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Mercedes to bring 26,000 employees to Birmingham, spend $30 million

Over the next four years, a steady stream of Mercedes-Benz employees from around the world will visit Birmingham to participate in Mercedes new “Brand Immersion Experience.”

The two-day three-night experience will take employees to the Tuscaloosa County plant where they will visit the Mercedes museum, tourist center and manufacturing space. The employees will have an opportunity to drive the cars and see “where the cars are born,” said Gareth Joyce, vice president of customer service for Mercedes Benz USA at a plant tour on Friday.
Mercedes-Benz 2015 C-Class test drive and plant tour

VANCE, Alabama — Mercedes-Benz C-Class by by MBUSI in Vance Alabama. Media from around the world were invited to the Vance assembly plant for a test drive, tour of the assembly line and panel discussion with Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management and Head of Mercedes-Benz Cars. (Joe Songer/

Approximately 26,000 Mercedes employees will fly into Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport for the experience and will be bussed to the plant daily. The employees will be staying in Birmingham hotels and dining in Birmingham restaurants as part of the program, Joyce explained.

“We are excited to work with Mercedes to host these employees over the next few years,” said Birmingham Mayor William Bell. “Our efforts to attract visitors and tourists from around the world to give them an opportunity to learn about Birmingham’s historic legacy and spend time and money in the city is starting to pay off. We look forward to this being the first of many large groups and conventions to frequent the city.”

The program, which will start pilot testing at the end of September, is estimated to cost approximately $30 million over the course of the next four years. The program will begin in earnest before the end of 2014. Two groups of employees will come through the program each week, and approximately 70 groups will go through the program each year.

“The only time we’ll pause is during the big football matches,” Joyce said.

The Brand Immersion Program was announced on Friday along with expansion plans for the facility. Mercedes-Benz will have the capacity to manufacture 300,000 cars per year at its Tuscaloosa County plant by 2015, up from a record 185,000 in 2013. In July, Mercedes announced the manufacture of its 2 millionth vehicle.

Mercedes also announced that an SUV similar to the Concept Coupe SUV announced in April will be manufactured at the Tuscaloosa plant starting in 2015 and will be called the “ML Coupe.” The car will be the fifth model built at the Tuscaloosa plant, along with the new C-Class Coupe, the M-Class, the GL-Class SUV and the R-Class crossover.

Although right now the Brand Immersion Experience is only budgeted for the next few years, Joyce said the program could be extended indefinitely if all goes well.

“I see the potential to make this an evergreen program,” Joyce said. “With the rate at which the brand is growing, I can see continuing to use this as a development platform into the future.”

Joyce said that Mercedes is always looking for creative ways to give both employees and customers a more complete experience.

“We are always in pursuit of the complete package,” he said, adding that an immersion at the Tuscaloosa facility would enable employees to get a better feel for the Mercedes brand, thus enabling them to serve Mercedes customers better in future.

Employees who attend the Brand Immersion Experience will be on a “journey” through Mercedes history (via the museum) and future (via the plant), Joyce explained.

“They’re going to learn about performance, safety, heritage, and what we’re doing in Alabama. It’s exciting,” he said. See

NASCAR announced the 2015 schedules

NASCAR announced the 2015 schedules for its top three national touring series Tuesday – the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck – and Talladega Superspeedway’s slate will resemble 2014. The tradition of the first weekend in May will continue May, 1-3, at NASCAR’s Most Competitive ribbon of asphalt with a triple header consisting of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the NASCAR Nationwide Series, as well as the ARCA Racing Series. On October 23-25, the Biggest and Baddest race track on the planet will play host two pivotal races in title chases for both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola and GEICO 500, respectively.

It’s National Senior Citizens Day

On August 19, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed Proclamation 5847 declaring August 21 as National Senior Citizens Day. In his Presidential Proclamation, President Reagan said:

“For all they have achieved throughout life and for all they continue to accomplish, we owe older citizens our thanks and a heartfelt salute. We can best demonstrate our gratitude and esteem by making sure that our communities are good places in which to mature and grow older — places in which older people can participate to the fullest and can find the encouragement, acceptance, assistance, and services they need to continue to lead lives of independence and dignity.”

It’s a day where we call up our grandparents, parents, relatives, friends, old professors, or anyone who reached that AARP age, and let them know how much we care about them.

It’s also a good excuse to volunteer at a retirement home and visit someone who may not receive many visitors. Or take a trip to the local V.F.W. and listen to war stories from our military veterans.

United States Congressman Bradley Byrne hosts a Senior Citizens Roundtable today from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the James P. Nix Center in Fairhope, Alabama. Representatives from key federal and state organizations will highlight services and benefits of special interest to senior citizens. Free blood-pressure checks and an ice cream social will be provided.

If you happen to a senior citizen, take advantage of your earned perks by checking out these discounts available year-round courtesy of LifeCareFunding:
•Arby’s: 10% off
•Ben & Jerry’s: 10% off
•Burger King: 10% off
•Chick-Fil-A: 10% off or free small drink or coffee
•CiCi’s Pizza: 10% off
•Denny’s: 10% off, 20% off for AARP members
•Dunkin’ Donuts: 10% off or free donut with coffee
•Hardee’s: $0.33 beverages everyday
•IHOP: 10% off
•KFC: free small drink with any meal
•Krispy Kreme: 10% off
•McDonald’s: discounts on coffee everyday
•Shoney’s: 10% off
•Sonic: 10% off or free beverage
•Subways: 10% off
•Taco Bell : 5% off; free beverages for seniors
•Wendy’s: 10% off
•Waffle House: 10% off every Monday
Also, Treasure Island Bed and Breakfast: 10% off

Birmingham Restaurant Week and more; here’s your food beat roundup

More frozen pops, an Uptown celebration, and a sneak peek at Birmingham Restaurant Week.

If you missed any of those stories from the Birmingham food beat this past week, here’s your Sunday roundup.

— 80 Pops, a small Irondale business with big plans to grow nationwide, has dipped into the frozen pops market, with a fleet of 10 push carts and a couple of trucks now out on the streets of Birmingham.

Go here to find out more about some of those 80 flavors – from sweet corn to mango-habanero cheesecake.

— Birmingham Restaurant Week 2014 doesn’t begin until Aug. 15, but on Wednesday night, guests may get a taste of what to expect at a preview party at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

Go here to find out which restaurants will be there, and how you may get tickets.

— Bonefish Grill at the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover has added 20 new items to its menu, from lobster grilled cheese to ahi tuna steak.

Go here to check out the new appetizers, entrees, drinks and desserts.

— Birmingham’s Uptown entertainment district celebrated its official grand opening with a street festival featuring dishes from all seven of its restaurants.

Go here to read more about Eat Up: A Taste of Uptown.

More food news from this past week:

— Blackwell’s Pub in Cahaba Heights reopened Thursday after being closed since late May because of damage caused by a kitchen fire that started in the adjoining Ashley Mac’s bakery and café.

Blackwell’s, which is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, also has added a few new dishes to its menu.

The address is 3151 Green Valley Road, and hours are 11 a.m. to midnight Mondays through Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.

— Wasabi Juan’s – whose menu features sushi burritos, ceviche tacos and spicy tuna nachos – is now open for lunch and dinner in Avondale.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

Wasabi Juan’s is at 4120 Third Ave. South, behind Saw’s Soul Kitchen and adjacent to the Avondale Brewing Company outdoor stage.

To read more stories by Bob Carlton, go here. For more Birmingham entertainment news, go here.

Applebee’s opening new Chelsea restaurant

After hosting invitation-only guests the past few days, the new Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar restaurant in Chelsea is making its official debut to the general public on Monday morning.

The restaurant located off U.S Highway 280 across from Walgreens on Chesser Drive is opening for business at 11 a.m. on Monday following construction on the new eatery that has occurred over the past few months.

The Alabama Tourism Department presents Alabama Road Trip giveaway

The Alabama Tourism Department announces a six-week Road Trip Giveaway with chances to win travel packages to Gulf Shores, Mobile, Huntsville, the Shoals, Birmingham and Montgomery. The winner of the grand prize will get to plan their own customized Alabama Road Trip.

“This road trip promotion is designed to highlight the variety of travel experiences available in Alabama,” said state tourism director Lee Sentell. “There is something for everyone, from a gulf coast beach vacation, to playing on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, to fine dining in Birmingham, to trips to North Alabama for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville and tours of the recording studios in Muscle Shoals.”

Prize package descriptions, complete rules and instructions on entering are available at To learn more about Alabama Road Trips, visit or download the Alabama Road Trips app, available on iTunes or the Google Play Store.

CNN features Little River Canyon in North Alabama on list of America’s natural wonders

In a country covering nearly 3.8 million square miles, there’s no shortage of natural wonders. Here are our favorite spots.

Alabama- Wild River
Rafters and kayakers will find some of the best white water in the South in the Little River Canyon National Preserve. But beware: They don’t call the most harrowing stretch “the Suicide Section” for nothing. These are expert-level rapids. To witness nature’s force from terra firma, soak in views of Little River Falls while picnicking nearby.

The Little River’s diminutive name is deceiving. It’s taken thousands of years for the river to carve out one of the deepest canyons east of the Mississippi River. The various creeks and tributaries that make up the Little River have the unusual distinction of flowing on top of a mountain. The river meanders atop Lookout Mountain from Georgia into Alabama. At its highest point, the river is 1,900 feet above sea level. It eventually plunges off the Cumberland Plateau at the head of the canyon.

For the complete article and list of natural wonders see

Saw’s BBQ in Homewood #1 on Paula Deen magazine’s 10 best barbecue places

Saw’s BBQ is No. 1 with Paula Deen, y’all. The popular Homewood barbecue joint tops the list of “The Best Barbecue across America” that appears in the July-August issue of Cooking with Paula Deen magazine, which is available on newsstands now.

Saw’s BBQ founder Mike Wilson said Wednesday afternoon he was pleasantly surprised when he learned his place was first on Deen’s list.

“To be named No. 1 in something like that is kind of what you do it for,” Wilson said. “I couldn’t believe it at first. It pays off, all of your hard work.”

Here’s what Deen’s magazine had to say about Saw’s BBQ:

“The focus of Saw’s BBQ is simple – good ole Southern soul food. Pioneered by Mike Wilson, Saw’s has taken Birmingham by a smoky storm. First opening in the residential area of Homewood, the venue has expanded to three locations where they serve classic pulled pork, chicken smothered in a distinctive white sauce, and barbecue-topped baked potatoes. Dubbed an ‘upscale dive,’ this barbecue joint is one both family and friends will enjoy.”

Since opening the original Saw’s BBQ in Homewood’s Edgewood neighborhood in 2009, Wilson has teamed with other partners to open two more Saw’s locations in Birmingham – Saw’s Soul Kitchen in Avondale and Saw’s Juke Joint in Crestline Park – and this spring, he started a Saw’s Street Kitchen food truck.

Last summer, Parade magazine included Saw’s Soul Kitchen on its list of the 17 top new barbecue places in America.

Cooking with Paula Deen is published by Hoffman Media, which is based in Birmingham. Deen, the Savannah, Ga., celebrity chef and cookbook author, is the magazine’s editor-in-chief.

For Cooking with Paula Deen magazine’s Top 10 list and to read the article online, go to:

100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before you Die mobile app active

What’s your favorite Alabama special dish?

The Alabama Tourism Department now has a mobile app called, “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die.” The mobile app entices users to sample some of Alabama’s best local restaurants.

Among the favored dishes: Baked grits from Highlands Bar and Grill, broiled seafood platter from The Bright Star, Baby Bleu Salad from the Homewood Gourmet, Athenian grouper from the Fish Market, a Pork-Stuffed Tater from Saw’s BBQ, and Bouillabaisse from Hot and Hot Fish Club.

The tourism department’s food exhibit has been touring the country. The exhibit has visited New York, New Orleans, Nashville and Atlanta. The traveling exhibit is now being displayed throughout the state. Following its run in Birmingham, the Art of Alabama Food will make stops in Orange Beach from July 2 to August 9 and in Florence in mid-August. The exhibit arrived at Birmingham’s Pepper Place today, and will remain until June 28th.

Thirty-six high-definition images of different signature dishes from some of Alabama’s local restaurants and state-wide chains are laid-out gallery-style. For more information, visit
For video, go to:

Alabama food exhibit opens in Birmingham at Pepper Place

The Art of Alabama Food, a photo exhibit that features many of the state’s iconic dishes, has made its way back home after exhibitions in New York City, New Orleans, Nashville and Atlanta.

The exhibit, which includes images of 36 dishes featured in the Alabama Tourism Department’s “100 Dishes To Eat in Alabama Before You Die” campaign, opened at Pepper Place in Birmingham last week and runs through June 28.

“With a large pool of culinary talent and innovative restaurants, it’s an exciting time for Alabama food,” Alabama Tourism Department Director Lee Sentell said in a media release. “This one-of-a-kind exhibit features images of signature dishes from restaurants across the state. It’s a great representation of Alabama’s unique food culture.”

In Birmingham, the exhibit is on display in a gallery space in Suite K, near Terrific New Theatre, in the Pepper Place complex at 2821 Second Ave. South.

Exhibit hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and 7 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

After Birmingham, The Art of Alabama Food will travel to Orange Beach, where it will be displayed at The Compleat Studio at The Whaf from July 2 through Aug. 9. Those hours will be 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Future tour stops will include Florence, Huntsville, Montgomery, Mobile and Dothan.

To see this article online, go to:

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