Lawren Desai-Local Winston-Salem Difference Makers

In addition to celebrating Winston-Salem natives that have moved on to do significant things outside of Winston, this blog will also celebrate local people who make a difference currently in Winston-Salem. 


When I started writing about local Winston-Salem difference makers, there was one I knew I wanted to write about from the very beginning, my big sister, Lawren Callahan Desai. I needed to establish my blog without being known as her brother first, but I always had September 19, 2016 in mind to finally do one on her, since it is her fortieth birthday. First off, happy “over the hill” birthday Lawren.

It runs through our blood to want to make a difference in Winston-Salem. Our family never expected Desai to come back to Winston once she left for college in the mid-1990’s. She was always a big city person, and that plays a major role in her desire to make Downtown Winston a great place.
Desai was born in Charlotte, NC in 1976 and moved to Winston as a toddler. She grew up in the West End on West End Boulevard for a couple years and then moved to Glade Street. Along with being an excellent student throughout high school, she was also a star swimmer for Sherwood pool and Reynolds High School. Desai graduated from Reynolds in 1994 and chose the University of Pennsylvania to study International Relations. Her move to Philadelphia was just her first move in a series of moves to some of the most well-known cities in the world.

Along with the “City of Brotherly Love,” Desai spent time living in Madrid, Los Angeles, and Brooklyn, along with one year working as an assistant in the School of Film at UNC School of the Arts. She moved back to Winston to receive her MBA at Wake Forest in what appeared to be just a transition before going back to a big city.
During her time at Wake, she met her future husband, Jigar Desai, who hailed from Dalton, GA. The two got married after they both received their MBA, and they decided to try to bring a little bit of the big city to Winston.
After they had their only child, Jake, Desai began to look into options for bringing a movie theater to Downtown Winston. It was a merger of what she learned at Wake combined with her love of movies developed from her time at UNCSA and in Los Angeles pursuing a career in film production. On January 8, 2010, Desai opened a/perture cinema in the heart of Downtown on Fourth Street.

Over the past six and a half years, a/perture has added two additional theaters to its original two screens. a/perture hosts events like RiverRun each year, and they have their own events like Art House Theater Day, which is coming up on September 24th. Desai travels to the Toronto Film Festival yearly to help find movies to bring to Winston.
Through her hard work, Desai, was the recipient of the R. Philip Hanes Junior Young Leader Award. The award recognizes someone under 40 whose time, talent and energy have furthered the mission of promoting the arts and culture in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, leaving a legacy of service for future young leaders and for the future of the arts in this community.

When I was in kindergarten, my dad had my fifth grade sister go out and protect me and a couple friends from an older neighborhood bully. Ever since then, I have looked up to my big sister, and with all she has accomplished, I really have to crane my neck to see that high up!

                                          Winston-Salem Questions:

Which Winston-Salem neighborhoods have you lived in?
West End, Ardmore, Buena Forest, and Downtown


What different schools did you go to?
The Hanes Park trifecta: Brunson, Wiley, Reynolds

Who were your favorite teachers?
Ms. Myrick-Kindergarten
Ms. Robby-Algebra
Mr. Hierl-U.S. History (Career Center)


What are your top three Winston-Salem restaurants of all time that are no longer here?Rose & Thistle
South By Southwest
Mayberry’s in the old location on Stratford

What is your favorite nickname of our minor league baseball team: Spirits, Warthogs, or Dash?


Are you more of a Hanes Mall or Thruway fan?
Thruway, but I hope pretty soon to have a third Downtown Winston option.

Are there any stores you wish would move to Winston? How about restaurants?
Stores: Anthropologie and Apple
Restaurants: A legitimate Spanish Tapas restaurant or a Shake Shack


Where is your favorite day trip outside of Winston?
Too many good ones-Hanging Rock, Asheboro Zoo, Pilot Mountain, Durham, Asheville

What is your favorite North Carolina Beach?
South Nags Head-mile marker 19


Where is your favorite place in the mountains in North Carolina?
I like to visit Asheville, good restaurants and music scene.


Did you ever go to the original Ziggy’s? What was your favorite concert there?
Yes-a lot in high school and then through the years until I moved. My friends and I saw Dave Matthews in high school during a snowstorm. Since it was snowing so hard, we had to get a parent to drop us off.

Could you ever imagine leaving Winston and if so, where would you go?
Not at this point. Winston is such a great base and traveling for the weekend, in country or abroad, is so easy from here.






Letters from Dad:McKinley’s 6th Birthday

Dear McKinley,

Don’t ever change! You will always be my favorite little princess!


Five was another great year for you and I can’t wait to see you continue to grow this upcoming year. This is going to be a huge year for you, since you start kindergarten just a week after your birthday. I look forward to seeing you continue to grow into a young lady. Right now, your favorite music is the Dixie Chicks, you really like Popeye, and playing with your dolls.


I have always heard that time goes by too fast with your kids, and this is definitely true. I can’t believe you are six already! Below I will share some things that make you such a special person and some reminders for the future:

You are a friend to everyone, keep it up!

For your pre-K superlatives, you were awarded the “easiest to make a friend.” You have always been very social with your peers. You will play with anyone that is willing to play with you, and you need to keep doing that. The only reason you should stop playing with somebody is if they are mean to you or others.

Keep being a hero to your brother:

Hudson is a wild and crazy dude, but he loves you to death. If some of your friends want to play without him, you already tell them no and try to include him as much as possible. Keep doing that. You two play awesome together and you are a great big sister. Keep looking out for Hudson and he will keep looking up to you!

Family makes you happy, and keep looking up to your mom!

Whether it is your cousins or grandparents, you love being with family. You also really look up to your mom. Keep doing that! She is a great role model.


You love our pets:

Just like your brother, you love our pets: Owen, Crosby, and Flo. The first thing you do when we get home is look for Flo so you can pick her up and hold her.


You are my little entrepreneur and chef:

At the age of five, you were already trying to make money and willing to donate it to charity. Whether it was a popcorn stand in front of our house or a vegetable stand on Fourth Street, you love to make food and sell it. You made a lot of money this year, and donated half of it to the Humane Society, where we got Crosby and Flo.

Just remember to keep being you and don’t let anybody change that. Love your family and pets, be a hero to your little brother, and do what you enjoy doing. You are already a great young lady, but you will always be my little princess.

Your daddy

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Dr. Brownstone’s Sweet Summer Luv Luv Festival-All Six Nights

Tim Grandinetti and Spring House Restaurant, Kitchen & Bar asked me to blog on all six nights of the 7th Annual Dr. Brownstone’s Sweet Summer Luv Luv Festival. Each night, I will have a different special guest attend the event with me.

Night One: Winston-Salem All-Star Chefs

Night one of the Luv Luv Festival was a new tradition for the event. Tim Grandinetti and Spring House invited ten local Winston-Salem chefs (complete list of chefs and restaurants below) to make small barbecue plates for night one’s guests. My special guest for the evening was my mom, Barbara Callahan, retired speech therapist extraordinaire and current beach bum.

My first guest, Barbara Callahan

“For me, this is the best way to start the Luv Luv Festival this year,” said Grandinetti. “A collaboration with some of the best chefs in Winston. I don’t think we can top this! All of the chefs are friends. If Winston-Salem is going to be a dining destination, we have to do it together.”

The six-day event is an outdoor grill-fest. “When I moved from New York, barbecue was hot dogs and grilling outside. When I got here the barbecue was an epiphany.  Tonight I have ten of my local chef friends, and the rest of the week I have chef friends coming from all over the country.”


Each night of the event features barbecue and a band. Night one’s band was the Thermatones, a soulful five member local band. As the band played, the guests were allowed to walk around from table to table to try out each local plate.

My mom and I started out the evening with some drinks. I had Brooklyn Lagers, while my mom tried out the bartender’s special signature Luv Luv cocktail, which mixed Chambord, Absolut Vanilla Rasberry, blueberries, lemonade, soda, and mint.

Luv Luv cocktail

Kim McDonald, who grew up in Kernersville and currently lives in Belew’s Creek, was at the event with her husband for their fourth straight year. “Luv Luv is wonderful! You get to try new things that you normally wouldn’t try. There is a neat spin on food that gives you a new light on different recipes,” said McDonald.

The event features a People’s Choice Award voted on by the guests, and a grand prize winner selected by a group of local celebrities. Chef Alexandria Caesar from Vin205 Wine Bar was selected as the People’s Choice Award. Chef Chris Fulk from Quanta Basta came in third and Meridian’s Chef  Mark Grohman came in second for the grand prize, while Chef Travis Myers from Willow Bistro won the overall grand prize in the friendly competition.

Grohman (Meridian) has been cooking at Luv Luv from the beginning of the festival. “I have been here since the first one. It is always fun, with a great crowd, great food, and definitely a great vibe,” said Grohman.


Local orthodontist, Sarah Shoaf from Salem Shines, and her husband have been attending the event since year one as guests. They plan to be at all six nights this year. “It is wonderful what different things chefs can do with the same ingredients,” said Shoaf.

Night two will feature a seated dinner cooked by Chef Will Pelly from St. Louis, Missouri. My guest for the evening will be President Lorraine Sterritt from Salem Academy and College.


Chefs from night one: Greg Rollins from Graylyn Conference Center, Shane Moore from Foothills Brewing, Travis Myers from Willow’s Bistro, Mark Grohman from Meridian, Chris Fulk from Quanto Basta, Jared Tipton from Spring House, John and Buddy Milner from Milner’s American Southern, Mark Little from Bib’s BBQ, Jeff Bacon from Providence Restaurant, and Alexandria Caesar from Vin205.

Night Two: Salem President Lorraine Sterritt and Chef Wil Pelly

Salem Academy & College President Lorraine Sterritt joined me on night two of Spring House’s Dr. Brownstone’s Sweet Summer Luv Luv Festival to enjoy food made by Chef Wil Pelly from St. Louis, Missouri. The heavy rains didn’t dampen the mood, even though the wait staff was soaked from delivering the food from the “Belly of the Beast” to the tent filled with guests.

Chef Pelly with Chef Tim Grandinetti

Pelly’s menu featured a Brazilian themed plate to go with the Summer Olympics, and a plate from Cuba. Night one was small plates from several different local chefs, while night two was a seated dinner.

Chef Pelly with Chef Tim Grandinetti

President Sterritt and I had a lot of time to talk in between plates, all while we enjoyed the local band of the evening, Peace Train. I found out a lot about her homeland, Northern Ireland, that I didn’t know about previous to the dinner. I taught her some of my knowledge on Winston-Salem throughout the meal.

President Lorraine Sterritt

The first plate was a surprise as it was not on the menu and featured shrimp and meatballs. The second plate was chips and dip. The chips were made from lotus, taro, and plantain, while the dip was smoked black garlic chimichurri.

Local lawyer and appliance wizard, Wake Wagner, and his wife, Katie, sat with us at the same table. The couple came to one evening last year at the Luv Luv Festival, and couldn’t wait to get back this year. “Good food, a good time, even with the rain coming down,” said Wagner.

In between the second and third plate, we had a small cup of black bean soup. The third plate was a Cuban cigar. This was a wrap with smoked pork, ham, citrus, garlic, gruyere, quick pickle, Dijon, and phyllo. By this point of the evening, I was starting to get full. My plan for the whole week is to eat as little for lunch as possible so I have enough room for everything at Luv Luv. While we were waiting for the final plate, dessert, several attendees enjoyed shots off of the custom-made knife shot-board.

The dessert was called “Flan me over the Moon,” and was a vanilla custard with caramel and was topped with the candy, Pop Rocks, all on a popsicle stick. Just like night one, the second night was a success.

I saw several familiar faces from night one, and even more new faces there for their first night of the event. Here is to tonight (night three), when I will be joined by Aubrey Linville from Linville Team Partners.


I am starting to get stuffed after three nights at Dr. Brownstone’s Sweet Summer Luv Luv Festival. Last night the rains held off, and I was accompanied by Aubrey Linville from Linville Team Partners.  He just got back from a trip around California. Linville and his wife Holli plan to take both of their kids (and eventual grandkids) on a summer trip to all fifty states in fifty years. They are six states in after California. We sat in the “Belly of the Beast,” which meant more great food including three additional plates.

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Aubrey Linville

Chef Kurtis Jantz and Chef Fabian Di Paolo from the Trump International Hotel in Miami, Florida sent out plate after plate of delicious foods. Both chefs have attended the Luv Luv Festival for the past five years.

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Chef Tim Grandinetti, Chef Fabian Di Paolo, and Chef Kurtis Jantz

In addition to the awesome food, we also got tastings of some great Mother Earth Brewing beers, including their limited Silent Night. The “Belly of the Beast” table included food bloggers, Nikki Miller Ka (from the great Winston-Salem) and Nichole Livengood (Greenville, SC). Each plate came with a Mother Earth beer sampler.


After an appetizer portion from the Spring House staff, we got our first plate from Jantz and Di Paolo, which included: bottom of the bowl popcorn, wood smoked ‘Cheetohs’ (yes those Cheetohs) ranch dip, blue and plantain chips, charred hot peppers, and black scallion and roasted corn succotash.  One of the extra plates had a fried green tomato, with Texas Pete ‘Cha sauce, and shrimp and crab balls. Another special plate featured jerky and another was a Mexican specialty.

Plate two had blackened shrimp and scallop escabeche, coconut milk marmalade, ash crushed nuts and a blazed onion petal and radish salad. Plate three was probably my favorite of the evening and included barbecued pork ‘skirt steak’ arepa with leek charcoal, broiled cauliflower and corn husk vinagrette, and farmers queso caco banyulus gastrique. Don’t ask me what the last one is, because I have no idea, except for that it was good.

Dessert was a chicory coffee custard, which had chocolate cream, marshmallow fluff, browned milk with toast crumbs, tapioca avocado and basil, and caramelized white chocolate sorbet. Brenda Morie played the music for the evening.

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Brenda Morie

Linville said, “I had a blast tonight! It is a really cool event. I plan to definitely come back next year.”

Mother Earth Brewing is located in Kinston, NC (website). My favorite of all their great choices was their Weeping Willow Wit, which is a Belgian Style beer. I definitely plan to pickup a six-pack next time I am at the grocery store.

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I have been doing jumping jacks all day to try to make room for tonight, when I will have my most amazing guest of the weekend, my wife.

DAY 4:

This is now officially the most food I have ever eaten for dinner in one week, and I am only four nights into the Luv Luv Festival. For the fourth night, Tim Grandinetti invited two of his chef friends from north of our border in Canada, Ted Reader and Olaf Mertens. My guest for the evening was a wonderful nurse and my wife, Katie Callahan.
Katie Callahan
I was back out of the “Belly of the Beast” for the fourth night and back under the tent with the majority of guests. I stuck with Mother Earth Brewery beers for the second straight night, while Katie enjoyed the wine selection. We sat at a table with local Winston-Salemites like Kendall and Tommy Priest from the Coffee Park Airstream, and Kitty White from SECCA. 
Chef Reader and Chef Mertens
I also met local foodie blogger, Marla Lawson from She was joined by her husband, Luke, and added photos to her Instagram account throughout the evening.

Night four included Duck Do-nuts made with duck and cherry barbecue, and an Ocktoberfest strudel. The meats included a barbecue curry-wurst, a baguette stuffed with lobster, a barbecue pastrami, and a bison sirloin on top of cheddar grits. Dessert featured a doughnut on top of a sorbet. The local band for the evening was The Bo-Stevens band.

Lawson said, “the baguette stuffed with lobster was my favorite along with the Sriracha honey drizzle, which brought the perfect heat sweetness to the plate. I will try to master it at home!”

Two guests will cover the blog for me on night five, Lawren (a/perture) and Jigar Desai (IMG). I will be off to the Dixie Chicks in Raleigh to surprise my daughter, McKinley, for her birthday. I will miss the food, but it will give my stomach a night to empty up before the finale on Saturday night.


Day 5: Written by Lawren Desai and her guest Jigar Desai

Turning over a successful blog to two failed bloggers has all the makings of a disaster, but hopefully we can shake off the rust enough to do justice to the event.  Night 5 of Luv Luv 10lawrenwas headed by Tim Recher, Executive Chef at the Army Navy Country Club in Washington DC.  He’s also close to completing his Certified Master Chef designation, which came through in the dishes as you’ll see later.

Jigar started off the cocktail hour with the local feature – an extremely refreshing combination of Sutler’s Gin, cucumber, lime and thyme which slightly helped cool him off after being forced to walk over from our downtown digs.

I didn’t get a photo of my delectable Pina Colada because it was consumed too quickly.

9lawrenThe pre-first course was a deviled egg, meatball, and shrimp/veggie combo – an enjoyable mini potluck of sorts. We were lucky to sit at a very lively table with great conversation – really the perfect dinner party table. We laughed a lot, talked about podcasts and did our fair share of pretending we had degrees from Food Network.

7lawrenThe real first course was possibly my favorite – a Sweet Corn Vichyssoise – with huge chunks of lobster. It was a chilled soup so almost as refreshing as the Rose I chose to accompany it.

An impressive fish course was next and for Jigar it was followed by a singular knife shot board. Just watch the video and you’ll understand. I’m glad Jigar can cross that off his bucket list now.

I’m a pretty adventurous eater, and had my reservations about the next dish when I saw it on the menu. There are two foods I avoid  – olives and beets. Ugh…just gagged in my mouth as I typed them. I’m just going to post a before and after photo of course three. It was very pretty to look at and involved the more colorful of the two forbidden foods.

If you look close enough you will find one small difference, hint, it’s the size of a curried cashew.

Finally we were to the course I’d been eyeing all night – the Zabuton Wagyu Beef Steak – which according to Google is “so named because of the flap’s shape, similar to that of the flat Japanese sitting cushion.”


It was consumed about as quickly as my earlier pina colada. And note to Jay, you’ll see my notebook in the corner of the photo. I did take this assignment very seriously.

Lastly, dessert – soft chocolate and raspberries. Thought I’d time lapse video its consumption…don’t blink.

Luv Luv is always a lovely experience and this year was no exception. We such a fun table that no one wanted to leave and I really hope that we’ll be lucky enough to have a similar experience next year. Thanks for taking the night off Jay and letting us go in your place!



Final Night: Guest, Terrilyn Hutcheon, Chef Eric Martinez, and Chef Grady Spears

For the final night of Dr. Brownstone’s Sweet Summer Luv Luv Festival, food blogger TeriLyn Hutcheon joined me to enjoy one more evening of delicious food at Spring House. Hutcheon runs A Foodie Stays Fit, and she also has an awesome Winston-Salem Instagram page, @bestofwinston. The Chefs for the finale were Eric Martinez from Orlando, FL and Grady Spears from Fort Worth, TX.

Chef Grady Spears and Chef Eric Martinez

Hutcheon moved to Winston from Utah over eight years ago. She works at Wells Fargo and lives in Downtown Winston.We sat at a table that included Rebecca Byer from Olio, a glassblowing shop at West End Mill Works, Emily Alphin, and the Cernak’s from Out of Our Mind Animation Studios on Fourth Street.

TeriLyn Hutcheon

The food continued to be excellent, but after five nights of Luv Luv, I honestly feel that I know what it is like for a bear right before they go into hibernation. This has definitely been the most food I have ever eaten in one week.

The final night, we started out with several appetizers, including sausage corn dogs with grits. The music of the evening was a solo guitar player and singer, Josh, who played everything from Bob Marley to several Dave Matthews Band (seven) songs.

The first plate was a crab salad, which was “light and airy” and came with compressed watermelon with lavender. The second plate included heirloom potatoes, fresh corn, white beans, with cobia fish.

Hutcheon heard from a friend that the Winston-Salem showcase cocktail was terrific and ordered one. The drink included Sutler’s Gin, Jack Rudy Tonic, cucumber, thyme, and lime. I stuck with some Brooklyn Lager and I tried the house iced tea that was infused with mint.

The next plate had duck on top of crepes and finished with soy sauce and Korean chili sauce.The final plate was served family style and included beef tenderloin. For desert, we had ice cream cookies with maple-glazed ice cream, in between shortbread cookies with pineapple. The evening concluded with a birthday song for a guest.


The Luv Luv Festival is an event like no other in Winston-Salem that is here to stay. I suggest going next year if you haven’t been yet, but be prepared to eat a lot of great food!

Garner Foods: Created in Winston

There are a lot of local difference-makers in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and a lot of Famous Winston-Salemites that have moved out of our great city to do extraordinary things in other places. Along with great people hailing from Winston, there are also a lot of businesses developed here. In Created in Winston, I will focus on these businesses and what Winston means to them.


When Thad Wilson (T.W.) and the Garner Family started making barbecue sauce in 1929 in Winston-Salem, they probably never would have imagined their family recipes would be such a hit. Eighty-seven years later, the Garner family is hoping to make more of an imprint on Winston-Salem as they move their corporate offices from 4045 Indiana Avenue to the heart of Downtown Winston at 614 Fourth St. in the second floor of the Nash-Bolick Building.
A rendering of the Nash-Bolick building
T.W. Garner Food Company might be most known for Texas Pete Hot Sauce, but Chief Operating Officer Heyward Garner wants people to know that “the company is working to reinvigorate our name in the community of Winston-Salem.” Garner said, “it is time to step-up to 2016 and maintain a fresh image, while being a part of the phenomenal revitalization of Downtown.” Their current operations are on Indiana Avenue and were originally part of the family farmland. 
It just so happens that the Nash-Bolick Building was built the same year that the Garner family started their company in 1929.  The building originated as a car dealership for the Nash Automobile Company. That same year, Wilson started T.W. Garner and employed several of his siblings and his parents, who are the great-grandparents of Heyward. The business started out of the Dixie Pig Barbecue stand on Liberty Street, where the Smith-Reynolds airport is today.

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In the 1930’s, the company moved to the Lawrence Hospital, which is currently the Rescue Mission. During that time they bulldozed their farm and built their original factory space on Indiana Avenue, which the company moved back to in 1942 (they have added on three times in the last sixty-plus years).
Photo courtesy of
When the family first started with barbecue sauce, hot sauce was not part of their vocabulary. Customers were asking for a hotter sauce and the family developed a hotter style sauce, which they named Texas Pete to differentiate it from their barbecue sauce. In the early years, they also made syrups, jams, jellies, and even Garner’s Hair Tonic. “I never saw the hair tonic, but I don’t think it is a joke,” said Heyward. 
Through the last nine decades, T.W. Garner has always been a family-run business. After Wilson, Heyward’s dad, Reg Garner, took over the company in 1994. He had control of the business until he passed away in 2009, and his sister Ann Riddle took over as Chief Executive. She is currently the only third generation Garner still actively working, while her cousins Hal Garner and Frank Sherrill, still are on the board.
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Photo courtesy of
There are currently several fourth generation family members working in the company. Heyward’s brother-in-law (married to Dorothea), Matt McCollum, is the Chief Financial Officer,  and their cousin, Glenn Garner is also a part of the administration.
A major part of the new image of the company is the move downtown and focusing on the brand-name, Garner Foods. “If you talk about only Texas Pete then you are only talking about half of our business,” said Heyward. “We want to let the area know about Garner Foods. Today if you walk around here, nobody knows about us. I am on a personal crusade to get our name out there.” The company also purchased Green Mountain Gringo out of Vermont in 2004, which makes salsas and tortilla strips.
Three years ago, T.W. Garner started the Texas Pete Culinary Arts Festival on Trade Street, and they are thrilled with its growth and the upcoming September festival. The company is also involved with the local Habitat for Humanity, Arts Council, and Second Harvest Food Bank. Heyward said, “our community involvement is understated. We have a lot of great stuff going on.”
The family hopes to be moved into the Nash-Bolick building within a month or two. The building will feature offices for the finance, accounting and executive staff; a war room, a board room, an outdoor patio, and a demo kitchen. The demo kitchen is an addition to the old building and will be used to bring in customers to sample the Garner Food products, and will also be visible to all on Fourth Street with a glass front. “It will give outsiders a peak behind the curtain, Willy Wonka style,” said Heyward. 
The move has been four years in the making. They looked at over twenty properties, and really focused on three of them before making their final decision. “We were sitting on top of each other on Indiana Avenue, but we had been doing that for years,” said Heyward. “I personally love that we get sunlight in all places since there is a cut-out in the middle of the new building.”
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Sam Garner (photo courtesy of
Sixty-five employees in the operations department will remain in the Indiana Avenue facility and the company also employs fifteen sales staff that live and work in their territories. “This building is part of our effort to step up community relations. We want the community to be involved and know we have been here since 1929,” Garner reaffirmed. “This is also for our employees who all rock. We look forward to letting them walk to work and enjoy the Downtown restaurants.” 


Do you know somebody that goes out of their way in Winston-Salem to be extra nice and helpful? If so read my Winston Giveback: Unsung Heroes post to see how to nominate this person by September 15, 2016. Click here for nomination


Rolonda Watts: Famous Winston-Salemites

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.
Famous Winston-Salemite, Rolonda Watts, has many hats to fill as a novelist, motivational speaker, voice over artist, and radio and television talk show host. She grew up in Winston, where both of her parents worked in academics at Wake Forest (her mom) and Winston-Salem State (her dad).
Rolonda’s mom, Dr. Velma Gibson Watts, was an associate dean, and her dad was chairman of WSSU’s Fine Arts Department. She went to undergrad at Spelman in Atlanta and then to Columbia for a master’s degree in Journalism. She also holds an honorary doctorate from WSSU. After spending time as a reporter at WFMY in the Triad and WNBC in New York, she began her acting and correspondent career.
After working for Inside Edition, she had her own talk show, Rolonda, from 1994-1997. She then moved to California and began her acting career. She has done voice over for shows like The Penguins of Madagascar and Curious George. She spent time as the on-camera announcer for Judge Joe Brown and Divorce Court. She has also starred in several movies, including, Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Tough Love, and several television shows like The West Wing, 7th Heaven, JAG, and Day’s of Our Lives.
This past March, Rolonda released her first novel, Destiny Lingers. Dr. Maya Angelou said, “I fell for this story and the characters novelist Rolonda Watts introduced.” Rolonda currently lives in Los Angeles. Read her answers to questions about her favorite things about Winston-Salem below:
Winston-Salem Questions:
When all have you lived in Winston-Salem? When did your family come here?
My parents came to Winston-Salem as a young couple back in the 1950’s, each seeking teaching careers. in 1959, I was born in Katie B hospital, which was then, during segregation, the Black hospital. My parents bought our first house after I came along. It was a starter house in a new community on Caledonia Drive. Then we bought a larger home on East 5th Street, before moving to Woodberry Forest when I was 11. I left for Spelman College at 17 (1977) and have spent many years coming back for holidays at my Auntie Maya Angelou’s home.
Do you still have family in the area?
My mother, Dr. Velma Gibson Watts, is still in W-S.
How long was your dad at WSSU and your mom at Wake Forest?
My Father, Roland Smith Watts, a well-acclaimed wood cutter and graphic artist, served as Chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Winston Salem State University for about 34 years. He donated his artwork to the university’s archives, which today can be enjoyed on campus in the Diggs Library. My mother was at Wake Forest University for about as much time as an Associate Dean of the medical school. She has an endowment there in her name.
What different schools did you go to in Winston-Salem?
I attended Centenary Kindergarten, the first Black child there, thus helping integrate the W-S school system back in the early 60’s. From there, I attended Brunson Elementary, then Wiley Junior High, before moving to private school, Salem Academy, a college-preparatory school for girls, founded in 1772.
Who were some of your favorite teachers at each school?
My favorite teacher at Brunson was Miss Suite, my fifth grade teacher, who never spoke down to us and encouraged our curiosity and sometimes our very over the wall questions about the birds and the bees! At Salem Academy, Mrs. Jean Burroughs, who is still to this day like a mom to me. She inspired the performing artist in me and applauded my daring spirit. She recognized my drive and her belief in me was like gas to my engine. I feel so blessed to still have her in my life, still supporting me and cheering me on to this day.
Where all did you have jobs in Winston-Salem?
I worked in a pre-school toy supply factory. I was a camp counselor at Sherwood Forest Day Camp. I was a store clerk at The Limited at Hanes Mall. I was also a baby sitter. I had internships with the W-S Police Department and the W-S Journal.
What are your top three favorite local Winston-Salem restaurants of all-time?
I love The Village Tavern and have to go there every time I’m back in town, before or after my traditional shopping trip to Monkee’s! Sweet Potatoes and Bone Fish are two other favorites. (Does Krispy Kreme count as a restaurant? LOL)
Are you married?
No husband — No kids. I have a dog and a cat and have been waiting around for Mr. Right for so long — I have become the man I wanted to marry! LOL I’m currently performing a whole stand up comedy routine about it, performing my act at some of the most famous comedy clubs in Los Angeles – The World Famous Comedy Store, Flappers, and The Comedy Union. (I have a “Sexy Singles” show coming up on Valentine’s Day)
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, a Bojangles biscuit, or Krispy Kreme doughnuts?
HA! I love this question! Now, this is a really hard one for me! Hmmm. I’ll have to go with the Moravian sugar cake – it’s like nothing else and all that gooey goodness gloriously celebrates our Old Salem heritage. Reminds me of Easter Sundays and riding my bike up Reynolda Road to get a bag sugar cake from Dewey’s Bakery!
Do you have any siblings?
I have one younger brother, Brett, who lives in Florida.
What is your favorite North Carolina Beach?
Hands down – Topsail Beach — where my grandparents helped found Ocean City, the first Black beachfront resort area in NC. I grew up on Topsail, where I spent my summers, still vacation today, and where my new novel, Destiny Lingers, takes place.
Where is your favorite place in the mountains in North Carolina?
My favorite place in the mountains is Boone, where I learned to ski on Beech Mountain and hike. I also have some wonderful pieces of pottery from the area. I love the Native American spirit there and the arts and crafts. Apple-pickin’ in the Fall is fun too!
When did Destiny Lingers come out?
My first book, a contemporary romance novel called Destiny Lingers, came out in March and can be found at Barnes and Noble, as well as Amazon and Kindle. Endorsed by Dr. Maya Angelou, it is an interracial love story about an investigative news reporter in NYC who uncovers her husband’s affair and flees to Topsail Island to get her head together and while there meets the handsome police chief who she soon discovers was the boy she loved in childhood, but couldn’t be with because of segregation. Time moves on – but destiny lingers and the two star-crossed lovers have a second chance at first love. The laws that kept them apart could never separate their love.

Jill Wagner: Famous Winston-Salemites

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.

Jill Wagner was born in Winston-Salem in 1979 at Forsyth Hospital and lived here her entire childhood. After she graduated Cum Laude from North Carolina State (business major and marketing minor) in 2001, she made the decision to move to Los Angeles to pursue modeling, and instead a very successful acting career followed. She is known for her “All-American charm and magnetic sense of humor.”


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“Acting found me, I wasn’t looking for it,” said Wagner. “I had no previous training in college or high school and it wasn’t something I was familiar with. I went out to L.A. more to experience a different ‘world,’ so to speak.”

Wagner caught a break soon after she arrived in California and was hired on the MTV hit series, Punk’d with Ashton Kutcher. She has also been a regular on MTV’s Teen Wolf and Spike’s Blade: The Series. Wagner earned the nickname, “The Mercury Girl,” for her television ads for Ford Motor Company’s Mercury. She also starred in Junebug, which was filmed here in Winston, in Splinter, and appeared in episodes of Bones and Monk.


Wagner had a long stint as the host of ABC’s hit show, Wipeout. Currently, she is the host of Handcrafted America, which comes on Friday nights at 9:00. Wagner will star with Jason Momoa in the upcoming movie, Braven, and an upcoming Christmas Hallmark film, Christmas Cookies. 

Her modeling work includes graduating from the Barbizon Modeling school, where she was awarded as “Miss Barbizon.” She has been featured in magazines like FHM and Stuff, and she has been named as one of the 100 most attractive women several times by Maxim.

She grew up with her dad, David Wagner, her brother Brandon, and her grandmother. Her dad is a former Marine and owned Wagner Tire Company off of Waughtown Street. She went to Wallburg Elementary School and Ledford High School in Davidson County.

Along with her acting, Wagner also does a lot of charitable work for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. She loves to regularly visit home and was very recently engaged.

Learn about her favorite things about her hometown, Winston-Salem, below:

Winston-Salem Questions:

When you are away from NC, what do you miss the most?
I miss my family … I miss just being able to get in the car and see my Grandma in ten minutes. I miss walking around in my dad’s backyard, throwing the ball to his Newfoundland, Elvis. I miss all of the simple things.


What are your favorite local Winston-Salem restaurants?
Village Tavern, Olive Garden, and Cagney’s

If you were on a stranded island and could just have one breakfast for the rest of your life, which Winston-Salem treat would you choose: Moravian sugar cake, a Bojangles biscuit, or a Krispy Kreme doughnut?
Krispy Kreme forever!!!

Jill Wagner mug

If you were to move back to the area, where do you think you would want to live?
Funny you should ask, as I am currently looking to do just that. Not sure of the area yet, but I am into old historical houses. I’m on the hunt!

What is your favorite place to go in Winston?
My Grandma’s house.


What is your favorite North Carolina Beach? Place in the mountains?
Hilton Head and Boone.

Did you ever go to Ziggy’s?
I can’t remember who I saw there, but I got stuck in the middle of the mosh-pit and decided to never go back after that! Haha!

Where all did you have jobs in the area growing up?
My first job was as a sales associate at Abercrombie and Fitch.

Do you have any highlights so far this season on Handcrafted America?
My highlights so far for season two have been making a kayak and getting to take it out on the water, and meeting an Artisan that made her own yarn from sheep’s wool. Obviously, I love playing with the animals, throughout the day… Lots of great things happening this season…. I am trying not to break anything in my guest’s workshops this season!!!!



Caleb Caudle Performs “NPR Top 100” Song at a/perture

NPR released their “Favorite 100 Songs of 2016 (So Far)” this week and Winston-Salemite, Caleb Caudle, made the list with his hit song, “Uphill Battle.” (click here for link to NPR’s list) Caudle stopped by a/perture cinema to perform an acoustic version of the song in s/tudio 1 at a/perture and to talk about the song.

“It is an honor to be on a list as diverse as NPR’s,” said Caudle. “The coolest part is to see all of these various artists with different areas of success featured on the list.”

Caudle grew up just outside of Winston-Salem (read my blog interview with him about Winston here). “Uphill Battle” is the fifth track on Caudle’s third studio release, Carolina Ghost, which was released on February 26th. The record was recorded by Jon Ashley at Fidelitorium in Kernersville, and released by This is American Music.

Photo by John Thatcher

“It’s cool to be included in a list with Radiohead and Kanye West,” said Caudle about the NPR list. “It is always great to be on any list that praises your work, but it is better for it to be this diverse.”

Jewly Hight from NPR said, “There are times when Caleb Caudle gives his songs the scruffy, alt-country treatment, but he’s most affecting when he takes the softer, finessed approach on display in “Uphill Battle.” The North Carolinian delivers the wilting melody with beguiling subtlety, gently submerging himself in melancholy rumination on how his lover’s been burdened by his unsteadiness.”

Photo by John Thatcher

Caudle will perform again in Winston on August 6th at Summer on Liberty. Admission is free to the event on Liberty St. in Downtown Winston.

Thanks to a/perture cinema for the unique recording spot. If you need something to do this weekend check out these films now playing – Swiss Army Man, Genius, Weiner, A Touch of Zen and Deephan. Visit for more info.

If you enjoyed this blog or other blogs, please vote for me ( for best blog of Winston here: Click for Smitty’s Notes “Best of Winston”. Voting lasts until July 10th, and the blog vote is #9 on the first page.