Meet the couple feeding Alabama with their pay-what-you-can restaurant

Ama Nunoo Sep 7, 2020 at 03:00pm

September 07, 2020 at 03:00 pm | Success Story

Ama Nunoo

Ama Nunoo | Staff Writer

September 07, 2020 at 03:00 pm | Success Story

Photo: SparkT.com

There are still some selfless people in the world whose only desire is to help others in need. There is a growing movement in the United States and an Alabama couple joined the wagon about two years ago. There are about 60 pay-what-you-can donation restaurants in the United States and Freddie and Lisa Thomas-McMillan opened theirs in Brewton, Alabama in 2018. Their mission is simple, “We Feed The Need.”

“When my husband and I opened, we agreed to put a portion of our retirement back into the running of the restaurant. ‘Feed the Need’ is our mission statement,” Lisa said.

“Whatever needs people have if we can help them…we will,” Lisa told Good News Network. The couple said what’s important is knowing customers leave “with a full stomach, a full heart, and the understanding that you are loved and worthy of love,” Good News Network reported

Their restaurant, Drexell & Honeybees, has been the long tie dream of Lisa who got the chance to share sandwiches with a girl at lunch when she was in second grade. According to Lisa, the little girl had better sandwiches than her but always traded them for her peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

That lesson is the driving force behind who Lisa is. Since 1994, when the idea of Drexell & Honeybees had not even been conceived, Lisa cooked meals at home and fed people in need in her community delivering the food to them in her old van. She went as far as delivering food to the people out in the country. She had a vision of living in a world where no one goes to bed hungry.

The Brewton native embarked on two solo walks; the first was in 2004 and the second in 2005 to raise awareness for hunger. She walked from Brewton to Montgomery, then from Brewton to Washington, D.C. Lisa was “seeking solutions to the nationwide problem of people not having enough money to adequately feed themselves.”

When she did not get the results she sought, Lisa decided to do what she could by starting a food bank in her community and made her home a place for the needy.

Lisa married Fred in 2012 and the couple have dedicated themselves to their community. They have fed local college students who were not from town and needed food to eat or were living on limited resources.  

They realized they could do more and so they purchased a brick and mortar for their “feeding drive” and Drexell & Honeybees Donations Only Restaurant was opened in 2018.

“When Lisa and Freddie first approached the city with the plan to open a ‘pay-what-you-can’ restaurant, I didn’t really understand how that could possibly work,” said Brewton Mayor Yank Lovelace.

“But the city rallied behind the project, and we gave her a grant to help get the store opened. It was probably one of the best investments we have made into our city’s people and into business here too. She is a miracle worker, and her love of people feeds the need for food but also the need every person has to belong to a caring community.”

There are no menus, prices, and no cash register because it was not set up as a profit-making venture. They rely solely on donations to keep the place running. There is a screen at the corner of the joint that people can drop money to support the venture or leave a thank you note for the food they just had.

“They’re worth a million dollars to me,” said Lisa, who is well known in her hometown for her compassion.

There is a rotating menu of delicious Southern dishes and “everyone who walks in the door goes through the line and selects an entrée – depending on the day, it might be barbecued ribs, chicken pot pie, beef stew or any number of other Southern specialties – plus side dishes, bread, tea and dessert.” 

The meals are prepped, cooked, and served by Lisa and Freddie. They also clean up themselves and they get volunteers from their community dropping by to help them when they can. Local farmers also donate produce and there are two farmers who grow vegetables and fruits just for Drexell & Honeybees.

The coronavirus hit restaurants very hard and Lisa and Freddie felt the impact as well because donations were low. The couple did not succumb to the circumstances and did what they could to help the people that depend on them.

“The end of June, we figured out a way to do to-go orders and keep everyone safe…It is working out very well, and we feel so proud to be able to do what we do, with COVID-19 affecting so many people,” Lisa said. “As you can imagine, donations are down, but we will continue to try and be of service to all the people that come to our door.”

Ultimately, the Thomas-McMillans just want to spread the love while feeding the needy because they believe everyone must make an impact in the world. “The best thing you can do in the world is make a difference,” Lisa told AL.com

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