Don Davis, the Texas-based co-owner of the newly opened Ralph & Kacoo’s and soon-to-come Café Del Rio — both on the Causeway — anticipates adding upwards of 180 new jobs after all refurbishments are completed at the two eateries.

Headquartered in Nacogdoches, Texas, the two ventures will mark Davis’ first foray into Alabama and the fourth restaurant opened under the Ralph & Kacoo’s label. For Café Del Rio, this will be their first Tex-Mex-themed restaurant to open doors outside of the Lone Star state.

Already serving patrons at the former Lap’s as Ralph & Kacoo’s, renovations for the 20,000-square-foot seafood-with-a-Cajun-twist eatery should be completed in mid-April. Expectations for opening of the 10,000-square-foot Café Del Rio spot, at the former Tacky Jacks, are for early June.

Davis plans to remain in the area for the next several months overseeing the expansion of Ralph & Kacoo’s kitchen as well as monitoring progress of the Café Del Rio property. At peak capacity, the two restaurants will seat upwards of 650 diners. According to Davis, roughly $1 million in additional capital will be invested in both properties for remodeling.

According to Doug Clothier, vice-president of operations, Café Del Rio will employ around 130 once fully staffed. Ralph & Kacoo’s plans hiring 50 additional employees on top of current staff. Some of the positions sought are: servers, cooks, general manager, assistant manager and kitchen manager.

World Trade Conference to be held in Point Clear
This year’s World Trade Conference will be held April 21-22 in Point Clear at the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa. The event will be presented by the Gulf Coast Trade Alliance, a four-state partnership between government and nonprofit business organizations from Alabama, Northwest Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The Mobile Area Chamber is coordinating the effort and is dedicating sessions to how Gulf Coast companies can tap into South Africa & Sub-Saharan African markets.

“While Africa’s sheer size demands attention, it’s the market growth opportunities that you should be considering,” Christina Stimpson, the Mobile Chamber’s director of international trade said. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, since 2000, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced consumer spending growth of 4 percent per year, expected to reach $1 trillion in 2020.

Among the high-profile speakers are the newly appointed Ambassador of South Africa to the United States of America, His Excellency Mninwa J. Mahlangu.

Gulf Coast companies will also have access to one-on-one appointments with commercial specialists who are currently serving African markets to gain market insight and determine actionable steps they can take to enter into Africa.

Due to high demand, appointments will be made on a first come, first serve basis. Tickets for the event are $225 each. Contact Christina Stimpson at the Mobile Chamber for reservations at cstimpson@mobilechamber.com.

Austal USA graduates 48 journeymen at recent ceremony
Austal USA recently graduated a total of 48 members from their four-year apprenticeship program at a formal ceremony held last week at the Arthur R. Outlaw Mobile Convention Center.

The graduates received certificates of completion and designation as Department of Labor “Class A” journeymen. The group consisted of 22 electrical journeymen, nine pipe fitting journeymen, four fitout journeymen and 13 fabrication journeymen. Of the 48 apprentices, 18 have already been promoted to leadership positions.

Austal also noted that the retention numbers for the class were above regional averages for other comparable apprenticeship programs in the area.

In his remarks to the graduates at the ceremony, Austal President Craig Perciavalle commented: “As a major player in the defense industry, Austal has experienced incredible growth and achieved major accomplishments over the last four years, a testament to the hard work and dedication of our employees.” 

Austal’s apprenticeship program is certified by the U.S. Department of Labor, Alabama Department of Post-Secondary Education and the Veteran’s Administration. It is governed by the Department of Labor Standards of Apprenticeship for the respective trades of pipefitter, marine electrician, fabricator, and fitout.

According to the press release, Austal is currently under contract with the U.S. Navy to build ten 103-meter JHSVs under a 10-ship, $1.6 billion block buy contract and eight 127-meter Independence-variant LCS class ships as a part of a 10-ship, $3.5 billion block buy contract.

These two deals have allowed the shipyard to increase its Mobile workforce to over 4,200 employees in order to fulfill construction requirements. 

Via Center hosting “Aging Well” event
On April 10 from 12:30 to 3 p.m., Via Health Fitness and Enrichment Center located at 1717 Dauphin St., in conjunction with Prestige Partners benefits group, will be hosting an “Aging Well” event addressing long term planning strategies in health insurance and employee wellness for business owners under the new Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates.

According to Via Center executive director Dorothy Dorton, the idea of the program is to encourage employees to adopt healthier, more physically active lifestyles. This in turn, has the potential of reducing insurance and medical costs for both employers and employees.

“This plan can provide access to all of the Via Center’s amenities including our fitness center, numerous fitness classes and healthy living programs. We can even visit companies to provide seminars on health topics, host health fairs or health clinics,” Dorton said.

Via Health Fitness and Enrichment Center is a local nonprofit that has been providing services to the older adults of Mobile since 1971. It began as Senior Citizens Services, Inc. and has evolved into a full spectrum fitness and community that continues to focus on aging well through health, fitness and education for all adults. Fitness memberships are available for adults 18 and older. 

For additional information contact Prestige Partners at 251-287-1887 or Barbara Estes at the Via Center at 251-470-5229.

Johnson joins White-Spunner Realty
Michelle Johnson recently joined the White-Spunner Realty team, serving as Controller. She has more than 15 years of experience as a financial services manager and senior accounting manager with a local multi-media company.

Johnson earned a Master of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting from the University of South Alabama.

Johnson’s most recent position prior to White-Spunner Realty was as manager of financial services responsible for the accounting functions for three corporate locations for the one of the state’s largest newspaper groups.

“The values evident among the staff are what drew me to White-Spunner Realty,” Johnson said. “That’s important when you are managing investments.”

A native of Mobile, Johnson currently lives in midtown with her family. They attend St. Mary’s Catholic Church.