The Nicest Place in Alabama: Drexell & Honeybees Donations Only Restaurant

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2019 FINALIST
"Where all are welcome!"

Drexell & Honeybees gives food and dignity to people who need it most and has inspired the surrounding community to do the same.

Drexell & Honeybees gives food and dignity to people who need it most and has inspired the surrounding community to do the same.

What do you do if you’re hungry but don’t have the money for much food, let alone a hot meal? If you’re in Brewton, Alabama, just head over to Drexell & Honeybee’s Donations Only Restaurant. It’s open four days a week for lunch, plus breakfast on Tuesdays and dinner on Fridays, and lives up to its name.

Depending on the day and what’s in season, you’ll find a good variety of country foods: barbecued ribs, chicken and dumplings, mac and cheese, and blueberry cobbler. But what you won’t find anywhere is a price. A small box near the exit is the only source of income for the restaurant.

“People are poor. It’s a problem,” says Lisa Thomas-McMillan, who opened the restaurant with her husband, Freddie, in March 2018. “But over the years I’ve noticed more people are taking on the problem.”

Drexel & Honeybee’s is at the vanguard of a growing movement. There are currently about 60 pay-what-you-can donation restaurants in the United States. This new outpost in Brewton, a small blue-collar town of about 5,000 folks near the Florida border, feeds about 100 people a day and is staffed entirely by volunteers.

The community pitches in too. Farmers around Brewton regularly donate things like tomatoes, cucumbers, and potatoes. Two of them have even planted new vegetable gardens just to supply the restaurant.

Other locals, many of whom keep chickens, regularly donate extra food and fresh eggs. The restaurant can’t use them because of federal regulations, but nothing goes to waste. Thomas-McMillan donates it to people in need, often the elderly or ill.

Recently, a 15-year-old boy wanted to donate his prize pig that he raised with the local 4-H club, but the restaurant couldn’t accept because it wasn’t USDA inspected. So he did the next best thing he could think of—sold it to someone else and donated the money to Drexell & Honeybee’s. All $457 of it.
— The Editors

The Nomination

Whether you have a pocket full of money or are broke, you will always be welcome here. Chances are if you’re down on your luck, you’re likely to leave with more than just a warm meal as helping hands are willing to assist you with other needs.

Drexell & Honeybees isn’t a charity that was established by a large organization — it’s simply one couple’s desire to fulfill their mission statement, “We Feed The Need.”

Courtesy Cindy Dixon
Lisa and Freddie Thomas-McMillan, serving up good country food since 2018.

Whether you have a pocket full of money or are broke, you will always be welcome here. Chances are if you’re down on your luck, you’re likely to leave with more than just a warm meal as helping hands are willing to assist you with other needs.

Drexell & Honeybees isn’t a charity that was established by a large organization — it’s simply one couple’s desire to fulfill their mission statement, “We Feed The Need.”

Eleze “Lisa” Thomas McMillan began her journey many years ago with limited resources. She cooked meals at home and delivered to people in need and even drove an old van around out in the country delivering food to those less fortunate. She was so passionate about wanting to help the hungry that she set out on two different marches to raise awareness. The first, in 2004, was to the state capitol in Montgomery. When she didn’t receive satisfaction from the Governor, she set her sights on Washington D.C. In 2005, she set out and trekked 900 miles seeking solutions to the nationwide problem of people not having enough money to adequately feed themselves. She still did not see any action but she continued to work hard to do what she could for at least the people in her own community.

Through the years, she ran a food bank and even opened her home to the needy. In 2012, she met and married a kindred spirit, Freddie McMillan. This union not only fulfilled each other’s needs as partners, the combined force has brought so much love and help to this community. They worked hard to feed local college students who were away from family with limited funds. Wanting to do even more, they purchased and renovated a building opening Drexell & Honeybees Donations Only Restaurant in 2018. The restaurant is open Tues-Fri serving lunch 11 am to 1 pm. The menu varies and offers delicious home-cooked foods such as roast, chicken, ham, ribs, greens, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, bread, dessert, and ice tea. They unselfishly hosted a Christmas Day dinner so that anyone who longed for the scrumptious food of that special day would not be disappointed.

Courtesy Cindy Dixon
Delicious Christmas dinner with friends and neighbors — how can you beat that?

Lisa and Freddie do all of the prep, cooking, serving, and cleanup themselves as volunteers come and go. If this isn’t a big enough undertaking, they’ve recently begun serving breakfast on Tuesdays to senior citizens and even added a Friday night dinner. Lack of money will never be a show stopper for the hungry at Drexell & Honeybees. From the minute you walk in the door until you leave, it’s never even brought up. If you have money, on your way out the door you can step behind a screen located in the corner and drop some in the box; if you don’t, no one notices, cares or says a thing. Luckily, people who do have money come by and leave more than their fair share to help keep the restaurant open. Also, local farmers donate some of their crops such as greens, potatoes, and squash. Other individuals and organizations bring all kinds of needed items so that the pantry stays full.

Sometimes, people who don’t even know about Drexell & Honeybees and in need of a whole lot more than a warm meal are lucky enough to find themselves in the nicest place with the nicest people! Here’s just one example. Lexus came to Brewton from Florida and had nothing and was hungry. Luckily, she shared her story with a lady in a local store who immediately told her where to go for a hot meal. She went into the Donations Only Restaurant and told Lisa and Freddie about her sad situation. They realized she needed assistance and went into action. After serving her a wonderful meal, they took her to a local hotel where they funded her stay until they could work out a more permanent solution.

Another story also comes to mind — this couple didn’t even have to come into the restaurant to receive generous kindness. Bonita and Thomas were passing through Brewton pushing a shopping cart. I have to admit, my husband and I saw them on the way home from town and we discussed how sad it was but yet we went on about our day. But, Lisa saw them and took the opportunity to stop and talk to them. They were on their way to Tennessee from Miami. They looked sunburned and worn out. Lisa and her friend, Ruby, took them to the Huddle House and fed them and even gave them a few dollars and some snacks to help with their journey. Lisa asked them how they had been treated so far on their trip and they replied that Brewton had been the kindest place so far! They were in a hurry to get back on the road so they could find a place to sleep before nightfall, so they all parted ways. When Lisa made it home and told Freddie about it, it bothered him so much that people were sleeping in the woods on the ground with snakes crawling that they drove around until they found them. Bonita and Thomas had set their tent up on the tree line and were about to lay down for some rest when Freddie and Lisa pulled over and offered to drive them to Tennessee. They were in disbelief but so grateful for the offer.

Lisa needed to stay in town to be ready for the next day’s meal, but Freddie and a friend drove them to Cleveland, Tennessee, which is 343 miles one way. How many people do we see walking down the road and yet we continue on our way? While most of us hate to see people down on their luck, we don’t do a thing to help. But luckily, we live in the nicest place with the nicest people who own and operate Drexell & Honeybees Donations Only Restaurant providing an example that we should all follow.