BREWTON, Fla. (WKRG) — When News 5’s Drexel Gilbert heard about a Brewton restaurant named “Drexell & Honeybee’s,” well, she just had to check it out! What she found is a place that’s been named the ‘nicest place in Alabama’ by Reader’s Digest and a place that’s bringing a community together one hot lunch at a time.
Lisa McMillan knows food. But, she also knows what it’s like to go without food. When the Brewton native was 20 years old, living in Michigan, unemployed and broke, she learned all about hunger.
“I would sit in that empty apartment so hungry. I would smell barbecue cooking and I would just cry because I didn’t have anything to eat.”
McMillan carried that memory with her when she returned to the Brewton area. In 1995, she was behind an elderly woman in a local grocery store who was digging in her purse for change to pay her $12 grocery bill. McMillan says she stepped in and paid the bill. Then she followed the woman into the parking lot.
“I asked her if this happened often. She told me yes, that sometimes between buying medicine and food, the food had to be second,” said McMillan. “I asked her if there were other people like her. She gave me 26 names. The next morning, I was making 26 breakfasts to give away.”
McMillan and her husband, Freddie McMillan, have spent the last 24 years cooking and giving food away. She gave food to hungry college students at the local community college. She stocked a food pantry at her church. She and Freddie stocked a van with groceries and would roll through neighborhoods, giving food to those who needed it. One situation really struck her.
“We showed a cooler full of meat and other cold foods to a man who obviously needed it but he refused. When we took the other groceries into the house, I saw why. He had no refrigerator. In the middle of summer, he had no way to even have a cold drink,” said McMillan as she wiped away tears. “We couldn’t afford a refrigerator, so we went a bought a cooler and stocked it. We went back every couple of days with more ice and to make sure food was in there.”
As her passion grew, so did her dream. Last year, armed with a small grant and retirement money, Lisa and Freddie opened “Drexell & Honeybee’s” in downtown Brewton. It’s a donations-only lunch restaurant which is staffed entirely by volunteers. There’s no menu and no posted prices. Just tray after tray of meatloaf, ribs, scalloped potatoes, turnip greens, and many other down-home southern dishes.
Customers pay what they can… and only if they can. Payment is made in a screened-off donations box. Lisa doesn’t want anyone to feel embarrassed if they can only afford pennies, or nothing at all.
“If the poorest person came through that door, nothing could turn them around, they would come in and eat,” said McMillan. “I don’t know who puts in what and I don’t want to know.”
Not all of the diners come because they need a free hot meal. Some come because they support the restaurant and they often donate more than the cost of the meal. Others are seniors living on a fixed and tight income being able to pay what they can afford for a hot, healthy lunch is a blessing.
“I live on Social Security and this helps me,” said Naomi Scurlock. The resident of a local retirement center eats here daily with 3 of her retirement center friends. “Some people pay a little bit, some don’t pay anything because it’s for the people.”
And what about skeptics who tell Lisa she may be feeding people who aren’t really in need?
“A lady asked me one time if you had 20 people in line and you knew for a fact that ten of them were not hungry but you didn’t know which ten, what would you do? I said, you feed all 20. That’s what you have to do.” She added, “People say, ‘oh, they’ll get paid tomorrow, they’ll have money tomorrow.’ No. We’re talking about today. TODAY. Not tomorrow, now what you had yesterday, TODAY.”
Donations of food, and of money from diners who can pay, help keep the restaurant going. Mostly, though, Lisa says this place runs on love… and faith.
“God wants us all to be of service to others. He wants all of us to be of service to others. We are doing this with great joy.” McMillan added, “I know I’m not going to solve the world’s problems, but everybody has to do their little bit.”
That “little” bit making a big difference at Drexell & Honeybee’s where sometimes the only thing diners leave in the donations box is a note… and in this place, that seems to be the real payoff. Fighting back tears, McMillan recalls the very first note she received.
“It said, ‘Because of you, a family of 4 ate today.’ That was the very first one.”
McMillan says neither she nor her husband is paid for their work at the volunteer-staffed restaurant. If you’d like to see the entire interview with Lisa McMillan click the link below. To contact McMillan for more information on Drexell & Honeybee’s, you can go to their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/foodyescashno/ or call 251-727-2411.