On the latest edition of the DeKalb Business Today “Power Lunch”, host Matt Holmes takes a look at the county’s food and drink industry with a couple local chefs. Austin Phillips runs the kitchen at Shorty’s Wood Fire in Tucker, mixing music with pizza to make delicious results. Daniel Peach gives customers a taste of India at Chai Pani in Decatur. Also joining the show, Decatur BBQ, Blues & Bluegrass Festival director Michael Vajda to talk about the annual event that’s ready to rock the Oakhurst neighborhood.
Michael Vajda/Decatur BBQ, Blues & Bluegrass Festival Director
The Decatur Barbeque, Blues & Bluegrass Festival was founded by the Decatur Preservation Alliance (DPA) in 2000. The Alliance had managed to save the old Decatur train depot, located at Candler and Howard Streets, from demolition but needed funds to move the building off of the railroad right-of-way and secure the structure. With permission and support from the City, they closed off Howard Avenue east of Candler, brought in a flatbed trailer to serve as a stage, rounded up some bands, and threw a party.
The 2000 festival was a success and DPA made it an annual event. Along the way, they invited other organizations to participate including the Decatur Active Living , the Community Center of South Decatur and the Oakhurst Neighborhood Association (ONA). By 2005, the Depot sat on new footings with a new roof, and DPA bowed out of the festival.
In 2006 at the City’s behest, the festival relocated to Harmony Park in Oakhurst. Led by the Community Center of South Decatur, organizers set new goals and presented the most successful event yet. Close to 5,000 people came through the gate, and the festival netted more than $35,000. Each of the three presenters—the Community Center, the Decatur Recreation Department, and the ONA—channeled their share of the profits directly back into the community through various initiatives.
In 2007, despite record heat, Harmony Park again overflowed with music and barbeque lovers. The same three organizations presented the festival, and each donated a portion of their share of the profits to the newly formed Barbeque, Blues & Bluegrass Festival Small Grant Program. A total of 40% of the event proceeds went directly into the community.
In 2008, even with a slowing economy, the festival had its best crowd ever. The crowd was treated to the best musical lineup yet, and inlcuded 2 hours of incredible Blues from Beverly “Guitar” Watkins and Albert White. The Decatur Barbecue, Blues & Bluegrass Festival Small Grant Program handed out $7,000.00 to several Decatur Organizations.
In 2010 and 2011 we had a record crowd of over 6,000 people, brought in three BBQ vendors to serve the needs of our guests, and were fortunate enough to have great beer provided by Fat Tire for the first time ever! The BBQ Small Grant Program continued to hand out a large portion of money to local Decatur Organizations.
In 2012 we had a record crowd of over 6,500 people, amazing music including headliner, The Electromatics, BBQ brought to you by Black Tie and Fox Bros., and were fortunate enough to have great beer provided again by New Belgium and Eagle Rock! The BBQ Small Grant Program continues to hand out a large portion of money to local Decatur Organizations. This years grantees are Decatur Preservation Alliance’s MLK Service Project, Wylde Center’s Garden to Classrooms Field Experience, City of Decatur Decatur’s Season of Giving, Oakhurst Cooperative Preschool’s Shade Slope Project, Decatur Education Foundation’s K-5 Math Education, and 4/5 Academy PTA’s Tybee Island Field Study. Thank you to all who came out and helped support our grant program by simply attending the festival.
In 2014 the festival made a major event area change by expanding to the adjacent 630 East Lake lot. This more cohesive location allowed more space for attendees, a larger stage, and an overall more efficient event footprint. In addition we changed the event hours (12pm – 8pm) to better reflect a typical festival day. With the continued support of some fantastic sponsors, BBQ vendors, and 7 + hours of the best Blues and Bluegrass music around the festivals future is bright. Mark your calendar for August 15th and make sure you bring the family to this Decatur tradition.
Austin Phillips/Shorty’s Wood Fire Chef
Shorty’s is an institution in Tucker, and rightly so. Everything is made the way a grandmother would do it; fresh bread every morning, fresh pizza dough every day and amazing homemade pizza sauce. Although it doesn’t end with pizza! Amazing local craft beer paired with live music and homemade roasted sandwiches all come together to make Shorty’s something special.
Daniel Peach/Chai Pani Chef
Chai Pani is the brainchild of husband and wife, Meherwan and Molly Irani. Meherwan is the executive chef, chief chaiwalla and visionary behind the concept and menu. Molly directs the front of the house, her calm welcoming demeanor sets the tone of the serving staff. Her many years traveling in India and being a part of an Indian family influence the Chai Pani aesthetic and environment.
Meherwan grew up in Ahmednagar, India (near Pune) and learned to cook at his mother’s side. He came to the US in 1990 to earn his MBA and for 15 years had a successful career in sales and marketing in the San Francisco Bay Area. While being exposed to some of the best restaurants on the West Coast he fell in love with the culinary arts and started to develop his cooking skills at every opportunity.
In 2014 Meherwan scored a James Beard Foundation Nomination for Best Chef Southeast.
Molly grew up in the restaurant business. Her parents owned an award-winning restaurant and her mom is an accomplished pastry chef and restaurateur, currently co-owner of renowned fine dining restaurant, The Blackbird in downtown Asheville. From as far back as she can remember, Molly has been in and around food, kitchens, cooking and restaurants. She brings a deep and intuitive understanding of service, hospitality and customer care to the culture of Chai Pani.