ST. ALBANS CITY -- One gastropub, one community, one collective mission: while many restaurants were forced to shutter during COVID-19, Twiggs in St. Albans City adapted, inspired by the history of Enterprise Alabama and their battle with one little bug.
This year, Leon Thompson’s short film “The Boll Weevil” was born, the story of Twiggs and the 2500 free meals they cooked and gave to people in need during the heat of 2020.
“Supporting the community that supported us became very important to me,” said Twiggs owner Tom Murphy.
Before Murphy was a restaurant owner he worked in the railroad industry, and found a deep comfort and satisfaction in spending time at Chow Bella in downtown St. Albans.
His affection for Chow Bella grew to such lengths that he bought the restaurant and renamed it Twiggs.
“I got to know Connie, the owner, and one time I just mentioned to her ‘Hey, if you ever want to sell let me know,’” Murphy said. “What was I thinking?”
The Boll Weevil documents how Murphy, who had no experience owning and operating a restaurant to begin with, had to turn on a dime in record time in 2020 in the same way that the community of Enterprise, Alabama shifted to peanut agriculture when the Boll Weevil decimated their cotton crops in the early 1900s.
“How wrong I was.”
While Murphy initially fell in love with the white tablecloths and posh, European atmosphere of Chow Bella, the fast-paced restauranteur life in the kitchens threw curveball after curveball in his direction.
“Everyone thinks the restaurant business is a sexy time,” Murphy said while cleaning. “Not down here, scraping sludge off of a friggin' stair...it’s Friday night, and the cooler is broken.”
While Murphy’s original plan was to keep the restaurant as a fine dining establishment, he quickly found out that the secret to success in restaurants wasn’t fancy food.
“It’s about giving the community and the people that come to the restaurant what they want,” Murphy said. “Community. That’s what it’s about.”
COVID-19: “How am I going to feed my kids?”
With the state-wide shutdown of a lot of restaurants, employees everywhere found themselves scrambling for work, breaking down, and in a state of desperation over what they were going to do.
At the same time, Murphy was scrambling to figure out how to keep the restaurant alive and keep his staff working doing something he had never done before.
“It was about trusting each other,” Murphy said. “I had to surrender and say ‘Okay team, now help me figure it out.”
Putting faith in his staff that they would be safe going home, traveling in the community, going to peoples’ homes and coming back to work in-person, Murphy transitioned his entire restaurant into a take-out only space delivering for free.
“We had to buy a van...rip out walls and rebuild the prep area,” Murphy said. “Everybody worked weeks straight without a day off.”
Murphy and his staff found their orders exploding as the community rallied to support them, so they decided to start giving back.
Whether it was 1600 plates of free spaghetti, 20% of the revenue from the day to a struggling small business or giant trays of ‘Mac ‘n Out’ homemade macaroni and cheese for educators, Twiggs began delivering free meals in pairs pay-it-forward style, so members of the community could help each other out.
In true call-and-response fashion, as one gave back, so did the other, and as Twiggs saw their numbers go up, the staff gave back.
“We’re busier now than we’ve ever been in the restaurant,” Murphy said.
To watch The Boll Weevil, click here.