Billy Reid’s Southern Charm
Published June 12, 2009
Billy Reid loves a good party. So last weekend the CFDA-winning designer, known for his Southern-inspired sportswear, rolled out the requisite hospitality—small-batch bourbon, shrimp and cheese grits, and his band, the Seersuckers—to celebrate the the opening of his flagship boutique in Florence, Alabama. This week, he’s back in New York at his Bond Street shop to teach city slickers to grill for the seventh annual Big Apple Bar-B-Q Block Party. He’s got smoked sausage and homemade pimento, and smoked turkey and pork shoulder sliders, served up by Alabama’s own Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, and live indie rock served up by Brooklyn’s The Monuments. Before we got too deep into the Pappy Van Winkle, we talked to Reid about the new store, Alabama, and where he’ll lay out in the sun this summer.
MICHAEL SLENSKE: What’s the concept behind the new store?
BILLY REID: It was a multi-fold situation. As a company, we were operating out of three different locations. We’re in a warehouse in Dallas, Texas, where my business partners were living; then my design studio is here in Florence, Alabama; then we have e-commerce fulfillment in Dallas as well. What we did is combine all those things into one building in Florence. And upon doing that we moved my shop.
MS: Tell me about the new building. How did you choose it?
BR: Florence has a main street called Court Street and it’s really well-preserved and there’s a building here that was the bookstore and it was sort of a landmark building, the bookstore sort of becomes the center of town, and it’s been vacant for a year and we took the building and built out a shop downstairs, took it back to its original conditions at the turn of the century and put our studio and headquarters upstairs and our warehouse in the back of the building.
MS: Did you recycle materials and the existing structure like you did at the New York shop?
BR: We did. This place had been modernized back in the late 60’s, early 70’s. They dropped the ceiling, all the things that were happening at that time, so we ripped all that stuff out and saved all the woodwork and put it back together. Underneath that drop ceiling was a beautiful pressed tin ceiling and then underneath the walls was exposed brick that had been there forever. So we ripped it back to nothing and then built in this huge library. It has 14-foot ceilings. There were these beautiful old apartments that had been there originally.
MS: Are you doing specific products for that store, specific to either Alabama or the new space?
BR: Not yet. We’d love to, but we’d like to have a book selection, a lot of vintage things, also furniture. And there’s obviously t-shirts and various samples that’ll end up here that we have to sell. The other part we built is just an outlet, so when people come to shop here there’s a whole section that’s last season’s samples and things of that nature.
MS: Why stay in Florence? Why not move to New York?
BR: The main thing is that I’m not going to move. It works out great being here, we all wanted to have the store here. It makes a lot of sense economically. We can operate profitably out of here as far as rent goes and cost of living. And this is where my family is. We certainly spend a lot of time in New York and that works.
MS: What do you like about Alabama so much?
BR: I have three children and I was raised in South Louisiana and I kind of want to raise my children the same way. Plus, this is my wife’s hometown, and she has a big family. She’s one of nine children and there’s 30 grandchildren in the family so it just works for us personally. I just like living here. It’s what you know and your environment and upbringing can’t help but inspire your work.
MS: The food’s great too.
BR: My grandmother was an incredible cook and my great-grandmother was a school cafeteria chef for 35 years in Louisiana. She had a bakery in her house and a small farm back behind there and we sort of grew up with a lot of food around the house.
MS: Sounds like you’re bringing that idea to New York this weekend.
BR: Have you ever eaten at Jim N’ Nicks?
BR: God, they make some good stuff. They’re serving this pimento cheese and smoked links that they make and it’s a pretty wicked combination. I prefer to mix the two together. We actually met them through the Southern Foodways Alliance, which is a group that sort of helps nurture Southern Cuisine, save recipes, try to help restaurants that have been around keep family traditions going. I’ll give you an example, there’s this restaurant called Middendorf’s in Manshac, Louisiana. It’s between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas — essentially a bellwether hurricane destination. When a storm comes they’re just going to get mutilated. Well, they’ve been through several different storms and several different rebuilds — they’ve been around 75 years — and they make incredible fried seafood. Their specialty is shaved catfish. The shaving is something that if Middendorf’s were to go away, that culinary experience would probably go away, because no machine can do it. You have to do it by hand. It’s been passed down like three generations. So if that restaurant goes under you lose that. So SFA is helping them promote themselves.
MS: So they’re basically archiving those recipes?
BR: Exactly, and how it’s done.
MS: And they’re pretty open to letting people in on their family secrets?
BR: Yeah. Not many people want to sit around and shave catfish. It’s not the easiest thing to do.
MS: What’s your favorite type of barbecue?
BR: I love pulled pork. One good thing about our region is that you can drive an hour in any direction and the barbecue is totally different. I also love smoked chicken and then you go up the road and they have the pork, then you go up to Memphis and the ribs will just blow you away.
MS: Where do you like to go?
BR: We usually go to two places: one for the chicken and one for the pork and there’s a place here called Bunion’s. It’s a tasty name, everybody’s favorite. And he does a really slow-cooked pulled pork that they serve with a hot slaw — like coleslaw with hot sauce — and, man, if you get some golden potato chips and grind ’em up in the slaw…yeah.
MS: I was actually just in Vail and someone asked me if I wanted my pulled pork Alabama style.
BR: No way. MS: Is that a common thing?
BR: [Laughs] Never heard of it.
MS: Huh. So what’s the chicken place?
BR: There’s a little place called Sonny’s in Decatur. He does a smoked chicken with a white sauce, which is vinegar, mayonnaise, pepper and poppy seed thing. There’s another place called The Outpost and they take their smoked chicken and the white sauce and make a chicken salad and you can buy it by the quart. It’s good for that low-carb, Atkins diet.
MS: You looking to go anywhere special this summer?
BR: We’re going down to Cape San Blas, which is near Apalachicola, Florida. Just taking the family down there. It’s called the “Forgotten Coast” of Florida, this little spot of Florida that quit developing in the ’60’s. You have the bay, you have the ocean, and fishing is great down there. They’ve got scallops, oysters, shrimps. It’s kind of got an east coast feel to it in a way. The sand is sugar white, so it’s a really neat place.
MS: Should be relaxing.
BR: I’m really looking forward to it.