Georgia’s First Black Brewery Hippin’ Hops Crafts Fresh Beer and Seafood

Cuisine Noir. October 2021.

Hippin’ Hops Brewery and Oyster Bar is the first African American-owned brewery in Georgia. Its first location opened this year in May on Glenwood Avenue in the East Lake neighborhood of Atlanta, and two more Hippin’ Hops are scheduled to open later this year, also in Georgia.

Owner Clarence Boston, originally from North Carolina, is a mortician by trade and beer maker by night. He got interested in brewing at an early age. “My grandmother made wine out of fruits she had in her yard, like muscadine, peaches and green apples. She taught me and my brother how to make wine, but my wine always tasted like vinegar. So I decided to make beer instead!” humors Clarence.

Clarence Boston, co-owner of Hippin' Hops Brewery and Oyster Bar
Pictured: Clarence Boston | Photo credit: Hippin Hops

“We opened the brewery during [the] pandemic and are doing extremely well,” he adds. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Boston noticed a rising demand for alcohol. He also saw that microbrewery was a booming business, though there weren’t many African-Americans brewers around. According to Nielsen’s market data, total alcohol sales outside of bars and restaurants surged roughly 24% during the pandemic.

Good Food for Good Brews

This is not the first business that Clarence and his wife and business partner Donnica Boston have started. The serial entrepreneurs own a real estate investment company, funeral homes, crematoriums, bars and restaurants across North Carolina and Georgia.

Hippin' Hops beer
Pictured: Beer by Hippin’ Hops | Photo credit Hippin’ Hops

Hippin’ Hops is designed to look like a beer garden with indoor and outdoor seating, as well as fun games such as cornhole, beer pong and Jenga. Brewed on-site are bold, sweet and bitter stouts, sours, ales, lagers, Belgians and IPAs. “Our goal is to introduce people to craft beer,” says Boston. “We don’t have a particular style of beer. We want everybody to come to our brewery, so we brew to appeal to all cultures.”

All in-house beers are made without additives, sugar and unnatural flavorings. Highlights include Bier Saigon – a fruity and flavorful Belgian-style saison with complex aromas that are perfect for drinking during warm summer months – and Top Five, an IPA brewed with sorrel that is also a bestseller.

Donnica helms the kitchen side of the brewhouse, the menu of which is primarily inspired by her Louisiana roots. With shrimp and grits, alligator po’boy and Cajun shrimp deviled eggs on the menu, the food is as much of a focus here as are the drinks.

Oyster collardfeller at Hippin' Hops Brewery and Oyster Bar
Pictured: Oyster collardfeller | Photo credit: Hippin’ Hops

Clarence takes great pride in their variety of east coast oyster preparations – served raw on the half-shell, oyster Rockefeller with homemade cheese sauce, oyster collardfeller with collard greens and smoked turkey, and smoked gouda oysters with garlic butter sauce. Executive chef Jamarius “J.” Banks, a former contestant on Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay,” runs the kitchen operations.

Hip Hop and Beer

The trendy name Hippin’ Hops came from Clarence’s love for hip hop music. The brewery and restaurant are designed for friends to lounge through the evening with good food and drinks while listening to a live DJ (Thursday-Sunday).

When the Bostons received an overwhelming response from the public for being the first Black-owned brewery in Georgia with its own location, they “didn’t even know” that they were the first. Less than 1% of the nearly 8,500 craft breweries in America are Black-owned, according to the Brewers Association’s 2019 survey. “Perhaps people think there’s too much investment involved in opening a brewery,” Clarence points as a reason for the gap.

Hippin Hop Brewery and Oyster Bar crew
Pictured: Clarence Boston and Hippin’ Hop team | Photo credit: Hippin’ Hop

His advice to anyone looking to open a brewery is to start small and not to get many investors involved. Also, he recommends hiring expert chefs, managers and brewmasters so that all aspects of the business run smoothly even when you are away. “Most of all, don’t just talk about it, go ahead and do it.”

Hippin Hops Brewery and Oyster Bar is located at 1308 Glenwood Ave. SE in Atlanta.  Go to the website for hours, upcoming events and menu.  You can also follow along on Facebook and Instagram.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir. All rights reserved.

Preserving Gullah Geechee Cuisine Through Cookbooks

Cuisine Noir. September 2021.

Many African American decedents of enslaved people lived along the barrier islands and along the coast of Georgia, Florida and both Carolinas. “Instead of dying after their landowners abandoned their cotton, indigo and rice plantation, the Geechee thrived in collectives that shared their bountiful resources as well as their own language, music, art and spiritual traditions,” writes Matthew Raiford in his new book, “Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer.”

Over the years, chefs, historians and authors around the country have made it their mission to preserve Gullah Geechee culinary traditions for today’s generation and those to come. In the 1970s, Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor put Gullah-Geechee cultural identity in front of Americans for the first time. Her seminal cookbook, “Vibration Cooking: Or, The Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl,” documented recipes from her South Carolina Lowcountry home and gave a glimpse into the lives of Black migrants.

Today, Raiford and his wife, Tia, work tirelessly at their sixth-generation family-run Gillard Farm in Brunswick, Georgia. They encourage their young sons to learn the sustainable farming techniques and cooking traditions passed down from their West African ancestors over 300 years ago. “Good food and good community go hand in hand. Maybe it’s the key to resilience. And maybe now, we know our worth,” says Raiford.

Gullah Geechee cuisine is often called the “birth of soul food” and includes cooking with seasonal vegetables such as okra, collards, corn and cabbage, as well as freshly caught Lowcountry seafood, such as conch, shark, oyster, blue crab and locally grown rice.

To learn more about Gullah Geechee food and culture, check out these recent cookbooks.

Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer” by Matthew Raiford and Amy Paige Condon  

Raiford’s new book pays homage to his forefather Jupiter Gillard, who purchased the land he currently tills back in 1912 as a free person. The title Bress ‘n’ Nyam means to bless and eat in Gullah Geechee dialect. “It is what we said for grace before we ate,” says Raiford. The recipes organized by the universal elements – earth, water, fire, wind, nectar and spirits, are based on his own heritage and inspired by his global travels. Highlights include sweet potato pone, smoked Ossabaw Island hog, and molasses stone fruit gelato with apple-lavender compote.

Sallie Ann Robinson’s Kitchen: Food and Family Lore from the Lowcountry” by Sallie Ann Robinson

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, native, cookbook author and celebrity chef Sallie Ann Robinson is also a sixth-generation Gullah. Robinson, who is nicknamed “Gullah Diva,” has written three cookbooks and a photography book about the island. In her most recent hardcover, find passed down recipes for Carolina country broils, island pineapple and coconut chicken and Gullah chicken gumbo.

Also, check out her legendry books, “Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way: Smokin’ Joe Butter Beans, Ol’ ‘Fuskie Fried Crab Rice, Sticky-Bush Blackberry Dumpling, and Other Sea Island Favorites” and “Cooking the Gullah Way, Morning, Noon, and Night.”

“Mama Doonk’s Gullah Recipes 2nd edition” by Theresa Jenkins Hilliard

Hilliard grew up in a Gullah Geechee household in Charleston, South Carolina, and likes to take readers on a cultural and culinary journey through her books. Named after her grandmother, Mama Doonk, the book’s 2ndedition was released in summer 2021. In it, you’ll find recipes that Hilliard learned by watching the three women in her house (aunt, mother and grandmother), using proteins such as rabbit, raccoon and possum. For more traditional flavors, there are also instructions for pound cake, biscuits and corn muffins.

“Jubilee (Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking)” by Toni Tipton-Martin

James-Beard award winner, Tipton-Martin, is one of the most celebrated culinary historians who takes a kaleidoscope view on African American cuisine. In her cookbooks, she identifies chefs, entrepreneurs, recipes and techniques beyond southern and soul food. In “Jubilee,” named “one of the best cookbooks of the year” by The New York Times, you can find recipes for classic dishes such as sweet potato biscuits, seafood gumbo, buttermilk fried chicken and pecan pie with bourbon, among many others.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir. All rights reserved.

Georgia’s In My Fillings Serves Made-to-Order Gourmet Cupcakes to Please

Cuisine Noir. September 2021.

Charlise Johnson is the chef and owner of In My Fillings cupcake shop in Suwanee, Georgia. Her unique business model offers customers an opportunity to make their own cupcakes by combining different base cakes, icings and toppings. She opened her first, what she calls the “Chipotle for cupcakes,” style location during the pandemic in November 2020 and aspires to open locations across the country. A competitive baker, Johnson has been featured on the Food Network, Bravo and VH1.

Johnson’s earliest memory of baking cakes was as a child in her Easy-Bake Oven. Her mother, Joyce Jenkins, has a catering and event venue in Pine Level, North Carolina, and she taught Johnson how to bake, serve and run a business.

Charlise Johnson decorating cupcakes
Pictured: Charlise Johnson decorating cupcakes | Photo credit: Elle Kay Photography

After graduating with a degree in computer science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Johnson worked full-time in Atlanta as a database developer. But her true passion was baking. She opened a home-based cottage bakery called Intimate Eats, through which she made custom cakes during nights and weekends. She worked seven days a week for about six years. “It was a lot of work and I never had any time off,” she says. Meanwhile, Johnson won second place on Food Network’s “Cake Wars” in 2016 and competed on “Holiday Wars” in 2020.

Flavors to Please

Last year, Johnson turned 40 years old and wanted to ensure that she had taken the time to pursue her ideas and dreams. She still liked to bake, but cake decorating involved laboring over fondant and piping for countless hours. She quit her corporate job and opened a brick-and-mortar cupcake shop in the suburbs of Atlanta. “I got the idea when my clients came for cake tastings and were looking to mix and match the flavors,” Johnson says about her new concept. At In My Fillings, customers can walk into the store and design their own cupcake combinations on the spot.

Assortment of In My Fillings cupcakes
Pictured: Assortment of In My Fillings cupcakes | Photo credit: In My Fillings

Choices include made-from-scratch five base cake flavors offered every day (including sweet potato and red velvet), five fillings (like crushed pineapple and chocolate ganache), seven icings (such as salted caramel, buttercream and peanut butter), and eight toppings (for instance pretzels, pecans and coconut). Seasonal flavors may include summer lemon, carrots, or Georgia peaches, and Johnson happily accommodates off-menu requests as well. She recently made vanilla cupcakes with guava filing for a pickup.

The custom-created cupcakes are especially popular with kids celebrating birthday parties and bar mitzvahs. “Thankfully, I have a lot of repeat customers. I get calls for cakes every day, but I tell them to buy a cupcake instead,” humors Johnson.

No Regrets

When asked about what it was like to open a new business during the pandemic, Johnson responds, “Just like any other time. I never had a storefront before, so I don’t know what it should have been like. It’s not any different than opening a business at another time, except there’s more uncertainty.”

Johnson took a leap of faith leaving her comfortable paycheck to start her own business during uncertain times, but she feels it was worth it. “There’s a lot more to business than baking cupcakes. I have to deal with administrative paperwork, manage employees, and serve customers. It takes different skillsets, but I am learning them over time. The idea of running your own business may seem scary, but if you take small steps, you can do it,”

Assortment of In My Fillings cupcakes
Pictured: Assortment of In My Fillings cupcakes | Photo credit: In My Fillings

Johnson motivates others just as her mom and mentors encouraged her. She advises entrepreneurs to reach out to the city about business licensing requirements and to speak to other small business owners about their learnings.

Though In My Fillings has been open for only a few months, Johnson is already dreaming of hiring a business manager and expanding to locations all over the country so that she can focus exclusively on baking cupcakes. “Regardless of what happens, I feel great knowing that I did it.”

To learn more about Charlise Johnson or her cupcakes, visit In My Fillings. The storefront in Suwanee is located at 2855 Lawrenceville Suwanee Road Suite 780.  You can also follow along on Facebook and Instagram.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir. All rights reserved.

5 Reasons to Visit Macon, Georgia

Cuisine Noir. September 2021.

Located an hour’s drive from Atlanta, Macon is a charming small town steeped in history, culture and music. In the 1840s, Macon established itself as a cotton economy in the Black Belt. The advent of the railroad through downtown brought along politicians and artists from around the country who would stop to visit theaters and party at the clubs. Macon became an important social, political and economic center by the time of the Civil War.

After the rise and fall of “The Central City” due to bloody battles, natural disasters and a depressed economy, Macon is surfacing again as a tourist destination, attracting travelers who are looking to step back in history. “Despite the difficulties of this past year, the travel and tourism industry is returning to Macon in full force, which is great news for our local businesses, restaurants and hoteliers,” says Valerie Bradley, Visit Macon’s vice president of marketing.

Here are five reasons to visit Macon in 2021 and beyond.

Historic Sites

A good starting point to learn about Macon’s music history and historic sites is by taking a guided walking music, food, beer or ghost tour with Rock Candy Tours. The guides give a great overview of the city’s timeline and show you several African American historic and cultural sites. Macon has 15 historic districts with over 6,000 buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Douglass Theatre in Macon, GA
Pictured: Douglass Theatre | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Historic Macon‘s Cotton Avenue District was considered the “main street” of African American businesses for over 100 years. Notable Maconites connected to Cotton Avenue include Jefferson Long, the first Black man to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1871, and Reverend Pearly Brown, a renowned blind street singer who learned to play the guitar at the Georgia Academy for the Blind and was the first Black man to perform at the Grand Ole Opry.

Musical Heritage 

Macon is the birthplace of southern rock music and nicknamed Black Broadway, with famous groups like The Allman Brothers Band, Otis Redding and Little Richard among those to perform in the city. Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the newly renovated Capricorn Records, where you can see some of the original guitars and the original recording studios. You can easily spend a few hours listening to old records at the small museum upstairs.

Capricorn Records in Macon, GA
Pictured: Capricorn Records | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Time your visit to watch live music, theatrical performances and film viewings at one of the venues in downtown Macon. The Douglass Theatre, built and owned by Black entrepreneur Charles Douglas in 1912, now pays tribute to the African American influence on film and theatre. The Grand Opera House hosts Broadway touring companies, music acts and the Macon Symphony Orchestra.

Tubman Museum

The Tubman Museum is the largest museum dedicated to African American history, art and culture in the Southeast.  The 49,000 square-foot museum features a magnificent 63-foot-long mural titled “From Africa to America,” presenting a visual history of Black people from early days in Africa to current leaders and heroes, including Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Otis Redding, Ellen Craft, Minnie Smith and many more.

“Our goal is to expand the knowledge about African American culture and impart important lessons that are not taught in school,” says Harold Young, executive director of Tubman Museum. He recommends visiting the Inventive Gallery that features inventions that African Americans invented or enhanced, such as the ironing board, golf tee, icebox, gas mask and three-way stop sign. Also, coming between late 2021 and early 2022 is a new exhibit highlighting the contributions of Tyler Perry to American culture.

Mural in the Tubman Museum in Macon, GA
Pictured: Mural in the Tubman Museum | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Every May-June, the museum hosts a two-day Pan African festival with music, dance, food, film, art and spoken word. Though approximately 12,000 people attended the 25th festival this year, the museum is struggling to find funds during the pandemic. Their annual black-tie fundraiser – All That Jazz, was canceled this year.  “It has been a rough year as we relied on event and wedding rentals for majority of our income, and most of those were canceled due to COVID-19,” adds Young. He is finding creative ways to raise funds by doing membership drives, media blasts and partnering with concert promoters. Among other events, the museum hosts Jazz on the Plaza on every third Sunday of the month during summer.

Cherry Blossom Festival 

Macon is also known as the “Cherry Blossom Capital of the World.” In spring, you can see over 350,000 Yoshino Cherry Trees bloom around the city. Concerts, galas, dances and tours during the annual Macon’s International Cherry Blossom Festival attract over 100,000 visitors to celebrate love, beauty and international friendship.

Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon, GA
Pictured: Georgia Sports Hall of Fame | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal
Georgia Sports Hall of Fame 

The largest state sports museum in the country offers a chance to view 3,000 artifacts, a 205-seat ballpark theater, research library, hands-on sports exhibit and a gift shop. This interactive museum highlights the Atlanta Black Crackers and the Macon Cubs, along with legendary players like Dick “Cannonball” Redding, Josh Gibson, Jackie Robinson, and James “Red” Moore. The new Negro Leagues Baseball exhibit enlightens visitors to an overlooked part of American history.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir. All rights reserved.

Exploring Southern Charm in Athens, Georgia

Cuisine Noir Magazine. July 2021.

Athens is a hip college town located only an hour’s drive from the bustling capital of Atlanta, Georgia. Centered around eclectic neighborhoods, a walkable downtown and an expansive University of Georgia campus, the small town makes for a perfect weekend getaway.

Take a Walking Tour

Take your first steps in Athens on a walking heritage tour with Classic City Tours. Experienced guides tell you about how The Classic City was founded, pointing to some of the most important buildings downtown, including the oldest surviving residence (Church-Waddel-Brumby House) and one of the first theaters (The Morton Theatre) built, owned and operated by an African American.

Morton Theatre in Athens, GA
Pictured: Morton Theatre | Photo credit: Visit Athens
Drive Through African American History

Athens was an important educational center for the Black community in the 1860s. The first Black students were admitted to the university, and the first private school for Black students was established here. A self-guided driving tour of Athens’ African American history will take you through the historic Reese and Hancock neighborhoods, to Athens first Black Baptist church and the Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, among other sites.

You can also take a historic Black Athens tour with local artist and historian Broderick Flanigan. Centered around Hot Corner (an early center of Black commerce), Flanigan shows you his Hot Corner Legacy Mural, talks about the impact of African Americans on Athens, and highlights Black and minority-owned businesses.

Broderick Flanigan
Pictured: Broderick Flanigan | Photo credit: Ronald Carson

Flanigan’s studio in the Triangle Plaza neighborhood also hosts community meetings and art shows on topics such as equality and economic justice, police corruption and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Be sure to check out the murals on the walls of buildings surrounding his studio that feature the faces of Black Athens matriarchs, including Jessie Barnett, Evelyn Neely, Miriam Moore and Virginia Walker.

Stay at Hotel Graduate Athens

Set in a 19th-century foundry and farmhouse, the funky UGA-themed boutique hotel features vintage-style décor in spacious apartment-style rooms. Brick walls, Persian rugs, wooden floors, plaid sofas, and Bulldog memorabilia create an atmosphere of southern charm meets college hipster. There’s also a cafe, ballroom, outdoor pavilion and splash pool for guests and visitors. The Foundry at Hotel Graduate Athens is a local hotspot for live music and drinks.

Fenwick Broyard
Pictured: Fenwick Broyard | Photo credit: Creative Comforts
Bar Hop Through Town

Athens is home to several craft breweries and after five, it is “happy hour” across town. Start at the taproom of Creature Comforts Brewing Co., which offers creative combinations and a wide range of beer styles for every taste. Fenwick Broyard, who is the brewery’s VP of Talent and Culture, says, “We have a Get Comfortable program through which we give back a portion of our profits to address the pressing needs of our community and support organizations that are run by and are serving African American populations.”

If you are still thirsty, grab an ale at Akademia Brewing Company, a pint at British pub Royal Peasant, a craft cocktail at Expat, or chose from 45 hops on tap at Five Points Growlers.

Eat Local

Athens has a number of chef-driven affordable restaurants, offering a variety of cuisines from Mexican and southern to soul food and Caribbean.

Couples eating out in Athens, GA
Photo credit: Visit Athens

Some of Flanigan’s favorites are Friday fish frys at Food For The Soul, soul food at Dawg Gone Good BBQ and vegan macaroni and cheese at Rashe’s Cuisine. “Rashe Malcolm severs amazing Jamaican fusion cuisine using produce from my community gardens and helps distribute produce to those in need. I like to support businesses that offer opportunities to marginalized youth and pay fair wages,” says Flanigan.

If you are dining on a budget, try the vegetable plate at Mannaweenta Ethiopian restaurant or enjoy afternoon high tea at The Café on Lumpkin.

Spend Time Outdoors

For downtime in Athens, visit one of the popular music venues, year-round festivals, farmers markets and outdoor spaces. Activist, artist and entrepreneur Knowa D. Johnson organizes several events in Athens throughout the year, including music festivals, a MLK King Day parade and a bi-monthly Athens Black Market in College Square, where you can enjoy live music while shopping from local African American vendors selling food, clothing, accessories, skin care products and art.

Exploring Southern Charm in Athens, Georgia
Photo credit: DJ Simmons

Johnson recommends supporting local independent musicians, including his own band – Knowa Johnson and The Aquatic Souls, which plays tribute to soul legends. You can watch live music at The Foundry, The World Famous, Hendershots or 40 Watt Club, which was the primary performance space for Athens bands such as R.E.M.

Spend a day strolling through 313-acres of nature trails and themed gardens at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Watch hundreds of blooming orchids in the fall, and learn about different herbs and equatorial plant species at The Conservatory.

Exploring Southern Charm in Athens, Georgia
Photo credit: Visit Athens/Jason Trhasher

Have a picnic on the International Garden lawn under magnolia trees, or find a cool spot around vibrant azaleas. The new Porcelain and Decorative Arts Museum features eight galleries filled with impeccable tea sets, sculptures, and ceramic from the expansive private collection of Deen Day Sanders (of Days Inn of America).

To see what else Athens has to offer, visit,and as you’re planning your trip, follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

A Journey Through the Reconstruction Era in Columbia, South Carolina

Cuisine Noir. June 2021.

The Reconstruction Era was one of the most formative movements in American history for civil rights. Despite the importance of the era spanning 1865-1977, it is often misunderstood and overlooked. The city of Columbia, South Carolina, recently launched Reconstructed: A Journey Through the Reconstruction Era in Columbia SC in partnership with the non-profit organization Historic Columbia. The trail highlights eight historic locations and ten trailblazers of the post-Civil War period to provide a new perspective to residents and visitors on how the past has shaped our modern nation.

“Many people don’t know how important the Reconstruction Era was to the U.S., let alone that many of the most iconic buildings are still standing today in South Carolina’s capital. Reconstruction gave us the legs to stand on during Civil Rights. This is a period when Black Americans went from being enslaved to elected legislators,” says Charlene Slaughter, director of communications for Experience Columbia SC.

Charlene Slaughter, director of communications for Experience South Carolina
Pictured: Charlene Slaughter, director of communications for Experience Columbia SC | Photo credit: Experience Columbia SC

The Reconstruction Era in the city was a time when the South Carolina State House was home to the first Black majority legislature, Black churches emerged as centers of community, social life and political power, Benedict College was founded, and 90 percent of the students at South Carolina College—now the University of South Carolina—were Black.

“Recognizing that the Reconstruction Era has been misrepresented for a long time, we worked with a robust research team, scholars, history professors, USC students, as well as descendants of families that lived in Columbia during that time, to identify sites and stories to find the gaps in the historical narratives,” says Robin Waites, executive director for Historic Columbia.

The eight sites along the trail include:

Museum of the Reconstruction Era at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home

When the museum opened in 2014, it was the only museum dedicated to the Reconstruction Era in the country. “On my first tour of the house, I felt I got the complete story!” says Slaughter. “It was not just about President Wilson, but also about what was going on at that time, including the treatment of enslaved people.” She recommends starting your tour here to get the foundation of what it really was like in Columbia.

Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina
Pictured: Benedict College | Photo credit: Historic Columbia
Benedict College

Established in 1870 by Bathsheba Benedict on a former plantation, this was one of the first colleges that offered equitable access to education to people of color. You can walk around the small campus and see some of the oldest remaining buildings.

Reconstruction Churches

Many Black churches in Columbia offered a safe gathering space to drive community and political efforts during Reconstruction. The ones still standing are Bethel AME Church from 1866, First Calvary Church and Zion Baptist Church.

Phoenix Building

The home of The Daily Phoenix newspaper, it published stories that helped shape the public view of the Civil War and Reconstruction for generations.

A Journey Through the Reconstruction Era in Columbia, South Carolina
Pictured: South Carolina State House 1873 | Photo credit: Historia Columbia
South Carolina State House

South Carolina was the only state in the U.S. to elect a Black-majority legislature, and it did so four times in a row, from 1868 until 1874. There are free guided tours offered every hour.

University of South Carolina 

In 1868, South Carolina College, now known as the University of South Carolina, was the only state-supported college in the South that included Blacks on its board. By 1875, nearly 90 percent of South Carolina College’s students were Black, although classes were still segregated. Visitors to Thomas Cooper Library can see a nine-foot-tall statue of Richard T. Greener, the university’s first Black professor and librarian.

Photo credit: Historic Columbia
Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens

The exhibits at the four-acre urban estate highlight long-held racial and class boundaries, including stories of enslaved people and their planter-class owners. You can also see pages from “A Diary from Dixie,” the published diary of Mary Boykin Chestnut that influenced the understanding of the war, and a copy of the Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide for Black road trippers.

Randolph Cemetery

The African American cemetery in Columbia is home to the resting place of Reverend Benjamin F. Randolph, who promoted universal public education and served as a Republican state senator as well as other Reconstruction Era legislators.

In addition to historical sites, the experience highlights noteworthy trailblazers such as Clarissa Minnie Thompson, Mack Johnson, Robert Brown Elliot and the Rollins sisters.

The Museum of the Reconstruction Era
Pictured: The Museum of the Reconstruction Era | Photo credit: Historic Columbia

On your next trip to Columbia, pick up a copy of the trail guide at the Columbia SC Visitors Center or Historic Columbia’s Gift Shop at Robert Mills or online at Get social with Experience Columbia on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and follow Historic Columbia as well on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir. All rights reserved.

Living Life to a Tea: Savannah-Based Wayne Ashford Raises Awareness of Healthy Living Through Each Brew

Cuisine Noir Magazine. April 2021.

Wayne Ashford is raising a cup to conversations about health education over tea. Ashford is a tea sommelier, entrepreneur and motivational speaker. At 61 years of age, he is in the best shape of his life. He does yoga, meditation, strength training, running, and owns/operates a tea shop in downtown Savannah, Georgia, called The Ashford Tea Company. He attributes his good health and positive mindset to drinking tea.

The First Cup

Born in Mississippi, Ashford grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, watching his mother brew old-school sun tea. “I was intrigued by how she filled a huge mason jar with 100 or so tea bags and let them sit in the hot sun. Then she added 4-5 pounds of sugar to it. As a kid, that was the best thing!” says Wayne about his first recollection of drinking southern-style sweet ice tea.

Over time, Ashford realized there was more to the sweet drink and discovered a variety of loose teas, where they originate from, how they are grown, their health benefits, and different ways to brew.

A Tea Enterprise

“I was passionate about tea but never imagined it would be something I would live off of,” explains Ashford. After completing high school, he served in the U.S. Army, traveled abroad, attended college and worked in the corporate sector. As VP of Operations at several startup dot com businesses, Ashford learned about entrepreneurship and saved enough money to launch an online tea store. He offered samples at health food stores and city markets and opened Tea’s Me Café in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Wayne Ashford, owner of The Ashford Tea Company in Savannah, Georgia
Pictured: Wayne Ashford | Photo credit: MD Houston Photography

After 20+ years of running a successful business, Ashford decided to move from the Midwest to the South for a change in scenery and better quality of life. He opened The Ashford Tea Company, a boutique tea shop in the popular coastal vacation destination – Savannah. Here he offers in-store tastings, free consultations, talks on the origins and health benefits of this amazing elixir, and how to live a healthy lifestyle. “My mission is to help people find peace and happiness no matter what the state of the world is,” adds Ashford.

Ashford realized early on in life that his African American family history was prone to health issues due to poor self-care habits. He read and self-taught how to have a healthy mind, body and spirit. Now, Ashford educates others on living well, sprinkling anecdotes from his own life, along with inspirational messages into his tea tasting tours.

He says that aging is a disease, but we can defy aging by seasoning ourselves for it. This means raising our immunity to viruses, allowing our bodies to produce vitamins naturally, and living more purposeful lives – all of which can be done by exercising regularly, eating healthy and drinking tea consistently.

What You Need to Know About Tea 

“Most Americans think herbal teas like peppermint, lemongrass, chamomilla, etc., are teas, but those are just herbs; they don’t have any tea in them,” says Ashford. There are four main types of teas that come from a tea tree plant – white, green, oolong and black. White teas are generally lower in caffeine and higher in antioxidants than green tea, as they don’t go through fermentation and oxidation.

Green tea has caffeine, but it is not as stimulating as coffee. Caffeine in tea releases slowly into your body over a longer time (as much as six hours), so you don’t get an immediate high, which distorts your circadian rhythm.

Wayne Ashford, owner of The Ashford Tea Company in Savannah, Georgia
Pictured: Wayne Ashford | Photo credit: MD Houston Photography

According to research, flavonoids and polyphenols found in green tea also help boost heart health, prevent cancers and reduce inflammation. Ashford claims his mother relieved herself of breast cancer without chemotherapy and radiation, partially by drinking green tea. Ongoing research also suggests that green tea can help in lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol, help treat gum disease and slow the progression of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Findings say that you only need to drink 16 oz (or two cups) of tea daily to optimizes health benefits. “It is one of the simplest things you can incorporate in your lifestyle, to eat cleaner and live healthier. I believe tea adds to the quality of life.”

The company sources fair trade organic teas from China, Japan, Kenya, South Africa, India and Taiwan. They are paired with delectable treats by local bakers and chefs who highlight the notes and bouquet of the fragrant teas.

The Ashford Tea Company is located at 406 E. Oglethorpe Ave, Savannah, Georgia. To find out about Ashford’s virtual events, schedule a store tasting or purchase tea, visit You can also follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

Chef and Entrepreneur Ameer Natson is on a Mission to Help Creatives Thrive

Cuisine Noir Magazine. March 2021.

Ameer Natson wears several hats. He is a chef, humanitarian, entrepreneur, faith leader and counselor. He is the founder of Become Creative Agency, a full-service creative and marketing agency that hires local talent from inner-city communities.  He is also the New Jersey youth director for the National Action Network, a civil rights organization founded by Reverend Al Sharpton in 1991, and volunteers with World Central Kitchen, a food relief non-profit.

Natson recently launched Become Creative Agency in Irvington, New Jersey. This 5,000-square feet co-working space and culinary kitchen is a playground for creatives and aspiring chefs. “I have spent the last 24 months on really focusing on how I can help people “become” in the culinary space, but also in beauty, healthcare and other businesses. Nothing like this exists in our community. It is a creative coworking space for music producers, videographers, podcasters, and photographers. It is more than that, a place to create your dreams come true,” says Natson.

Chef Ameer Natson
Pictured: Ameer Natson | Photo credit: Jasmine R.

Once fully operational, the space will include a kitchen studio and media room, as well as dedicated spaces for video and podcast recording.

Becoming Ameer

Like most of the people he serves today, Natson started with nothing but a dream to work in the culinary field. Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, Natson started his food career at a young age. “When I was 11 years old, my father bought me a hot dog cart, and I started my first culinary enterprise,” Natson recalls. Since then, he has always had a small food business, be it an icee cart or a media agency.

After high school, Natson earned his culinary degree from the French Culinary Institute (now known as International Culinary Center) in New York and went on to be a personal chef to a financial advisor in Trenton, New Jersey. Here, he got an opportunity to cook for influential clients and celebrities such as Beyoncé, Oprah, Jay-Z and Queen Latifah.

The exposure helped him build his brand and national acclaim followed. Natson developed a show for The Food Network and has been featured on BBC, ARISE 360 TV, NBC and BET.

Spiritual Grounding

Natson attributes his success and joy to his spiritual grounding. He obtains his inspiration, courage and strength from his belief in God and serves as a pastor at the Better Life Church.

Chef Ameer Natson serving for World Central Kitchen
Pictured: Ameer Natson serving for World Central Kitchen | Photo credit: Become Creative

During the pandemic, Natson has supported, counseled and encouraged countless families. He also partnered with chef José Andrés and his organization World Central Kitchen and ChefsForAmerica to donate and distribute more than 67,000 meals throughout the city of Newark during the summer of 2020.

“My true passion is to help individuals succeed,” says Natson, who is committed to seeing people grow and succeed despite their obstacles and circumstances. He wants to help individuals like himself who have the passion, but not necessarily the resources, to grow their businesses. “I want to be able to help people identify their strengths and weaknesses and really hone in on what their skill sets are.  The truth is much of my success in culinary is really the result of understanding humility and service.”

Natson’s big vision is to open Become agencies across the country and help thousands of creatives birth their dreams. He will be launching a second location in Atlanta, Georgia, later this summer. Charlotte, North Carolina, is another city where he feels he can impact the lives of creatives.

With Become’s culinary incubator in its pilot stage, Natson looks forward to helping culinary creatives find their voice and space in the kitchen as well as the food industry overall.  Under his leadership, he wants to work with individuals looking to start a culinary career, youth who are passionate about cooking and some of the next rising stars, and youth who are uncertain about what they want to do in life but open to exploring time in the kitchen.

Chef Ameer Natson with youth
Pictured: Ameer Natson with youth | Photo credit: Become Creative

Under his Fresh Chef brand, Natson oversees meal prepping and catering with clients that have included the New York Giants and Brooklyn Nets, as well as a roster of individual athletes, actors and influencers.

For those who are seeking realization as a celerity or an entrepreneur, Natson advises to “trust the process.” He adds, “It is not the end result, but the journey of the successful people that you need to emulate. Experience the challenges, and don’t try to take an easier way or shortcut. Your dreams will manifest in due time.”

Learn more about Natson by visiting his website.  Get inspired and involved by following him on Facebook and look out for Become updates and opportunities, included the official soft launch in April on Instagram.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

NFL Champion Justin Watson Uses Coffee for Social Impact

Cuisine Noir Magazine. March 2021.

Retired Super Bowl champion Justin Watson wants people to drink coffee with a cause. He recently launched B L Q K Coffee, an artisanal coffee company that invests in providing educational tools to young people.

Watson was born in New York and grew up in a Jamaican household in Pasadena, California. As a kid, he was never exposed to sports or had a role model in the field but saw a sports scholarship as an affordable way to attend college.

Blessed with physical attributes and strong determination, he played high school football and was the first athlete in his school’s history to earn a scholarship to a Division I college. “My parents were happy that they didn’t have to pay for my college education, but they wanted me to focus on earning a degree, not just be a sports figure,” says Watson.

He played four seasons at San Diego State University before signing as a free agent with the Saint Louis Rams (now the Los Angeles Rams), who defeated the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, earning Watson a Superbowl championship ring in 2000.

Justin Watson, owner of BLQK Coffee
Pictured: Justin Watson | Photo credit: B L Q K Coffee
From Playing Football to Sourcing Coffee

Since retiring from the NFL in 2002, Watson has had an entrepreneurship mindset. He has a real estate venture, Studio Physique Athletic Club in Los Angeles County, and his most recent venture, B  L  Q  K coffee company.

“This past summer, I was sitting in the backyard with basketball player Kevin Garnett, and we were talking about an incident that happened where a Black kid was kicked out of a Starbucks coffee shop,” he says recalling how he got the idea for B  L  Q  K (which stands for Building Legacies for our Queens and Kings).  “That night was Juneteenth — a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved persons. The next morning, I decided to assemble a team.”

Watson has been an avid coffee drinker and an inspiring speaker. But he never thought about using coffee as a vessel to be an agent of change for marginalized communities until then. “It has always been my passion to instill my knowledge in children. Through B  L  Q  K, I can have a bigger platform and reach more kids.”

The Formula

Watson noticed a considerable difference in the educational structure of Pasadena and San Marino school districts, lacking basic equality in the education system. “When I went to school, we weren’t afforded the knowledge of understanding why it was so important to go to college. We didn’t tour colleges, take college prep courses, or get help with college applications,” expresses Watson.

The goal of B  L  Q  K is to donate 25% of its profits to educational justice programs and give every deserving kid a chance to succeed. B  L  Q  K partners with organizations trying to move the needle on social justice, such as Social Justice Learning Institute and Food Forward.

B L Q K Coffee beans and packages
Pictured: B L Q K Coffee beans and packages | Photo credit: B L Q K Coffee

The programs offer mentoring, tutoring, materials, computers, etc., to marginalized communities, single-family households, and deserving kids who have dreams but not the means to achieve them.

“As we built our company, we would like to have our own non-profit — a Black Angel Program, to help kids we seek out and need financial help for educational tools,” Watson declares about the future of B  L  Q  K.

Building a Brand

Watson’s mission with B  L  Q  K  is to make drinking coffee purposeful, right from sourcing sustainably, roasting meticulously and drinking without additives, to hiring Black employees, and reinvesting profits in underserved communities. “By supporting B  L  Q  K,  every cup of coffee you drink will make a difference,” states Watson.

To pay homage to the birthplace of coffee, B  L  Q  K sources its beans from farms, especially women-owned farms in Ethiopia. They are committed to helping the farmers be more successful through educational programs, pay fair wages, and use only the top 1% of the best quality beans found in the world.

Justin Watson roasting coffee beans
Pictured: Justin Watson roasting coffee beans | Photo credit: B L Q K Coffee

B  L  Q  K  also partnered with LAMILL Coffee in California to roast the coffee beans to a medium balance so that consumers can enjoy a premium cup of fresh coffee. “Our coffee is not bitter, and you don’t have to put additives like milk and sweetener in it,” advises Watson.

B  L  Q  K  sells an African blend that boasts a tasting profile of sweet caramel with hints of citrus and cocoa and a single-origin coffee from the Guji region of Ethiopia with flavors of berries, citrus and floral.

Serving the World

B  L  Q  K  Coffee can be purchased through the website as a subscriber or a one-time purchase for $19 a bag. Watson also plans to open coffee shops around the world as well, and the first B  L  Q  K  location is scheduled for 2021 in Los Angeles. To be the first to hear about the opening, follow Watson and B  L  Q  K  Coffee on Instagram.

~ Written for and published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.