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The Johnston County Visitors Bureau BLOG is published weekly with news and feature articles on visiting the county.

Johnston County Celebrates National Travel and Tourism Week

Johnston County Celebrates National Travel and Tourism Week

Starting on Monday, and throughout next week, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau (JCVB) will be participating in several events as part of the 33rd Annual National Travel and Tourism Week (May 1-7), which unites communities each year to celebrate what travel means to American jobs, economic growth, and personal well-being.  You will see posts on the JCVB social media about what the travel industry means to America, to North Carolina, to Johnston County, and even to you (yes, you).

According to the US Travel Association, "National Travel and Tourism Week—America's annual salute to travel and tourism—was established by a congressional resolution in 1983. This week of events serves to champion the power of our industry. Travel and tourism professionals from across the nation work throughout the week to promote the impactful contributions their travel markets and organizations make to the US economy."

Celebrating Travel by Encouraging Travel

Each year the JCVB sales teams travels to the NC Welcome Centers at I-95 North and South to interact with visitors showcasing local Johnston County products, hotels, dining and attractions. Talking with visitors as they try locally grown strawberries from Smith's Nursery and Strawberry Farm, or learning about the opening of GALOT Motorsports Park near Benson, the JCVB sales team and industry partners will see more than 700 travelers at the welcome centers on May 5 and 6. Always a treat for visitors is meeting Ray Wheeler from Atkinson's Mill and finding out what a "hush puppy" is, and children love the reptiles brought by Clemmons Educational State Forest in Clayton.  It's a fun day for everyone attending as we showcase all our destinations have to offer.

What Does Travel Mean for Johnston County

Across Johnston County, travel employs a prosperous and diverse workforce, from hotel employees, to restaurant, attraction and retail workers, and supports related sectors such as construction, manufacturing and finance.  “Just look at the numbers. Travel supports one in nine American jobs, including more than 1,700 jobs right here in Johnston County,” said Donna Bailey-Taylor, President/CEO, Johnston County Visitors Bureau. “This week, we are celebrating what travel means to our community, and we call on everyone—from elected officials to local residents—to join us in saluting this important industry.”

Here are some of the 2014 tourism impact numbers from the Economic Development Partnership of NC (also known as VisitNC):

•    The travel and tourism industry directly employs more than 1,700 people in Johnston County
•    Total payroll generated by the tourism industry in Johnston County was $32.24 million
•    State tax revenue generated in Johnston County totaled $11.63 million through state sales and excise taxes, and taxes on personal and corporate income. Approximately $5.33 million in local taxes were generated from sales and property tax revenue from travel-generated and travel-supported businesses

What Does Travel Mean for You

"If not for the $16.96 million in state and local taxes paid by tourists visiting Johnston County, each of the 60,700 county households would pay $282 more in taxes to replace the taxes generated by tourism spending," remarked Bailey-Taylor.  "Tourism has a direct impact for all citizens of Johnston County, thanks to the many visitors traveling through the county along interstates 95, 40 and 70 choosing our destinations for accommodations, shopping, dining, meetings, recreation, and visiting area attractions. Johnston County is primarily a leisure destination and our mission at the Visitor Bureau is not only to serve visitors as they travel on to final destinations, but to create and market hotel packages, festivals, trails and special itineraries to encourage weekend leisure trips and for travelers to select our destination over our competitors."  

So how does this all work you might ask. In most cities and counties the tourism authority is granted an operating budget out of the occupancy tax taken when visitors to the area stay at local hotels. In this way, the tourism authority funds itself; not by taking any money from the citizens of the municipality in which it resides but by taking a percentage of the money that it works to bring into the county. The purpose of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau is to advertise outside the county to attract visitors into the county who will pay an occupancy tax that goes to further fund more advertising to bring more visitors into the county - and so on, like a snowball. But those visitors also pay a sales tax when they visit - to purchase things like food, gas, and souvenirs - which helps local government provide services.

In return, when a Johnston County resident travels to another county, state, or country as a tourist, they pay taxes there that fund continued tourism and prosperity in that destination. Travel then, becomes a cyclical act that we all participate in and gain from. Watch the video below, created by the US Travel Association in celebration of this year's National Travel and Tourism Week.

To learn more about National Travel and Tourism Week 2016 visit the US Travel Association site, or please visit our event page online at: www.johnstoncountync.org/NTW.

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S is for Spring and Strawberries

S is for Spring and Strawberries

I enjoy a good strawberry - perfectly ripe, red and sweet, but not too mushy. It's like biting into the sweet moment between Spring and Summer. All that aside, I don't think about strawberries much. And unless it's April in Johnston County, I don't write about them either. However, in the year that I have been writing and working for the Johnston County Visitors Bureau I have been astounded by the number of people who LOVE strawberries.

No other post on this blog or on the JCVB Facebook page amasses likes, loves, shares, and general interest like the one time of year I post about strawberries. What is it about this fruit? Is it their flexibility in cooking - good in anything from BBQ sauce to cupcake icing? Is it the idyllic picture they present of warm days during childhood spent in a berry patch? Could it be that the strawberry is the favorite fruit of most people, a hypothesis yet untested by science? I may never know. But, what I do know is that these delicious red berries are in season and it's time to celebrate.
Strawberries and Cream Scones
Lucky for you strawberry lovers, The Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce has been busy planning The Annual Strawberry Festival. The festival takes place Saturday, April 23rd from 9am – 4pm and is one of the biggest events in the Cleveland Township. This year's event will be even bigger. There will be an assortment of vendors, businesses, arts & crafts, face painting, games for all ages, and a ton of food including stuffed strawberries. Yum!

There is no admission charge to this event thanks to wonderful, local sponsors. So, if you're passing through make sure to stop in for red, ripe strawberries and fun! This event takes place right off of I-40 at exit 312. And let's not forget that the festival includes local farms selling strawberries - you can buy some to make the recipes provided below. Let us know how your strawberry and cream scones turn out, or share pictures of your other strawberry creations over at our Facebook page.

Strawberry Sangria

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Stout Brownies

Strawberries and Cream Scones

Strawberry Banana Popsicles

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Food Takes Center Stage at Ham & Yam Festival

Food Takes Center Stage at Ham & Yam Festival

Join Us for the 32nd Ham & Yam Festival

It's time for the Smithfield Ham & Yam Festival in Downtown Smithfield, scheduled for May 7th with a wealth of activities for the entire family. The Ham & Yam Festival is a celebration of the agricultural history of Johnston County. The area was once a rural farmland where hog farmers and sweet potato growers made a living. Because of this, the focus of the festival remains food. Attendees can find many varieties of hams and yams at the festival – barbecue from the cook-off, country ham biscuits, hot dogs, sweet potato fries, and yam desserts. For the complete schedule of events and all things Ham & Yam visit the official website

We've managed to snag a recipe for you to try at home, but you can also get one while at the festival in May. The sweet potato mixes very well with sweet and savory flavors. Sweet potatoes are also nutritious. The smoothie will therefore be both good and good for you!

Yam SmoothieYam Smoothie

Courtesy of A Culinary Flair

3/4 cup baked sweet potato (flesh only)
1 ripe banana
1/4 cup fresh strawberries
1 tablespoon Sugar in the Raw
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of ground ginger powder
4 to 5 cubes of ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend on high to a smooth creamy consistency.
Adjust taste by adding sugar, cinnamon and ginger.
You can substitute frozen strawberries instead of fresh.
Pour into a 10-12 ounce glass and enjoy a healthy drink.

Ham & Yam is also about family fun and entertainment. There are craft vendors, as well as games and rides. Three stages include performances throughout the day. James Wesley will headline this year. The concert is free and is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 7. With his whiskey-smooth voice, Wesley sings directly to real people about real things that profoundly affect real lives—and from his small-town upbringing to his blue-collar work ethic, he has a deep understanding of what those folks are longing to hear. 

One of the top rising stars in country music, Wesley found a new level of exposure as the opening act for Taylor Swift’s Speak Now Tour, and has released several singles. In 2015, Wesley partnered with Calcutta to produce the single and music video “Hooked Up,” a song inspired by anglers who chase blue marlin at the legendary Big Rock off the coast of Morehead City. You can see that video below.

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Bringing Our Beer to You

Bringing Our Beer to You

Beer Here. Beer There. Beer Everywhere.

A few very wonderful circumstances come about to make NC Beer Month so amazing that it should bring a hop-filled tear to your eye. That's right, you cry beer. Or, at least, you should.

First, Spring has sprung people. Warm, sunshine hazy, blue sky breezy days turn in to deliciously cool evenings in which to sit outside on the patio of your favorite craft brewery from Murphy to Manteo sipping a cold one.

Second, North Carolina is one of the best states within which to enjoy an entire month dedicated to drinking and enjoying craft beer. There are over 160 breweries and brewpubs in this great state.

Third, brewers from these multitudes of breweries will be brewing special beers in large and small batch quantities in celebration of NC Beer Month. Just imagine, it's easy if you try, that somewhere there is a beer brewing that you've never tried and might never have again. It's waiting for you, maybe at a brewery you've never even been to. But, you can go and you can explore and you can taste it... during NC Beer Month.

What a time to be alive. Am I right?

If you caught my last blog about NC Beer Month, you already know about the amazing beer-fueled events happening in Johnston County during the month of April. And if you didn't read my last blog, flag on the play, you can read it now by clicking here. Enjoy it with a cold one.

But, because I love Johnston County beer so much. Too much? No. I want to bring you, dear readers, even more ways to taste and experience the magic that is Deep River and Double Barley. Like any super popular, highly sought-after, and well distributed brewery (I'm not braggin') you can find Deep River and Double Barley outside of the county they call home. You may even be able to find them in the county you call home *mind blown*. Below you will find all the events that both breweries will be participating in for NC Beer Month across the state of North Carolina.

And remember to like our Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail Facebook page for updates on NC Beer Month and Johnston County craft beverages. Leave me messages about how much you like my blogs, or our JoCo breweries, or just craft beer in general. I'm not picky... except when it comes to my beer.

Double Barley

April 7th - Tap Takeover at Lowe's Foods in Pinehurst

April 8th - Tap Takeover at Back Street Pub in Beaufort

April 9th - 30th Anniversary Celebration for Weeping Radish Farm Brewing
                Tasting, Neighborhood Bottle Shop with live music from Abby Davis 3pm-6pm

April 10th - 4th Annual Bull City Food and Beer Experience in Durham
Abby's Amber Cans from Double Barley
April 12th -  Joint Tap Takeover with Nickelpoint at Town Hall Burger and Beer in Durham
                   Tasting at the Hilton Garden Inn on Miami Blvd. in Durham

April 15th - Tap Takeover at Growler Grlz in Durham
                  Beer Dinner at Beaufort Grocery in Beaufort

April 20th - Tasting at Lowes Foods on Strickland Road in Raleigh

April 21st - Tap Takeover at Lowes Foods on Tryon Road in Cary

April 23rd - Brewgaloo in Downtown Raleigh

April 26th - Tasting at Bull Craft Bottle Shop in Durham

April 27th - Tap Takeover at Ultimate Ales in Mooresville

Deep River

April 7th - 5pm-7pm Sams Quik Shop Tasting and Tap Takeover Event
                6pm Mellow Mushroom Tap Takeover in Cary
                7pm Baileys Chapel Hill Brewery of the Month Tap Takeover

April 8th - 12pm-2pm Harris Teeter @ Cameron Village Free Tasting
                4:30pm Tap takeover at Lowes Foods' Beer Den in Burlington

April 9th - 5pm Tap takeover at the Chapel Hill Lowes Foods

April 12th - 5pm Fresh Market Tasting in Cary
                  6pm-8pm Beer Dinner at the Carolina Ale House in Downtown RaleighDeep River on Tab at a Local Festival

April 13th - 5pm Charlie Goodnights: Laugh Local, Drink Local Event

April 14th - 5pm Tasting at Total Wine in Durham

April 15th - 5pm-8pm Raleigh Beer Garden Tax Relief Tap Takeover
                  6pm-8pm Tasting at Total Wine on Capital Blvd in Raleigh

April 17th - 3pm Tap Takeover at the Durham Hotel Roof Top Bar
                  12pm-5pm Food Truck Rodeo at Pharmacy Beverage in Cary

April 20th - 6pm Pint Night at Tyler's Taproom in Apex

April 21st - 5pm-7pm Tasting at Southern Season’s

April 22nd - 4pm-6pm Tasting at Harris Teeter Green Level Church
                   5pm-7pm Tap Takeover at Beer Dispensary in Apex
                   5pm-7pm Tap Takeover at Whole Foods in Durham

April 27th - 6pm-8pm Tap Takeover at T Mac in Cary

April 30th - 12pm-8pm Anniversary Party at Tyler's Tavern in Fuquay Varina
                  5pm-7pm Tasting at Bottle 501 in Durham

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In Celebration of Beer

In Celebration of Beer

I feel like I say "blank is my favorite time of year!" a lot. Here's the deal. I love Christmas. I do. I also really love Autumn. So, there are seasons and holidays that have my heart. But, I have to put those aside for a minute to exclaim that April is my favorite time of the year! And if you love the state of North Carolina, craft beer, and good times, then it should be yours too.

Get on board the NC Beer Month Train

This year will be my second NC Beer Month with the Johnston County Visitors Bureau. Which means it has been more than a year since I moved home to pleasantly rediscover the county of my youth. And doesn't that sound winsome? As it turns out, in the years since I was away, Johnston County is now home to 2 craft breweries. I moved home from Asheville, so this knowledge came with great joy and consolation. And if you thought that Deep River Brewing Company and Double Barley Brewing brought their NC Beer Month A-game last year, you are in for a pleasant surprise.

It has been an absolute joy over the last year to work with creative, motivated, beer-loving, big-picture-seeing people like Lynn and Paul Auclair (#TeamDR), and Cheryl and Larry Lane (#TeamDB). Both breweries have been busy this year. Between the two of them they've added beers to their line-up, expanded distribution, increased brewing capacity, and started canning.  Basically, their 2015 was a lot like Justin Timberlake's 2002 when he went from being that guy in that boy band to a certified pop star. Started from the bottom, now we here. That sorta thing.

Near, Far,  JoCo Beer is Wherever You Are

If adventure is your natural inclination, and full-of-beer is your natural state, you should spend at least part of your NC Beer Month in Johnston County at both our breweries. I can assure you that you'll be right at home. The barstool will feel like it was molded for your tush. The clouds will open metaphorically and you'll hear the Lion King theme song in your head. Definitely. Probably. Is that just me?

Even better, Johnston County is located conveniently in North Carolina right where I-95, I-40, Hwy 70, and Hwy 301 converge. In a sense, all roads lead to beer. I mean, all roads lead here. Basically, if April finds you transversing the great state of North Carolina, you're going to go right by Deep River and Double Barley. Trust me. It's basic geography.

One thing is a guarantee. You will find a beer you like. You might even find THE beer. You know the one. Because Deep River and Double Barley have a variety of styles to choose from and even more specially concocted masterpieces foaming at the tap for just the month of April. I have included a full list below of NC Beer Month activities happening in Johnston County. You're welcome! Cheers!

Deep River:

The 3 Year Anniversary Party is April 7th - 10th (you read that right, it's a 4 day party). There will be an anniversary glassware giveaway each day to the first 100 customers, special release beers on draft, limited edition mixed 4-packs for sale that include a Tangerine White IPA, Sour Cherry Ale, Hoppy Pilsner, and Munich Dunkel, live music, and food trucks all weekend.

Pinapalooza is April 9th at 2PM and there will be 20 cask beers on tap, all of which were made by the employees. Tickets are $25 and include a limited edition commemorative tasting glass, free samples of all of the cask beer, and a vote for your favorite. Limited tickets available day of the event in the taproom.
There will be a Deep River Beer Dinner with the Cleveland Draft House in Clayton on April 27th at 6:30PM. The 5 course meal will be paired with 5 courses of beer. Ticket prices and availability to be determined at a later date. To keep you in suspense.

Double Barley:

An on-going promotions for the month of April include a $3 pint special every Wednesday and Randy Thursdays. What is a Randy Thursday, you ask? It's a different beer and flavor infusion every week concocted by a Double Barley employee and placed on the Randall system every Thursday. I can't explain more than that because I can't science very well. But ask upon arrival.

Give Em Hell Release Party will be April 2nd from 2PM to 7PM and will celebrate the second release of "Give Em Hell", the Double Barley Imperial Red Ale.  The proceeds from the sale of this beer are donated to the Beer Army Foundation for college scholarships in NC.  Event also includes live music, food trucks, and limited edition t-shirts.

Enjoy Craft Beer Cocktails on April 16th. Double Barley will have a special menu of their beers mixed together with other ingredients to create craft beer cocktails.  Live music with Ken and Cricket will be from 7PM to 10PM.

Double Barley hosts "Q, Brew and You" for the first annual Down East Beer and BBQ Festival and Competition at the brewery.  Nothing goes better with BBQ than beer! Competition starts at 11AM on April 23rd, taproom opens to the public at noon.

For all there is to know on an on-going basis about beer, wine, and spirits in the Johnston County area, visit beerwineshinetrail.com.

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Come for the Art. Bring Your Appetite.

Come for the Art. Bring Your Appetite.

The Johnston County Arts Council recently hosted its Seventh Annual Art and Food Festival Gala last Thursday, March 17th at the Paul A. Johnston Auditorium on the campus of Johnston Community College in Smithfield. The fundraiser generates money to assist the Arts Council with funding for the 2016 Artists-in-the-Schools program. It also allows the council to provide scholarships for Johnston Community College students studying Fine Arts and host free community arts programming and project installations throughout the year.

The gala treats ticketed guests to sample dishes from Johnston County’s finest restaurants. And participating restaurants competed for awards like Best Entrée, Best Dessert, Best Presentation, Best Side Dish, Most Original Dish, and Best Appetizer. Attendees had the opportunity to vote for ‘People’s Choice Award’ of Best Restaurant.  Participating restaurants included Anna’s Gourmet Breads, Anthony’s Pizza and Pasta, Bistro on Third,  Casey’s Floral & Catering Service, Chick-fil-A, Golden Corral, Glenda's Sweet Shoppe & Grille , Parkside Cafe, The Serving Spoon, Sherry’s Signature Cheesecakes, Simon’z Restaurant, and Simple Twist.

The results of the Johnston County Arts Council art show featuring local artists was also announced with local artwork on display and available for purchase from Johnston County’s most talented visual artists. There were over 50 pieces in the categories of painting, photography, and pottery. An auction of 2 collaborative pieces was one of the highlights of the evening. There was also a silent auction for individual works. Music was provided by Issac Bruton. Raffle tickets were sold for a chance to win a grand prize donated by Evans Jewelers, a gorgeous necklace that featured a two-tone yellow and white gold pendant valued at $1,200.

Darlene Williford, Executive Director of the Johnston County Arts Council, stated, "our 7th Annual Art and Food Festival was a great success this year. We included the new art category of pottery, and had new local restaurants and artists participating. If you didn't make it this year, I invite you to attend next year."

For a full list of winners see below. If you are interested in serving or supporting the Johnston County Arts Council please contact Darlene Williford at 919.738.9622 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Winners of the Art Show

Best of Show:  $350            Christer Berg             “Ben Williams”


1st place:   $200                Mary Jones               “Sapphire Fantasy”
2nd place:  $100                Joanne Dunn             “All the Way”
3rd place:   $ 50                Carolyn Howard          “Poetry of Trees”

Honorable Mention:             Carolyn Allen              “Grace”
                                      David Lennon             “River Walk”
                                      Ann Ragland              “Write On…”
                                      Jo Tucker                 “Snack Time”


1st place:   $200            Kyle Wilson                  “I Will Crab Until My Heart Stops”
2nd place:  $100            Christer Berg                “William Ivey Long”
3rd place:   $50             Kyle Wilson                  “The Dressing Table”

1st place:  $200            Frank Grubbs              
2nd place:  $100           Marsha Rogers              
3rd place:  $50             Kristin Sasser

Honorable Mention:       Betsy Whittington

Restaurant Winners

Best Entrée:                 Anthony’s Pizza & Pasta        
Best Presentation:         Casey’s Floral & Catering Service    
Best Dessert:               Anna’s Gourmet Banana Nut Bread                
Best Side Dish:             Bistro on Third    
Most Original Dish:        The Serving Spoon        
Best Appetizer:            The Serving Spoon
People’s Choice:           Parkside Cafe  

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Six Millionth Hot Dog To Be Sold

Six Millionth Hot Dog To Be Sold

 Reprinted with permission from the Kenly News. An article written by Keith Barnes.

Based on calculations from previous sales totals sometime during June or July The Grocery Bag, located inside the Percy Flowers Store complex 6½ miles east of Clayton on N.C 42, will be serving its six millionth hot dog. Considering when and where the business began that’s quite an accomplishment by any standards. The history of The Grocery Bag goes back to the fall of 1972 but at a different location some 3½ miles away at the old Roy Hinton Store on Buffalo Road. Tommy Fitzgerald of Selma had just quit his job at the Winn-Dixie data processing center in Raleigh so he and his brother Duncan formed a partnership and purchased the store from Roy Hinton. They re-named the business The Grocery Bag but shortly thereafter Tommy Fitzgerald bought out his brother and became sole owner of the business.

During its early years The Grocery Bag was a combination country store, tire business and lawn mower repair shop along with having two pool tables in the back room that helped keep the business afloat. “It was a learning experience,” said Fitzgerald. “One of the best motivators in the world is hunger.”
Fitzgerald said Percy Flowers, a legendary figure in Johnston County history, used to come by the store and jokingly scold him about being able to sell his gasoline so cheap. “Mr. Flowers asked me if I’d be interested in running his store, Percy Flowers Store, that was located at the intersection of N.C. 42 and Buffalo Road,” said Fitzgerald.

The two men tossed the idea back and forth for years but before they could agree on anything Percy Flowers died in 1981. Fitzgerald said he had “struggled along” at the original location for 10½ years and following Flowers’ death Fitzgerald wrote a letter to his widow, Delma Flowers, expressing an interest in renting the Flowers Store. One thing led to another and they eventually worked out a lease arrangement. Fitzgerald said when he moved into the new location he only sold typical country store items like “sardines and beenie weenies” but after a few weeks he had an idea he wanted to try.

“I used to visit Winslon Kornegy’s hot dog stand in Selma and enjoyed eating his hot dogs,” said Fitzgerald. “I bought me a crock pot, a hot dog steamer and heated up some chili in the crock pot.”

A man named Mr. Boykin and his son, Bud, stopped by and I made them each a hot dog,” said Fitzgerald.  “They were the first hot dogs we made and we just gave them away.”

“Alonza “Jack” Watson came in next and he actually bought the first hot dog,” said Fitzgerald. “Later on the same day some guy wearing coveralls came in and smelled the hot dogs cooking.”

“He asked ‘Are they any good?’ said Fitzgerald. “I told him they were so good they were almost famous.”

That phrase from the first day of the hot dog business opened stuck immediately and is still used today as part of the slogan. Fitzgerald figured he might be onto something good so he bought some Carolina Packers Hot Dogs, Stevens Chili (made in Smithfield), Holt Lake (Four Oaks) coleslaw and some buns, fresh onions and mustard and, presto, he was in the hot dog business. He hired Betty Fleming to run the cash register and a high school student named Shelly Parrish to make the hot dogs, and the rest is history.
The Grocery Gag Staff
Fitzgerald prepared a simple formula to go by; “Fix it like you’re going to eat it yourself, with a smile on your face, and they all come with a guarantee,” he said. “If the person behind the counter doesn’t have the right attitude you don’t have anything.”

“Our mission and primary goal at The Grocery Bag is to be the friendliest convenience store you’ll ever visit,” said Fitzgerald. “If you come to our store without a smile on your face we want to make sure you smile before you leave.” The business has evolved and now boasts 24 employees, plus Tommy Fitzgerald and his wife, Donna. The Grocery Bag has become something of a destination not only for the local clientele but some customers who come from many miles away just to get a Grocery Bag hot dog.

“We have some people stop by who say they don’t even eat hot dogs but they come here to get one of ours,” said Fitzgerald. Every day, particularly around lunchtime, the place is a beehive of activity as a staff of around 10 on duty at a time prepares hot dogs at the counter for hungry customers. In the early years 200-300 hot dogs sold was a good day but today they average 1,300-1,400 per day and have gone as high as 1,729 according to Fitzgerald.
Hamburgers and cheeseburgers have also been added to the menu but not french fries.

Fitzgerald said the person that orders hot dog number 6,000,000 will be the recipient of major prizes including hot dogs for life at The Grocery Bag.

He said the success of The Grocery Bag has been due to several factors including a friendly and hard-working staff, the many patrons who have visited over the years and the Flowers family who allowed him to get started and continue at the same location. opportunity I was afforded by Delma Flowers initially was the starting point,” said Fitzgerald. “And being a part of the Rebecca Flowers (Percy Flowers’ daughter) vision in the growth and development of Flowers Plantation has been remarkable.”

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The Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina

The Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina

I was going to start this blog off with the phrase, "can you think of anything more southern than ham?". But then I started to think about sweet tea, pecan pie, fireflies, and moonshine. So, I took a step back. The history of ham reverberates back in time to an era and place far from the American South. There is no denying however, that the South has a tradition of taking the pig and making it our own. One first thinks of barbeque. I'm going to talk about curing.

Master of the Cure

Let's begin by understanding the difference between curing meats and being a Curemaster, like Rufus Brown from Johnston County Hams in Smithfield, NC. According to the website Johnston County Hams are the epitome of a very Southern tradition. Our hams are the result of a traditional curing process Sam and Rufus discuss their Lady Edison product at the Smithfield Ham Shop at Johnston County Hamsdeveloped, perfected and handed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years dating back to the first American colonists. While many understood the process, and curing meats was a widely used practice, a few curemasters were able to fine tune their recipes, practices and techniques to a point of pure mastery.

It is this mastery that southerners are so proud of and the reason that ham finds itself at the center of our family dinners and cherished recipes. This tradition and taste is honored at events like the Ham & Yam Festival, held every May in downtown Smithfield. Johnston County Hams was started in 1946 but began receiving national attention in the late 60's. Curemaster Jesse Brown refined the curing process down to a science, consistently producing a finely aged, delicate, not-too-salty cured ham. His son, Rufus Brown carries on the cure legacy at Johnston County Hams.

And now, a partnership between Rufus Brown and Sam Suchoff is poised to usher in a new era of high quality and delicious pork. The product is called Lady Edison and she is the Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina. It sounds sexy, intriguing, exciting. It sounds like it goes great with red wine. Since you already know Rufus and his incomparable background in curing, you should know that Sam runs The Pig restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC. As Sam tells it, "I first met Rufus 7 years ago when I called up Johnston County Hams to see if they would cure out some hams for a friend of mine.  He's been my ham guy ever since!" An instant camaraderie.

A Savory Product. A Sustainable Idea.

Lady Edison is a labor of love and a product whose quality is based on patience and time. Sam uses his contacts as a barbeque restaurant owner to partner with hog farmers that sustainably raise hogs and are members of the North Carolina Natural Hog Growers Association. This means that the pigs are raised on open pastures without the use of antibiotics or added hormones. The reason the partnership works so well Lady Edison Logois that every part of the pig is utilized. Hogs are purchased whole by Sam and then processed at Acre Station Meat Farm (locally owned and operated in the eastern part of the state). Sam then takes the bacon, barbeque, and other useful parts for his restaurant, while Rufus takes the hams to his ham shop in Johnston County to start the process of making Lady Edison. Before I discuss the process, it may be helpful to explain to those not in-the-know that pork curing is also called putting-up or hanging hams. This is because the curing process demands that hams are literally hung in the air to cure.

According to Sam and Rufus the process involves the hams being hand rubbed with a dry blend of sea salt and sugar... and held at near freezing temperatures for 40 days. These “winter days” allow the cure to penetrate the meat as it extracts moisture. The hams are then rinsed and hung at spring-like temperatures with a “steady breeze” that facilitates the equal penetration of salt throughout the ham and removes excess moisture. Next, the hams are hung in the smokehouse and exposed to a light hickory smoke—imparting signature flavor before the final aging process begins. This final stage of maturation occurs in a warm and semi-humid aging room where the hams hang over hickory sawdust. It's these conditions under which the ham really comes into its own.

Lady Edison is a savory pork experience, more buttery than salty. It's comparable to its Spanish counterparts and the serving recommendation is thinly sliced and raw like prosciutto. Rufus and Sam's partnership has already proven fruitful. Lady Edison products can be found on menus in over 25 restaurants across the state and country. Raleigh restaurants like Gravy, Asheville restaurants like Bull & Beggar, and even places as far off as Manhattan and Kiawah Island. Restaurants and chef's that use the product in tapas, salads, and other dishes report rave reviews. I've tried it myself and can speak to the deliciousness. The extra aging on the Lady Edison product gives a supple texture and a melt-in-your-mouth flavor that would pair well with cheese and, as I earlier surmised, red wine.

There is nothing more central to a Christmas dinner or an Easter lunch, nothing more coveted at a cover-dish, then a country ham or country ham biscuit. Lady Edison invites you to try an extra fancy country ham. A ham above the rest. In the South we take pride in doing certain things real slow. But, that's because patients often lends itself to reward. Your next dinner out, look for Lady Edison on the menu at your favorite restaurant and give the Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina a try.

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First Class Racing Facility in the Land of Motorsports and Moonshine

First Class Racing Facility in the Land of Motorsports and Moonshine

Racing is just about as southern as sweet tea, mason jars, and Cheerwine.

And it's a sport that is authentically North Carolina - NASCAR racers will forever live in the shadow of those who raced moonshine across county lines under the watchful eye of the prohibition-era lawman. And racing is about to get a new home in Johnston County, NC. Built outside of Benson, GALOT Motorsports Park overlooks land renowned for its rural heritage and moonshine-making history. How appropriate then for the area to now also be home to a first class racing facility. Like the merging once again of two inexorable things that time has separated.

GALOT Motorsports Park was formally known as the Dunn-Benson Dragstrip. In August 2013 Mr. Earl Wells bought the facility with a simple mission in mind: to build a race track that racers could depend on and a first class facility that would maximize the race fan experience. As visitors to the park will discover when it opens officially this Spring, Mr. Wells certainly accomplished his mission.

 GALOT is a state-of-the-art facility designed with the race fan and racer in mind. The facility features stadium seating for 9,000 spectators, two LED video boards, an indoor concession and souvenir stand, along with two climate controlled tower suites," according to Charles Myers, the Media Relations Coordinator.

Racers will have the benefit of a climate controlled starting line, asphalt parking, a speed shop, and 70 R.V. electrical hook-ups. GALOT Motorsports Park is also certified as the flattest racing surface in the world, which will allow racers to obtain maximum performance.

True to the Racing Spirit of the Sport

The park is racing at its finest, but also at its purest. As a child I lived only a few miles from a motorsports park. Locals and visitors alike would flock to races on warm summer nights. Even from miles away I could stand in my backyard and see the white glow of the bright lights blotting out the lowest stars in the sky. I could hear the hum of powerful motors racing together to the finish line. For fans of the sport, racing is in the blood and it leads to a passion for other sorts of events. GALOT hopes to provide a variety of events to become a true entertainment complex.

According to Charles, GALOT also has a dedicated tractor pulling venue. In addition, the pit area of the track is paved, allowing GALOT to be used for a wide range of driving events. In it's opening year GALOT already looks to host multiple events starting in late March going throughout the rest of 2016.

They will host the NHRA Division 2 Lucas Oil Divisional, which will attract the best racers from all over the east coast. And if you are into fast, heads-up drag racing, GALOT Motorsports Park is scheduled to host the PDRA DragStock event where cars will accelerate from 0 to 250 mph in just 3.5 seconds.

Charles adds that, "if drag racing is not your 'cup of tea' then you might enjoy our Mule City 300 which happens to be the first NTPA Grand National Tractor Pull of the 2016 schedule." GALOT even plans to host an event this year where Monster Trucks take center stage!

Whether it's the noise of the crowd, the thrill of the speed, or the impressive horsepower, GALOT Motorsports Park aims to be your new go-to entertainment venue for an old southern tradition. Find out more information on their website and don't forget to check out the upcoming events calendar. And while you're in Johnston County for motorsports and moonshinecheck out all the other things we have to offer so that you can make your GALOT experience a weekend trip for the whole family.

Ready, Set, GO!

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Bureau News and 2015 Annual Report

JCVB Visitor CenterThe Johnston County Tourism Authority welcomes new board members, presents 2015 Annual Report to County Commissioners, and elects officers to lead the board and oversee the operation of the Johnston County Visitors Bureau.  

We are always excited to welcome members of the community to serve on the Tourism Authority Board to help lead the efforts of tourism promotion and development for Johnston County. All board members serve on either the Marketing Committee or Special Projects Committee which work directly with the staff on establishing the annual budget and overseeing all projects by the bureau.

Randy Capps, owner of Shandy Communications whose company prints the Four Oaks Journal, was appointed by the Four Oaks Chamber of Commerce.  Capps replaces Stacey Lee, who resigned in November due to work commitments.  Randy has work experience in journalism and worked for the Fayetteville Observer for eight years.  

Rick Childrey, President of the Greater Smithfield/Selma Chamber of Commerce was appointed by the County Commissioners for a three-year term.  Childrey replaces Warren Stancil, who resigned in August of last year. Childrey has a long-standing relationship with the Visitors Bureau, as the offices for the bureau staff were once located in the Lee House on Outlet Center Drive.  Childrey has been the President of the Smithfield-Selma Area Chamber since 1986.

Election of Officers and Committee Chair Appointments...

The board held open elections for officers to serve for two-year terms.  Keith Brinson, of Farm Bureau Insurance appointed by the Smithfield/Selma Chamber, was elected Chairperson.  Scotty Henley, Executive Director of The Clayton Center appointed by the Clayton Chamber of Commerce, was elected Vice-Chairperson. Lynn Daniels was reelected as Secretary of the Authority, a position she has held for the past two years.

Ernie Brame, Manager of Kenly 95 Petro, was appointed as Chairperson of the Special Events Committee.  Rosa Andrews, Johnston Community College, was appointed Chairperson of the Marketing Committee.  New board members Randy Capps and Rick Childrey will both serve on the Special Project Committee which oversees the Capital and Special Events grant programs.

2015 JCVB Annual Report...

During an extended board meeting the Tourism Authority presented the 2015 Annual Report to the County Commissioners. Highlights and staff accomplishments from 2014/2015, the year-end financial statement, visitor spending numbers and overall state of tourism for Johnston County were discussed. To download or read the JCVB Annual Report -- CLICK HERE. 

Other bureau news...

Sarah Campbell, Sports and Leisure Sales Manager, is attending the Southeast Tourism Society, Marketing College to further her education in destination marketing.  This three-year, week long course introduces Sarah to a curriculum of courses designed to teach marketing techniques from all facets of the tourism industry.  Upon completion of the three-year Marketing College curriculum, she will receive a Travel Marketing Professional (TMP) certification.

In January, the Visitors Bureau began the second year of the JoCo Hospitality Association, a membership based tourism industry advisory committee to the authority.  Invitations were sent to area businesses to become members, cost is $50 for the organization.  The group meets four times a year on the fourth Tuesday at 2pm in January, April, July and October.  Guest speakers and workshops are held for education and networking for the group to foster better relationships in the tourism community in Johnston County.

Also in January, the Johnston County Sports Council members attended the County Commissioner's Jan. 4th meeting to continue the discussion on the recommendations from the County-wide Parks and Recreation Master Plan. Since the completion of the plan in April, the Visitors Bureau staff continues to work on low-impact recreation projects like Bike Route Signage and Boat Ramps on the Neuse River.  Larger projects like the completion of the Mountains to the Sea Trail are topics the Sports Council wants to address with the commissioners, and having a dedicated staff person to pursue the plan's recommendations.

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau oversees the marketing efforts for the county to attract and serve visitors, therefore increasing the economic impact for the local economy.  In addition, the Towns of Benson, Kenly, Selma and Smithfield have a 2% occupancy tax that is managed by the Visitors Bureau and is dedicated to each town's marketing efforts.  To learn more about the Johnston County Visitors Bureau, please contact Donna Bailey-Taylor, President/CEO at 919-989-8687 or visit the website, www.johnstoncountync.org/working-with-the-jcvb

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Get Tickets to the Beer, Wine, Shine, and Dine Tour

Get Tickets to the Beer, Wine, Shine, and Dine Tour

The Ultimate Craft Beverage Experience

In September of last year we announced that Clayton Food Tours had partnered with the Johnston County Visitors Bureau to offer a new Beer, Wine, Shine & Dine Tour as a guided tour of the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail with lunch. It's a great way to explore the trail while letting someone else do the driving! Much to the delight of attendees, the November inaugural tour was a huge success. So, cheers to that!

The Beer, Wine and Shine Trail currently has 2 craft breweries, 2 family-owned wineries, and one moonshine distillery. Johnston County is conveniently located to I-40, I-95, and the Triangle area. So if you're a local or a visitor, the tour can be a great way to extend your exploration of Raleigh breweries, wineries, and distilleries. Due to travel time and allowing for ample time to tour and taste at locations, each tour will involve only one winery, one brewery and the distillery along the trail. This will be an exciting and relaxing way to enjoy Johnston County’s growing beverage scene. This tour is great for couples and friend groups celebrating special occasions.

Beer, Wine, Shine, and Dine Infographic

The spectacular news is that the 2016 tour dates have been released!

March 19 -- Hinnant Winery, Broadslab Distillery, Double Barley

May 21 -- Gregory Vineyards, Broadslab Distillery, Deep River

October 1 -- Gregory Vineyards, Broadslab Distillery, Deep River

November 12 -- Hinnant Winery, Broadslab Distillery, Double Barley

The first tour, offered on March 19th, will include Hinnant Winery, Double Barley Brewing and Broadslab Distillery. Lunch is to be provided by Simple Twist located in downtown Smithfield. The motorcoach will depart at 11:00am from Double Barley Brewing, where the tour will end at 5:00pm. There is ample parking around the back of the brewery where participants can safely leave their car. It is recommended that you arrive at least 15 minutes early to check-in.

The cost is $89 per person. Welcome bags will be provided by the Johnston County Visitors Bureau. Space is limited, so call (919) 585-4498 today to reserve your spot. You may visit the Clayton Food Tour website to purchase your tickets. If you would like to explore more of the trail on your own, or share it with your friends, more information and a map is available on the Beer, Wine, and Shine Trail website.


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Valentine Events in JoCo

Valentine Events in JoCo

If you're looking for a date night activity in the month of February to celebrate Valentine's Day, then look no further. Johnston County has wine, chocolate, romantic horse rides, delicious dinners, and musical performances. Find your perfect date below. 

Tickets and information for each event can be found by following the link, simply click on the title of the event you are interested in. 


Evans Jewelers Sweets, Treats, & Sparkles

Everyone who comes to enjoy wine tasting and jazz music will receive a 1ct cubic zirconium, but one lucky winner will receive a Forever Us, Diamond Two-stone ring!

February 5th from 5:00OM-8:00PM


Black Creek Hill Farms Valentine's Day Couples Trail Ride

Includes a private guided 1 hour trail ride for two. Afterwards you will be served a simple picnic lunch with beverage of choice.

February 13th at 10:00AM


Spend an evening with Franc D'Ambrisio

Acclaimed as the world's longest running phantom, enjoy interpretations of Franc's favorite Broadway hits including pieces from The Phantom of the Opera.

February 13th at 8:00PM


Valentine's Day Dinner and a Show at Hinnant Vineyards

Memories Are Made of This, a Valentine's Dinner & 50's Musical Tribute Show. Each ticket includes a full course meal, the show, & a glass of wine.

February 13th at 6:00PM


The Clayton Piano Festival presents the 4th Annual Valentine's Day Gala at Brick & Mortar

Ticket price includes dinner, drinks, concert, and dessert.

February 13th at 6:30PM


Truffle Making Class at Gregory Vineyards

Enjoy a fun fill afternoon of learning to make your own decorated molded chocolates & ruffles while enjoying the delicious wines of Gregory Vineyards.

February 14th, classes begin at 11:00AM, 2:00PM, and 6:00PM

***A special truffle making class is being offered at 1:00PM and includes a voucher for dinner at Lane's Seafood & Steakhouse. 


The Night of the Iguana at Neuse Little Theatre

Written by Tennessee Williams and also made into a 1964 movie starring Johnston County native Ava Gardner, this play promises conflict, humor, and steamy romance.

February 19th-21st and 26th-27th, show begins at 8:00PM



Deep River Beer Dinner with the Wandering Moose food truck

Come join Deep River for their first ever beer dinner at the Deep River Taproom. With each ticket you will receive 5 beers and 4 courses of mouth watering food.

February 24th at 6:30PM


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Valentine Events in JoCo

Valentine Events in JoCo

If you're looking for a date night activity in the month of February to celebrate Valentine's Day, then look no further. Johnston County has wine, chocolate, romantic horse rides, delicious dinners, and musical performances. Find your perfect date below. 

Tickets and information for each event can be found by following the link, simply click on the title of the event you are interested in. 


Evans Jewelers Sweets, Treats, & Sparkles

Everyone who comes to enjoy wine tasting and jazz music will receive a 1ct cubic zirconium, but one lucky winner will receive a Forever Us, Diamond Two-stone ring!

February 5th from 5:00OM-8:00PM


Black Creek Hill Farms Valentine's Day Couples Trail Ride

Includes a private guided 1 hour trail ride for two. Afterwards you will be served a simple picnic lunch with beverage of choice.

February 13th at 10:00AM


Spend an evening with Franc D'Ambrisio

Acclaimed as the world's longest running phantom, enjoy interpretations of Franc's favorite Broadway hits including pieces from The Phantom of the Opera.

February 13th at 8:00PM


Valentine's Day Dinner and a Show at Hinnant Vineyards

Memories Are Made of This, a Valentine's Dinner & 50's Musical Tribute Show. Each ticket includes a full course meal, the show, & a glass of wine.

February 13th at 6:00PM


The Clayton Piano Festival presents the 4th Annual Valentine's Day Gala at Brick & Mortar

Ticket price includes dinner, drinks, concert, and dessert.

February 13th at 6:30PM


Truffle Making Class at Gregory Vineyards

Enjoy a fun fill afternoon of learning to make your own decorated molded chocolates & ruffles while enjoying the delicious wines of Gregory Vineyards.

February 14th, classes begin at 11:00AM, 2:00PM, and 6:00PM

***A special truffle making class is being offered at 1:00PM and includes a voucher for dinner at Lane's Seafood & Steakhouse. 


The Night of the Iguana at Neuse Little Theatre

Written by Tennessee Williams and also made into a 1964 movie starring Johnston County native Ava Gardner, this play promises conflict, humor, and steamy romance.

February 19th-21st and 26th-27th, show begins at 8:00PM



Deep River Beer Dinner with the Wandering Moose food truck

Come join Deep River for their first ever beer dinner at the Deep River Taproom. With each ticket you will receive 5 beers and 4 courses of mouth watering food.

February 24th at 6:30PM


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JoCo Takes a Bite Out of Triangle Restaurant Week

JoCo Takes a Bite Out of Triangle Restaurant Week

 JoCo Takes a Bite Out of Triangle Restaurant Week

It is times like these that it is important to remember that Johnston County is part of the Triangle. We share news. We share an area code. And we now share events. If you've never heard of or participated in Triangle Restaurant Week, you're in for a delicious surprise. Restaurant Week celebrates the best culinary adventures to be found at Raleigh restaurants and other area dining establishments. Chefs serve up unique, creative menus offered at excitingly low prices. It's a great time to explore the amazing tastes that the Triangle area has to offer.

Triangle Restaurant Week

Don't just take my word for it. The Triangle Restaurant Week website declares, "Triangle Restaurant Week is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants. During TRW, participating restaurants offer special three-course menu options and fixed pricing, a great opportunity for residents and visitors alike to indulge in the area’s finest cuisine! No reservations, tickets, or passes required."

This year, Johnston County's own Manning's is taking on TRW. Located in downtown Clayton just 30 minutes from Raleigh. "Manning’s Restaurant offers a combination of both modern creative and traditional southern style dishes. Our southern regional themed restaurant portrays our Chef Howard Manning’s favorite dishes growing up in the Carolinas with a modern twist." Visit the Manning's website for more information, menus, and hours. Or give them a call at (919) 585-7005.

Restaurant Week is happening now! The last day to enjoy these amazing menus at these wallet-friendly prices is this Sunday, January 31st. The good news is that events in Raleigh like this happen every year. Triangle Restaurant Week will be back, and back in JoCo, next year!

Expanding the Triangle, Adding to the Plate

Manning's Cheesecake

Manning's is participating with a four-course meal priced at $30 per person, plus tax and gratuity. The menu includes: a crab cake appetizer, your choice of either a bowl of gumbo or a side salad (pro tip: the spicy avocado ranch dressing is to die for), a 1/2 rack of BBQ ribs with coleslaw and fries, finished off with a slice of cheesecake.

The prix fixe menu does not include drinks, but Manning's has a full-service bar with mixed drinks and wines that can be paired with your meal. They also have local craft beer on tap. Try a Double Barley or Deep River brew made right here in Johnston County. Finish your Manning's Restaurant Week experience by visiting these two breweries. Deep River is just a few miles down Main Street from Manning's and Double Barley is a quick 10 minute car ride away.

So, if you're visiting Raleigh, the Triangle area, or Johnston County this weekend, stop by Manning's for a southern style dinner at a great price. And be sure to check out all the other restaurants participating in Triangle Restaurant Week. Bring your appetite!

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Meeting Expectations in Johnston County

Meeting Expectations in Johnston County

Let Johnston County Host Your Next Meeting

Last week on the blog, I discussed getting married in Johnston County. I'd like to segway that topic into a related one... groups. For many of the same The Clayton Centerreasons JoCo excels as a wedding destination, we also offer robust venue, dining, transportation, and fun break-out options for groups. This includes wedding guests, family reunions, motorcoach and tour groups, corporate meetings and events, as well as sports tournaments.

To find the perfect space for your group, read through our meetings and facilities guide. Selecting your venue is important to more than brides. Find venues that range in size and amenities offered. You can also look into unique venue options like wineries, breweries, and even outdoor locations.

For tour operators we have recently created brand new Johnston County itineraries, highlighting the many thematic ways to introduce visitors to the area. Options include craft beverages, history, agritourism, or even shopping. Itineraries can be requested through Sarah Campbell with the Johnston County Visitors Bureau at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 919-989-8687.

Adventuring Out of the Meeting Room

Speaking of things to do, that's another excellent reason to select Johnston County for your next trade show, reunion, corporate retreat, or tournament. When your attendees/guests/clients aren't with you, there is plenty of things for them to do. The Carolina Premium Outlets provides multiple branCarolina Premium Outletsd name stores like Coach at excellent prices. Not to mention the many historic downtown areas in the county filled with boutique shops, antique stores, and art galleries. Chef-owned dining establishments offer locally-sourced, southern cuisine. Contact our local restaurants about private rooms for lunches, dinners, or cocktail receptions.

Theaters and museums provide indoor entertainment and historical depictions of Johnston County's agricultural and civil war heritage, as well as highlight our local Hollywood star Ava Gardner. Local wineries, breweries, and distilleries offer tours and tastings across the county. In addition, multiple golf courses can provide a needed afternoon break between meetings.

Johnston County also has locals specializing in transportation, catering, musical entertainment, and even performance art that can help you add an extra level of wow to your group events. For help organizing your next event, or if you have a question, again please contact Sarah Campbell at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 919-989-8687.

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Johnston County Wedding Expo(s)

Johnston County Wedding Expo(s)

Say I Do in JoCo

Locals and visitors alike seek to make Johnston County their wedding destination. A JoCo wedding can be rustic, unique, elegant, outside in a vineyard, or inside a whimsical historic home. And with the right team, it can be all those things at once.

I have worked on the fringes of the wedding industry for years. Never as a planner, but as a provider of wedding services and a member of an association comprised of event planners. Weddings can be exceedingly elaborate or frugally modest. I have never been married, but I have lived through some weddings, let me tell you, and I have two pieces of advice.

The first tip is this: designate a wedding planner. Notice that I did not say hire. I said designate. Wedding planners are angels from God sent to organize chaos into control, cheer in your corner, wipe the sweat from your brow, fight some of the harder battles for you, and make it look like walking on air. This makes them exceedingly qualified to get you from "She said yes!" to the post-reception send-off with supreme grace. This can also make them expensive depending on the level of service you are asking of them. You certainly get what you pay for (in the best possible way). However, in the event that you cannot hire a wedding planner, designate a trusted friend or family-member (not an immediate family member) who you trust to be honest, organized, and un-biased. If it helps, call them a wedding coordinator. They will help you coordinate all the details that you can't quite accomplish on your own. After all, someone has to tell the wedding party when to walk down the aisle while you stand out of sight of your groom.  

The second piece of advice is this: go to a wedding show held within the geographical region that you wish to get married. This holds especially true for destination weddings. If you are not familiar with the area, a wedding show will introduce you to vendors within the local wedding industry. If you live in the area you want to be married in, you're not off the hook. Even if you have been planning your wedding since you were 5 years old (twice-over now that you have a Pinterest), you don't know what you don't know until you attend a local wedding expo. How many cake makers, reception venues, florists, transportation companies, caterers, and wedding planners are in your area? You don't know. Because even though you live here, you've never gotten married here. Or maybe you have... this is a judgment free zone.

Experience a Wedding Expo

The excellent news is that there will be 2 wedding expos in the month of January in Johnston County. Locals are welcome. Non-locals are also welcome. If you live in the Triangle area, or in any area surrounding JoCo, but you don't want a Raleigh wedding, or you want a little hint of a destination wedding without having to travel so far... come get to know JoCo. We've got bride-choice wedding venues and southern hospitality at the ready.

The 2nd Annual Bridal Expo is happening at The Farm this Sunday January 10 from 11AM to 4PM. This event is FREE but to save time, plan on registering here before you come. There will be dozens of vendors on site for you to talk to about your upcoming big day! The Farm itself is also a venue and tours will be conducted every hour beginning at 11:30AM.

The 2016 Clayton Wedding Expo is on Saturday, January 23, from 11AM to 4PM at The Clayton Center. Discover the latest bridal trends as you chat with vendors about everything from venue selection to catering and from bridal fashions to honeymoon destinations. The Clayton Wedding Expo is free and open to anyone planning a very special event in the coming months. Pre-registration for the Expo is not required, but it is highly recommended and can be done here. The first 100 pre-registered brides will receive a free gift bag.

You can also browse a list of wedding venues in each town within the county at any time at the Johnston County Visitors Bureau website here. We are all here to help you say I Do in JoCo!

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As Long As There Is You and Food

As Long As There Is You and Food

In a recent article published on the Southern Foodways Alliance website, Johnston County native Emily Wallace discussed the battle between Smithfield, VA and Smithfield, NC to be Ham Capital of the World. The article, called Ham to Ham Combat is both fascinating and funny. You can read it here.

More importantly, her interview with Johnston County Hams owner Rufus Brown produced quite the interesting quote, highlighted below.

Today, Brown says, the majority of local customers buy hams just once a year for their holiday tables. Folks call relentlessly. “I tell some of the people who work here, I say, ‘Listen. Their whole house could burn down, they could lose all their presents, but if their refrigerator made it through the fire with that ham in it, that Christmas would be fine,'” says Brown. “They say, ‘Nah, you’re crazy!’ But I say, ‘Once you get through one Christmas, you’ll see.'”

As a native of Johnston County myself, I can add validity to Brown's conviction that what matters most to locals around the holidays is food. It always seemed particularly cruel to me that the Grinch not only took presents and decorations, but emptied out the contents of all the kitchens in Whoville. What sort of monster takes the Roast Beast?!

This notion stems from a deep belief I have ingrained in me as a southerner that any obstacle, hardship, or unpleasantness we face shrinks to insignificance when we gather around a table filled with food and good company. And maybe that's not strictly southern, maybe it is simply human. But, our belief that presents and decorations are secondary to the tradition of a holiday meal shared with friends and family is not the only "food tradition" that southerners hold dear.

In fact, a good look at the history of southern hospitality reveals an unwavering notion that food is how you show that you care. When a family suffers a tragedy, when a new neighbor moves in, and on every major holiday, people provide food in support and in solidarity. As we mourn together and celebrate together, Johnstonians know that the best way to say 'I love you' or even 'Merry Christmas' is through providing nourishment - pies, cakes, casseroles, pudding, and, yes, ham. Below is a picture of the coveted Johnston County Christmas ham.

Johnston County Hams
Instead of attempting to describe how amazing this ham is, I'll let Johnston County Hams do it for me, "For over 60 years and across two generations of renowned curemasters, we at Johnston County Hams in Smithfield, North Carolina have hand crafted "cured" country hams inspired by the techniques used by America's early colonists."

Another family-owned Johnston County establishment catering to our obsession with food is Atkinson Milling Company. Open since 1757, no I did not type a number wrong, and owned by the Wheeler family going on three generations now.

I asked Andrew Wheeler, third generation Wheeler at Atkinson's, to share what Christmas means to his family. He said that Christmas for the Wheeler family is always celebrated on Christmas Eve at Grandma and Papa's house (that's Betty and Ray Wheeler, the first Wheelers to own Atkinson's Mill, pictured below), "Traditionally, Grandma cooked the whole spread. The foods that are Wheeler family traditions are fresh greens, Grandma's macaroni and cheese, a BIG pot of chicken pastry (Atkinson's of course) and hushpuppies (obviously Atkinson's as well!). The greens are always grown and delivered that week by Colon and Coy Batten, longtime Wheeler family friends."

Ray and Betty Wheeler
But he can't just list the food, because, as I have pointed out, food means more than something to eat, it means heritage and home, "Papa loves Grandma's homemade macaroni and cheese, so it is a staple. And Grandma always made the best pastry. It was perfectly seasoned and never stuck together. The hushpuppies are significant to our family because our Atkinson's Regular Hushpuppy Mix was Grandma's own personal recipe and the very first product our company ever made after plain cornmeal."

"After everyone eats, all 34 of us (yes there are 34 of us, hence the BIG pot of pastry) pile into the living room to open gifts. In recent years Papa has taken over the gifting from Grandma and it is always a lot of fun to see what he picked out for everyone. He gets all the grandchildren a gas card and a funny gift. For example, last year my wife received a bottle of aftershave and I got a can of soup.  It is always a treat to laugh at everyone's crazy gifts and his unique spellings of all our names (Papa is known for his inventive spelling). While all the gifting is going on some of the children and grandchildren have a little wrapping paper fight. Grandma scolds everyone saying that she is going to take a switch to us all. In my 26 years she never has; we're all starting to think she's not entirely serious."

Atkinson offers a wide range of cornmeals, biscuit mixes, breaders, and grits. The best product for the holidays, in my opinion, is the Atkinson's Cinnamon Flake Biscuit Mix. Try using it to make the cinnamon roll recipe on our website here. You can get more Johnston County Christmas recipes here.

No matter your holiday tradition, favorite foods, or family recipes, I hope that you, like the Wheelers, are gathering together with those closest to you. Merry Christmas from Johnston County! May your new year be filled with more nourishment then a slice of Johnston County Ham on top of a warm, buttery Atkinson Milling Company biscuit.

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Tis' the Season & Snare

Tis' the Season & Snare

If you read my Journey blog or any of the JoCo Has Talent series blogs you'll already know two things. One, I love music on a very personal and visceral level. Two, Johnston County has some amazing and talented people trying to make it in the music business. In this week's blog I'm talking to Casey Austin Allen, a Four Oaks native and one half of the duo Season & Snare. The other half being Autumn Rose Brand. If you're wondering about the name of the band, Casey plays drums and Autumn is, well, named after a season. And it's always ladies first, so Season & Snare. The duo was formed in March of 2014, and yes, they are more Karmen than HoneyHoney. Which is a musical way of saying they are a couple. Below, Casey answers my questions about Season & Snare, the music industry, Johnston County, and dating your business partner.

As it turns out, musician was not Casey's first career choice, "I was actually gonna be a Power Ranger. But, it turns out, that's not really a job." I can sympathize, seeing as my Hogwarts letter is STILL lost in the owl mail somewhere.

Like many young kids whose parents aren't quite sure what to get their children for Christmas, Casey received a drum set one year, "I didn't ask for one, but I had fun banging on it randomly for a year until an older friend of mine came over one day and tapped out a beat on it. I just had this moment of epiphany, like, you can make purposeful noise with that?!"

He got lessons at 15 and became so good that he graduated high school early in order to tour with a metal band. He did that for four and half years, which isn't as weird as it sounds Casey says, "if you want to play at a very high technical level as a drummer you either need to play metal or jazz."


Casey at the Drums


He joined the band through a mutual friend and left when he realized he had a real passion for singing... not screaming. Along the way he picked up guitar, piano, and song writing. Then, in 2014 he met Autumn at a studio session in Raleigh that he had booked to play drums. They still do a lot of concerts in Raleigh, where they have ties to the music scene.

"Instead of going on a normal date we started writing music together and the connection was instant. We both have a love for pop and folk. Our sound inspiration comes from bands like the Civil Wars and Broods. We complement each other in what we bring to the music. I'm from Johnston County and so sometimes a little southern, country, rock sneaks in. Autumn is from Seattle so she sometimes tempers the songs with a soft, rainy day vibe."

I asked how their writing sessions go, "normally one of us gets an idea and then we bring it up to each other and continue together. I think the fact that we're dating makes our song writing better, it adds honesty. But, it can be difficult too. To set aside your relationship and make decisions as business partners."

Listening to Casey define their roles in the band, I get the feeling that having clearly defined tasks is what makes it work, "Autumn does a lot of the marketing and booking. She's great at it. And we've both become very savvy with social media, especially Periscope. That's where we caught our big break."

Periscope is a live-streaming service through Twitter. You jump on the app, start recording yourself, and Twitter let's people know that you're doing something cool on camera, giving your followers and other twitter members a chance to click a link and watch you. So, basically, Season & Snare can put on a concert in their living room whenever they want thanks to the internet.

"The unfortunate thing is that the music industry isn't just about talent and drive, it's about luck." But Casey says that a lot of talented and business-minded artists are turning to the rapid changes in technology and communication to gain an audience and following.

Season & Snare's big break (where talent, hard-work, internet savvy, and luck came together) took place during a Periscope session that started with 15 people logged-in to watch Autumn and Casey jam in their living room, per usual. Except that night they watched the hit count (the number of people currently watching them) jump from 15 to 100 to 1500. It turns out Aaron Paul, star of the hit TV show Breaking Bad, had stumbled upon their Periscope session and digged their music, tweeting out Season & Snare to his 2.5+ million followers.


Aaron Paul on Twitter

But, wait, it gets better. Because of that one session, Season & Snare ended up being the first live feed to go "viral" on Periscope. So the company contacted Casey and Autumn, congratulating them on their success and talent, thanking them for using the platform, and inviting them to play at one of the first Periscope Summits in NYC.

I asked Casey what that feels like, "It was crazy! We're performing and speaking at the next summit in San Francisco coming up soon. Our success with Periscope has given us a bigger following on the west coast than we have in our home state. That's the power of the internet."

I asked if he thought the internet would ever make labels obsolete, "I don't think they'll ever be obsolete, having a record deal can make a lot of things easier. But social media and crowd-sharing is making it easier for independent artists to compete in the market, to make it without a label. Ideally, Season & Snare would like to be an independent band with a good distribution company."

The bigger you get as a band, the more you travel. Both nationally and internationally. I wanted to know what Casey misses most about JoCo, "the first time I went to NYC was a little shocking. Everyone walks with their heads down, not making eye contact. In Johnston County, you can be a complete stranger but we make eye contact with you, we nod, we say hello. Southern hospitality is the best. It's nice to return and feel welcome."

Speaking of returning, Season & Snare will be making Four Oaks, NC their base of operations for a while. In between recording music and touring, Casey and Autumn will be opening up a music school in their home, his grandparents old home actually. Casey was very close to his grandparents, who lived next door to him growing up. In fact, he recently released a song he wrote about their love for each other. Called To Ann, With Love. You can listen to it and learn more about it here. Be prepared to cry. The song is absolutely beautiful both musically and lyrically.

With their love and support of him, it feels right that the home his grandparents shared will be a place for making and sharing music. Johnston County doesn't have a lot of places that kids can go outside of school to learn music appreciation, especially early in life. Casey is hoping to change that, "we'll be teaching drums, guitar, piano, violin, and maybe a few more."

Best of all, Season & Snare have their very first EP debuting late this month. In conjunction with a TV show. Yes, you heard that right!  On December 22, ABC News is doing a special on new social media trends, and Periscope will be a part of that. One part of the special is about how new bands are using apps like Periscope to reach new, larger audiences, and Season & Snare will be featured in the segment which will air nationally. Be on the look-out for more news regarding the EP release date on the Season & Snare Facebook page - and LIKE them while you're there.

It was an incredible experience to sit down with Casey and talk music. As it always is when I speak with one of the many talented artists that come out of Johnston County. I get to play Rolling Stone reporter for a day. Hopefully soon, you'll see Season & Snare on the cover of Rolling Stone for real. I'm certainly glad that they're chasing their dreams and that they've decided to share their music and talent with Johnston County along the way. Casey is optimistic you'll be able to see them perform in the county at some local gigs they hope to book in 2016. And, if not, there's always Season & Snare on Periscope.

UPDATE: You can now listen to snippets of Season & Snare's new EP Seek here, and follow the link to purchase on iTunes! Happy Listening!


Casey & Autumn

*Blog Cover Photo Taken by Daniel Scheirer.

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A Potter. A Preacher. A Process.

A Potter. A Preacher. A Process.

"Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." Jeremiah 18:12

As a child in Duplin County, Frank Grubbs remembers digging in the clay at creek beds to mold little works of art. Of course, at the time, he didn't have a wheel or a kiln, but he was a persistent potter. His little hands would work the clay into what he imagined and then eventually the rain would wash it away. Grubbs has always been artistically inclined. But his art has evolved rather slowly in iterations that parallel the stages of his life. From his small creek-clay creations to his obsession with modeling clay in high school art class, to his senior year at Atlantic Christian College when he found himself in an Intro to Ceramics class.

A life-long career in the ministry has rivaled a life-long passion for pottery. The latter of which was truly sparked during a field trip during the Intro to Ceramics class, "it was a field trip to the studio of Dan Finch Pottery. He had a studio in an old converted tobacco barn. I knew one day I was gonna be a potter with an emphasis on wheel thrown pottery." This conviction led Grubbs to buy his first wheel and kiln in 1978, he still has both. After 41 years in the ministry, and counting, he is getting more serious about pottery. Not just about selling it or making a business out of it, serious about the art itself and the joy he finds in it.

"It's like Christmas morning every time I open the kiln, when that feeling goes away I'll quit." I asked him what he meant by that, "pottery is an ancient art that has evolved over time through wonderful accidents discovered by potters before me along the way. And yet no two pieces of pottery are ever truly identical. Even with all the controls and knowledge and experience, I have no idea what I'm gonna get when I open the kiln. Even if I repeat the process exactly, a piece of pottery can emerge different from the piece before it."

"Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." Isaiah 64:8

What I took away from my time in Frank Grubb's studio, which exists between his home and a barn out back, is that pottery is in fact a process. It goes a little something like this: raw clay to some sort of formation, to a kiln firing to a glaze application, to a glaze firing and then finally any sealing or setting. But Grubbs says he has never been very comfortable with glazing, and a lot of the work he does, and continues to experiment with, is called alternative firing. This includes barrel firing, pit firing, and a method called raku. The last of which involves decorating the pot while it is still hot from the kiln (and when I say hot I mean over 1,000 degrees hot). Grubb's pottery is most known locally for his unique application of horse hair during the raku process but you can really add anything - other types of hair, sugar, alcohol, or even feathers.

Grubbs says that raku is about careful temperature regulation, "if the pot is too hot the horse hair bounces off and disintegrates. If the pot is too cold the hair simply melts into the pot without leaving a mark. I have found that the best temperature range is between 1150-1200 degrees."

Walking around the house and studio is an amazing experience, with so many different shapes, styles, and colors of pottery jumping out at you. You can actually see everything for yourself tomorrow, Saturday, December 5th. For the past 2-3 years Grubbs has done an Open House and this year it will be at his home. You can show up any time from 10:00AM to 9:00PM. The address is 101 Cobblestone Court Smithfield, NC 27577. And it's the perfect season to purchase pottery as a gift. You will be able to purchase a truly unique piece of art during the Open House to give a friend or family member. If you are reading this from another town or state and would like to purchase your very own piece of Frank Grubbs pottery, then good news... he ships! You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A preacher who is a potter. Or a potter who is a preacher? Both take patience. Both instill a sense of wonderment over works wrought.  Frank Grubbs is both talented and extremely passionate about his art. It was mesmerizing to hear him talk with such enthusiasm. It made me want to try pottery. To make something with my hands. Owning a piece of pottery, crafted with hands that pour love into its making, is probably as close as I'm going to get though. But you can get that close too. Tomorrow. At the Frank Grubbs' Pottery Open House.

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Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday

Everyone has their own opinions surrounding Black Friday. Some would classify it an obsession. Some, a tradition. While others find it's slow erosion of Thanksgiving Day and family-time appalling. Whether you're spending Friday the 27th of November in front of the couch or in line at a store, you certainly have the next day, Saturday the 28th, to go shopping or shop some more. And the Saturday after Thanksgiving has, for the past 5 years, been known as Small Business Saturday.

Started in 2010 and championed by American Express, Small Business Saturday is one day out of the year where shoppers are encouraged to focus their attention and buying-power on small, locally-owned businesses. These are the shopkeepers on the corner, the chefs serving-up homegrown dishes in the kitchen, the artists and growers and merchants on main streets across the country. They have hand-made, hand-picked, and personally-selected items in their stores that would make the perfect Christmas gift for someone on your list. They can help you pick the most cheerful decorations, the perfectly-paired wine, or provide a warm meal to keep you going while you shop the day away.

The best part is that whether you're a local or a visitor to Johnston County this holiday season, small business shops and restaurants are all around. They're waiting to welcome you this Saturday. In fact, the Johnston County Visitors Bureau (JCVB) has been working on creating and posting videos that highlight all the many things to do along the main streets in Johnston County. You can view the Benson video here and the Clayton video here. Don't forget about Four Oaks' boutiques and general store, Selma's plethora of antique shops, and Smithfield's downtown offerings. Keep on the lookout for videos coming about these area's as well. This Saturday would be an excellent time to check out all these downtown areas for yourself.

It is on days like Small Business Saturday that we can reflect on how important these businesses are to our local economy. And tourism, by definition, exists to support and sustain the success and growth of these businesses by bringing in visitors from outside the county to enjoy everything that JoCo has to offer. So this Saturday, thank a small business owner and get all your friends and family Christmas presents that have been "sourced-locally".

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Beer Wine & Shine Trail

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Travel around the county to four award-winning wineries, two breweries and get a taste of brandy along the way!  Receive a Free $30 coupon book when you complete the trail.


Meeting Planners

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Johnston County offers conveniently located and affordable conference facilities for meetings, reunions, and unique destination weddings sites.  Why not select a historic home or horse farm for your next event?


Group Tour Operators

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Groups have discovered exits along I-40 and I-95 for outlet shopping, music theatre, museums and heritage sites.  Call today for custom itinerary planning.


Hotel Packages

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We have created several special hotel packages including a Girlfriends Getaway for outlet shopping, we know you need a break and great deals on shoes!  Click here to book your getaway today.


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Check out what other travelers say about Johnston County, North Carolina on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor
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