research related to work handled at the University of South Alabama’s (USA) College of Medicine.
Announced in December, the $10,000 award is presented annually to a promising scientist at the USA Health’s Mitchell Cancer Institute (MCI) upon the recommendation of a faculty committee.
The award was established in 2009 by USA trustee Arlene Mitchell in memory of her late husband, Mayer Mitchell, a Mobile businessman, longtime USA trustee and formative figure in the establishment of MCI.
Gassman, an assistant professor of physiology and cell biology at the USA College of Medicine and a cancer researcher at MCI, focuses her work on characterizing the influence environmental exposures have on DNA repair and how DNA repair proteins are altered or modified in the context of cancer.
She has also developed a reportedly versatile detection method that helps identify deficiencies in repair mechanisms that give cancer cells a survival edge. She hopes the results can be applied in a clinical setting to tailor therapies for cancer patients.
“Our team is trying to find the magic formula — how much DNA damage you have and how you will respond to treatment,” Gassman said. “It’s personalized medicine for your genome.” Since joining MCI in 2015, Gassman has submitted more than 20 scientific articles that have been accepted for publication.
Rodney Rocconi, M.D., interim director at MCI, praised Gassman’s research and leadership. “She has taken a leading role in transforming cancer research at MCI,” he said. “She is on a sharp upward trajectory and is a large part of the research momentum here.”
Prior to joining MCI, she held postdoctoral positions at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Gassman earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Michigan State University and a doctoral degree in physical chemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles.
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