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INSPIRING SMALL BUSINESSES FIND CU LT U R E & HI S TO RY IN CLE V E L A ND OXFORD' S NEW CRE ATIVE BUSINESS INCUBATOR


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ON THE COVER

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Letter From the Publisher

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Valentine’s Day

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Digital Details

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Ladies Baseball Forum

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Calendar

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Tupelo Gun & Knife Show

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Shoutouts

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Fiber Arts Festival

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Recipes: Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

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Martin Luther King Day

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Ole Miss Basketball

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Good Neighbor: Alexandra Santiago

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This “Welcome Y’all” sign hangs outside the Martin and Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum in Cleveland. Pictured in the background is Airport Grocery, also in Cleveland, photographed by Joe Worthem. Read more about visiting Cleveland on page 38.


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FE ATURES 26 Open for Business

These small north Mississippi businesses shifted gears and found success amid the pandemic thanks to creative thinking and community support.

34 Building Blocks

Big Bad Business aims to equip local creative entrepreneurs with tools to successfully launch their businesses — and to convince them to stay in Oxford.

38 Cleveland Renaissance

A new boutique hotel is just one reason Cleveland, Mississippi, is worth a visit.

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L E T T E R from the P U B L I S H E R More than two decades ago, in 1996, I moved to Mississippi from my native Arkansas, and I’m still here. In my years in this state of my choosing, I have lived in myriad areas. I lived in Jackson and worked in Raymond for five years. I worked in Hattiesburg and on the Gulf Coast. Though most Mississippi school students are tasked with learning the state’s counties, I learned them — all 82 — as a college graduate, not as a requirement, but simply because I wanted to. Gaining that knowledge was something in which I took great pride. While I don’t hail from Mississippi, I feel I have learned a lot in my time here. I’ve now lived in this state years longer than I

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lived in the state of my birth. Mississippi has contributed greatly to who I am, and for that, I am one of the luckiest people in the world. Mississippians, whether by birth or by choice, are what make this magazine unique. It’s why we can tell the stories we are telling this month, and for months and years prior to this edition. We’ve all been affected one way or another during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read on page 26 about several small north Mississippi businesses that excelled despite the recent difficult times, thanks to creativity and community support. In the heart of the Mississippi Delta, Cleveland, for years known mostly as a rural area that boasted a university, is thriving

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and becoming a mecca for the arts. Read the story on page 38. And back in Oxford, Alexandra Santiago is living her dream as she awaits the roll out of her Sleepy Cactus food truck. Read about our Good Neighbor on page 64. This month we celebrate the creative ideas of a few of the great people who make this state an amazing place to call home. Twenty-five years later, I’m so proud to call Mississippi my home.

RACHEL M. WEST, PUBLISHER

@INVOXFORD @INVMAGA ZINE


PUBLISHER Rachel West

EDITORIAL

EDITORIAL DIRECTOR Emily Welly EXECUTIVE EDITOR Leslie Criss OPERATIONS DIRECTOR Mary Moreton CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Antonio Battista Robyn Jackson Sarah McCullen

COPY EDITOR Ashley Arthur EDITORIAL ASSISTANT Abbey Edmonson

OFFICE

BUSINESS MANAGER Hollie Hilliard DISTRIBUTION Brian Hilliard

ART

CREATIVE DIRECTOR Holly Vollor STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Joe Worthem CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS Emi Hayes Jessica Richardson Lisa Roberts

ADVERTISING

ADVERTISING CONSULTANTS Alise M. Emerson Leigh Lowery Lynn McElreath Moni Simpson Whitney Worsham Anna Zemek ADVERTISING DESIGNER Becca Pepper ADVERTISING INFORMATION ads@invitationoxford.com

MAIN OFFICE 662-234-4008

To subscribe to one year (10 issues) or to buy an announcement, visit invitationmag.com. To request a photographer at your event, email Mary at mary.invitation@gmail.com. Invitation Magazines respects the many diverse individuals and organizations that make up north Mississippi and strives to be inclusive and representative of all members of our community.

PLEASE RECYCLE THIS MAGAZINE

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D I G I T A L details E XC LU S I V E LY O N L I N E AT I N V I TAT I O N M AG .C O M

social S N A P S

We ’re L o ok i n g fo r H e l p e r s & H e ro e s!

We love being tagged in your photos!

From large nonprofit organizations to individuals who make it a personal mission to help, we are surrounded by generosity. As a community magazine, it’s an honor and a privilege for us to write about these people and groups. We want to hear from our readers about the helpers that they see making a difference. Email us at invitationmag.editors@gmail.com to tell us about the people and groups you know who are deserving of recognition, and look for them to be featured in an upcoming magazine. Illustration by Frank Estrada. From "The Night Shift," about medical couriers, who are essential in the process of organ donation. Published in Invitation Oxford, February 2019.

V i s it C le ve l a nd , M i s s i s s i p p i

L O C A T I O N : Bremma’s Sweet Treats U S E R N A M E : @bremmasbakery

C a l l i n g A l l Ne w ly we d s

Taking advantage of a #gorgeous #morning outside… L O C A T I O N : Oxford U S E R N A M E : @jamesdowd1

Ready for a trip? Turn to page 38 to read about visiting Cleveland, where you can stay at the boutique Cotton House hotel and tour museums filled with Mississippi Delta heritage and history. Go to invitationmag.com for many more photos from this reinvigorated town.

Attention brides and grooms! Purchase your customdesigned wedding or engagement announcement now to run in our June/July magazine. For rates and deadlines, and to order your announcement online, visit invitationmag.com/bridal-announcements.

CALENDAR AND EVENTS

Have an exciting event coming up? Visit our website and share the details on our online community calendar. There’s a chance photos from your event will be featured in an upcoming magazine! FOLLOW US

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Eat Mississippi Vegetables L O C A T I O N : Oxford U S E R N A M E : @photoxlucile |

@INVOXFORD @INVMAGA ZINE


…this is one if not my favorite find to date… L O C A T I O N : Rave House Coffee (in Water Valley) U S E R N A M E : @cortadoculture

He’s a bird machine! L O C A T I O N : Little “q” Ranch U S E R N A M E : @littleqranch

Black & white vs Color! L O C A T I O N : Arbors of Amory U S E R N A M E : @finchcollective

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C O M M U N I T Y M ARCH 2021

Sipps & Dips

TEDx

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The Sipp on South Lamar pairs favorite wines with favorite dips. Tickets $30. 5:30-6:30 p.m.

TEDxUniversityofMississippi hosts its sixth annual program teeming with speakers and ideas worth spreading. This year’s speakers include Oxford High School football coach Chris Cutcliffe and coaching expert Dr. Hunter Taylor along with Kritika Gupta, Dr. Christopher Scott Hunter, David Magee, Jon Maynard, Elijah Mudryk, Sgt. Michael Wade and Marcela Weber. Free admission. 7 p.m., The Ford Center.

thesippms.com

MARCH 8

Today is a day of celebrating womanhood and respecting strong women. Take pictures with a special woman in your life and tag it with #InvitationWomen2021.

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The Jay McCart Band at Theo’s Feed Mill

Award-winning singer and producer Mark Trammell brings his quartet to Wheeler Grove Baptist Church in Corinth for a morning of Southern Gospel music. Free admission. 10 a.m.

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tedxuniversityofmississippi.com

International Women’s Day 2021

Mark Trammell Quartet

This Southern rock ’n’ roll band plays in Fulton at Theo’s Feed Mill, a restaurant known for its authentic charcoal and wood-fired steaks. For more information, search “The Jay McCart Band” on Facebook. Free admission. 7-10 p.m.

Blind Wines M A R C H 24

The Sipp on South Lamar invites all to enjoy a blind wine tasting. Tickets $30. 5:30-6:30 p.m. thesippms.com


Oxford Film Festival M A R C H 24-2 8

Founded in 2003 by the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, this local cinema festival became an independent nonprofit organization in 2008. This yearly event encourages filmmaking in Oxford and north Mississippi through screenings, workshops and educational programs. See website for times and ticket information. oxfordfilmfest.com

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Corinth Theatre-Arts presents “Waiting for Godot,” a play by Samuel Beckett featuring two main characters in discussion as they await Godot, who never arrives. See website for times and ticket information. onthestage.com/corinth-theatre-arts

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This north Mississippi-based band plays eclectic music covering a wide variety of genres at Romie’s Grocery in Tupelo. For more information, search “Jumping the Gun” on Facebook. Free admission. 8 p.m. M ARCH 202 1 | INVITATION

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No r t h M i s s i s s i p p i Sy m pho ny O rc he s t ra’s “Fe r m at a” In contemplating how performances might look in light of the new realities introduced by the COVID pandemic, the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra has opted to call its 2020-21 season “Fermata.” Fermata is a musical term for a pause of unspecified length, which was brought about last season, thanks to COVID. NMSO’s first-ever virtual season will offer the same wonderful music as always but through widely available channels. While many arts organizations have moved to virtual presentations this past year, NMSO is going a step further by making concerts widely available across multiple platforms, including broadcast television, with concerts to be streamed at nmsymphony.com and NMSO’s You Tube channel, and to be broadcast on WTVA, NBC’s local affiliate station, making it easily available to the entire viewing area. “What began as a challenge — how to conduct our season successfully — has

turned into a golden opportunity,” said Lisa Martin, NMSO’s executive director. “It’s a great chance for all the people of north Mississippi to enjoy the world’s best music at no cost and from the comfort of their homes. And it’s also a great opportunity for us to fulfill our mission to provide music for all the people of the area.” Through a partnership with the University of Mississippi, NMSO will record the season’s concerts at the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts at Ole Miss. Martin said she believes this season’s innovative format will ultimately bring more attendance to concerts after the “fermata,” as more people discover what NMSO offers. “Few towns of our size have an orchestra of this caliber,” Martin said. “And now people from across the area — Starkville, Oxford, Corinth — will have a chance to hear it for themselves.” For upcoming broadcast dates and times, visit nmsymphony.com.

Looking to get out of the house for the afternoon? Gather the family and hop in the car for a self-guided sightseeing history lesson about the Corinth area’s role in the Civil War. The Corinth Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has made this activity easy through a narrated audio driving tour, online at corinth.net/civil-war-driving-tour.

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The driving tour takes the listener through more than 20 local sites from an approximate six month period in 1862, when Corinth was a center of importance to both the Union and the Confederacy during the conflict. Both sides believed it to be key to winning the war in the Western Theater. An estimated 300,000 soldiers from both sides passed through Corinth during the war, and the town played host to more than 200 Confederate and Union generals. Many of the town’s Civil War-era buildings remain, including homes used by commanding generals. Additionally, the site of a large Contraband Camp for exslaves, the location of many extant Union earthworks and the famous rail crossing itself are all part of the tour.

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C o m mu n it y Ta ble K it s

There’s an easy solution for Oxford residents who enjoy cooking and eating, but don’t like meal planning. Elizabeth Speed, a Yoknapatawpha Arts Council 2021 Community Supported Arts artist, is offering subscriptions for meal kits for families. Inspired by her own experience in teaching cooking classes, Speed’s meal kits include needed ingredients, recipes and a bit of education about the food or the process in which it’s prepared. The YAC program challenges local artists to think outside the box, pushing them to expand an arts-based business. The goal is to offer artists a broader opportunities and to encourage them to create sustainable business models. In her artist statement, Speed offers her personal goal: “Through the CSA, I hope to promote awareness of the importance of cooking and eating together as a family as well as to promote local products from farmers, producers and vendors,” she said. “My kits will promote healthy eating habits, culinary curiosity and learning to cook not just as a life skill but a way to create memories and strengthen familial bonds.” Speed’s Community Table Kits are varied in number of meals and price. The kits may be ordered and picked up each month at the Old Armory Pavilion in Oxford. Learn more at facebook.com/communitytablekits. M ARCH 202 1 | INVITATION

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Sweet Potato S H E P H E R D ' S

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C E L E B R AT E S T. PA D DY ’ S D AY B Y A D D I N G A S O U T H E R N T W I S T T O T H I S T R A D I T I O N A L LY I R I S H D I S H. RECIPES AND STYLING BY SARAH McCULLEN

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ere in America, many celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with traditional Irish food and drink. This coming March 17, try marking the holiday with a festive family dinner featuring shepherd’s pie, but add this decidedly Southern twist: Instead of the traditional topping of mashed potatoes, use sweet potatoes, a crop that thrives in Mississippi, including in nearby Vardaman — known as the sweet potato capital of the world.

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM

sweet potato

SHEPHERD'S PIE

4 medium-sized sweet potatoes 2 pounds ground beef, turkey or lamb 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 medium onion 4 stalks celery 1 tablespoon minced garlic 1 tablespoon salt 1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon allspice 1 tablespoon rosemary 1 teaspoon paprika 1 teaspoon chili powder 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste 2 cups chicken broth 1 (12-ounce) package frozen peas and carrots 1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake sweet potatoes whole on a rimmed baking sheet until tender, about 1 hour. Set aside to cool.

to 3 more minutes. Return meat to skillet, and stir in tomato paste and chicken broth. Add frozen peas and carrots, and simmer, about 10 minutes.

In a large ovenproof skillet, cook ground meat until browned; drain meat, and transfer to a plate. In the same skillet, heat oil over medium heat. When hot, add onion, celery and garlic, and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, allspice, rosemary, paprika and chili powder, and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 2

Peel sweet potatoes, and beat potatoes and butter with an electric mixer on low speed until mashed. Remove skillet from heat, and gently spread mashed sweet potatoes over the top. Transfer skillet to preheated oven, and bake until bubbly around edges, about 25-30 minutes. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley, and serve.


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THESE SMALL NORTH MISSISSIPPI BUSINESSES SHIFTED GEARS AND FOUND SUCCESS AMID THE PANDEMIC THANKS TO CREATIVE THINKING AND COMMUNIT Y SUPPORT.

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WRITTEN BY ROBYN JACKSON

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM

rom restaurants to retailers, small business owners everywhere had to get creative to keep the doors open when the COVID-19 pandemic hit a year ago. Here, a few northeast Mississippi companies — Magnolia Soap and Bath Co. in New Albany, Abe’s Grill in Corinth and Cockrell Banana in Tupelo — share their coping strategies. Continued on page 28

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Continued from page 26

Since it was founded in 2016, New Albany-based Magnolia Soap and Bath Co. has expanded to 16 stores in several states.

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Magen Bynum introduced the right product at the right time when the novel coronavirus struck last winter and hand sanitizer was in short supply at many stores. “The COVID thing kind of gave us a scare, but our business actually increased,” Bynum said. “We were able to offer a product that was needed during COVID. It was all the things you need to battle COVID. It was a blessing that we are in the business we’re in.” Bynum started Magnolia Soap and Bath Co. in New Albany in 2016 after searching for a plant-based alternative to soaps, lotions and laundry detergents for her daughter, Elizabeth Anne, who has allergies to strong scents. She had planned to debut a hand sanitizer in June 2020, but had ordered the containers and ingredients “on a whim” in January, and everything was sitting in her distribution warehouse. “Then COVID hit in February, so this was a huge blessing for us because you couldn’t get containers. You literally couldn’t find a container to put hand sanitizer in,” Bynum said. At the time, Bynum had six or seven retail stores selling only Magnolia-branded products. Now, there are 16 in several states, and two were scheduled to open in February. Some are company-owned, others are franchises. Magnolia Soap and Bath Co. products are also sold in more than 500 boutiques, pharmacies, doctor’s offices and grocery stores nationwide. “Our soaps are our No. 1 seller,” Bynum said. “We also have a multipurpose disinfectant spray. It’s been a big seller for us.” Bynum uses only domestically sourced natural ingredients in her products, which offer phthalate-free fragrances for sensitive skin. Her husband, an attorney, has a degree in biochemistry, and he helps her with product development. They hand pour soaps and candles, hand press bath bombs and hand mix laundry detergent and scents in each store. “You’re watching us make it, so it’s an experience,” Bynum said. Continued on page 30

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Continued from page 28

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Abe’s Grill is one of those funky little mom and pop places that serves local flavor along with a slice of history. It has been a landmark on Highway 72 in Corinth for 46 years, and is just down the hill from the former site of another landmark, Corona Female College, which was used as a hospital by Union troops after the battle of Shiloh and burned to the ground in 1864. Antique license plates and signs line the walls inside and out. Specialties include a quarter-pound cheeseburger known as the “Big Abe,” fresh-cut fries, country breakfast plates, buttermilk biscuits made from scratch and homemade chocolate chip cookies. The restaurant is open from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the joint is always jumping. “We’re busy all the time,” said owner Abe Whitfield. “You can get a barbecue plate at 4 in the morning. We have our first pan of biscuits coming out of the oven at 3:30 a.m.” When the COVID crisis hit and restaurants were no longer allowed to offer dine-in, closing was not an option for Whitfield and his wife, Terri, and son, Ryan. “My wife said, ‘Well, we’re going to have to do something; we can’t close up’,” so they converted a window on the front of the building to walk-up service. “It’s worked out good for us,” Whitfield said. “People call in big

S C RATC H orders now, bigger than what they normally did. Everybody’s eating in, so they call in for the office or home. We haven’t skipped a beat.” COVID hasn’t forced them to scrimp on the quality of their food, either. “All our food is homemade,” Whitfield said. “Our beef is ground each morning. We make all our sauces and dressings. We make our own barbecue sauce, make our slaw that goes on the barbecue. We don’t use any bagged vegetables, we buy all of them at Rogers Market each morning. We don’t have any frozen food products. We buy all of it local.” They also get fresh produce from Cockrell Banana in Tupelo and a tomato wholesaler in Tennessee. Whitfield, 72, said they started closing at 2 p.m. instead of 3 so they could get an extra hour of rest. “We were so busy in our business before all this happened,” he said. “We’ve got 17 seats. They stayed busy all day. We were having to run up and down the counters, and it was just working the dog out of us.” Whitfield doesn’t seem to mind. “Our health is good, we love what we do, and we plan on being here until we drop dead,” he said. “We get all our aerobics right there at the grill. We run all day long; we don’t ever stop.” Continued on page 32

Abe’s Grill, located on Highway 72 in Corinth, is a north Mississippi institution. The diner is open weekdays for breakfast and lunch.

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Continued from page 30

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Cockrell Banana Co. has been supplying fresh fruits and vegetables to restaurants, schools, grocery stores and churches in north Mississippi, northwest Alabama and southwest Tennessee since 1930, but when many of those wholesale clients suddenly closed last February and March because of the shutdown, the Tupelo-based distributor began selling produce directly to the public. “People weren’t able to go to stores,” said Ricky Cockrell, president of the company. “There was fear among everyone. We began doing curbside pickup for produce. We found out people weren’t going to the Walmarts and Krogers. For a number of weeks, people would be here getting their produce through curbside pickup.” Cockrell said he often spoke to people awaiting their orders. “They were so thankful; they were so appreciative. There would be lines out there sometimes, and people would have to wait, like at Chick-fil-A, and they’d say it’s OK; they didn’t have anywhere else to go. It was so cool, because I know we really contributed to the community in a really strong way.” Normally, Cockrell has nine or 10 trucks making deliveries each day, but the company was down to about three trucks a day after the shutdown began. Business was down 70 percent. Selling directly to the public for cash, along with a Payment Protection Program loan, enabled Cockrell to pay his employees. “It was a win-win,” he said. “It was a win for the customers and a win for us. It really helped us for about two months there.” Cockrell credits his son and daughter for the curbside idea, and his employees for making it work. “It took everybody here to make it happen,” he said. While things are improving, there are still challenges ahead. “Maybe, slowly, it’s getting better” he said. “I’m like anyone else, I wish it could go back to the old way, but we’re learning to adjust.”

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Cockrell Banana Co. has been supplying produce to wholesale clients in north Mississippi for more than 90 years.


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BLOCKS A NEW EFFORT AIMS TO EQUIP LOCAL CREATIVE ENTREPRENEURS W I T H TO O L S TO S U C C E S S F U L LY LAUNCH THEIR BUSINESSES — AND TO CONVINCE THEM T O S TAY I N OX F O R D.

WRIT TEN BY ANTONIO BAT TISTA

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he exodus of creative entrepreneurs from Mississippi has become a familiar story. All too often, these artists see bigger cities as greener pastures when setting out to launch their businesses. The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, however, wants to help break that cycle with the launch of the Big Bad Business Lab, a new program aimed at giving small art-based businesses a chance to grow to a sustainable size and to create a long-term presence in Oxford. “We want to challenge our community partners and small business resources to join us in being more vocal about the resources here so that entrepreneurs don’t leave for larger cities where they perceive the network is more vibrant and flourishing,” said Meghan Gallagher, outreach and education coordinator for YAC. “We don’t want our talented Oxonians to slip away.”

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM

The lab, which launched in February, will support a small group of creative entrepreneurs of all mediums — musicians, writers and filmmakers, along with fine, folk, and digital artists — by providing nine

"WE DON' T WANT OUR TALENTED OXONIANS TO SLIP AWAY." -Meghan Gallagher

months of free studio and exhibit space, access to potential seed funding and peer learning opportunities. Lab participants, who they’re calling cohorts, will receive help setting and achieving key milestones for their businesses, such as finding their first client, launching a new service or building a website.

The idea for the lab grew out of the Big Bad Business series, a free monthly professional development workshop for creative entrepreneurs that has been produced by YAC since January 2017 in partnership with the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation. The program will be led by creativein-residence Lee Ingram, who has launched two Oxford-based small businesses of his own, Collegiate Tutoring and Lee Ingram Books, and wants to help other creative entrepreneurs build the support system they will undoubtedly need. “Many young entrepreneurs leave Oxford for bigger cities like Nashville, Houston or Austin, thinking there is more opportunity there,” Ingram said. “But for many, that’s not the case. Unless you have connections in big cities, you can find it hard to be successful.” Continued on page 36


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"I'M EXCITED TO HAVE THE OPPORTUNIT Y TO PUT A BIG SPOTLIGHT ON LOCAL BUSINESSES, LOCAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP, THE CREATIVE ECONOMY AND THE CREATIVES IN OXFORD.” -Lee Ingram

Continued from page 34 As part of the lab, Ingram will walk the artists through the challenges they are facing and help set them up for success. “Many new business owners and artists may not know where to start,” he said. “It can be as simple as setting up an LLC, getting in contact with a CPA or creating a tax ID.” Ingram will point the cohorts to professionals in Oxford that can help them with these challenges. “It means a lot to learn from other business owners who have more experience,” he said. “There are qualified people here that want to help. They care because we are all in the same community. The connections are more personal, more meaningful compared to a big city where you are just another client.” The lab will also host community events to promote the works of its participants. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to

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put a big spotlight on local businesses, local entrepreneurship, the creative economy and the creatives in Oxford,” Ingram said. “We want to tell their stories and highlight the challenges they faced to get where they are.” Bringing the community into the process is an important part of the lab’s success and will help to highlight the wealth of perks Oxford has to offer for those looking to start a business here. “You have a huge, wonderfully overqualified pool of people and creatives here,” Ingram said. “Especially if you’re starting out with a business that may end up employing people, I think Oxford is very attractive.” As the lab gets started, Gallagher encourages the public to interact, learn and grow with the cohorts. “We want the Oxford community to be on the lookout for events we are going offer to meet the lab artists and hear about their

businesses,” she said. “We want the Oxford community to cheer them on during the incubator and throughout their careers.” The lab will be funded for the next two years by a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant. It has also received a $750,000 capital grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The funds will be used to build a space for future cohorts. The building will include a market space, office spaces and studio spaces. Their future goal is to continue the lab after the initial pilot grant is finished in hopes that more and more creative entrepreneurs will keep their talents and their businesses rooted where they began. “It’s going to feel great to take that pressure off people,” Ingram said. “This town is so supportive of local businesses. We will get them started so they can let go of their fears and focus on their work. You can succeed here.”

LEARN MORE For more information on the Big Bad Business Lab, along with topics of monthly workshops and additional online resources and special events, visit oxfordarts.com/programs/ arts-incubator or facebook.com/ BigBadBusinessSeries.


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Cleveland Renaissance A NEW BOUTIQUE HOTEL IS JUST ONE REASON CLEVEL AND, MISSISSIPPI, IS WORTH A VISIT. WRITTEN BY ROBYN JACKSON

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM


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f your idea of a weekend getaway includes staying in a luxurious hotel, eating delicious food, listening to live music and touring world-class museums, look no further than Cleveland. At the center of this Mississippi Delta hamlet’s rebirth as a tourist destination is Cotton House, a $17.6 million Marriott Tribute hotel that opened in July 2019 on Cotton Row, the city’s main drag. “It’s become a great focal point for the city,” said Kelli Davis, director of the Cleveland Tourism Office. “I think the addition of boutique lodging has made it an overnight destination. You’ve got two places to eat there, and restaurants all up and down our main street. People really travel from all over.” Southern Living named Cleveland one of its best small towns in 2019, and Smithsonian Magazine declared it the No. 2 small town to visit in 2013. Located on Highway 61 midway between Memphis and Vicksburg, Cleveland began as a sawmill community called Coleman in 1884 when the Louisville, New Orleans & Texas Railroad came through. It began to attract more settlers, and two years later, it was incorporated as Cleveland in honor of President Grover Cleveland, who was said to be on the first train that passed through. The dense forest was cleared for cotton farming and Mississippi River flood control. Delta State University was founded in 1925 as a teacher’s college. Influxes of Chinese, Jewish, Italian, Irish and Mexican immigrants gave it a cosmopolitan vibe, but when the cotton industry waned, young people moved away. Now, some are moving M ARCH 202 1 | INVITATION

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Cole Ellis

Delta Meat Market

JESSICA PERKINS

back and investing in the city, including Chef Cole Ellis, a James Beard Award semifinalist who opened Delta Meat Market in 2013. He moved his restaurant across the street to Cotton House when it opened. He also runs the hotel’s rooftop bar. “Bar Fontaine is just so nice,” Davis said, citing its views and fire pit. “Cotton House is great for couples, and we’ve had a lot of girlfriend getaways. Hunters come and stay there. It really does appeal to all different audiences.” Cotton House was developed by LRC2 Properties of Oxford. The project took about four years, including two years of planning and 18 months of construction. “After many years of visiting the Delta, I developed a love for the unique region and saw the need for a hotel property to match the area’s authentic character,” said Luke Chamblee, LRC2 Properties founder. “I am very proud of Cotton House. It is a beautiful, warm, welcoming property located in the heart of the Delta where we get to show guests true Southern hospitality.” The decor combines past and present, from the wide plank wood floors to the oldfashioned black rotary-dial telephones in the 95 rooms. The contemporary color scheme is a mix of gray, blue and earth tones. Continued on page 42

Delta Meat Market

Bar Fontaine

View from Bar Fontaine

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Oxford artist Jessica Perkins’ work is currently on display in the Fontaine Gallery, an exhibit space in the lobby of Cleveland’s Cotton House hotel.


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Balance Fitness

Dockery Farms

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Continued from page 40 “The design team really wanted it to be ingrained in the Delta,” Davis said. “They really wanted to capture the feel of the land around us. The rooms are absolutely beautiful. It’s like you’re in a different world.” Balance Fitness, a sleek exercise studio owned by Lauren Caston and Georgia Tindall, is located on the ground floor. The COVID-19 pandemic hit less than a year after Cotton House opened, but Emily Childs, director of sales at Cotton House, said travel is expected to rebound in 2021. “In the past five years, we’ve seen an increase in demand to travel to this region, which directly impacts Mississippi’s tourism and hospitality industries,” she said. Blues fans from around the world flock to Cleveland to tour Dockery Farms, which B.B. King declared the birthplace of the blues. Among the famed bluesmen who called Dockery home were


Grammy Museum

Charley Patton, Howlin’ Wolf, Son House and Pops Staples. Visitors learn how the sharecropping system kept Blacks in poverty and led to the Great Migration north, where jobs and opportunities beckoned. There’s a restored cotton gin and the commissary where musicians gathered on the porch to play at the end of a long day picking cotton. It’s one of 19 stops on the Mississippi Blues Trail in Bolivar County. Cleveland’s importance to the blues led the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles to open its second museum in Cleveland in 2016. It includes interactive exhibits on a variety of musical genres, documentary films and memorabilia from artists. The Martin and Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum features the largest O-gauge model railway in the state, and the Mississippi Delta Chinese Heritage Museum explains how families moved from China to the flatlands of the American South. The blues might feed the soul, but there’s no lack of tasty soul food in Cleveland. In addition to Delta Meat Market,

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which serves Southern cuisine with locally sourced ingredients, foodies gravitate to The Senator’s Place, which was opened in 2003 by Mississippi Transportation Commissioner Willie Simmons, who served in the state Legislature for 27 years. Everything is made from scratch, from smoked chicken and cornbread dressing and gravy to peach cobbler. Country Platter Restaurant offers fried chicken and other traditional Southern dishes in the former Lilley’s Soul Food Cafe building, where Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers met with local business leaders in the 1950s and 1960s. Airport Grocery began during the Great Depression as a grocery store. Now, in addition to catfish po’boys, hot tamales, gravy fries and ribs, it boasts pool tables and a full bar. Hey Joe’s burgers and beer joint and Mosquito Burrito are owned by local musician Justin Huerta. “Keep Cleveland boring,” a nonprofit organization’s tongue-in-cheek slogan encourages residents, but Cleveland is anything but boring these days.

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Hey Joe's


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VALENTINE’ S DAY PHOTOGRAPHED BY LISA ROBERTS

Northeast Mississippi bakeries and florists worked fast and feverishly in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day making sweet treats and floral gifts.

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1. Brenda and Bill Shumpert 2. Bill Stennett and Tori Skinner 3. Connie McKinney Garrison and Tonja Michael 4. Olivia Johnson 5. Nina Willis, April Williams, Robyn Zamoff and Leah Pannell

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6. Carla Lindsey and Margarete Garnet 7. Carla Dunn, OliviaPatton, Brooke Whitworth, Addy Greenhaw, Darrell Landers, Holly Whitworth and Amber Warren 8. Dawn Davidson and Collins Null with Beverly and Landry Greenhaw 9. Staci and Tanner Bevill, Molly Strawn, Susan Martin, Bess Summall, Macy Strawn and Ann Sumrall

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LADIES BASEBALL FORUM PHOTOGRAPHED BY ABBEY EDMONSON

On Jan. 30, the Magnolia Rental Ole Miss Ladies Baseball Forum hosted women interested in learning about the game and the Ole Miss baseball program for the fifth year. Attendees spent the day with Rebel baseball coaches, players and Diamond Girls.

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1. Emory and Emma Eison 2. Linda Hutcherson and Lynda Mitchell 3. Betty Barkett and Susan Mehan 4. Angel Carney and Laverne Scott 5. Hope Berry, Megan Clark and Erica Ried 6. Mary Ann Harbin and Ramona Moss

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7. Shanna and Allye Grace Grishamt 8. Susan Gunn, Mary Alice Sanders and Cynthia Hallberg 9. Kate Lyon and Tracey Logan 10. Janet Moss and Christy Holt 11. Paula Dickson and Beverly Trout 12. Donna Ellis and Sue Patterson

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TUPELO GUN & KNIFE SHOW PHOTOGRAPHED BY LISA ROBERTS

The Tupelo Gun & Knife Show took place Jan. 8-10 at Tupelo Furniture Market in conjunction with Tupelo Flea Market. The flea market is held there the second weekend of each month. Learn more about both at tupelofleamarket.net. 1

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1. Tabitha Howell and Bill Sawyer 2. Craig and Peppar Garvin 3. Dustin Wyatt, Allen Lack, Clayton Allen and Wes Cadena 4. Johnny Scruggs, Nat Darling and Paul Jones 5. Beverly McCarver with Ann and Land Hester and Randle Hancock 6. Steve and Paula McBride 7. Bryan and Kalyn Fuller

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FIBER ARTS FESTIVAL PHOTOGRAPHED BY JESSICA RICHARDSON

The 11th annual Oxford Fiber Arts Festival, held Jan. 15-23, was attended in person and virtually by art lovers who had the opportunity to view exhibits by local fiber artists, browse a fiber market, and particpate in workshops and demonstrations.

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1. Clementine Bedsworth, Jason Plunk, Keisha Howell-Atkinson, Robert Saarnio and Rebecca Cornelius 2. Mari Kuhnle with Rogue 3. Laura Dison and Aaron Lee 4. Bekah Wymer with Rowan, Pat and Hannah Thompson 5. Dianne Welch

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M ARTIN LUTHER KING DAY PHOTOGRAPHED BY LISA ROBERTS

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In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and as part of “Keeping the Dream Alive,” a drive-in movie and box supper were on tap Jan. 16 in the parking lot of BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo. Tupelo High School basketball and football players were on hand to serve meals to those in attendance.

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1. Clarence Smith and Marques Gary 2. Lanauda Westmoreland 3. Marilyn Armstrong and Lamarus Miller 4. Charlotte Polk and Cam’ron Vaughn 5. Sam Westmoreland and Ken Herman 6. Ashley Armstrong and James Franklin Jr. 7. Montra Moore, Deon Shumpert and RoRo Hampton

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OLE MISS BASKETBALL PHOTOGRAPHED BY ABBEY EDMONSON

The Ole Miss men’s basketball team upset the No. 10 Missouri Tigers in Oxford on Feb. 10 with a score of 80-59.

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4 1. Kayla Herron and Chanler Wooten 2. Brooke Hull and Helen Mary Katool 3. Abby Clark and Melissa Guerra 4. Caroline and Maeve Lewis 5. Trey Thomas, Alex Velazquez, Miller Grissinger and John McBride

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A LE X A ND R A INTERVIEWED BY LESLIE CRISS

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY JOE WORTHEM

was in school (at Ole Miss), I saw how many Texan students there were. With breakfast tacos being such an integral part of our day to day, I knew that they were likely missing them as much as I was. I started playing with the idea of opening a breakfast taco truck in 2009-2010, but I put it on the back burner.

Q: When and how did you learn to cook? A: I’ve been cooking since I was a toddler. My grandmother was amazing in the kitchen, and I would sit on the counter helping her. When my grandma passed away, I kept cooking for my family and have been mostly self-taught. I’ve read a lot of cookbooks, and, as a child, I was always watching cooking shows, Alton Brown or Emeril on the Food Network. In the past five years, I have had the chance to work with David Crews and Stewart Robinson with Delta Supper Club in the Delta. They have taught me a lot about the business side of the food service industry and how to have fun while doing something I love.

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lexandra Santiago, or Ale (Allie), is originally from San Antonio, Texas. When she graduated from high school, she was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, on scholarship. However, Santiago opted instead for a “true college experience” at the University of Mississippi. The now-30-yearold arrived in Oxford in 2009 and studied early childhood education. After three years, Santiago realized her heart was not in her studies. So she bartended for a few years and ultimately found her way back to her passion: food. She worked in a few local kitchens, where she did everything from catering to fine dining to fast casual. She eagerly awaits the roll out of her latest food adventure: the Sleepy Cactus food truck.

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Q: When did you first start Sleepy Cactus? A: I started Sleepy Cactus in January 2020

and have been selling my breakfast tacos out of Uptown and Heartbreak Coffee. When I started Sleepy Cactus, COVID wasn’t affecting us yet; I thought it was just going to be a normal year. But as 2020 played out, I was thankful for the business I built because it provided me with a sense of security while everything else felt so unknown. I bought my food truck in November 2020 and am working on getting it up and running.

Q: How long have you wanted to do something like this? A: I have been working in the food service industry since I was 16, starting as a server at a restaurant back in San Antonio. When I

Q: What is the Sleepy Cactus’ specialty? A: Sleepy Cactus is actually Tex-Mex food,

specializing in breakfast tacos. Tex-Mex food is difficult to define. It has roots in Mexican cuisine, but ultimately, like Texas, has been influenced by many other cultures. It is uniquely its own. Characterized by flour tortillas, yellow cheese and breakfast tacos, Tex-Mex is rooted in the state’s Tejano culture. Tex-Mex is my comfort food, and I hope to share that with Oxford.

Q: Where can people find the Sleepy Cactus? A: Currently, you can find traditional

breakfast tacos at Uptown and vegetarian/ vegan breakfast tacos at Heartbreak Coffee, but soon the Sleepy Cactus truck will be parked at Chicory Market.


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