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- [Announcer] "Tennessee Crossroads" is made possible in part by: - [Phil] I'm Tennessee Tech President, Phil Oldham. Here in Cookeville, Tennessee's college town, we are bold, fearless, confident, and kind. Tech prepares students for careers by making everyone's experience personal. We call that "Living Wings Up". Learn more at tntech.edu. - [Announcer] Averitt's Tennessee roots run deep. They've been delivering logistics solutions here for over 50 years. And though Averitt's reach now circles the globe, the volunteer state will always be home. More at Averitt.com. "Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways". Discover Tennessee's adventure, cuisine, history and more made-in-Tennessee experiences showcased among these 16 driving trails. More at TnTrailsAndByways.com. - This time on "Tennessee Crossroads" we discovered the story of Nearest Green and visited a distillery built in his honor. Then travel to Memphis to meet the fascinating lady behind Alcenia's Restaurant. We'll meet the man behind Natural Pretzel Company. And offer a flashback to a story about trimming hair with fire in Memphis. That's right, I'm Joel Elmore. Welcome again to "Tennessee Crossroads". In our first segment, Cindy Carter dons her detective hat to investigate the little known story of a great man. One whose talents helped make Jack Daniel's whiskey world famous. You see, Jack didn't know much about making whiskey until he met Uncle Nearest. - [Cindy] Much has been said, even sung, about Tennessee whiskey. Smooth and distinct. It is spirit, it is tradition, it is history. Dominated for the most part by one name and brand, Jack Daniels. But the story of Jack just doesn't exist without the story of a formerly enslaved man known as Nathan "Uncle Nearest" Green. - We now know Nearest to be the first known African American master distiller in the world. And we also know him to be the teacher and mentor of a young Jack Daniel. And we also know him to be the only known master distiller for Distillery Number Seven. And we also know him to be the first master distiller for Jack Daniel. - That's Fawn Weaver. She and her husband, Keith, own and operate the Nearest Green Distillery outside of Shelbyville, Tennessee. A place where the almost forgotten contributions of Nearest Green are highlighted in tours, tastings, and testimonies. - [Fawn] Nearest Green, just this story in the heart of Tennessee. And this story of love, of honor of respect between a black man, a formerly enslaved man, and a white orphan. The story is absolutely remarkable. - [Cindy] The orphan, as Fawn mentioned, was Jack Daniel. Who at age 14 went to work on a Lincoln County farm owned by a local preacher and whiskey maker. Young Jack was mentored by the farm's master distiller, a black man, friends and family called Uncle Nearest. In 2016, Fawn stumbled across a "New York Times" article that included an old photograph of Jack Daniel seated next to Nearest Green's son. It caught her attention, big time - [Fawn] And I became fascinated by understanding who is this man and why in 1904 was the center position seated to him instead of Jack being the center of attention. And so I looked at that and thought, "There's a pretty interesting story here that we don't know." And so I just went in a rabbit hole to to dig it out. - [Cindy] That rabbit hole led Fawn to Tennessee. And as she dug up Nearest Green's past, she realized this man who had such a lasting impact on Tennessee whiskey, deserved a place and a brand of his very own. Nearest Green Premium Whiskey. - [Fawn] We knew that if we were going to do it, we had to do it with excellence. And we had to do it to make sure that every generation moving forward would know the name Nearest Green. - [Tour Guide] You can sip it, shoot it however you like. - [Cindy] Those who visit Nearest Green Distillery sample and sip the brand's seven expressions made just the way Nearest Green did it. Using a technique of sugar maple charcoal mellowing known as the Lincoln County Process. - [Tour Guide] It's going to be a little bit sweeter, a little bit smoother than what you guys are already trying right now. - [Fawn] Depending on which bottle you're drinking, it's going to taste completely different. One may have dried fruits, may be what comes out forward. One might be maple, one might be toffee. One might be caramel. - [Cindy] The once forgotten name of Nearest Green is now the moniker of the fastest growing whiskey brand in the US. And the fastest growing African American brand of all time. - [Fawn] The whiskey's really, really good. We needed a property and grounds that were as amazing as the story, as amazing as our whiskey. - [Cindy] The distillery is built on 432 acres of what was once a Tennessee walking horse farm. The farm's show arena has been transformed into a beautiful welcome center and retail space, the origin point for both self-paced and guided tours. - [Tour Guide] And y'all, you can try every single flavor of a moon pie they ever decided to create. Now, that doesn't mean they should have, but you can try it if you want to. - [Cindy] The horse arena's original concession stand was also renovated and features Tennessee made products. - [Tour Guide] Now, I don't know how familiar you guys are with Tennessee and alcohol, but around here we truly love some prohibition. - [Cindy] There's a non-alcoholic speakeasy in honor of Fawn's teetotaler parents. A rickhouse, Barrel House BBQ, family tasting room, and much, much more. Nearest Green Distillery has its own bar called Humble Baron. And if you want to belly up to this bar, it shouldn't be a problem. With 202 seats and stretching 518 feet, it's the longest bar in the world. - [Fawn] People come here and they will be here for eight hours. Just going from place to place that's on our location. - [Cindy] But at the heart of this enterprise is a story of mutual friendship and respect. Nearest Green's descendants still work at Jack Daniels and his great, great granddaughter, Victoria Eady Butler, is the master blender for Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey. - [Fawn] You can't go to Jack Daniel and not hear about Nearest Green. And so both of our distilleries talk about the significance of each other. - [Cindy] A significant story, one that was lost for far too long. But today, the legacy of Nearest Green is finally celebrated and often honored in a way that you can't help but think he'd be pleased by. A toast to his name with that smooth Tennessee whiskey that bears his name. - Thanks Cindy. I spent my early TV years in Memphis living with memories of some great people, music and food. Well, we got a Memphis food destination in our next story, one with an interesting story behind it. You see these days when you talk about Memphis soul food, well, you're bound to hear the name Alcenia's. When you think of Memphis, you might think of the Mississippi River, the downtown entertainment district, or even soul food. Well, here at Alcenia's you can not only get that, but also a hefty serving of love and hugs. - [BJ] Hey, baby! - Hey, how you doing? - I tell people, you come in as a stranger but when you leave, you part of the Alcenia's family. And I feed the heart, the head, then the stomach. If I get your heart and head, yo baby, I got your stomach. Ain't no doubt about it, Boo. - [Joel] If there ever should be a queen of soul food, well BJ Chester-Tamayo might wear the crown. Her colorful, cheery restaurant north of downtown Memphis, is a haven for lovers of good old southern cooking. Add a helping of BJ's exuberance, and you've got a dining experience, you won't soon forget. - Hi! How you doing, baby? I hug every single person come in this store. But that was in my family. My mom, we always hug. We never hang up the phone without saying, "I love you". So that's just the way I was raised. - [Joel] BJ was raised on great country cooking, soul food, or whatever you want to call it. All thanks to her late mother, the restaurant's namesake, Alcenia. - [BJ] My mom was such a fantastic cook and how our home was always open. And people would always find a way to come around dinnertime, needing something. - [Joel] Opening a restaurant was far from BJ's mind until tragedy struck her life in 1996 - I lost my only child, Will A. Tamayo, III, we called him Go Go, in a motorcycle accident August 3rd when he was 22 years old, 1996. Talked to him one minute, the next minute he was gone. - [Joel] So after years of depression and searching for a way to fill the void in her life... - Somebody said, "Have you ever thought about opening a restaurant?" No. I didn't cook growing up. I had never been a waitress, done any of that. So I said, "Okay". So my mom, who is Alcenia, trained me. Alcenia Clark Chester trained me from being in Meridian, Mississippi on the phone and by coming to Memphis. That's how I learned how to cook. She didn't measure anything. So I would say, "Mom, you got to tell me." She said, "You know, I don't measure." So I just had to keep playing with it till I could get it. You know, like I would never be as good as her. But if I can get 75%, I'll be batting a hundred. Yeah. How you doing, Baby? - [Joel] Now, 25 years later, Alcenia's is not only a local Memphis favorite, well it's caught the attention of major food magazines. Along with network news and food shows. She's even produced a couple of cookbooks and streaming videos, changing her trademark wigs with every episode. - I need somebody to taste the greens and see if they season enough. - [Joel] But heart belongs in the restaurant where she consistently turns out people pleasing favorites. - [BJ] Mac and cheese, that's not one of my favorites but I cook it every day with sincerity because that is a southern tradition. Everybody loves mac and cheese. And so I cook that all the time. I did some greens for you. Some cabbage I'm doing today. Smothered pork chop, fried chicken, meat loaf. We do baked tilapia. And my vegetables, I don't put meat in them. So if you're a vegetarian, you still can eat my black-eyed peas, my pinto beans, my cabbage - [Joel] By the way, no matter what you order, it all comes with a serving of Alcenia's signature hot water cornbread. And the owner promises every dish will have the same consistent quality every time you get it - [BJ] You have to make sure it has the same taste. So I mean, I would throw away something... I'll come out here and tell my customer... Just like the other day, the grease wasn't right. I came out and told my customer, I got to redo this. I'm not getting ready to give you anything that's not right. You would never in your life see another restaurant like Alcenia's. - [Joel] To BJ Chester-Tamayo, Alcenia's represents more than another cool Memphis diner. More than a haven for honest to goodness soul food. It's a symbol of what loving family roots and a passion for food can rightfully realize. - You know what the best part is though, Joel? It's the people. When people come in, I say, "Have you ever had a soul food?" And most of them haven't. And then they'll say, "Well, I saw you on the UK." Because it came on a certain channel, a certain show came on in the UK. So when you have people from all over the world, I mean, it's amazing. It's amazing. - A great lady. Does the taste and smell of certain foods kind of take you back to your younger years? Or like a hot pretzel at the ballpark, for instance? Well, Miranda Cohen takes us to La Vergne in our next story to meet a man who's elevating that beloved treat to gourmet status. - [Miranda] Ever since Vincent Dreffs was young, he knew baking was exactly what he wanted to do. Armed with a mixer at age nine, and an incredible inspiration, his Aunt Dorothy. - My mother's sister, married into a, a very German family and she spent the time and learned from her mother-in-law the true art of pretzel making. And just passed it along down the line. Because she was gracious enough and patient enough to teach children the art. And they were always, always, always a favorite treat. We longed for the days that Aunt Dorothy was making pretzels and they were going to come our way. - [Miranda] Vincent perfected the meticulous process of creating pretzels years ago. But it was after a chance meeting with the founders of Nashville's famous Oktoberfest, the wheels and his mixer started to turn. - [Vincent] My love for pretzels and making them started as a child. The company actually started when a friend and then at an industry association meeting, I learned that he was the producer of Nashville's Oktoberfest, which happens to be the third largest in America. And I talked about pretzels and he said why am I sourcing pretzels if I have somebody that is a master and can make them? - [Miranda] After that first Oktoberfest, he knew he was onto something. - [Vincent] Had a line that was an hour long to order, and an hour long to get your order, and never looked back. - [Miranda] Today the only thing Dreffs looks back at is his cherished old family recipe. - [Vincent] We took her original handwritten recipe, which I still have a copy of. Sourced products that gave us the right texture and flavor and and allowed us to do them in mass. - [Miranda] In his test kitchen in Rutherford County, He will try out different toppings and shapes, but he never strays from the original recipe. And only the finest ingredients are mixed together. - [Vincent] We currently don't use any extended shelf life products. It's a clean ingredient list. - [Miranda] Long ago, Vincent mastered the unmistakable pretzel twist and makes it look easy. - [Vincent] My absolute favorite part is the roll and the twist. And that's why I don't think that'll ever come out of who we are. - [Miranda] He has the baking down to his science. The pretzels will then proof, allowing the yeast to rise. They are removed from the oven and given a quick bath. - [Vincent] What the lye does for the pretzels is it gives it its really deep mahogany color and that texture, kind of that biting texture, that you get out of it. - [Miranda] It's back into the oven, and then golden brown perfection. Each pretzel is then decorated with pure flavor. - [Vincent] We use a double tumbled pretzel salts out of the Hoosier Hills of Indiana. - [Miranda] Whether it's garlic Parmesan, maple brown sugar cinnamon, or even an everything seasoning. - [Vincent] We like a healthy covering of our toppings just because every bite matters. - [Miranda] And the Nashville Soft Pretzel Company is also putting a new twist on the iconic shape itself. They make seasonal designs like candy canes, hearts, X's and O's, and what's a football party without a soft pretzel? - [Vincent] What we don't alter is our recipe. So I can form it different ways. I can cut it, I can make it small, large, whatever it is that you want to do. But the recipe is always going to be the same. - You will know you have an authentic Nashville Soft Pretzel Company pretzel two ways. First, the taste is absolutely incredible. And second, because Vincent rolls every pretzel by hand, they will each have the two thumbprint seal of approval. - [Vincent] And we put two fingerprints of approval on every pretzel because that's how you seal it together. And if it doesn't look right on the counter, it's not going to look right anywhere else. - [Miranda] The Nashville Soft Pretzel Company also has a bratzel, which is pretzel dough wrapped around a bratwurst. A croissantzel, which is the delicious marriage between a croissant and a pretzel. And they are even experimenting with hamburger buns. All of this goodness is available for delivery, pickup, and order through their website. And Dreffs always feels the support and love of the woman who started it all, his Aunt Dorothy. - You know, I think she was always a very proud person and very promotional. And I think that's what she would be is, kind of my biggest cheerleader. You know, it's the traditional pretzel and that's really what we set out to do. A traditional German style, hand rolled pretzel. When you find the good ones, you know it's worth every calorie and every carbohydrate. We prefer our product to be eaten the day it's made. So if you want it today, we will make it today, and get it to you today, and hopefully you eat it today - [Miranda] And something tells us we don't think that will be a problem. - Our last story is a classic from 30 years ago. That's when I met a Memphis barber with a knack for giving his customers hot new hairstyles. Here's that look back at the one and only Warren Lewis. For most of his 40 years as a barber. Warren Lewis has worked here in this north Memphis neighborhood. We've come here to get a closeup visit with the King of the Fire Cut. - Now I'm from a family of 17, so I'm the only one that's in the barber field. Not only in the barber field, I'm the only one in business. It took a short while for me to develop this and I got it down pat now. - [Joel] And the people come from near and far to have Warren Lewis punch up his theme song on the jukebox, light a couple of candles, and enjoy a hair blazing experience called the Fire Cut. - I've seen him, but I've never had one. - [Joel] What do you think it's going to be like? - A little warm, probably - [Warren] All that on the end is going to fall off. - [Joel] Amazing? Yes. A hot new styling method? No. It's actually a technique that Warren's used for decades. While it's quite a sight to see he quickly addresses the burning issue of why do it. - It's actually a proven fact that it'll make hair your stay even longer. That's true. - [Joel] Got problems with split ends? A few gray hairs? Don't hate 'em, just burn 'em. - [Warren] Gray hair stands up more than any rest of them. And we're going to melt that. - [Joel] Now you can get plenty of $200 haircuts in LA, but you got to come to North Memphis for a genuine $10 Fire Cut. - [Warren] And none of the things that I'm doing is new. But nobody else has seen nobody else do it. Not on a large scale like I be doing it. - Now I've gotta ask you, have you ever had any accidents at all? - No, no major ones. Well, I had one fella catch on fire, I didn't burn him too bad. But I had one fella had some flames with stuff in the oil sheen. You know like stuff that Michael Jackson had in his hair. So what I did when I went to his hair, like you saw me do, the burnage just blazed up. So I just grabbed and smothered him out, you know? But I never did any major damage to anyone's hair. But regardless of what you have in your hair now, I can handle it Spray it. Then I'll spray myself. - [Joel] Warren not only runs a busy salon, he's also well known and respected for his community service work. The walls of this room are filled with symbols of his many contributions. - If you can help somebody, then your living won't be in vain. And those are facts. But see, I could be one that's receiving the help, because I know what it's like to not have anything at all and it makes a difference. - [Joel] Can't say Warren's got money to burn, but he does pretty well. And by the way, he does do more traditional cuts. But it's the Fire Cut that sparked national attention and made Warren one of the hottest attractions at hair shows. Warren would like to pass on his fire cutting technique to a younger generation of barbers, but so far no one seems to have the knack or the burning ambition to pick it up. - Nobody, I've... For the last 40 years I've been... Had barbers, many barbers with me, and no one been able to do it yet. I show them how to do it, But just like I say... It's even fascinating to me to be able to do this. - [Joel] So until he passes the torch, or candles in this case, Warren Lewis reigns as the King of the Fire Cuts. With jukebox blaring and candles glowing, he'll go down in history as Tennessee's hottest barber. - Next time I do one I'm going to put "Shaft" and "Great Balls of Fire". ♪ Come on baby you're driving me crazy ♪ ♪ Goodness gracious great balls of fire ♪ - Well, believe it or not, Warren is still burning up his barbershop in his nineties. Check out our website and see how you can get a smoking haircut. Of course, it's tennesseecrossroads.org. And while you're there, you can download that PBS app to see all your favorite shows anytime, anywhere. And of course, you've got to join us next week. We'll see you then. - [Announcer] "Tennessee Crossroads" is made possible in part by: - [Phil] I'm Tennessee Tech President, Phil Oldham. Here in Cookeville, Tennessee's college town, we are bold, fearless, confident and kind. Tech prepares students for careers by making everyone's experience personal. We call that "Living Wings Up". Learn more at tntech.edu. - [Announcer] Averitt's Tennessee roots run deep. They've been delivering logistics solutions here for over 50 years. And though Averitt's reach now circles the globe, the volunteer state will always be home. More at Averitt.com. "Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways". Discover Tennessee's adventure, cuisine, history and more made-in-Tennessee experiences showcased among these 16 driving trails. More at TNTrailsAndByways.com.
September 14, 2023
Season 37 | Episode 09
Cindy Carter learns the story of Nearest Green and visits the distillery built in his honor. Joe Elmore travels to Memphis to meet the fascinating lady behind Alcenia’s restaurant. Miranda Cohen meets the man behind Nashville Pretzel Company. And Joe Elmore presents a classic story about trimming hair with fire in Memphis.