Ribs and Okra

There are about 5,240 folks living in the town of Brewton. Although last week someone had twins. So now there are more.

This township has all the things you look for in the quintessential American hamlet. A Pic-N-Save supermarket. Barbecue joints. Muddy trucks parked outside the attorney’s office. The occasional stray dog hanging by the mill.

The train tracks run parallel with Highway 31, which means that diesel locomotives roll right through the downtown like they own the place. On Douglas Avenue storefronts still line the street like they did when Woodrow Wilson called the shots. There are flowers everywhere.

But Brewton’s masterstroke, if you ask me, is not its clapboard churches, or the begonias on the main drag. Neither is this town’s glory found in its rainbow row of antique and Greek Revivial homes on Belleville, nor its citywide devotion to jayvee sports.

The magnificence of Brewton lies over on Lee Street inside a nondescript brick restaurant.

The humble eatery sits between a vacant lot and a welding shop, almost invisible if you’re not looking for it. There is an American flag flying out front. A few potted plants.

This place is named Drexel & Honeybee’s Donations Only Restaurant, it is owned and operated by Lisa Thomas-McMillian and Freddie McMillian.

This afternoon I swung open the café’s front door and found myself immediately standing in a line of omnivores, waiting to place my order. When it was my turn I approached the buffet sneeze-guard and was confronted with the kind of food my mother cooked.

The woman behind the counter filled my plate with ribs, mac and cheese, cabbage, okra, and scalding hot hoe cakes. There was peach cobbler, and the tea was so sweet I had to pray away the type-two diabetes.

I asked how much all this home cooking was going to cost me. They said it was free.

“Donations only,” one volunteer said, pointing to an offering box up front. “Everybody eats, don’t matter who you are. We’ll feed you.”

As if on cue a disheveled bearded man at the donation box was placing quarters and nickels into the slot before leaving.

When I took my seat I was pleasantly engulfed in my plate of country fare. You don’t merely eat Southern food, you let it eat you. And if you do it right, you wear part of your meal.

The ribs were messy and fall-off-the-bone good. The okra probably came from someone’s backyard. The mac and cheese would have made an atheist stand up and sing Fanny Crosby hymns.

Miss Connie was seated beside me, sawing her porkchop with a plastic knife. “Yeah,” she explained, “NBC News is interviewing the owners tomorrow. This place is famous. All the major outlets have visited Drexell’s.”

I asked why.

She took a bite and said, “Because Lisa and Freddie are literally feeding the hungry. They feed all people, all colors, all incomes, all denominations, all ages, all affiliations. This place is a rarity.”

Someone else chimed in. “Customers pay whatever they can afford. Some people can’t pay anything. Others have donated several hundred dollars for a single plate.”

I’m going to spare you all the incredible stories that filter through this meek place. There are too many for one column. Besides, better writers than yours truly have already visited Drexell’s and penned far better tales.

But what previous journalists cannot tell you is what my eyes saw this afternoon. And what I saw transcended cookery.

As I ate lunch I saw three youngish kids at a table; I’m guessing two brothers and one sister. The family was wearing tattered clothes. The oldest behaved like father of the outfit. He was young, but he was burdened with responsibility. His shoes had holes in them and I could see his big toes. He was eating with both hands.

I saw a young mother with a child on her hip. She wore flip flops and had grime on her bare feet. Her kid wore a hospital bracelet. I watched this mother revisit the buffet twice because—I can only assume—she was hungry.

I saw an old man lower himself into a seat at the table across from me. He was wearing a mechanic’s uniform, varnished in grease and carbon. His food was piled higher than Mount Fuji.

I saw a girl who entered the restaurant. A teenager maybe. She had long stringy hair and was accompanied by an older woman. The girl was maybe sixteen, and pregnant. Her eyes looked sad, but today that child ate like royalty.

And lest I forget the young man who was seated behind us, so tall and lean he’d have to run around in the shower just to get wet. He was painted in grit and grime from either hard labor or hard living.

The young man removed his hat and said grace over his food silently. I could barely hear his mumbling words, but I heard what was behind these words. You don’t need ears for that.

His hands were folded. His eyes closed. His head bowed over his plate and I could not quit watching. For all I knew this would be the only hot food he would eat today. His prayer was not short, neither was it routine. When he finished his blessing, all he uttered was the word “Amen.”

Try as I may, I cannot think of a more meaningful word with which to end this column.

50 comments

  1. Steve McCaleb - June 10, 2021 7:47 am

    May God bless Miss Lisa and Freddie Mc. They are truly doing the Lord’s work. Every time I get about ready to give up on this old spinning orb, you hit me upside the head with a story of hope, of goodness, of the human kindness the MAN put us here to show one another. Keep on doing it please Sean. I need it…..we all do. Thank you my friend.

    Reply
  2. Joe Dorough - June 10, 2021 8:36 am

    I must visit this place! Thanks for sharing!❤️

    Reply
  3. Meredith Smith - June 10, 2021 9:11 am

    Sean ~ you have done it again. Your words have captured my heart.

    Reply
  4. Jo Ann - June 10, 2021 10:43 am

    Incredible actions are found in unlikely places. What a blessing are these people. Thank you for telling us, Sean. We need someone to remind us of the good around us, & that’s you.

    Reply
  5. Dean - June 10, 2021 10:45 am

    Such a great ministry they are doing. Thanks for letting us know there are still great people like that still around.

    Reply
  6. Leigh Amiot - June 10, 2021 10:47 am

    Amen

    Reply
  7. Bar - June 10, 2021 10:53 am

    AMEN!

    Reply
  8. Bill Dennis - June 10, 2021 11:19 am

    “The mac and cheese would have made an atheist stand up and sing Fanny Crosby hymns.” …that one made me snort my coffee through my nose. I don’t know how you do this every single day. But keep doing it!

    Reply
  9. Jeff Howard - June 10, 2021 11:20 am

    God is still at work, we just have to look for Him. Thanks for this one, well done.

    Reply
  10. Denise Walker - June 10, 2021 11:30 am

    Thank you for reminding us that there are still good people “out there” doing God’s work. I would like to donate a little something. Do you have an address?

    Reply
    • joan moore - June 10, 2021 11:46 am

      I went to the Facebook page and clicked on the Learn more box by the post of Sean and Jamie’s visit, if you want to use PayPal.

      Reply
    • joan moore - June 10, 2021 1:55 pm

      Drexel and Honeybee’s
      109 Lee St.
      Brewton,Al 36426

      Reply
  11. Kate - June 10, 2021 11:54 am

    The other day someone said something catty, like “there is just no good in the world anymore”. I looked at them and told them to read Sean Dietrich and to change their perspective. Thank you Sean for seeing the good and constantly remaining us of it. We are told way too often there is no good anymore, but that is simply not true. It just seems to be the narrative of the media these days and people need to stop buying into it.

    Reply
  12. Kris - June 10, 2021 11:58 am

    Nearly every day, you bring a tear to my eyes. What a wonderful story of how to treat your neighbors.

    Reply
  13. Vanessa - June 10, 2021 12:05 pm

    Once again, you have brought tears to my eyes. Your descriptions are beautiful and your writing is nothing less than poetic. I am thankful for you — each day!

    Reply
  14. Karen Holderman - June 10, 2021 12:10 pm

    Sean, you touch my heart everyday. Thank you.

    Reply
  15. Cathy M - June 10, 2021 12:35 pm

    I saw Miss Lisa interviewed several months ago on Absolutely Alabama. It is obvious that she and her husband are called to be servants in this wonderful ministry. She became emotional during the interview and said they could never stop trying. They are hero’s , right here in our wonderful state. God had his hands all over that little place in Dothan. Thank you Sean

    Reply
  16. Bobbie - June 10, 2021 12:45 pm

    What a lesson in your writing today !! This is what Christianity is! It should be headline news on every tv station, the focus on every podcast !
    God bless them and God bless you Sean for sharing this much needed good news!!

    Reply
  17. Robyn Coffey - June 10, 2021 12:45 pm

    Keep on writing Sean. We need more stories like you write. And folks who sing Fanny Crosby hymns!!

    Reply
  18. Jan - June 10, 2021 12:54 pm

    Amen and amen!

    Reply
  19. Mike - June 10, 2021 12:58 pm

    Sean, I used to live in Jay FL I would have to go to Brewton for feed or food I always stopped by Drexel’s and honeybees for lunch always greeted a warm smile and delicious food I always paid more than I should have these folks are truly doing great work and blessed, but like you I was blessed to look around and see everyone enjoy a wonderful delicious meal, thanks for sharing this is truly a blessed place. Everyone else make the treck it’s well worth it.

    Reply
  20. Debbie g - June 10, 2021 1:11 pm

    Amen

    Reply
  21. Christina - June 10, 2021 1:14 pm

    Isn’t this what heaven looks like? Everyone welcomed at the table

    Reply
  22. Suellen - June 10, 2021 1:35 pm

    Many other writers may have visited the place and written about it but I doubt that they took the time to really see the people who are eating there. Maybe that’s why we love your writing so much. You see ordinary people and show how they are beautiful too even if they don’t live in mansions or have recording contracts. Humble people doing the best they can with what they’ve been given is much more uplifting.

    Reply
  23. Susan Wold - June 10, 2021 1:35 pm

    There are such great people in this country of ours. Not glitz and glamor people or “Look at me” people, just every-day good people.

    Reply
  24. Leesa - June 10, 2021 1:43 pm

    I have known of another restaurant like this in the past but I hope there are many others. Thank you for the reminder of the true goodness of folks in this world. We need these reminders, Sean.

    Reply
  25. Cheryl - June 10, 2021 1:53 pm

    Dang it, Sean! You make me cry when I least expect it. Your story about the donations only restaurant brought tears to my eyes. Such a beautiful story! Thanks.

    Reply
  26. Betty Green - June 10, 2021 1:56 pm

    These people are definitely doing God’s work.

    Reply
  27. joan moore - June 10, 2021 1:57 pm

    Steinbeck of the South…

    Reply
  28. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - June 10, 2021 2:04 pm

    What a wonderful ministry this restaurant provides.

    Reply
  29. Cele - June 10, 2021 2:11 pm

    God bless the owners, cooks, servers, dishwashers, and the folks who eat at Drexel and Honeybee’s. Amen!

    Reply
  30. Bob - June 10, 2021 2:29 pm

    Amen! I’ve driven by but never tried. Sure didn’t like the BBQ across the way. I’ll be stopping next time with some dollars for the box!

    Reply
  31. Lulu - June 10, 2021 3:01 pm

    “Love your neighbor as yourself” and those sweet people are a lesson in action. Such a glorious undertaking; everyone at the table…turning no one away…feeding all. God bless them…while blessing you for spreading the good word. God work all around wrapped in Peace & Joy!

    Reply
  32. Connie - June 10, 2021 3:29 pm

    Oh my heart. I now need to make a trip to Brewton and buy lunch so they can feed more people. What a true example of God’s grace in action. God bless the owners and everyone associated with this place.

    Reply
  33. Sonya Tuttle - June 10, 2021 3:29 pm

    It is wonderful to know good things continue on this planet. Watching tv is like going to hell.

    Reply
  34. Sue Dorfman - June 10, 2021 3:49 pm

    My dear friend Diane is from this lovely town and
    she shared this with me. What a beautifully written
    article about two angels on earth. Thank you for
    reminding us, they are many more good people
    out there then we think.
    Sue

    Reply
  35. Delores Driver Argo Nichols - June 10, 2021 3:59 pm

    Thank you for sharing. These restaurant owners have a servant’s heart. Hod bless them and you for sharing.

    Reply
  36. Linda Moon - June 10, 2021 4:32 pm

    Twins. I know and love lots of them from a complex gene pool in a large family. You made me want to take a roadtrip to Brewton and eat at Drexel & Honeybee’s……but most of all, to help feed the hungry while there. Amen.

    Reply
  37. Chasity Davis Ritter - June 10, 2021 4:58 pm

    Standing in line at a subway while reading this…. we always play the game of I ever win the lottery I’m going to…… I got something new to add to my list now…. if I ever win I’m gonna visit this place and I can’t wait to “pay for a plate” when it happens. God bless the hands that prepares that food for the nourishment of needy bodies and may this blog nourish as many souls as possible as well. Amen.

    Reply
  38. Susan Corbin - June 10, 2021 5:11 pm

    Amen.

    Reply
  39. Suzanne Moore - June 10, 2021 5:15 pm

    Wonderful!

    Reply
  40. Bob E - June 10, 2021 5:56 pm

    What a great meaningful restaurant concept.
    God bless the owners, managers, employees, the generous patrons and especially the needy visitors.

    Reply
  41. Lana Grimes. - June 10, 2021 6:35 pm

    There are wonderful people in this world this 2 of them. They see a need and are doing their Christian beliefs around Thank u from Thornton of my heart

    Reply
  42. Gary Steven Paquin - June 10, 2021 7:53 pm

    Damnit Sean. You made me tear up again. Macho-teary eye is a hard look to sell.

    Reply
  43. Jo - June 10, 2021 9:22 pm

    “Isn’t this what Heaven is like? All are welcomed at the table” Amen

    Reply
  44. Susan - June 10, 2021 10:44 pm

    Really touched my heart… Would love to send the money to help those in need❣️

    Reply
  45. Ann - June 11, 2021 1:42 am

    I believe in Earth Angels… Amen!

    Reply
  46. Alease - June 11, 2021 12:30 pm

    God bless Lisa and Freddie McMillan. Whay a great example to us all

    Reply
  47. johnallenberry - June 11, 2021 5:24 pm

    “I was hungry, and yet fed me.” This is more than just a bit of scripture, a metaphor, a bit of verse… and these folks sure know it. God bless these fine folks, and God bless you, Sean.

    PhDude

    Reply
  48. johnallenberry - June 11, 2021 5:25 pm

    Forgive me, I think some of the onions from the buffet have gotten in my eyes.

    Reply

Leave a Comment