Take one unemployed chemist with Celiac disease, add a dash of entrepreneur and sprinkle with ingenuity and you get Alabama’s, first ever, full-service, dedicated gluten free restaurant: Mason Dixon Bakery & Bistro.
Brainchild of Dr. Ashley Ramirez and her husband Taylor Ramirez, Mason Dixon got its humble start as a small farmers market bakery business in April of 2013. And the people ate it up, literally.
“We were extremely surprised with just the amount of people that really showed up,” said Taylor Ramirez. “We were selling out. Then, eventually we had the huge request that we open a storefront.”
Which they did in the last weekend of August 2013. But the public still wanted more.
“Within months we had a lot of requests for actually opening up a restaurant.”
Fueled with the outpouring of public support, the couple began their search for the perfect space to call home.
After a thorough search of the area with Crunkleton & Associates, they eventually fell in love with an old former residential home built in the 1930s at 2358 Whitesburg Dr. South, in the medical district.
“All this time we’ve really been looking for that perfect spot. And we’ve always had our eye on this location,” said Taylor. “It was exactly what we were looking for.”
The building has experienced a wide range of past lives, from residential home to most recently functioning as an office building. Not that you could tell anymore. Taylor and Ashley, determined to create the perfect space for their new venue, have completely renovated the building, all while making sure to embrace its historic character and personality.
A reclaimed original door from the building hangs on the wall as artwork, and old windows they discovered inside the interior walls during renovations hang decoratively on display throughout the building. The large wood dining table in their family room, made by SCS Worx, was even created out of reclaimed flowerbeds from the property.
But creating the perfect space for their new bistro wasn’t the only thing this couple is passionate about. As much as they care about the atmosphere of their establishment, their real passion lies within every ingredient of the food they are serving.
“We are firm believers in holistic food, using natural ingredients,” said Taylor. “We try to control everything we possibly can, we make our own flours, all of our recipes are made in house, we cure our own meat, […] we try to stay self contained and do everything we possibly can here.” The couple even plans to grow their own produce and spices on site in the summer in their outdoor event space.
“I think the market is definitely ready for something new, something holistic like we do,” said Taylor.
But things weren’t always so clear back when Taylor and Ashley first opened their doors for business in the spring of 2013.
“It was absolutely terrifying. We had a lot of people telling us that what we were doing was stupid, that it makes no sense. But we believed in what we were doing, and we believed in the community as a whole and we believed that if we provided a quality product, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if it’s gluten free, it doesn’t matter if people see it as healthy per se, people are going to go where you are welcome.”
Since then, they have come a long way in proving the value of what they provide for the community. But the transition from bakery to full-service bistro hasn’t been without its challenges.
“It’s frustrating because as a bakery, we were able to identify all our ingredients. We made all our own flour mixes, we didn’t have to worry about that because we got that directly from millers. Now that we’re having to work with distributors or third-party vendors it becomes so much more difficult,” commented Taylor. “We’ve had to really refocus and make sure that our staff is focusing on the ingredients, down to every single item. That’s one of the things that differentiates us from a lot of different restaurants.”
For Taylor and Ashley, they have modeled their restaurant after what they are calling “The Mom Approach.” “A mother only wants to give her children as quality stuff as she possibly can, and that’s how we feel with this restaurant,” stated Taylor.
But this bistro isn’t the end of the line for Mason Dixon. They have some big plans for the future as well.
“Our idea is that this is always going to be our home base, Huntsville and this location.”
“Eventually we plan on continuing to grow our bakery side. We want to expand by the end of 2015 to have a new bakery in Madison and we want to grow to other markets every year. We want to hit Birmingham, Nashville and continue to grow our regional presence.”
“We also have plans to expand our wholesale market, we’re currently wholesaling to five or six different juice bars and want to continue to expand that, and want to get into more grocery stores with our bread line and wholesale our cupcakes.”
“We want to continue this location here to be more than just a dining facility, we want it to be somewhere you can go and relax and dine without having to worry about what’s in your food.”
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