Tag Archives: Mt Laurel

Farming for the future in Mt Laurel

Farm Manager Keith Caton and Jim ‘N Nick’s CEO Nick Pihakis run the community farm in Mt Laurel. Photos by Madoline Markham.


In a valley lies a farm. On its land lives a farmer. From its ground comes sustenance to feed the people who live around it.

This is what you find on Highway 41 near Mt Laurel, but it’s not common outside most urban and suburban landscapes in Alabama, according to Nick Pihakis, the mastermind behind the restaurant empire of Jim ‘N Nick’s.

This year Pihakis is funding the 25-acre Mt Laurel farm, which is owned by Ebsco, to use as a model for small farmers to sell goods to restaurants like his. Ultimately, he hopes this experimental three-acre farm model (only about three acres on the Mt Laurel property are farmed) will help rebuild the agriculture structure in the South so that farmers are guaranteed a buyer for their goods.

“It’s a good deal on both sides,” said Pihakis, a Mt Laurel resident. Continue reading


Adoptions, foster children change a Mt Laurel mom’s life

Kathryn, Chris, Ty, Amy, Jennifer, Shawn, Anna (Mom) , Alan (Dad), McKayla, Sam, Tqira at their Mt Laurel home. Photo by Keith McCoy.


In 1971, a representative from Catholic Social Services spoke to Anna Lee’s fifth grade class at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School about welcoming foster children into their homes. For Lee, those words would lay a path for years to come.

“I just had this feeling like something big was going to happen, but I didn’t know what it was,” Lee said.

Inspired by a flier sent home with Lee that day, her parents came to foster 19 children as she grew up.

“We grieved when the children left because we knew we wouldn’t see them again,” Lee said of the way the process was closed while she was growing up. “But, each child that entered our lives was not a loss but a gain. We didn’t feel jealous. That child was part of our family.”

Today, she and her husband, Alan, have 19 children ages one to 30, both biological and adopted. The number expands to 52 when counting the foster children they’ve welcomed over the years.

Continue reading

A stretch of green through Dunnavant Valley

Friends of Dunnavant Valley Greenway members Ward Tishler and Virginia Randolph walk along the trail they helped create behind Soccer Blast on Highway 280. Photo by Madoline Markham.


A scenic trail twists and turns 1.8 miles along Yellow Leaf Creek through Dunnavant Valley.

Part of the public trail is an old road built in the early 1900s and later replaced by the current County Road 41. Other segments wind along the curves of the flowing creek over rock gardens and bridges built by Eagle Scouts.

The Dunnavant Valley Greenway is about a 40-minute walk in one direction.
Native plants like the sycamore, yellow pine, mountain laurel, wild ginger, ferns, yellow woods violet and Japanese privet line the creek, which runs through the Narrows and eventually down to the Coosa River. The area is ripe for exploration, a family hike or a trail run.

The trail parallels County Road 41 from Highway 280 headed north toward Mt Laurel, but once you’re on it, it’s easy to forget that you’re anywhere near cars and anything but nature.

“We wanted to make it so people could enjoy the scenery around them,” said Ward Tishler, president of the citizens group The Friends of the Dunnavant Valley Greenway. “That was the driving force behind it.”

Continue reading

The Red Shamrock Pub


Traci Griffin, Scott Griffin and Gennell Ferrell opened The Red Shamrock Pub in Mt Laurel in December. The pub sells red shamrock T-shirts to raise money and awareness of Duchenne Muscular Distrophy for the nonprofit Hope for Gabe. Photo by Madoline Markham.

The dim-lit interior of Mt Laurel’s newest eatery is rustic. There are no backs on the dark wood bar stools or chairs so that everyone can easily mingle.

“We wanted a pub as rare as the red shamrock,” the pub’s owners said.

A perfect place to watch sports, The Red Shamrock boasts a giant 200-inch HD projection screen upstairs and 120-inch HD projection screen downstairs as well as six 47-inch TVs throughout their space.

Friends Traci and Scott Griffin and Chris and Genell Ferrell opened The Red Shamrock as a close-to-home gathering place for their neighbors.

“Everyone in the neighborhoods around here says they don’t want to drive back in Highway 280 traffic after they get home at the end of the day,” Genell Ferrell said.

The Griffins, who live in Highland Lakes, and Ferrells, who live at the Chelsea/Sterrett line, became friends when their sons were on the same youth football team. While talking one day, they realized their area needed a place to hang out. One thing came to mind for both Chris and Scott: a pub, an Irish pub. Continue reading

Area 41 Pizza Company: Restaurant Showcase


Chef and owner Patrick Hankins prepares an Area 41 Special pizza, which is topped with roasted garlic, goat cheese, Italian sausage and fresh tomatoes. Photos by Madoline Markham.

Area 41 Pizza Company is all about good pizza but just as much all about people.
The neighborhood pizza joint is like a family-friendly pub. There’s a wide selection of beers on tap, TVs for game watching and a menu just for kids. When the weather is nice, you can relax on the patio under the trees Mt Laurel prides itself on and even bring your dog to eat with you. Regulars, who come up to four times a week, chat with the bartender, but first-timers are always welcome too.

It was the pizzeria’s first customers who helped name it. Owner Patrick Hankins wanted to work Highway 41 into the name. Someone who came in before the restaurant opened suggested a play on the name Area 51, and Area 41 stuck. Continue reading

Phil (Campbell) a backpack


Phil Campbell Backpacks

A group of packing volunteers and staff and parents from Phil Campbell Elementary School. Photo courtesy of Brenda Gustin.

All students at Phil Campbell Elementary School will have school supplies when school starts this month, thanks to efforts spearheaded by two Highland Lakes women.

Brenda Gustin and Fran Stainback organized donations for more than 460 backpacks for the students, pre-kindergarten to sixth grade.
The town of Phil Campbell lost 30 people in the storms, including two students and a second grade teacher.

“We hope to give children something to smile about when they go back to school,“ Gustin said. Continue reading

Tea Party Castle’s Princess


Tea Party Castle Princess

Princess Collette dazzles partygoers at Tea Party Castle. Photo courtesy Brinkerhoff family.

As her beautiful ball gown swishes past, Princess Collette smiles down at a collection of elementary school-aged girls enthralled in the scene before them. Collette begins singing “I’m Waiting for My Prince” when suddenly, Prince Charming himself is there. He waltzes Collette around the room to the shy giggles of onlookers.

Is this the latest historical romance novel?

Has Disney produced a new musical?

Have you been out in the summer heat too long?

None of the above. It is simply another day at Mt Laurel’s Tea Party Castle, and for Spain Park rising senior, Becky Brinkerhoff, it is a dream part-time job. Continue reading