isa Thomas-McMillan and her husband, Freddie, are feeding the souls – and stomachs – of those in need, all for free at their Brewton restaurant, Drexel & Honeybee’s. In Escambia County, the couple is well known for meeting the hunger needs of their community, with Lisa as the driving force through their non-profit, Carlisa, Inc. In their mission, they’ve fed college students, veterans, those at Thanksgiving and Christmas and any person in need. And they’ve never asked for a dime.
“The thing about hunger is, you don’t know who’s going hungry,” she says. “You can’t see it on their face. You don’t know what’s in someone’s cabinet, or more importantly, what’s not. “If you’re down and out and struggling, coming to a decent place and enjoying a hot meal can lift your spirit,” Lisa says. “It makes that person feel better about themselves. That’s what we do. Sit down here and no one cares what’s in your wallet. We want you to leave full – full of good food and good company.”
Serving it up
Lisa began campaigning for the hungry in 1995. “People ask us all the time, ‘Why do you do it?’” Lisa says. “I can honestly say, it’s because God led us here.” In 1995, Lisa was a cashier at the local Walmart when she ran into a woman having food problems. The conversation revealed 25 others in similar situations. “That next morning, I started cooking 26 breakfasts and delivering them each morning,” Lisa says. “In my house, in my kitchen. I cooked, and it started something in me. I enjoyed it, and I realized that when you serve people, you feel good. I love that.” From there, the mission grew. While visiting the local campus of Jefferson Davis Community College (now Coastal Alabama), she saw two students pooling change to buy food from the vending machines. Before long, Lisa was on site, serving up hot Sunday-style meals for students for donations. For more than 10 years, she used community donations to stock the kitchen’s pantry, supplementing with purchases made from her own pocket. In 2005, she walked to Washington to gain support for her campaign. She has also authored a book, Living Fulfilled: The Infectious Joy of Serving Others, which relates her journey to help others and is available on Amazon. And as if that wasn’t enough, she added free meals for veterans on Veterans Day and free community lunches on Thanksgiving and Christmas days. “At the college, in my mind, I said, ‘I’d love to own a restaurant where people would pay what they could,’ but of course, I didn’t have any money,” she says. “But, God always provides.
Thomas-McMillan serves up homestyle meat-and-three meals at her pay-as-you-can restaurant.
When Lisa heard about rock star Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen, the New Jersey community restaurant where diners can donate or volunteer to cover the cost of their meal, she found the blueprint for her Brewton location. “I went on his website to see what I could learn, because I knew we could do it (in Brewton); I just knew it,” Lisa says. “We wanted it so bad, and we did it. We’re still working out the kinks, but we’ll get it down.” It was 2016 when the no-pay restaurant idea took seed. This March, it bloomed inside the Lee Street location Lisa found while scouting locations for the community Thanksgiving meal. It took a year and a half to pay the $45,000 note. Then with a $20,000 grant from the Brewton City Council and “my Visa card,” the couple undertook the massive renovations. “My husband said we had to get the building paid for before we started the renovations,” she says. “We did. It is everything I dreamed of. It’s a nice building and a nice place for people to come and eat. Anyone – no matter of their ability to pay – can eat at our table.” And eat they do, enjoying a daily meat-and-three fare of oven-fried chicken, meatloaf, chicken pot pie, hamburger steak, BBQ ribs, fresh vegetables, rice, macaroni and cheese and more.
No cash, no problem
There are no prices posted in the building. Volunteers staff the restaurant and donated food – everything from canned vegetables and garden bounty to wares purchased from local grocery
Drexel & Honeybee’s is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. and is located at 109 Lee St., Brewton.
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