Couple Launches Zoom Groom Pet Service

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer

There’s a 2015 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter rolling through Sewanee and surrounding towns where a dog can get on board for a blueberry facial and nail polishing, topped off with a bandana. Of course, those no-frills canines can just grab a warm bath and blow dry.
Richard and Laura Lee Ray opened Zoom Groom Mobile Pet Spa earlier this month, a full-service grooming van they’ll pull right into a customer’s driveway. Richard is the driver and Laura is the pet groomer, boasting more than 30 years’ experience.
“I like being able to take a dog that’s in pretty rough shape and make it beautiful, and I can watch the reaction of his mom or dad, his human parents, when they see the dog when he’s done,” she said. “There’s a lot of creativity.”
Richard retired from the Air Force after serving 12 years in multiple countries and states, working in public affairs, including radio and TV jobs for the Armed Forces Network.
He said Zoom Groom saves people time and is less stressful for dogs and cats because they get one-on-one service at home and aren’t caged while they wait.
The Rays had just finished grooming a Lhasa-Poo in Winchester—a cross between a Lhasa Apso and poodle—on the day of this interview.
“The lady was able to sit in her house and do whatever she wanted to do,” Richard said. “She handed us a dirty dog, we gave her back a clean one.”
The van is equipped with a generator and propane gas to power and heat the water and grooming equipment. Decked out with pawprints and a logo of a cat and dog in a bubble bath, Laura said the Sprinter draws attention.
“Kids stare and have their mouths wide open,” she said. “Of course, I was the same way when I saw it myself.”
A handful of the many services Zoom Groom offers include yucca flea and tick treatment, de-shedding, teeth and ear cleanings, pads shaved and trimmed, and massage.
Zoom Groom primarily uses natural Quadruped products, Laura noted.
As for that blueberry facial, she said it’s a great way to pamper a dog.
“I like the smell of it and the results. It brightens up the face; if they have a white face it makes it whiter and it makes them smell really good for two weeks,” she said.
Laura, who also served in the Air Force and is originally from California, is a graduate of the Pedigree Professional School of Dog Grooming.
The Rays moved to the Sewanee area from Crestview, Fla., near Destin. They owned a mobile grooming service from 2009-10 in Florida, Richard said. After the Deepwater Horizon massive oil spill in April 2010, the area’s economy suffered and they closed the business.
Laura said the family fell in love with the Sewanee area just driving through when their kids were much younger and the mountains, cost-of-living and four seasons lured them to their new home.
The Rays attend Morton Memorial United Methodist Church in Monteagle, where Laura sings in the choir. In his spare time, Richard is a ham radio operator.
For more information about Zoom Groom call (931) 313-9950 or (423) 403-0123, or visit <>.

​County Commission Approves Funding for Middle Schools Design

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

In a split vote at the July 16 meeting, the Franklin County Commission approved funding the design plan for two new middle schools, cost $1.8 million, with the intention of issuing bonds at a later date to fund the actual building project.
“The commission was concerned about the project requiring a property tax increase,” said Chair Eddie Clark.
Clark initially favored putting off construction of two new middle schools until full repayment of the high school debt in 2022. Further research showed the county could defer principal payments on the middle schools project until 2022, and pay the interest from the Education Debt Service fund.
“We project a $3.4 million balance in the Education Debt Service at the end of this year,” Clark said. “With the growth we anticipate, I believe we can do it without a property tax increase. Worst case scenario will require a 5 cent tax increase in 2023.”
In addition to property tax, revenue from sales tax also supports the schools.
The Franklin County School Board began investigating how best to address the problem of the two aging middle schools in 2015. The board looked at building a single consolidated school, building two new schools, and renovating the existing structures. Initial cost estimates led the board to favor the more economical option of a single consolidated school. Public opinion strongly favored two schools. In May, Clardy Construction Consulting presented the board with a less costly plan for two new schools.
“I thought at one time the schools could be remodeled,” said Commissioner Angie Fuller, “but after seeing Clardy’s video showing the condition of the roofs and the mold in the walls, I’m in favor of two new schools.”
Commissioner Gene Snead, who favored a single consolidated school, argued,“over the next 50 years, the assumed life span of a building, it will cost the county more to operate two campuses.” Snead cited higher costs for STEM and vocational enhancement opportunities, as well as salaries, maintenance, and utilities.
Commissioner Dave Van Buskirk said, “I listened to the educators. They’re the experts. The one versus two schools decision isn’t just a money issue. There’s more to education than the building. It’s about smaller schools for the children and a better environment.”
Enthusiastic applause followed.
Commissioner Snead, Commissioner David Eldridge, and Commissioner Doug Goodman voted against the $1.8 million resolution.
“This will take a 25 year note,” said Eldridge. “There are other older schools that may require a major capital investment. I think we ditched the renovation option too quickly.”
“I’m thrilled,” said School Board Chair CleiJo Walker. “This is what the board wanted all along. The children will get to stay with their friends and school family.” Walker pointed to more opportunities for student participation in extracurricular activities like competitive sports. “We’re going to have a lot of community involvement.”

​Sewanee Writers’ Conference Continues Through July 28

Celebrating its 29th summer session, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference continues through Saturday, July 28, and features readings, panels and lectures by nationally-recognized faculty, editors, publishers and literary agents. All readings and lectures are free, open to the public, and held in the University of the South’s Mary Sue Cushman Room of the Bairnwick Women’s Center.

Upcoming events include readings by fiction writers Alice McDermott, Adrianne Harun, Jill McCorkle, Richard Bausch, Tony Earley, Jeffery Renard Allen, Allan Gurganus, Michael Knight, and Christine Schutt; poets B.H. Fairchild, Mark Jarman, Caki Wilkinson, Marilyn Nelson, Sidney Wade, Greg Williamson, Wyatt Prunty, Maurice Manning, A.E. Stallings, and Charles Martin; and playwright Dan O’Brien.
A complete Conference schedule can be found on page 8, or online at <>. Authors’ books are available at the University Book & Supply Store.
Supported by the Walter E. Dakin Memorial Fund established through the estate of the late Tennessee Williams, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference offers instruction and criticism to writers through a series of workshops, readings, and craft lectures in poetry, fiction, and playwriting. For more information, call (931) 598-1654 or visit <>.

​Final Events for the Sewanee Summer Music Festival

The Sewanee Summer Music Festival (SSMF) concludes this weekend.

The Friday Chamber Music Concerts showcase student chamber ensembles in three venues. These concerts are free and open to the public. The final Chamber Music Concert is today (Friday), July 20, from 7–8:30 p.m. at Guerry Auditorium, St. Luke’s Chapel and Convocation Hall.
The Saturday Garth Concert is 11 a.m.–noon, Saturday, July 21. The orchestral fellows in chamber music perform in the outdoor space between Convocation Hall and Walsh-Ellett Hall. These concerts are free and open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to bring a lunch and enjoy an outdoor concert.
The Faculty Artist Series Concert is 7:30–9 p.m., Saturday, July 21, in Guerry Auditorium. Repertoire includes Samuel Suggs: Solo Work to be Announced from Stage, Alejandro Viñao: Estudios de Frontera, and Antonio Dvorak: Piano Quintet.Tickets are $20.
The annual Festival Brass Concert is at 10 p.m., Saturday, July 21, in All Saints’ Chapel. This event is free.
The Cumberland Orchestra will perform Sunday, July 22, at 2:30 p.m., and the Sewanee Symphony performs at 3:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at <>, or at the box office on the day of the concert.
The Cumberland Orchestra, under the skillful hands of Daniel Boothe, will perform Jacques Offenbach: La Belle Helene Overture and the Sewanee premiere of Mark Camphouse: Dedications.
The Sewanee Symphony, under the direction of Robert Moody, will present “West Side Story” by Leonard Bernstein and “Engima Variations” by Edward Elgar.
For complete information and to purchase tickets, go to

​Early Voting for August Elections

Early voting in the Franklin County August elections begins on Friday, July 13. Voting takes place at the Franklin County Election Commission, 839 Dinah Shore Blvd., in Winchester. The office is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday during early voting. Early voting ends on Saturday, July 28.

For more information about Franklin County voting, contact Margaret Ottley at the Election Commission office at (931) 967-1893.
For Grundy County election information call (931) 692-3551. For Marion County election information call (423) 942-2108 or go to
The election will be on Thursday, Aug. 2. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
All voters must present an ID containing the voter’s name and photograph when voting at the polls, whether voting early or on Election Day.
Examples of acceptable forms of identification include Tennessee driver licenses, U.S. passports, Department of Safety photo ID cards, U.S. military photo IDs, and other photo IDs issued by the federal or Tennessee state governments.
The ballot for the state primary includes governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representative, Tennessee House of Representatives, State Executive Committeeman and Committeewoman, and judicial retention questions.
Offices up for election in the County General include winners from the county primaries, including mayor, sheriff and county commission, and seats on the school board.

​Morton Memorial Fish Fry

The 12th annual fish fry will be at Morton Memorial United Methodist Church (MMUMC) from 4–7 p.m., Saturday, July 28. This is a rain or shine event and take out is available. Come enjoy fried fish, french fries, hushpuppies, cole slaw and dessert.

All the proceeds will go toward the church’s community outreach programs, such as, Tools 4 Schools and Christmas on the Mountain.
Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children.
Call the church office at (931) 924-2192 for more information.

​Mountain Market for Arts and Crafts

The 59th annual Monteagle Mountain Market Arts and Crafts Show will be 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Saturday, July 28, and 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Sunday, July 29. The event is behind Monteagle City Hall, at 16 Dixie Lee Ave.

This event will feature talented artisans and crafters displaying their handmade creations, which includes fine art, stained glass, pottery, fine and primitive furniture, bird houses, paintings in a variety of media, quilts, woodcrafts, toys, jewelry, metal and glass art, hand sewn and embroidered items and much more. Children can enjoy the Kids Zone or the playground.
There will be several demonstrations, including blacksmithing, charcoal and graphite drawing, glass work, woodcrafts and chainsaw carving.
Prizes will be drawn throughout the day and you must be present to win.
A variety of delicious food will be available. There will be barbecue ribs, brisket, and pulled pork, beans, nachos, turkey legs, burgers, fries, hot dogs, corn dogs, kettle corn, funnel cakes, homemade banana pudding, pies, fresh made lemonade, sweet tea, sodas and more.
For more information call the South Cumberland Chamber of Commerce at (931) 924-5353 or email <>.

​Sewanee Writers’ Conference Begins 29th Year

12 days of readings and lectures open with fiction writer Randall Kenan

Celebrating its29th summer session, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference will run from Tuesday, July 17, through Saturday, July 28, and feature readings, panels and lectures by nationally-recognized faculty, editors, publishers and literary agents.
The Conference will begin with a reading by fiction writer Randall Kenan on July 17, at 8:15 p.m. All readings and lectures are free, open to the public, and held in the University of the South’s Mary Sue Cushman Room of the Bairnwick Women’s Center.
Randall Kenan is the author of a novel, “A Visitation of Spirits,” and a collection of stories, “Let the Dead Bury Their Dead,” which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, a nominee for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction, and a New York Times Notable Book. Recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Whiting Award, the Sherwood Anderson Award, and the 1997 Rome Prize from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, Kenan was the John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi and now teaches creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The first week will also feature readings by fiction writers Steve Yarbrough, Bobbie Ann Mason, Alice McDermott, Adrianne Harun and Jill McCorkle; poets B.H. Fairchild and Mark Jarman; and playwright Lauren Yee. The second week will feature readings by fiction writers Richard Bausch, Tony Earley, Jeffery Renard Allen, Allan Gurganus, Michael Knight and Christine Schutt; poets Caki Wilkinson, Marilyn Nelson, Sidney Wade, Greg Williamson, Wyatt Prunty, Maurice Manning, A.E. Stallings and Charles Martin; and playwright Dan O’Brien.
Editors from 32 Poems, 5E, Algonquin Books, The American Scholar, Blackbird, Copper Canyon Press, Crab Orchard Review, Ecotone, Grand Central Publishing, Grove Atlantic, The Hopkins Review, Kenyon Review, Knopf, Lookout Books, The Missouri Review, The New Criterion, New Directions, Northwestern University Press, The Paris Review, The Sewanee Review, The Southern Review, University of Arkansas Press, and The Weekly Standard will discuss publishing, as will agents from Aevitas Creative Management, Georges Borchardt Literary Agency, ICM Partners, Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agents, The Williams Company, and The Wylie Agency.
Agents from Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents, Folio Literary Management, and The Gernert Company will also be in attendance, and representatives from Actors Theatre of Louisville and Agency for the Performing Arts will meet with playwrights.
A complete Conference schedule can be found on page 5, or online at <>. Authors’ books are available for purchase at the University Book & Supply Store.
Supported by the Walter E. Dakin Memorial Fund established through the estate of the late Tennessee Williams, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference offers instruction and criticism to writers through a series of workshops, readings and craft lectures in poetry, fiction and playwriting. For more information, call (931) 598-1654 or visit <>.

​Sewanee’s Griffey Stars as ‘Oliver’

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer

“I have to be locked in a coffin, jump on someone’s back, get carried off stage—and I get smacked,” she said.
Eliza Griffey, 10, is eating a double chocolate muffin as she describes the abuse she takes as the lead in “Oliver!” showing at the South Jackson Civic Center in Tullahoma, through July 15.
The villains in the musical do not treat the orphan well, but Eliza only incurred one injury, a bruise during a practice faint. Her dad, Jason Griffey, said she had to learn “stage combat” for the role, which was a new twist for the young actress who’s also appeared regionally as Jojo in “Seussical” and Kate the orphan in “Annie.”
“There’s no stage combat in ‘Annie,’” Jason said, laughing. “…This is certainly her most demanding role, because Oliver is on stage so much, almost the whole show, and there’s a lot of physicality involved.”
The upcoming fifth grader at Sewanee Elementary School orders a water to help wash down the giant muffin. On the day of the interview at a local restaurant, it’s less than a week from the musical’s opening, which marks Eliza’s first leading role.
“’I’m nervous but excited at the same time,” she said. “I’m nervous that I’m going to mess up but I’m also really excited to just do it.”
Besides the physicality and stage time, Oliver is also demanding because it requires Eliza to tap into serious emotions.
“I think I’m better at comedy than drama, being sad and stuff like that,” she said, “because I can make people laugh really well, but it’s hard to make people feel sorry for me.”
Acting is her favorite activity, she said, between bites of chocolate muffin.
“I like that you get to be someone else for just a little period of time and you get to make the audience happy,” she said.
Besides acting, she also likes to read fantasy and graphic novels, adding that she loves to swim.
Jason, and Eliza’s mom, Betsy Sandlin, a Spanish professor at Sewanee, are both supportive in helping their daughter choose roles and get ready for performances.
“Mostly I’m just really proud of how hard she works,” Jason said. “The cool thing for me watching her, is that she’s found a passion where she works really hard and then gets to see the results of that hard work.”
He said when people clap and congratulate her on a good job, it’s touching.
“It’s really neat to see her be rewarded for her work she’s put in; that’s a cool thing to see for a dad,” Jason said.
One of Eliza’s biggest acting inspirations is Kristin Chenoweth, who’s appeared in film and TV, as well as being a Tony Award winner on Broadway. Eliza said she’d liked to act on Broadway eventually and her dream role is Elphaba in “Wicked.”
But in this moment, she’s relishing her first lead role in Tullahoma.
“It’s been really, really fun because I never feel like I have too much responsibility on me,” she said, “because all of the other cast kind of balances me out, because they’re so amazing.”
Based on Charles Dickens’ novel, Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!” tells the tangled story of an orphan who falls in with a gang of pickpockets, his rescue by the benevolent Mr. Brownlow, and the forces who seek to destroy young Mr. Twist.
Showtimes are 7 p.m. each night, except for the Sunday matinee, July 15, at 2:30 p.m. For advance tickets, visit <> or call (931) 455-5321.

​School Board Approves New Honors Requirements; Tennis in Jeopardy

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the July 9 meeting, the Franklin County School Board approved changes to the requirements for graduating with honors. The board also entertained a request on behalf of the jeopardized Franklin County High School tennis program.
Under the new honors requirements, a student must earn a 4.0 grade point average and take at least 12 honors courses. In conjunction with the change, Franklin County High School (FCHS) will give honors and advanced placement (AP) courses more weight than regular courses. The value for honors courses will increase by one half a point and AP courses by one point. For example, an A grade in honors English would be valued at 4.5 rather than 4.0.
FCHS Principal Roger Alsup recommended the changes “to benefit students when they apply to college.” Previously, the maximum grade point average a student could earn was 4.0. Students from schools with weighted grading report grade point averages up to 5.0 on their college applications. With no extra credit for the extra work, “students were dropping AP classes,” Alsup said.
Huntland High School will wait until the 2019–20 school year to adopt weighted grading.
Chris Barnhill addressed the board on behalf of the FCHS tennis team, which practices and hosts matches at the Winchester City Park’s four courts. Faced with refurbishing the courts at a cost of $114,000, the city has decided to close them.
“The only other courts in the county are in Sewanee,” Barnhill said. He argued refurbishing included lights, which weren’t needed. He quoted an estimated cost of $5,000-$6,000 per court for surface repairs.
“The parents and kids will fundraise, but they don’t have the authority,” Barnhill said. He appealed to the board to act as a partner in the fundraising effort—“Please don’t kill the team.”
The board recommend Barnhill contact school district Athletic Director Mark Montoy.
“We don’t have the money,” explained board member Lance Williams. “And, we’re not a fundraising body.”
In other business, the board approved the Code of Conduct for the 2018–19 school year and several policy revisions.
The Code of Conduct has three changes from last year: contact information for transportation issues; the state mandated zero-tolerance policy for students who assault teachers, administrators and school employees; and the state mandated requirement that for students with disabilities, written parental permission is required before corporal punishment can be administered.
The school system already has a policy stating corporal punishment shall not be administered unless parents return a signed consent form authorizing its use.
Accommodating state mandates to include achievement test scores in the final grade, the Testing Programs policy adopted the lowest allowable percentage for grades nine-12 (15 percent) and grades six-eight (10 percent) and a 5 percent weight for grades three-five.
The amended Background Investigations policy requires all employees to be fingerprinted and undergo background checks every five years. At a cost of $30 each, the 120 employees hired before the background check policy went into effect in 2000 will be processed. An additional 240 employees not checked in over five years will also be processed.
“It will cost money, but we need to do it,” said Assistant Superintendent Linda Foster.
Wanda Spencer appealed to the board to name the band room at FCHS after retiring band and choir director Tommy Isbell, who served 42 years. The board will consider the request. A celebration honoring Isbell is planned for 2–6 p.m., Saturday, July 21, at the Decherd Church of the Nazarene.
On July 16, the County Commission will vote on the board’s $1.8 million request to fund design plans for the new middle schools.

​Priestley Receives the Lifetime Achievement Award from TDEC

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) recognized two individuals and four entities at the Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards held at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs hotel. The annual ceremony also honored nine entities announced in May for their environmental achievements.

“These awards highlight what’s being done in Tennessee to preserve our natural resources, protect public health and the environment, and enhance our quality of life,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. “I applaud all of the 2018 winners for their continued work to make their respective industries and passions more sustainable.”
Larry W. Moore, of the University of Memphis, and Mary Priestley, a volunteer at South Cumberland State Park, were both presented with the Robert Sparks Walker Lifetime Achievement Award. Four organizations received the Pursuit of Excellence Award: Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, LLC, Warren Plant; the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga; Memphis Light, Gas and Water; and Sevier Solid Waste, Inc. The Pursuit of Excellence category is reserved for past award winners who have continued to take exemplary environmental actions.
Priestly has spent the majority of her life in the mountains near South Cumberland State Park. For more than 20 years, Priestly has supported the park as a volunteer and most recently, as director of the Friends group and chair of the Education and Outreach Committee. She recently worked to obtain funds to expand the park’s resources for outdoor youth education, including the transformation of the park’s visitors center into a hands-on museum.
She currently serves as an Associate Curator of the Sewanee Herbarium at the University of the South, where she has been for more than 20 years.

For more information about the awards, go to

​Monteagle Grapples with Police Benefits, Paid Holidays

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
At the July 10 workshop, the Monteagle Town Council heard from police officers who raised questions about their sick leave and health insurance benefits. The council also looked to questions related to a new ordinance addressing holidays for city employees.
The police officers requested the meeting with the council.
“We’d like to know if the sick leave policy can be amended,” said officer Jack Hill.
“It takes me three months to earn one sick day,” said officer David Streiby. “But we work more hours per week than other city employees, because we have 12 hour shifts. The policy is based on 8 hour shifts.”
Officer Colby Scissom, who opted out of the city health insurance plan, called attention to a clause in the benefits policy which stated, “if you opt out of health insurance the city may provide other benefits.”
“You don’t get something else if you turn down health insurance,” said alderman Ron Terrill.
“The policy says ‘may’ not ‘will’ provide other benefits,” noted city recorder Debbie Taylor.
“We need to fix this,” conceded Terrill.
“It takes an ordinance to amend a policy,” said Taylor.
The benefits policy was drafted in 2009 under a different administration.
Terrill proposed an annual review of city ordinances.
“We need to bring in city employees one department at a time and see what they need,” said alderman Ken Gipson. “If you find something else in the benefits policy, let us know and we’ll look at it,” he advised the officers.
In a discussion about police officers’ duties and frequent complaints about speeding, Gipson said the Monteagle Police only issued 12 speeding tickets in the month of June. Terrill expressed concerns about speeding on the road to the dump.
“Between DuBose Conference Center and the dump, the speed limit signs read 20 miles per hour going in one direction and 30 miles per hour going in the other direction,” noted officer Zack Fults.
Taking up revisions to the policy addressing holidays for city employees, the council selected 10 paid holidays.
“City employees will gain four holidays,” Gipson said, “for a total of 10, the same as the post office and banks.”
The council decided on the following paid holidays: New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
The council eliminated Martin Luther King Day and Presidents’ Day from the current list of holidays.
The proposed policy revision also stipulates employees who “must work on designated holidays will get double pay.”
The council will vote on the ordinance implementing the policy revisions at the regular meeting at 6 p.m., Monday, July 30.

​Octoπ Pizza and Wine Bar Opens in Sewanee

by Kevin Cummings , Messenger Staff Writer

Pizza, wine and beer are magic words to many people, and chef Keri Moser says she’s invigorated by the options her new restaurant offers.
Moser owned IvyWild for more than eight years and today (Friday) officially opened Octoπ, a wood-fired pizza and wine bar in the same location on 36 Ball Park Rd. Ivy Wild was a fine dining restaurant that locals went to for a special night out and out-of-towners learned about through regional and national acclaim. But Moser needed a new venture.
“I’ve loved Ivy Wild and I’m really proud of it and I think we’ve done wonderful things over the years,” she said. “I just believe everything has a lifespan and I have a certain attention span. I’m just ready to do something different and I’m super excited about this.”
At the heart of the newly remodeled eatery, complete with plenty of  octopus art, is the wood-fired oven, a product of a Maine company which features French clay construction and an artist-designed copper wrap.
Mike Seeber and Anna Brandt of Chattanooga were the first customers to eat pizza from the oven on June 22, the start of a “soft opening” weekend. Returning home from Nashville, Seeber and Brandt Googled nearby restaurants and came across IvyWild.
Finding a new restaurant in its place was a surprise, but a good one.
“The pizza is very unusual, very delicious,” Seeber said. “They’re going to be successful.”
Brandt and Seeber tried the Blue Ring Sting pizza, made up of red sauce, Pig Mountain hot sausage, sopressata, gorgonzola, mozzarella, Calabrian chili paste and a honey drizzle.
“It was exquisite,” Seeber said, “just the right degree of tomato and sweet.”
“Don’t be afraid of the Calabrian chili paste,” Brandt added. “It’s not that hot; it’s just savory and delicious.”
The travelers also ate a Davy Jones’s Locker pizza, which includes capers, octopus, mussels and a black alfredo sauce among its ingredients. In addition, the first customers tried an Inkling pizza with a Possum Bottom Farm mushroom blend, mozzarella, parmesan and olive oil.
“The pizzas exceeded our expectations,” Brandt said. “The texture of the crust is perfect; it’s just enough chew and just enough tang.”
Although the travelers didn’t drink any wine because of the drive, Octoπ offers small batch and lesser known craft wines.
“As somebody who is trying to make a living doing what I love and am passionate about, I love that our wine program is really supporting artisans and craftsmen,” Moser said.
The restaurant also boasts a selection of craft beers and ciders, including Mantra’s Saffron IPA from Franklin, Tenn., and Bahr and Sons’ Ugly Pug, a black lager from Texas.
Ivy Wild customers have been mostly positive about the change to pizza, Moser said.
“Ninety-nine percent just overflowed with excitement and 1 percent were crushed in horror,” she joked.
Woody Deutsch and his wife Anne were regulars at Ivy Wild, but Woody said he anticipates more great experiences.
“Ivy Wild was a restaurant of exceptional high quality,” he said. “It could make it anywhere in which fine dining was revered. It was amazing that Keri was able to maintain her vision in such a small market for as long as she did.
“We are all probably aware that the restaurant biz is a high burnout proposition, so it’s a very cool thing for Keri not to close the doors and walk away, but rather rekindle her food passion with a different approach,” he added. “I know the quality of Octoπ will be top notch, and will look forward to reaping the benefits as a customer.”
Moser said her inspiration came during a birthday trip to New York City for her 11-year-old daughter Ivy, the namesake of the old restaurant. They found a pizza and wine place near the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood that they loved.
“The flow of those two things together was so natural and so organic, that I got really excited about it,” Moser said.
During a return trip to New York City in March to do research for IvyWild, Moser and Christia Crook, the dining room manager, kept going back to that same pizza place.
Moser decided in April to transform IvyWild, but her daughter took the change hard at first.
“She’s grown up here since she was three and she has her name on the door,” Moser said. “She loves this place and I was really surprised by how upset she was when I told her.”
Ivy wrote nine questions for her mom to answer about the change and before the end, Moser said Ivy was drawing logos for Octoπ.
Both Ivy and Moser’s son Bryce, 16, have helped with the remodel, she added.
As for the name Octoπ, Moser said she loves octopuses, as well as writer H.P. Lovecraft. Cthulhu, one of Lovecraft’s creations, was a monster that at least partly resembled an octopus. She also couldn’t resist the wordplay of octopi and pizza pie.
Moser, a native of Houston, Texas, said she is in love with what is happening.
“The pizzas are just going to keep getting better, because I don’t sit still on anything,” she said.
Octoπ’s regular hours are Thursday through Sunday, 3 to 10 p.m.

​Award-winning Writer Alibar Returns to the Mountain

by Kevin Cummings, Messenger Staff Writer

Coffee cup in hand, dressed in shorts and a black T-shirt, acclaimed writer Lucy Alibar is chilling on the patio at the Sewanee Inn, overlooking the golf course on a humid Monday morning.
The day before she was in steamy southern Louisiana wrapping up a movie she wrote, which stars Viola Davis, Allison Janney and Jim Gaffigan. This week in Sewanee is a respite, but she’s also here to share her writing knowledge and support scribes at the School of Letters and the Sewanee Young Writers’ Conference.
In 1999, the Academy Award nominee was a budding writer at the same conference.
“It was a huge moment for me as a young person and as a writer,” she said, “because there was so much demanded of me so quickly. I think there was this academic and intellectual rigor that I hadn’t understood was part of the writing process.”
She also spoke to the School of Letters in 2015, but Alibar’s latest visit is as the recipient of the 2018 John Grammer Fellowship, funded by the Blake & Bailey Family Fund. The fund brings a notable writer or scholar to town each summer.
Growing up, like many young writers, Alibar felt like an “alien,” and said she understands young writers who feel like outcasts.
“There are certain aspects of the upcoming generation of writers, they were just raised completely differently, but at the same time I’m like, ‘I see you little alien, I see you,’” Alibar said.
“I think what the Writers’ Conference gives young people is not only an acceptance of their weirdness and creativity, but it also demands excellence, which I think is the best thing you can do for a young person,” she noted. “There’s a tremendous amount of respect for difference and curiosity.”
Alibar grew up in the Florida Panhandle, and when she first moved to New York City to pursue a writing career, she worked three hospitality jobs and wrote when she could. During those just-getting-by times, writing was the best part of her day, and she says she still has a passion for the craft despite the pressure of deadlines.
“The process of writing, I wouldn’t say it’s fun all the time, it’s not like swimming at the beach, but it engages me at such a deep level,” she said.
Alibar, who co-wrote the screenplay for the Academy Award nominated film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (based on a play she wrote), continues to pen big projects, while collecting buckets of prestigious awards, including the Ray Bradbury Nebula Award and the Humanitas Prize. She’s also worked with producer Guillermo del Toro to write a screenplay for “Secret Garden” and penned “Burnpile,” a TV project in development for FX/Amblin Entertainment.
Her current screenplay-turned-movie, “Troupe Zero,” a comedy/drama for Amazon, provided her a chance to learn from renowned actress Davis.
“If you’re lucky enough to work with Viola Davis, you’re lucky enough,” she said. “She is so talented, she is so focused and hard-working in a way that I think everybody learned from her, and we all truly walked away better artists from working with her. I know that sounds major, but she’s major.”
Despite Alibar’s journey from a teenage scribe in Florida, to a struggling writer in New York City, to now a lauded professional talent, she said feeling like “you’ve made it” is still an elusive state.
“There’s an undeniable peace that comes with a little bit of financial stability,” she said. “At the same time, once you’ve achieved that, people still always worry, ‘What if nobody likes my script? Am I going to get a bad reputation because of it?’ There are so many worries that prevent you from ever fully feeling like you’ve made it. I think I can speak for a lot of people when I say that.”
With the sounds of someone mowing the golf course and birds getting louder with the rising heat of the day, the interview winds down.
“I’m really excited for the kids (at the Young Writers’ Conference), I hope they realize what a gift this time is going to be for them,” she said. “Maybe it’s better that they don’t realize it now. This is a very special opportunity for them.”
When not working with writers, Alibar said she planned to relish the differences between Sewanee and Brooklyn, where she lives with her dog, “Joe Biden,” a chihuahua mix.
“I’m really enjoying the quiet and openness of it,” she said. “I’m definitely going to get some fried food and grits. My activities honestly involve eating and sleeping and being lazy.”
As for the future, Alibar said she is ready to direct a project. A big fan of superhero franchise movies, she added that she’d also enjoy working on a big-budget movie where money is not an obstacle.

​Iva Michelle Russell: Championing a New Image for Grundy County

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
Editor’s Note: This is the last in a series of interviews with some of the local candidates running for office. General election voting is Aug. 2.
Talking about her decision to run for Grundy County mayor, Iva Michelle Russell said, “My adult life was getting my children grown, to make life better for them.” Russell has transferred that energy to Grundy County. Her message: “It’s about hope.”
“People are tired of feeling bad they’re from Grundy County,” Russell said. “They want more for the next generation.”
“Jobs are key,” she stressed. Russell points to the need to expand water and sewer capacity at the industrial park, as well as increasing the availability of broadband internet and natural gas.
To satisfy new industries’ needs for a skilled work force, Russell wants to see a Tennessee college of applied technology on the Mountain.
Likewise important, Russell said, the government needs to provide public safety and infrastructure and that requires prudent business management and increasing revenue.
Russell argues for bringing back recycling. “Rather than paying people to take our trash, our trash should pay for itself,” Russell said. “We can sell 85 percent of our waste.”
She opposes increasing property taxes to generate revenue, instead favoring the hotel-motel tax and sales tax mechanisms.
Bed and breakfast enterprises provide tax revenue paid by visitors, Russell noted, and also generate income for local residents.
Highlighting the potential of revenue from tourism, Russell said, “We need more places for people to spend money.” She supports facilitating startup businesses and expansion of existing businesses. She also proposes creating a visitors bureau to make guests aware of the many attractions.
Russell cited learning “to work together and agreeing on our goals” as the county’s most pressing need.
Russell comes well prepared for tackling that challenge. A fifth-generation Grundy countian, her father’s job took the family to the Chicago area. After earning a degree in public relations with a marketing minor, Russell held positions as the public relations director for the Junior Miss America Show, assistant manager handling VIPs for the Chicago Hilton, and membership director for Wheaton Sports Center.
The 9/11 attacks prompted Russell to move back to Grundy County. “I wanted to get my two daughters to a safe place.”
Russell started a public relations and communications consulting business and immediately got involved in local politics. “Local elections matter far more than state and federal elections,” she insists.
Russell also serves as co-host of GCTV’s “Morning on the Mountain” and has an intimate knowledge of the area from interviewing people for the program.
Russell lobbied for off-road vehicle enthusiasts and aided Coalmont in its successful application for a $1 million grant for an off-road vehicle park. “It’s a lesson in working together,” she said, “a win-win. Off-road vehicle people spend 8 to 1 compared to hikers.”
As vice-president of the Monteagle Chamber of Commerce, Russell chaired the “Make Monteagle Marketable” campaign, which earned the town a $560,000 grant to complete a section of the Mountain Goat Trail to facilitate pedestrian traffic and revitalize business.
Addressing the problem of Grundy County’s low health ranking, Russell said, “Natural remedies like diet and exercise are key.” She emphasized the importance of educating people about healthy lifestyle choices and making them aware of exercise opportunities like the South Cumberland State Park and Mountain Goat Trail.
“What’s needed is a mind-culture change,” Russell said. “When you’re depressed, you don’t take care of yourself.”
Russell’s vision is “to rebrand Grundy County” by coupling residents’ hope for the next generation with the county’s “sipping tea on the porch” charm. “I want to see an ‘I’m proud I’m from Grundy County’ mindset here.”

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