Winston-Salem is one of the greatest small cities in the world. Famous Winston-Salemites will feature some accomplished people that lived in Winston-Salem and now have moved on to do great things. All of the questions will be about their time in the Twin City.
Austin Highsmith spent her first nineteen years in Winston-Salem, where she was one of the nicest people ever to attend R.J. Reynolds High School. She left Winston to major in Political Science/Studio Arts at UNC-Chapel Hill. Highsmith currently lives in Los Angeles, CA where she is an actress and improv comedian. She has over 12,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter.
She has starred in such movies as Dolphin Tale (1 and 2) and Gangster Squad alongside such famous actors as Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, and Ryan Gosling. Highsmith won the Crystal Reel Award for Supporting Actress in Dolphin Tale. She has also had television roles on such shows as Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Criminal Minds, and Castle. She is currently working on the upcoming films: The Unwilling, Open Roads, and The Bone Box.
All About Winston-Salem:
What years did you live in Winston-Salem?
I lived in Winston from 1981 (when I was born) until I left for college in 1999.
If you were on a stranded island and could just have one breakfast for the rest of your life, which would you choose: Moravian Sugar Cake, Bojangles Bo-Berry Biscuit, Krispy Kreme Hot and Now Doughnut?
Oh man, this is a really tough question! I have to go with the Moravian Sugar Cake. I’m actually really surprised that I just said that because I can CRUSH a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts in mere seconds.
Which Winston-Salem neighborhoods did you live in?
I don’t even know the names of the neighborhoods I lived in! It’s around the intersection of Country Club and Peacehaven. And then we moved further down Peacehaven just past the 421 entrance/exit. Both (thankfully) are in the Reynolds High School district.
What different schools did you go to?
I went to Sherwood Forest Elementary and then Cook Middle School. I don’t think Cook exists anymore. And then I went to RJ Reynolds High School.
Who were your favorite teachers at each school?
Mr. Smith at Sherwood Forest was one of my absolute favorites along with Mrs. McCabe. I loved Mr. Clauset and Mr. Holbrook at Cook. And then there were so many that I loved at RJR like Mr. Michel for chemistry for sure, Mrs. Laning for art, Mrs. Storch for English, Mrs. Jenkins for Latin. This list could go on forever. I loved Reynolds!
Where all did you have jobs in Winston-Salem?
I had so many jobs! My first job was at Old Navy at Hanes Mall. Then I worked at the Juice Shop in Thruway for about four seconds. Then I worked at what used to be the Soda Shop across from Thruway. Then I worked at what used to be Lucky 32 (now 5 Points I think). During the summers, I was a lifeguard/swim coach/swim instructor at Jonestown Pool. I also babysat non-stop. Clearly I was a tiny work-a-holic.
What were your top three local Winston-Salem restaurants?
Village Tavern is the clear #1. I love that place so much! I go every time I’m in town. They have the best menu and the food is just amazing every time I go. #2 recently would have to be 4th Street Filling Station. I really love how much time has been put into building up the downtown area. It is super cute now, which I can say was not the case growing up. My family & I love going to 4th street during the summer and sitting on the patio. There are so many awesome restaurants in Winston, so for my #3, I’ll go with my favorite “cheat” meal which is Pulliam’s hot dogs. They also have BBQ sandwiches and you can have a bottle of Cheerwine and chat with the owner Mark. It’s always a super fun trip.
If you were to move back to the area, where do you think you would want to live?
If I moved back, I would probably like to live around Reynolda Gardens. I love how green and quaint the neighborhoods are around there. And also being able to hop over to the Village at Reynolda or just run around the Gardens….that would be awesome.
What is your favorite nickname of our minor league baseball team: Spirits, Warthogs, or Dash?
I’ll have to go with the Spirits, because that is what they were when I was a kid. My dad used to bribe me with the promise of a hot dog and a soda to go to the games, but we always had a blast while we were there. We went to many games as a family growing up, and of course the fireworks on the 4th were always a great time.
Were you more of a Hanes Mall or Thruway fan?
Growing up I was a Hanes Mall girl. I LIVED there on the weekends. But now whenever I’m in town, my mom & I always end up at Thruway and spend the whole day there.
What was your favorite place to go in Winston?
This is tough because I love Reynolda Gardens and all of the stuff to do around there. But my favorite place would have to be Jonestown Pool. I spent most of my childhood summers there from when I was four until I was twenty years old. My memories of my time there are some of my most fond and I just always remember being so happy there. I also made friends there that have lasted a lifetime.
Where was your favorite day trip outside of Winston?
As a kid, my parents would take us up to Pilot Mountain or Blowing Rock for the day. Both of those places were so much fun. I have two brothers and we could just run around the mountain and climb on stuff. I loved that fun little getaways were so close. It allowed my family to have a lot of fun for not a lot of money.
What was your favorite North Carolina Beach?
Oh, that is tough. Carolina beaches are my favorite. I live in California now and I hardly ever go to the beach because they aren’t Carolina beaches! My family always goes to Oak Island every summer (still!), so that is probably my favorite. But Wrightsville will always hold a special place in my heart. My buddies from high school & I spent tons of time on Wrightsville beach and had an absolute blast. Trolly Stop hot dogs and a pink lemonade on a hot summer day…..there’s nothing like it.
Where is your favorite place in the mountains in North Carolina?
Boone. There is so much charm in Boone. Both of my brothers went to App and so I visited often. There is so much to do in Boone and great restaurants. Although how can I not also mention Asheville?! I went to the Biltmore Estate a lot as a kid on school trips. Asheville is just gorgeous and I love how they have so many little artist communities!
Did you ever go to Ziggy’s?
Oh yeah. It feels like I was at Ziggy’s every weekend in high school.
What was your favorite concert there?
I can’t pick one! One of my favorite experiences was having Dave Matthews pop up and play out of the blue. That was pretty awesome. But there were so many great concerts at Ziggy’s that I just can’t choose. I love that Ziggy’s provided a place for emerging artists to gain a following. Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill is like that too. It is so vital for up and coming musicians to be able to play venues like Ziggy’s.
Who is your favorite ACC team?
Well this question is going to drive my dad nuts! We grew up going to pretty much every Wake event that happened. My dad graduated from Wake Forest (both the University and the Business School), so we were always at Wake growing up. But then I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill… So I’ll probably have to stick with my alma mater and go with UNC. Sorry dad.
Are there any special memories you have of Winston-Salem?
I could write an entire book on all of my fond memories of Winston. Growing up at Calvary Baptist Church and all of the friends I made there. Playing on many sports teams, be it soccer or swimming. I had a wonderful childhood growing up in Winston and I love that my parents are still there so I can visit several times a year. I can’t wait till I have kids of my own and can share all the Winston has to offer with them too!