In 1982, Frank Stitt opened Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham, Alabama’s Five Points South neighborhood. Highlands has since employed hundreds of Birmingham workers, whose labor has cemented the restaurant’s reputation. This oral history collection highlights the life and labor of some of the key chefs, waiters, and bartenders who have worked (or still work) at Highlands Bar & Grill.
A restaurant depends on a committed and talented and tenured staff. The people documented here include pastry chef Dolester Miles, who begins her work before dawn. She and her crew make desserts for Highlands, Chez Fonfon, Bottega, and Bottega Café. Guadalupe Castillo quality-checks morning deliveries, preps for dinner, and returns in the evening to shuck and serve oysters and pick crab for seafood platters.
Chef de Cuisine Zack Redes works with his colleagues in the kitchen to execute classic Highlands dishes and develop new dishes, while teaching labor and food cost management. Bartender Chris Conner mixes cocktails and makes conversation and innovates, too. He developed a non-alcoholic drink roster so that all may enjoy something from the bar.
The hospitality of waiters amplifies the food and drink. Patrick Noling and Goren Avery work to meet the needs of guests and convey the intents of the kitchen. Noling extensively researches dishes to explain them to his guests. Avery nurtures relationships with regulars and curates joyful experiences.
Some of these individuals began at Highlands before moving on to other food industry careers. Former chef de cuisine Drew Robinson helped build Birmingham-based Jim ‘N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q into a regional chain. Michael Dean, a onetime Bottega waiter, founded Terra Preta Farm with his wife, Lindy Dean. Together, they now supply Highlands and other restaurants with produce.
The excellence of these cooks and waiters and bartenders has driven the excellence of Highlands. Their camaraderie and mutual respect make it possible for Highlands Bar & Grill to serve Birmingham, the South, and the nation.
On the night of July 22, 1999, Highlands Bar & Grill hosted a celebratory dinner for the founders of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Frank and Pardis Stitt, the owners of Highlands Bar & Grill, were among those 50 founding members.
In 2006, SFA honored Frank Stitt with our Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award for his accomplishments as a restaurateur, author, and steward of Southern food culture.
SFA released these oral histories, collected by Eric Velasco and edited by Annemarie Anderson, on July 22, 2019, the twentieth anniversary of that dinner.