The Roast

Free-trade coffee, live music, and cool vibes actually are available in Lebanon… and brought to you, unexpectedly, by the Salvation Army


By Tilly Dillehay

Photos by Jana Pastors


29743245795_874a2463da_zIt’s 11 pm on a Friday night. Do you know where your children are?

If they’re in their teens or twenties and from Wilson County (or among the local college crowd), there really aren’t that many options. In Lebanon after 10 pm, there’s really just Walmart, McDonalds, and the local bar scene.

Until the Salvation Army decided to do something about it.

In May of 2013, The Roast opened its doors. Located just off of Lebanon square, but on one of those little side streets you have to feel around for, The Roast is a coffee shop and music venue that is open just two nights a week, to fill a very specific time slot. Friday and Saturday, 7-12, they offer a “nighttime alternative” to partying or heading home early, says Wilson County Salvation Army Director Tom Freeman.

“Because we do a lot of mentoring and outreach in the community… I‘ve got young guys and young girls, and they’re telling me that other than the bars around here, there’s Walmart and there’s McDonalds. When we came here some of the other coffee houses in town closed at like 2 pm. There was no nightlife. So the idea is to provide a great alternative location for people to build friendships and make connections.

29451850450_f203c3854f_z“We’ve got a full espresso bar with other types of drinks, seasonal drinks… it’s really good stuff. 100% volunteer based. All our baristas are trained and trained well. We use locally roasted coffee out of Murfreesboro that’s fair-trade and organic. But the coffee is just an excuse to open the doors and see different groups of people interact and enjoy being here.”

Freeman says that there are a broad variety of patrons on a given night at The Roast. While many of them are young—college age, high school age even—there are a fair number of people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who make The Roast their final stop for the night.

The coffee is actually “pay as you can.” The Roast has a recommended amount on their menu, but if you can pay a little more or less than that, it’s fine. “The majority of people, when you say ‘hey, this is what it costs us to provide this drink’, they’ll pay it,” said Freeman. “They love the idea.”

29631555842_4fb67fca48_zBaked good are free with your drinks, because they’re donated by the local Sweet Things Bakery. There’s even a “cup for the wall” tradition, where patrons pay for an extra drink and hang a cup on the wall. Then, when someone comes in who just doesn’t have money on them, they can claim a cup off the wall. A stranger has bought them a cup.

“And if someone comes in who really has nothing, maybe someone who’s homeless or something, they’ll get a free drip coffee at least; we don’t want anyone to be turned away,” says The Roast Events Coordinator Beracah MacDonald.

Donations to The Roast don’t fully cover the cost of keeping it open, but Freeman, who directs Salvation Army efforts throughout the county, says he makes it a priority to keep it supported.

“We have a faithful few [volunteers] who really commit to make this work,” says Freeman, “and it’s wonderful. When you pull back and look at all the things the Salvation Army has going in Wilson County, times when I look at a budget line and see The Roast and say ‘Man, I don’t know if we can keep this going’, it’ll inevitably be a great weekend that weekend, and I’ll just think ‘No, we have to find a way.’”

29743249675_8bf5ccbe4f_zMacDonald has tried out all kinds of creative events at The Roast. They book live music and hold popular open mic nights. Then there are the special events. They had a “Sip ‘n Shop,” with ten or twelve vendors setting up one weekend. They’ve had Canvas Nights in the past—an insanely popular event where patrons pay $5 and get a canvas to paint while they sip. On November 12, they’ll be holding a bake off—anyone can bring a baked good to enter, and then people donate $2-3 to sample, and there will be judges who pick winners in different categories.

On Dec. 3, the Kettle Kickoff (for the Salvation Army’s bell-ringing, Christmastime fundraiser you’re probably familiar with) for Wilson County will be hosted at The Roast. The kickoff is just a big Christmas party, basically, with Christmas music, more baked goods than usual, and an ugly sweater contest.

The Roast is located at 216 S Maple Street, Lebanon. For information about upcoming events and live music, visit their Facebook page.

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3 ways to wear a Nikibiki

Nikibiki is a brand that offers layering items. Camisoles, long sleeve liners, bandeaus, bralettes, and leggings… in a myriad of colors. Simple items like these always come in handy when it’s layering season, and you’ll find a selection of them in almost every boutique you enter in Lebanon and Mt. Juliet. So we asked three local boutiques to put together a full outfit utilizing the Nikibiki.

Like any good undergarment, you may not always be able to see it, but you need it just the same. Used in this shoot were the black Nikibiki bralette, and the nude Nikibiki crew neck top.


Model: Mattie Post

Hair By:  Erika Glaskox for Beauty Boutique Salon, Spa & Apparel and Kevin Murphy

Makeup By:  Necole Bell for Beauty Boutique Salon, Spa & Apparel

Photos: Lisa Rubel Photography,

Outfit #1: Faux-suede miniskirt, crew neck Nikibiki in nude, safari jacket, suede choker, shoes, and knee socks by Dreams Boutique (extra necklaces by Southern Swank).




Outift #2: Maroon minidress, black Nikibiki bralette, denim jacket with inset, hat, necklaces, and shoes by Southern Swank.



Outfit #3: Blush tunic dress, jean leggings, and earrings by Aqua Bella. Choker and cuff by Beauty Boutique. Nikibiki bralette by Southern Swank.



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Pass the Salt, Please

Third Coast Salt takes a halotherapeutic approach to the spa healing experience


By Laurie Everett

Photos by Shari Hart


You might detect a bit of a Louisiana twang in her accent. Though born in that grooving hot-melt state, Shari Arnold spent her growing years in “Hotlanta” and ended up in Tennessee 11 years ago.

No, she’s not a rebel, but an intensely independent woman who has brought a unique, European respite, healing aspect to the heart of Mt. Juliet. It’s not like anything found anywhere around.

It’s Third Coast Salt.

“Well, we know there’s an East Coast and a West Coast, and now Nashville is dubbed the ‘Third Coast,’” said Shari Arnold, who is a single businesswoman, and mom to Maggie, 10, and Jack Ryman (yes, after the auditorium), age 9.

She targeted ‘Third Coast Nashville’, and went a little east to Mt. Juliet to open a happening, emerging business that beckons those who want to be in the loop with an emerging therapy that is hot in Europe and on the cusp here in the states.

2016sharihartphotographer 42Just say she’s one of the first to offer this service here.  It’s the “best, hippest coast out here! Discover the benefits of salt therapy,” Arnold enthused.

The health-conscious embrace this latest trend in pampering; it’s a ‘salt spa,’ right here in Mt. Juliet.

The technique has been used thousands of years in Europe and the Middle East. Rather than ingesting salt, spa patrons relax in rooms made of it and breathe in misty, salty vapors to clear their lungs and purify their skin.

All come out of a sessions espousing the virtues of the treatment and how much better they feel; mentally and physically.

“It’s known as halotherapy, after the Greek word halo, meaning salt,” Arnold said

“Breathing in salt can help cure a lot of modern ailments that come from pollution and stress,” said Matt Walsh, co-owner of Salt Sanctuary in Johnson City, New York. “It is especially good for helping chronic respiratory illnesses like asthma, allergies and bronchitis.”

And for people not suffering from allergies, it’s simply relaxing and meditative, said Arnold.

She said visitors can experience the ultimate in mind, body, and soul cleansing, while relaxing in comfy leather lounge chairs.

“Escape the pervasive lure of everyday technology in our relaxing salt therapy room,” she said.  “Micro particles of salt are dispersed throughout the room, creating a rejuvenating negative-ion environment. Following the 40-minute session, you’ll breathe easier and leave feeling wonderfully relaxed.”


Arnold’s history; southern girl in California and back


The journey to a holistic salt therapy business in Mt. Juliet began when Shari spent almost a decade in Los Angeles in the film and television industry.

arnold3 11-2015“I would say I was trained in my craft, a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild,” she said. “I love comedy and was cast in anything I could get a role. I survived the major strike and then was told if I didn’t get into the Reality TV aspect I had no work. That true actors didn’t have a chance. That was predicted to last ten years.”

She eventually made her way to Nashville and got a job at Gaylord Entertainment (Opryland). Her job was in their training and development department. This was 11 years ago.  She’s since had her children.

“They are my everything, my whole focal point, they are incredible people,” she said.

Soon she got a job as Lifestyles Director at Del Webb in Mt. Juliet. She loved it. She left last summer. She started with 200 residents and ended with 2,000. She created programs, built relationships, and secured the brand.

“I knew I did what I was supposed to do,” she said. “I knew my work was done, I had perfected everything. It was my time to move on.”

Because health and nutrition were her calling, Arnold went back to school with a “hunger for knowledge.”

She joined a prestigious institute and attained a degree in Integrated Nutrition. She graduated in March 2016.

“I learned a lot,” she said. “It really was for selfish reasons, I wanted to learn about better health and nutrition from a very credible school.”

She resigned her job at Del Webb to pursue further education in the health field and ended up a certified health coach from a prestigious program, besides becoming a state board aesthetician.

It was the springboard to Third Coast Salt.


Mid life crises?


“No way,” said Arnold. “Many people could say that. I simply wanted to do what I wanted to do. I wanted to heal and care for people. And be on the cusp of the health industry.”

For years, Arnold wanted to have a day spa. But she didn’t think Mt. Juliet was ready for it. So she segued to a place where residents “could heal, relax and heal themselves.”

She rented several suites in the Smoothie King (former bank building on N. Mt. Juliet Road) to offer salt therapy for young and adults. She shares the suites with like-minded businesses, such as two aestheticians, a chiropractor and professional hair stylists.


She explains her Salt Therapy
2016sharihartphotographer 15“We are all familiar with salt therapy, whether it’s exfoliation scrubs, smelling salts and more,” she said. “They are good for our veins, we use saline salt in our eyes, we gargle salt, spoon it in our bath, we use Epsom salt. Salt is restorative. Rejuvenating.”

At Third Coast Salt, Arnold has two halogenerators that heat pharmaceutical grade salt, then grind it and disperse into the air. She has both youth and adult rooms for therapy.

The therapy helps the lungs and people with respiratory problems such as allergies, asthma, bronchitis, COPD and other illnesses. But, she stresses it’s meditative and helpful for healthy people eager to renew and restore and meditate.

“You know how you feel when you go to the beach,” she said. “You think it’s the sand and wind, but really it’s the salt from the sea in the air.”

Her “adult” room is 400 square feet with a huge “wow” wall of salt blocks in their natural shape. They set the mood and she can change the color when asked. There are ten leather recliners and plush blankets and reflective music for meditation. All electronics are off, people can read or meditate. It’s a 40-minute session.

2016sharihartphotographer 1There’s also a youth room where children can get therapy with a parent to supervise (free of charge).

“It’s a totally different atmosphere with upbeat music and a salt box for them to play,” Arnold said.

Whitney Simpson is an advocate for the therapy.  Her son Drew was struggling with allergies. He had a long undiagnosed nut allergy.

“This therapy helped with the pressure and pain,” Simpson said.

The grand opening was Aug. 7, when Arnold had an open house and tour, plus gave attendees free smoothies.

Arnold’s dream is for salt therapy to catch on and she hopes to open multiple salt facilities. She’ll soon have a retail element with salt lamps, scrubs and more.

“I’m excited to touch the lives of people,” she said. “I want to touch the heart and soul and make people feel better. This excites me. I’m so grateful and thankful to tell the community about salt therapy.”

Cost is $30 per session, or you can purchase a monthly membership. For the youth room it’s $30 per child and a parent escorts free. Mention Wilson Living during the month of September and purchase one session at full price to get 50% savings on your second visit!

For more information, go to

1283 North Mt. Juliet Road 615.200.6365

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Tulip Grove Farm

Two twins and their mother keep the antique love alive


Story and photos by Tilly Dillehay

These two ladies are sitting across from me at a table in Starbucks. They each have husbands and grown children of their own, yet here they are, chattering about their shared projects, finishing each other’s sentences. They’re twin sisters, two of the three members of an antique dealership on wheels: Tulip Grove Farm.

The third member of the group? Their mother.

IMG_2428Claudine Williamson and her two daughters, Dianne Clark and Marianne Jordan, are partners and hobbyists together. They go hunting for the antiques, they pull the trailer that holds the antiques, and they carry the antiques to various barn sales and flea markets in Middle Tennessee. And they do it all together.

“It’s about a business,” said Dianne, who has been a resident of Lebanon for the last 30 years. “But it’s really about family and spending time together. We love to go on trips and hook the trailer up… we love spending time together and building memories.”

All three of their husbands also pitch in, with things like hitching and hauling the trailer, setting up for sales, and allowing their home turf to be encroached on by antiques waiting to be sold.

“Our husbands could probably have us committed for all this,” laughed Dianne, “but they’re really so supportive.”

In the Tulip Grove Farm booth at any given sale, you’ll find a sweet setup that represents the various tastes of each of the three ladies.

“Mom loves primitive antiques,” said Dianne. “Anything wood ladders, bowls, silver.  I love white, painted, chippy, rusty pieces. Marianne tends to be more architectural, likes vintage maps, old farm pieces, more midcentury modern.”

So you’ll be able to find everything from an assortment of handmade signs with rusty letters spelling out words like “FARMHOUSE,” “BAKERY,” or “PANTRY,” to bell jars arranged over one-of-a-kind china, to old iron hangers and tin cake stands. Nothing is exorbitantly priced, but all of it has a distinct and recognizable Tulip Grove Farm flavor.

IMG_2393“It’s a creative outlet, for me,” said Marianne, who resides in Nashville. “Whether we’re going to an estate sale or a flea market… to see the potential in something, and buy it… it’s an outlet. We rarely will repurpose something—paint furniture, turn something into a lamp, like many people do. But we will take something that may be used in the yard, and we show how you can use it in kitchen. Or we show how you can put flowers in, or hang something on a bathroom wall. If you were to come to my house, a lot of what you see on my wall aren’t prints, but screens, or racks, or old window frames. I personally get a lot of satisfaction in finding something, cleaning it up, and seeing someone buy it and be really excited about what they found.”

In a roundabout way, the antique bug bit the two sisters through their mother… and then it bit their mother all over again.

“Our mother has been in and out of the antique business for decades,” said Dianne. “She started Tulip Grove Farm years ago, selling at different antique shows in Nashville. And we would help her. We did Christmas village, and a few others.

“The way we got to where we are today is we love to shop—it’s a passion to buy the antiques. And Marianne and I were shopping one day. And she said, ‘you know, I’d love to start selling’. And mom said ‘well, we have a trailer full of junk.’ So we took mom’s stuff down to the flea market.”

“I’ll never forget our first booth,” said Marianne. “I think that was the hardest $50 I ever made! But we said we’re going to keep going for a year. We’re going to keep going to the flea market every week and just see where it goes. So it started to get better. And two or three years ago we decided to put it together under the same umbrella. I think mom just got the bug to get back in the business.”

One of their earliest experiences with barn sales was in the early days of The Strawberry Patch sale in Hartsville, which they still participate in twice a year (the fall sale is in September). In October, they’ll be showing at the “Vintage Market Days,” which is new to Fiddlers Grove at the Wilson County Fairgrounds.

IMG_2395The women often find their wares in other states, traveling as far as Texas, Ohio, and Massachusetts to pick things up from flea markets and private sellers. It’s a lot of work—the hunting, the acquiring, the hauling, the setting up, the long weekends of selling.

But then, these ladies were raised for work. Their parents were small business owners of Howard’s Honda when the girls were growing up, and they were put to work in the family business.

“Dianne and I have worked since we were 12,” said Marianne. “We were answering phones then. So we like to work, we enjoy it, we get a lot of satisfaction out of it, out of making money, yes—but just being busy. It’s more about the satisfaction of doing good work.”

In addition to the sales, the three women recently partnered up for a new project. They renovated a house in Donelson to list on, a site where travelers can rent homes, apartments, or rooms to stay in. The home was originally a rental property owned by Claudine and her husband. When the three ladies got inspired to find a new use for the property, they set to work doing everything themselves.

“This is the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” admitted Marianne. “In fact, we did find something that we couldn’t do…” She looked at Dianne with a smile.

“We were pulling carpet up and found beautiful wood floors,” laughed Dianne. “Mom and I were over there trying to get the glue up, and we’d done it for a week. And my dad comes in and says, ‘ya’ll have worked so hard. You’re doing a good job, but…’ And you know, we got our feelings hurt! But we got over it… anyway he brought in a professional to finish that.”

But the majority of the work was done by these two women and their amazing mother. They held a little contest between themselves, each picking a bedroom to decorate in their own way. The challenge was to make up the cutest bedroom for the least money.

“Then mom went to West Elm with my daughter [Lauren], so they took themselves out of the running right away,” laughed Marianne. “Then it was down to us two.”

Many of the furnishings for the house came right off of the Tulip Grove Farm trailer. Others were giveaways or fresh finds. The finished project is quite simply adorable. The house went up on the site in March of this year.

“Many people have this thing where they say, ‘oh, I don’t know if we could do that,’” said Marianne. “We’re just not afraid to try. We’re not afraid to fail.”

And in another almost bizarre twist, all three of these ladies are also involved in yet another hobby: they are dressers for Broadway shows that come to Nashville. This job involves being on a call list, then going in when a show comes to town and unloading the costumes, pressing and preparing them, and then helping actors get changed during the show.

IMG_2405“We’re following the path of our mother, again with that,” said Marianne. “She’s done it for thirty years. Really it all started as something new to do. We like that. And it’s so interesting, I think, to be backstage… we just finished Bridges of Madison County. Now Beauty and the Beast is coming, and we’re not sure we’ll actually be on that one.”

Dianne agreed that it’s just a fun thing to be involved with. “It’s a cross between working in a laundromat and Downton Abbey,” she laughed.

Asked whether the two of them are very different in personality, they said yes and no.

“We’ve always been very individual,” said Dianne. “Marianne was a CPA for instance, and I don’t like to balance a checkbook. We’re different but still very close.”

Will they continue wearing all these hats indefinitely?

“[Our daughters] think we work too hard,” said Dianne. “They say, ‘Mom, you need to slow down a little bit.’ But we never do; we just keep going. But everything we do, we enjoy. We do it because we want to.”






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I love Juice Bar

Detox and rebuild with the rich nutrition of produce in a cup

By Tilly Dillehay

Photos by Jana Pastors (Kindred Moments Photography)

Beet red. Technicolor orange. Kelly green.

These aren’t paint colors we’re talking about. These are the bright shades you get out of nature, in a glass, when you juice produce.
25575951203_f84838eb8a_zPeople have long been aware of the benefits of juicing. It’s a way of injecting a pure shot of nutrition into our bodies: you can get the nutritive value of several pounds of power-packed vegetables into a single glass. Juice lovers talk about the vitality, energy, weight loss, and immunity benefits that come in these glasses. But if you talk about juicing at any length, you’ll also learn about the time investment. Buying vegetables in bulk, washing, dicing, and running them through a machine—not to mention the initial investment that comes with purchasing a juicer—and many people find that it’s just more of a hassle than they’re willing to commit to.

Historic Mt. Juliet can now help you with that. As of February 1, Mt. Juliet residents can swing by a new neighborhood spot to pick up their veggies freshly juiced and ready to go.

Sitting in the I Love Juice Bar on Mt. Juliet Road, looking around the clean, woodsy interior and sipping on their “Sweet Greens” concoction, I watched the glass doors swing open again and again. A steady stream of health conscious locals were lining up for the smoothies, salads, vegan baked goods, and juice blends.

25573844634_abc43369f1_zThere are two main categories on the juice menu: ‘Greens’ and ‘Roots’. The green options include ingredients like kale, celery, spinach, cucumber, and ginger, and the root options include ingredients like beet, carrot, garlic, and apple. You can mix your own combinations, too. The juice can be purchased in two standard sizes, or you can bring in your own container—jar, growler, whatever—and they’ll fill it up. You’ll pay by the ounce.

Then there’s a menu of smoothies, with another lineup of fresh ingredients in flavorful combinations. The baked goods are purchased from a local small business, and in a display case there is a boxed kale/quinoa salad, a vegan wrap, and a whole raw coconut that can be cracked open in front of you by staff on request.

25575945643_91fd7b40ec_zKeith and Heather Harned opened I Love Juice Bar after becoming fans of the franchise during a chance trip to one of the Nashville area locations. Heather had actually been a McDonald’s franchisee for six years, selling her store in 2006 and serving with a nonprofit until she met and married her best friend and moved to Tennessee. With all of their children grown and out of the home, she and Keith decided it was time to think about a new business opportunity for Heather, and they started looking around.

“So we’d been eating clean for a while already, and really had changed our lifestyle habits,” said Heather. She’s an energetic, positive woman who had to tell me twice that she was 43 before I could believe it. “And I walked into this juice bar, and had an amazing, really exceptional experience. I told Keith about it, came back a few days later and had the same great experience. So I asked he guy behind the counter—‘do you own this place?’ and he said ‘No, but we’re empowered to treat it like we do.’…So we got online, we read about them, we read about their history.”

They began conversations with the founders of the company, John and Vui Hunt, also of Nashville. The franchise began locally in Brentwood, but is now in 13 states. The Hunts recommended that they watch the documentary that inspired them—Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead—about the ways that Americans mistreat their bodies. The documentary also extolled the value of juice cleansing.

26178601155_1dddfd82a1_zHeather and Keith spent a lot of time praying, and entered into several lease negotiations before finding their current fabulous spot on Mt. Juliet Road.  They now have 18 employees, not counting their two industrial juicers, which have been dubbed “Ruby” and “Nancy.”  One is a Ruby brand and the other is a Nutrifaster, and they both are used for specific ingredients, based on their individual strengths.

Juicing and juice cleanses are the cornerstone of what I Love Juice Bar offers to customers.

There are three main juice cleanse options: The “Essential Cleanse” includes six jars of green and root juices—one “Orange You Glad,” two “Sweet Greens,” one “We Got the Beet,” one “Ginger Greens,” and one “Fresh Greens”. For the length of the cleanse (1-3 days is most normal), cleanse participants drink a full glass of liquid every hour—alternating between the juices provided, and water. The “Juice to Dinner” includes many of the same juices as the Essential, and involves the same liquids regimen throughout the day, but a kale/quinoa salad is provided to finish the day on. The “Core Cleanse” is perhaps the most advanced option of the three—heavy on greener juice with less fruit juice to sweeten things up, and a coconut/hemp/probiotics drink to finish the day on.
26112246651_6c3c4497f3_z“We do a really good job of making every juice consistent,” says Heather. “It’s a team effort; every time we finish a juice, two or three people have to taste it. Because what I taste strong may not be what you taste strong, and vice versa. So our people almost become juice sommeliers, like a wine sommelier. We get every level of flavor. So the ginger isn’t too hot, so it’s not too earthy with the beets, or it’s not too strong with the kale or spinach… we really want to know that every time a customer comes in for the Sweet Green, they’re getting the same juice. And that is such a good team building opportunity… That’s why everyone in here seems so engaged; it’s because they’re really taking ownership of the product we put out.”

Readers are invited to come and do a juice tour at the bar, where they’ll get to sample the top four juices and get information about the ingredients. I Love Juice Bar is located at 2726 N. Mount Juliet Road. Check them out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.




Cleanse 101 With Heather Harned


26178604485_8184605cdc_zWhy Should I Cleanse?

The goal of cleansing is to flood your body with nutrients. Nutrients allow your blood, liver, and organs to clean themselves. It allows them to rest and rejuvenate. It will also aid in any nutrient deficiencies and ease the constant craving for the “next food” you are going to feed it. This craving is usually exaggerated by a trigger food like sugar, gluten, soy, salt, etc. Eliminating those triggers during a cleanse helps take the cravings away. It also helps your digestive tract in that it does not have to work so hard yet still gets nourishment.


How Often Should I Cleanse?

This is very much dependent on the individual. If someone is super toxic with eating a primarily processed food diet, perhaps once per month, according to Sarah Moore, I Love Juice Bar nutrition specialist. Some people do cleanses once a quarter, once a year, or just when they are ready for an overall feeling of wellness.  It is common for folks to do a one to three day cleanse, with some doing seven or more days. It is all about a person’s own journey, and what they are attempting to treat or uncover during the process.


26112256111_c263e6c1fd_z (1)How Should I Feel On a Cleanse?

Every person is different. Depending on the length of the cleanse, clients have reported increased alertness, higher levels of energy, “rested” feelings, increased clarity of thought, and sensations of overall well-being.


What Types of Cleanses are Available?

We have three cleanses available: Juice To Dinner, Essential Cleanse, and The Core Cleanse. See more information at


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kicking it up a notch

Taekwondo kids get serious about their favorite sport

Story by Ken Beck

Photos by Jana Pastors (Kindred Moments Photography)


It’s midafternoon Thursday at Success Martial Arts studio on the west side of Lebanon, and in a big room carpeted with blue and black mats, three barefooted youngsters make like whirling dervishes.

Lebanon’s Jacob Besse, 14, the Pro-Am RSKC 13-under Black Belt CMX champion for 2015, prepares to spring into action with kamas. “You’ve got to psych yourself up and zero in and focus on what you’re doing,” he says of NASKA events.” Photo submitted

Thirteen-year-old Dawson Holt twists and turns his body while he slashes, thrusts, jabs and twirls a shiny (and dull) sword through the air.

Averi Presley, 8, twists and spins nimbly as she brandishes a 3-foot-long bo stick, a martial-arts weapon that resembles a pool cue.

Standing and then from his knees, Jacob Besse, 14, grips kamas, similar to a scythe, and chops, punches and makes rapid seven-cuts in the space before him.

The trio makes up three of the seven youngsters on the Lebanon-based Competitive Edge where the average age is 11½, but when it comes to their maturity level, well, take it up a bit.

The squad competes in NASKA (the North American Sport Karate Association), and four of the youths claim Middle Tennessee as their home. Every member is ranked No. 1 in multiple categories in their region, and each is among the top 10 for their age group in the nation.

Youngest member Averi is already a grand champion. She began taking martial arts classes at age 4, but with three elder brothers immersed in the action, she confesses she really had no choice but to follow in their path.

“The more I did it, I liked it,” grinned Averi, a second-grader, who trains 10 hours a week and cannot stand to miss or be late for a class. “My brothers are a little bit tough on me sometimes but not that much.”

Her brothers, Reid, 20, Cole, 17, and Jake, 13, along with Jackson Rudolph, 17, of Paducah, Ky., and Jason Warren, who co-owns Success Martial Arts Center, coach the squad of youth black belt competitors. For the most part they practice Taekwondo, a Korean martial art that emphasizes high kicks, jumping and spinning kicks and fast kicking techniques.

Coaches and members of Lebanon’s Competitive Edge, which competes in the North American Sport Karate Association, include, clockwise from bottom left, Averi Presley, Dawson Holt, Jason Warren, Jacob Besse, Reid Presley, Jake Presley, Zach McBroom and Cole Presley. The two giant trophies are Warrior Cups that Reid and Jake won at the 2014 AKA Grand National in Chicago. The gold belt is the U.S. Open World Championship belt for synchronized weapons that Reid and Cole won in Orlando, Fla., in 2014.

The Presley brothers have trained in competitive martial arts since they were tots and have received worldwide recognition for their multiple skills. Displayed in the studio are the Warrior Cups that Reid and Jake won on the same day at the 2014 AKA Grand National in Chicago.

Averi, who most enjoys flipping, an extremely creative category that combines gymnastics and martial arts, takes her lessons from Warren. She entered her first national event in St. Paul, Minn., late last year and confesses, “I was a little nervous. I loved it. I wanted to keep doing it. My goal is to be on stage at a bigger tournament.”

Her teammate, Zach McBroom, 11, a fifth-grader at Browns Chapel Elementary in Murfreesboro, entered the sport at 7 and last year was the triple-crown winner in the Pro-Am RSKC Circuit for forms, weapons and creative musical extreme.

“I was nervous but once it was all over it wasn’t that scary,” recalled Zach, who said he got into the sport because, “I liked superheroes and the Karate Kid and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I wanted to be like them.

“I like that that it’s a different sport than football, basketball, baseball and soccer,” said the athlete, who found wonderful fringe benefits in the sport. He met his current best friend, who lives in Jonesboro, Ark., at a tournament.

Competitive Edge team member Zach McBroom, 11, of Murfreesboro, shows his stuff with the bo stick. The triple-crown winner in the Pro-Am RSKC Circuit for forms, weapons and creative musical extreme began taking Taekwondo because he wanted to be like the Karate Kid and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Photo submitted

Zach’s mother, Kristen McBroom, echoes the idea that there are even more rewards to be gained from the regimen. “He was real shy before and reserved, and the competition has given him self-confidence and built respect for others.”

The North American Sport Karate Association is a world martial arts tournament circuit that holds 13 competitions a year. The contests feature athletes competing in traditional forms, fighting and weapons, which include the bo staff, double bo, sword and kamas.

Jacob and Dawson, like Averi, live in Lebanon. Rounding out the team are NASKA National Champion Rebecca Hammond, 8, of Marion, S.C.; first-degree black belt Duncan Lowry, 15, of Loganville, Ga.; and NASKA national champion Esteban Tremblay, 10, of Blainville, Quebec, Canada. Most of the youngsters are home schooled.

The Competitive Edge formed last October, and at the AKA Warrior Cup in Chicago, their first competition with every member together as a team, they proved formidable. Four of the seven qualified for the grand championships in which they competed against all the black belt winners from the other under-18 divisions. Lowry went to the grand championship final show to compete on stage for the ultimate prize—the Warrior Cup.

These three blocks are on view for the young athletes at Success Martial Arts. Coach Jason Warren says that “strength and respect are characteristics that demonstrate the heart and attitude of a martial artist and competitor. The athletes’ journey is a path that doesn’t stop as they continue preparing and training to overcome the mental and physical barriers before them.”

“NASKA is a national circuit for world class athletes,” said Success Martial Arts chief instructor Warren. “These tournaments are the most competitive you’re gonna find. Most of them bring anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 or more, from ages 4 and up. The largest is the U.S. Open, held in Orlando, Fla., which might have competitors from 40 different countries.

“This has turned what’s been considered an art into a sport. We put emphasis on Taekwondo but also teach tumbling, boxing. We’re not a traditional Taekwondo studio, which probably makes our kids a little more unique.”

He began instructing Reid and Cole when they were 5 and 3, respectively.

“They’re world-champion level and now have started helping other people with their training to take them to another level,” Warren said. “The goal of the team is to take up and comers who have a bright future and focus and who won’t quit and help get these kids to that next level.”

“It’s easier to work with this age group. They’re easier motivated,” added Reid, a sophomore business major at Cumberland University, who has been the driving force in the innovation of the double bo and travels around the world teaching and performing this style of weaponry.

“They bring heart and work ethic,” said Cole, whose passion is creating and innovating new techniques with a variety of weapons. “They want to be successful as much as they want to breathe. I kind of like seeing where they go with it and what they can do with what I give them. My goal, no matter what happens, is that they’re having fun and enjoying themselves.”

Meanwhile, seventh-grader Jake, who is a third-degree black belt in Taekwondo and has an ISKA and NASKA world championship like his brothers, said, “I kind of help out and work out with them and train a little like a junior coach.”

This year the Competitive Edge will compete in seven to eight national events and that many more regional competitions. Next up is the Gator Nationals May 7 in Tampa, Fla., followed by tournaments in Atlanta in June and Orlando in July.

Training costs and traveling expenses to tournaments are not cheap.

Said Warren, “This is an expensive financial burden for a lot of these families. We have to be selective. Food, travel, hotels and tournament fees can run $1,000 for a parent and child.”

Jacob, who was named the Pro-Am RSKC 13-under Black Belt CMX champion for 2015, described the experience of a big contest.

“Before you go on you always have butterflies and are nervous. It’s extremely busy and loud with thousands of people in one room. You’ve got to psych yourself up and zero in and focus on what you’re doing,” said Jacob, whose best event is either traditional weapons sword or creative weapons.

Already a grand champion at the age of 8, Lebanon’s Averi Presley strikes a pose at Success Martial Arts. She entered her first NASKA tournament less than a year ago in St. Paul, Minn., and recalled of the experience, “I was a little nervous. I loved it. I wanted to keep doing it.”

“I started when I was 5. I wanted to be like my big brother who was doing martial arts,” he said of his entry into the sport.

While the sacrifices on Jacob and his family are great, he said the benefits include the camaraderie with his team, the martial-arts friendships he has made with athletes in 25 states and the fact that “you can carry on for as long as you like; well, probably at 80 you can’t do as much stuff.”

Jacob’s mother, Mary Besse, an instructor at Success Martial Arts who has a black belt, said, “This is so good for him. The discipline involved is outstanding. It centers children. My boys’ work ethic has improved tremendously and has helped with communicative skills and confidence. Competing matures them in a way I don’t think anything else would.”

Sixth-grader Dawson, who is a 2015 NASKA World Top 10 for fighting, forms and weapons in the 10-11 year old black belt division, favors the flipping and sword in traditional form.

He said, “The payoff for me is probably self-defense. The sport is all about self-defense.”
His mother, Christy, noted, “In the second grade he was getting bullied in school. We didn’t bring him here to learn to fight back but for self-confidence, and he carries his head up high now.”

26108869931_5c59f40b4b_z“We really want to get these seven established,” said Warren. “We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and get the team too big. They all have the goal of becoming the best in the world.

“When you have a team, it’s like a family. We’re really close. But even when you have a team, the other teams, your rivals, pull for you. It’s a sport that builds one another up. That has a lot to say about the discipline of martial arts. When they’re done, they’re high fiving and hugging.”

Not a bad way for kids to get their kicks.

Success Martial Arts

Success Martial Arts offers martial arts classes for ages 4 and up as well as fitness classes and private training. Classes run late afternoon through evening Monday-Thursday. Address: 1443 Baddour Parkway. Phone: (615) 443-4783. Web site:

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The Bull and Thistle

For Michelin-quality Celtic dining, look no further than… Gainesboro?

By Tilly Dillehay

Photos by Caitlin Steva Photography


The plate comes to your table. There is a cake on it, of sorts. The cake is hot, and its first ingredient is, startlingly, cabbage. It is topped with onion straws and shrimp, and rests in a little puddle of sauce that appears to be made of garlic and magic. As you fork into the cake, you can discern traces of onion, of bacon, of garlic, of potato. You undertake the blessed job of dismantling the baffling creation, one bite at a time.

The menu says that this thing is called ‘Bubble and Squeak’. You don’t ask any questions.

Obviously any reader in the Upper Cumberland area knows what I’m talking about. One city center comes to mind, if you’re looking for a four-star meal by an internationally renowned chef who utilizes locally sourced, seasonal ingredients for his field-to-fork menu.

IMG_2811smallClearly, we’re talking about Gainesboro. Yes, I said Gainesboro, TN. Check your map—it’s the county seat of Jackson, just southeast of Smith.

The Bull and Thistle, a Celtic restaurant overseen by Chef Barry O’Connor, draws 80% of its weekend customer base from out of county. Many of the folks you find there waiting for a table on a Saturday night have driven 1-2 hours for the privilege.

The idea originated with Diana Mandli and Loui Silvestri, business owners from Florida who landed in Tennessee almost on a whim in 2005. Loving the area, they purchased a small farm for relaxation and “getaway” purposes, never dreaming of starting another business here. But by 2009, they had purchased half a block of beautiful but neglected historic buildings on the square. Soon they had begun brainstorming to come up with a business that would be enough of a draw to start the process of reviving the town square. From many past trips to Ireland and the UK for both business and fun, they were well acquainted with the charm and comfort of a pub as a community social center.  Learning about the area they had fallen in love with, they were delighted to discover the extent of Celtic roots across Appalachia, and in the Scottish and Irish names and faces of so many living in Jackson County.  Suddenly, it all clicked.

Loui Silvestri, co-owner of The Bull and Thistle with Diana Mandli

This is how The Bull and Thistle was born.

Mandli and Silvestri had just finished renovating their old farmhouse in the Free State community and still had their hands in all kinds of entrepreneurial endeavors when they started researching a business that was totally foreign to them: restaurants. With the dream of the Bull and Thistle already in their heads, they spent months in the learning stage. Mandli bought textbooks used in Cornell’s Restaurant Management courses. Silvestri would find her lying on her back in the empty gut of the historic square building, “looking at it from a different angle” and making plans to transform the place into a little piece of Ireland.

They began researching beer and alcohol laws to find out whether Jackson County, which had been dry for many decades, could ever become wet. They presented renderings and sales projections to the county government, making the best case they could for bringing beer by the glass into the area. A few months of elbow-grease later, with essential guidance from Town Alderman John Cassetty, they were delighted to learn that all they needed was a vote from the three city commissioners. This vote passed. They put twenty beers, ales, and ciders on tap. (“Why not?” explained Silvestri.)

Then they began the process that was so very crucial to the vision of the restaurant. “We knew we needed a chef from Ireland or England,” says Mandli. “The authenticity of the building was such that our food absolutely had to rise to that same standard.”

Chef Barry O’Connor works the grill line.

They advertised in the culinary circles of the UK and Europe at large, looking for experience, determination, accolades, and—of course—a willingness to move. To Gainesboro.

This is where Chef Barry O’Connor found them.

Chef O’Connor has 25 years of experience in English, French, and Italian cuisine. He has extensive formal culinary training (including an additional, advanced degree in charcuterie; this means, if you were curious, that he’s an expert in butchering and curing meats). Both he and Chef Gordon Ramsey apprenticed in one of the finest restaurants in London (“I recall Gordon as quite a mild and mannerly young fellow,” say Chef). Chef Barry went on to found and run five award-winning restaurants in Ireland, one of which, the Victoria Cross Crow’s Nest, was named Ireland’s Pub of the Year in 1999.

But the crash of 2008 in Ireland “made ours look mild,” said Silvestri, and Chef O’Connor lost his restaurants in one fell swoop. He began working for other entities, as a chef and consultant. That was until Mandli and Silvestri contacted him.

IMG_2953smallAs a test, he came to Gainesboro and cooked two community meals, each a group of 14 people.  The lucky diners were friends of Mandli and Silvestri, community leaders, and local business owners.  The group sat around a billiards table converted to a dining table, and sampled every dish on the menu developed by Chef Barry and Mandli – all cooked by the Chef, working by himself in a home kitchen because at the time, there was no Pub.  (All this was early in the construction phase, and the interior of the Pub was mostly rubble.)  The food was a clear hit, although when he came out to bow and accept their praise after the meal, his colorful Irish language shocked a few of them. (“That’s just how we speak in Ireland; we punctuate everything that way,” concluded O’Connor when telling his side of the story.)  Then he had to come back to Gainesboro and do yet another meal, “for the 14 friends who didn’t get invited the first time,” laughed Silvestri.

But the Chef had always wanted to come to the U.S. and work. He described the first morning he woke up in Jackson County, and watched a next door neighbor walk by in nothing but overalls. Used to European cities and the fast pace of feeding hundreds or thousands in a day, the pace here was “something different,” he said archly. “All I’ve ever done is work in Michelin restaurants.”

So what kept him from boarding the next plane home? Well, he didn’t have a car to get him back to the airport, he quipped. Then he answered seriously: “Truly? I think the people [here] are fantastic.” He had originally agreed to come for six months and get things started, then hire a replacement. He’s now been here for three years as presiding chef.

IMG_2970smallOnce the Chef was selected, Mandli and Silvestri were full steam ahead to finish the construction. Almost all of the work at the Pub, inside and out, was done by local contractors, artisans, craftsmen, and tradesmen. The entirety of the bar and most of the tables in the restaurant came from a single tree dating back to George Washington’s time, at the end of its life and discovered locally. Quite a bit of the décor in the restaurant came from O’Connor’s own stash of things he salvaged from his restaurants, loaded into a single shipper and brought over. O’Connor mostly approved of what had been done in the restaurant, although when he first saw the kitchen layout, as the story goes, he let out a string of expletives and said ‘no, no, no’… then proceeded to set it all straight.

The result is that the kitchen is divided neatly into four quarters—a main cook line/grill area, an appetizer/prep area, a baking/dessert area, and a dishwashing area.  Everything is state-of-the-art, and Silvestri proudly showed off the neatness and precision with which cleanliness and food prep codes are observed by O’Connor’s staff.

IMG_2983smallAfter the restaurant served its first plate—in March of 2013—they worked to get liquor and wine by the glass into the county, knowing that they couldn’t compete with city restaurants if they weren’t a one-stop-shop. They also started hiring bands for the weekends, many of them playing Irish music or Bluegrass. They most recently knocked a wall down between the Pub and its next-door neighbor, a boutique and bakery called The Vault – which was opened by Mandli and Silvestri in 2012 – so that people can shop while waiting for tables.

Passionate about the local economy, they’ve been regularly in talks with local leaders to see about bringing a larger vision to local development. Silvestri listed five major things he sees as vital to further growth: overnight accommodations such as B&Bs and boutique hotels, other quality restaurants, other entertainment (movie theaters, bowling alleys, venues, etc.), public or private transportation from major cities, and community beautification.

Chef O’Connor pours all his past experience into the menu, which changes from season to season to incorporate local ingredients at their peak times. Although most of the offerings come out of the United Kingdom, there are some Italian and French elements, and seafood features heavily (Chef recommends that seafood be served rare for full flavor). At the same table, you can get Bangers and Mash (homemade sausage glazed with onion and Guinness gravy served on a bed of colcannon), baked Maine Oysters (stuffed with bacon, crab, shrimp and garlic butter gratin and served on a wood platter), or Cashel Leeks and Walnut Pasta (Italian strozzapreti pasta with leeks, spinach, asparagus and wild mushrooms cooked in a light walnut and Cashel blue cheese sabayon).

Chef O’Connor sees to it that bread and other goods are made fresh baked on the premises, and these can be purchased in the mornings at The Vault next to the restaurant. He is also developing a line of cured meat to be sold at The Vault (presumably so that the rest of us can get a taste of what charcuterie means).

IMG_2788smallThe restaurant is now three years young. I asked myself, while politely groaning over a plate of Pork Tenderloin Le Luibheanna—will this place be in business next year? Three years from now?

In answer to this question, Silvestri directed my attention to the weekends—come on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night, he said, and you’d better have a reservation. Wait times can get over an hour. He also mentioned that the restaurant is currently self-sustaining—on schedule with their original business plan.

“People still call us crazy when they hear about us for the first time,” he said. “But we’re business people. We know what this takes. We know what we’re doing.”

The next move, though, is to deliver a lunch menu that draws local people from places immediately surrounding the restaurant. People are willing to drive an hour to spend the evening with them on a weekend, he said, but now it’s time to focus on their daytime traffic of people from Smith, Trousdale, Wilson, Putnam… and yes, Jackson County.

“This is our town,” he said, looking at Mandli, who nodded. “We care about what happens to it.”

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Wedding Cocktails

Because your wedding deserves its own drink

By Brooke Porter, Market Basket Wine and Liquors

Shot at Capitol Theatre


It’s an easy gig: 1. Take five cocktail recipes created by the pros over at Market Basket Wine & Liquors. 2. Head over to Capitol Theatre in Lebanon to surround yourself with the art deco moods. 3. Mix the drinks, photograph the drinks, and taste the drinks.

Is your wedding upscale, even Gatsby? Blushing Bride might be your drink. Is it southern and sassy? Try the Country Girl Cosmo. Is it full of handmade, shabby chic detail? This Cucumber Elderflower Martini will make you wonder why you haven’t been muddling cucumbers in everything you imbibe.

No matter what your personality, there’s a drink here for you.

 Sunset on the Lake 




What You Need

  • 2 oz. black cherry juice
  • 1 1/2 oz. Picker’s Blood Orange Vodka
  • 1 oz. Barsmith simple syrup
  • 3/4 oz. lemon juice
  • Filthy Black Cherry, for garnish

How to Make It

  • Shake all ingredients with ice.
  • Strain into a chilled martini glass.
  • Garnish with a black cherry







Cucumber Elderflower Martini



What You Need

  • 2 slices of cucumber (1 for muddling and 1 for garnish)
  • 1/2 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz. Barsmith simple syrup
  • 1 oz. Square One organic cucumber vodka
  • 3/4 oz. Germain elderflower liqueur
  • Splash of sparkling wine
  • Cucumber slice, for garnish

How to Make It

  • In a mixing glass, muddle cucumber in lemon juice and simple syrup.
  • Add ice, vodka, and liqueur.
  • Strain into a chilled martini glass.
  • Top with a splash of sparkling wine.
  • Garnish with cucumber slice.





Honey Ginger Sidecar 




What You Need

  • 1 oz. Presidente brandy
  • 1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz. Barsmith Honey- ginger syrup
  • 1/2 oz. triple sec
  • Lemon twist, for garnish

How to Make It

  • Shake all ingredients except lemon twist in a shaker with ice.
  • Strain into a chilled, sugar-rimmed martini glass.
  • Garnish with lemon twist.






Country Girl Cosmo

(Southern take on the White Cosmopolitan)


What You Need

  • 2 oz. Sugarlands Silver Cloud Moonshine
  • 1 oz. Germain Elderflower liqueur
  • 3/4 oz. white cranberry peach juice cocktail
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice

How to Make It

  • Shake all ingredients with ice
  • Strain into chilled martini glass
  • Choose dainty orchid to use as a garnish







Blushing Bride 




What You Need

  • 4 oz. sparkling wine
  • 1/2 oz. Germain Elderflower liqueur
  • dash of Barsmith Grenadine

How to Make It

  • Pour ingredients into a chilled fluted glass and stir









Market Basket Wine and Liquors is located at 1505 W. Main Street Lebanon, TN. They pride themselves on stocking the kind of wine they want to drink themselves, and helping a customer to new finds based on his or her individual tastes. Owner Brooke Porter contributes to a wine blog at Learn more at: (615) 449-7115 or


The Capitol Theatre is a premier event venue in Lebanon, renovated in vintage art deco style. In addition to being a prime wedding location, Capitol is also host to live music shows, fundraiser events, and regularly plays old movies. They are located at 110 W. Main Street Lebanon, TN. Learn more at (615) 784-4014 or

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Lebanon Animal Hospital

Welcoming pets into a no fear zone

By Sue Siens

Photos by Kindred Moments Photography

Lebanon Animal Hospital has a long history of loving and caring for small animals, with primary treatment for dogs and cats.  Founded in 1971 by Dr. Jim Hundley, the practice was purchased by Dr. Allen Craig and Dr. Amanda dsc00708_23172354802_oWesson in 2014.  Located at 1613 West Main Street, the clinic was renovated to enhance the treatment and care of our pets.  The hospital features separate dog and cat lobbies (to lessen kitty’s stress and anxiety), with new treatment, surgery and dental care areas. Dr. Craig, Dr. Wesson, and Dr. Kelley Brown, who joined the practice in July, 2015, and their wonderful employees, recognize that visiting the doctor can be scary for our pets (just like it can be for people).  This team of professionals aims to provide an inviting and comfortable experience for our cats and dogs, and the highest level of treatment and care available.

Their promises to pet owners and their pets are:

  • We will evaluate each individual pet’s stress level.
  • We will assess each patient for pain at every visit.
  • We will be mindful of anxiety triggers within the hospital.
  • We will use appropriate fear-free techniques individualized for your pet.
  • We will use appropriate drug therapy to maintain the safety and well-being of the patient, owner, and staff.
  • We will continually strive to improve the emotional health of your pet at each visit.

One way to create a no fear zone for your pet is to start bringing them to the animal hospital as soon as possible.  Dr. Craig explained, “Our goal is to provide life-long care for your pets.  When pets are brought in young, as puppies and kittens, and then come regularly for veterinary care, they become accustomed to the visits.  They know they are safe, and have less fear and anxiety about coming to see us.  We also send information packets home with tips for pet owners to help them know how to care for their puppies and kittens.”

dsc00661_22653527553_oDr. Craig recommends twice-a-year wellness checks for all dogs and cats.  He said, “We emphasize preventative care, so our pet patients have the healthiest and longest lives possible.  Owners no longer bring their pets in only for vaccinations, but also for overall health screening.”

Dr. Craig noted that regular dental exams along with periodic cleanings and dental x-rays are also very important. This is what we expect for ourselves and it makes a huge difference in the pet’s life.  Regular visits and preventative healthcare are particularly important for our senior pets, age 7 and older.  “Identifying and treating problems early, and ensuring comfort and pain relief for older pets will give them a longer and happier life,” he said.

For our feline pets, the animal hospital takes extra care to help cats feel safe and comfortable.  Dr. Wesson said, “The kitties have their own private lobby, so they aren’t scared by barking dogs.  We use mats on the exam tables so they have something to grip, and we spray a safe hormone in the air, that only cats can detect, which has a calming effect for most cats.”  When pet owners have an appointment to bring their cat in for a visit, they can come by ahead of time and pick up a packet of the calming hormone, to wipe inside their kitty’s pet carrier.  For most of the cats, it soothes and calms them for the trip to the vet.

dsc00744_22912660129_oLebanon Animal Hospital provides the full range of pet healthcare services including diagnostic blood and urine testing, digital x-rays, ultrasound, endoscopy and digital dental x-rays for their teeth.  They also perform laser surgery, dental treatments and complex oral surgery.  They can also assist with behavioral issues, nutrition assessments, pain management, and boarding for pets needing ongoing medical care.

To ensure compliance with the highest standards in pet care, Lebanon Animal Hospital is voluntarily accredited with the American Animal Hospital Association.  They are currently the only facility with this accreditation in Lebanon.  AAHA has stringent quality standards for all aspects of pet care, in nearly 1,000 different areas of quality of care and operation of the animal hospital.  According to the AAHA, only about 12% of veterinary clinics in the U.S. are accredited.

Meet the Doctors

Dr. Allen Craig, Dr. Amanda Wesson, and Dr. Kelley Brown, have dedicated their lives to excellent and loving care and treatment of small animals.  All three of the veterinarians at Lebanon Animal Hospital received their Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of TN.

dsc00684_23172386082_oDr. Allen Craig began working at Lebanon Animal Hospital immediately after graduating from UT in 1999.  He purchased the animal hospital in 2012.  Dr. Craig and his wife Valerie live in Mount Juliet, with three children, and pets Daisy, a Walker Coon Hound, cats Captain Cuddles and Max, and three water turtles.  Dr. Craig enjoys family time, gardening, and playing tennis.  He is also an alumnus of Leadership Wilson.

Dr. Amanda Wesson is a native of Smith County, TN.  She began working at Lebanon Animal Hospital in 2007, and became an owner of the animal hospital in 2014.  Dr. Wesson and her husband Anthony have a daughter named Autumn, a dog named Cricket, and a cat named Festus.  Her hobbies are spending time with family, church, and cycling.

L-R: Dr. Wesson, Dr. Craig, and Dr. Brown

Dr. Kelley Brown joined the team at Lebanon Animal Hospital in July, 2015.  She and her boyfriend Nathaniel reside in Hendersonville.  Dr. Brown has a dog named Cade, and two cats, Alli and Layla.  In addition to working at LAH, she is an emergency vet for Nashville Pet Emergency Center.

Drs. Craig, Wesson, and Brown regularly answer pet questions for our Wilson Living Magazine readers.  To submit a question that may be featured in an upcoming issue, send them to:

For more information about Lebanon Animal Hospital and their pet care services, visit their website at, or call (615) 444-4422.

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Defeated Creek to Hollywood

Smith County native Gary Granstaff makes movie deals from the family farm




Plenty of folks, after they flee their small neck of the woods in rural America to seek their fortune in the big cities, never look back.

For Smith County native son Gary Granstaff, who grew up on a small tobacco farm in Defeated Creek, to deny his birthright and get above his raisin’ proved an impossibility.
After leaving Defeated at 17, he was pretty much gone for 35 years, but he never forgot where he came from or those who shaped his character. About 12 years ago he built a new house half way up a hill on the old family farm, and today spends the majority of his time here managing one of the largest retirement consulting firms within Voya Financial Corporation and evaluating and negotiating movie deals with son Brett, his partner in Ridgerock Entertainment Group.

“I’m kind of a rarity for Smith County. There are not many movie producers here,” says Granstaff, 66, who served as an executive producer on the $65 million film Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp, which hit theaters in September.

DSC09342“Inasmuch as a majority of our work is in development and then production, with most being done outside of L.A. and Las Vegas, it really is not critical to be located in a specific area, and since I prefer to be in my home area, it was a logical move. Also, there are a very few independent film companies in the Nashville area, and we feel it has a great opportunity long term to develop the market in Tennessee.”

Ridgerock, where Granstaff handles development and finance and acquires intellectual properties, unveils The Masked Saint, a $3.5 million faith-based movie, in January. It stars his son as professional wrestler who decides to become a Southern Baptist pastor.

“My son is actually the boss. He got me into the film end of the business about 10 years ago,” said Granstaff, who over the last decade has rubbed shoulders with the likes of Bruce Willis, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Meg Ryan, William H. Macy, and most recently with Black Mass stars Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch and Kevin Bacon.

Ridgerock has several projects that the father and son duo are scrutinizing, including a Steve McQueen documentary and two boxing-related films, Francois and Shadow Boxing the Mob: The Carmen Basilio Story. Meanwhile, Karaoke Kings, a comedy, is in the development stage, and Gary has definite plans to make a film in Carthage in two years.

“I have a passion project called Class Favorites that is set in the ’60s around the week of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and when I shoot that I will shoot it here locally and shoot all of it in Tennessee,” he said.

Gary and wife Wanda built a home in Las Vegas in 1994. Because of his marketing company, he could operate from anywhere in the U.S., so they settled in Chattanooga in the mid-1990s where Brett received a solid education at Baylor, a private prep school.

After Brett graduated from high school and enrolled at New York University (NYU) Film School, Gary and Wanda returned to Vegas. In more recent years they have divided their time between the farm and the city famed for showgirls, games of chance and glittering neon lights.

Gary Granstaff visits with actress Meg Ryan, co-star of the 2008 film The Deal.

“I try to be here at least seven or eight months a year. We’ve opened an office in Nashville so I’m trying to spend more time here if I can. It kind of depends where we are with production and business. I don’t want to be in Los Angeles,” Granstaff said.

As for his business partner and star of the upcoming Masked Saint, he says, “Brett’s a very creative person. He rewrote the script. He plays the lead… he did probably two-thirds of the casting, so that’s all from the creative side.

“He really didn’t have the interest or the inclination for the financial side, and that kind of fit my strength. I’ve been involved with some Hollywood productions, and when you see the waste of the money that goes on, surely just throwing money away, we felt like we could build a better business model.

“So Brett appealed to me to start taking control of financial opportunities that we could see within the film industry. There were several of his contacts that wanted us to invest and co-produce, and he didn’t have the confidence at that time, so we formed Ridgerock Entertainment in 2005.

“Then starting in 2007 we partnered with Emmett Furla Films on a couple of projects that I did the financing part for. In 2008 we co-oped with Meg Ryan and William H. Macy on a romantic comedy, The Deal. So as time went on we became more entrenched in acquiring properties and development, and then Brett brought me Black Mass, so we started working on Black Mass, and it just kind of snowballed.”

As things slowed down in 2012, Brett accepted a media scholarship to Cambridge University in England and earned an MBA in Media and Entertainment Management.

“It’s really given him more confidence in the financial side. He’s not only equal but taken the lead in some of the financial side. So we kind of partner in that. So that’s how I kind of got involved in the film business, through his encouragement to help him on the financial end of the film business,” Granstaff said.

Brett Granstaff, who currently hangs his hat in Franklin, Tenn., describes their roles by saying, “I say yes or no and do everything from business finance to creative. Dad specializes in the financial side and the fund management. I go to him and ask, ‘Is this a good deal? What do you think?’ I bounce ideas off of him. He’s amazing in what he’s done in his business. He handles all the finances: I do all the creative.

“He’s really good with the finances, good with negotiations, and he’s really a good people person, what you need to get along with everyone and problem solve.”

Black Mass came to Ridgerock in 2008 when Brian Oliver, now president of Cross Creek Pictures, told Brett he needed help in development. Brett, in turn, told his father about the book based on the life of Boston mobster Whitey Bulger.

“I did the research,” said Gary, “and in 2010 said, ‘Yeah, let’s pull the trigger on this and get involved because this is a very compelling story, a story that needs to be told to people.’ At that time this fellow was No. 2 in line behind Osama bin Laden on the FBI’s most wanted list.”

The rigors of plowing a ton of dough into a big-budget flick and watching the box-office reports come in, he describes as “a roller-coaster ride,” certainly a more exhilarating experience than riding behind a tractor, setting tobacco plants.

He notes that the biggest lesson he learned from helping guide the major film “is the ability to have control of a project, so that at the end of the day what’s on the screen turns out to be what you want.”

Thus, Ridgerock has complete control over the faith-based movie, The Masked Saint, based on the true tale of Chris Whaley, pastor of Longwood Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla.

“It’s the story of a Southern Baptist pastor who was a professional wrestler who is trying to make the transition from that world into being a pastor, and the trials and tribulations and struggles that he has of going from someone who is a very physical take-charge person and becoming a pastor of a church,” Granstaff said.

Brett, 35, who plays the lead, shares more about the wrestling preacher, saying, “He doesn’t always turn the other cheek all the time. He solves a couple of robberies, helps people and always has the knack of being where he can make a difference.”

As Gary tries to be objective about how son Brett’s comes off in his first starring role, he says, “His wrestling performance… when you have people like Jeff Jarrett and Jimmy Noonan, those kind of people who’ve been around pro wrestling all their life, tell you that he maintained the integrity of the physicality of the sport to a T, and that’s the only reason they endorsed our movie… then I think he did a good job.”

The Masked Saint, which opens nationwide January 8, gets its world premiere January 7 at Regal Cinemas Green Hills in Nashville. The film co-stars Diahann Carroll as a church parishioner who provides the pastor with direction, and the late professional wrestler Roddy Piper plays a promoter and announcer.

Gary leads Ridgerock’s faith division as he seeks to make more faith-based films.

“I used to work 100 hours a week, and in 2003 I had a major heart attack. I had just moved here in April, had a major heart attack in November and nearly died. I had quadruple bypass,” he recalls.

“I go see my mom some years after that and tell her about going into the film business, and she pretty much said, ‘You know, Gary, you’ve made a lot of money. You’ve done very well, but anybody can make money, but not everybody is gonna make a difference. You have the talent to make a difference.’

Ridgerock Entertainment Group vice president of development Gary Granstaff, who graduated from Smith County High School in 1966, has homes in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Defeated Creek, Tenn. He works from both locations but lately has been trying to spend more time closer to home. He also has offices in the old Carthage post office building and Nashville.

“After nearly falling out of my chair, I really walked away saying, ‘I do have an opportunity here to do something positive.’ That’s what really transitioned me into saying to my son Brett that I want to set up this faith division and make faith-based films side by side with secular films, so that we can take a message and hopefully be entertaining and expand the tent to bring people into see a faith-based movie that might not go see a movie otherwise.

“Our movie has a great positive message, but it also has a lot of action. So we want to embrace people who normally won’t go see that movie to say, ‘Hey, I’d like to go see this wrestling film.’”

While Gary gives his son Brett the credit for being the creative force of the team, he’s proven to be quite the dreamer himself and confesses that his imaginative powers were a gift passed down from his maternal grandfather, Newton Burford (N.B.) Kemp, who was his first babysitter.

“He had imagination that he really transferred to me, translated all of his dreams,” Granstaff reminisced. “He never really got to travel and explore and do a lot of things. I can remember sitting on that front porch in the swing with him, and him taking me on trips in his mind and really kind of cultivating all of his adventurous spirit that I kind of wound up with.”

Born the son of Don and Hazel Granstaff, Gary spent his first eight years of school at Defeated Creek Elementary where his mother was his first and second-grade teacher. He grew up on the family farm with siblings Virginia, LaDon and Bill, where they grew tobacco and corn and “all the trappings that go with being in farm life.”

His mother, who spent 36 years in the Smith County school system later served as librarian at the high school. His father operated Granstaff TV and Appliance Service Center in Carthage for about 25 years.

As a youth he helped in the tobacco patch every year where he learned the lesson of hard labor.

“It started early from the plant bed and ended up taking the tobacco to sell, and we had cattle and raised corn and had a huge garden. We did canning and freezing and all those things. It was like every time you get up there was something to do.

Married for 45 years, Gary Granstaff and Wanda Key had been dating about two weeks when they had this snapshot taken at the Smith County Fair in the summer of 1967. Photo submitted

“My mom was a big positive influence. As an educator, she encouraged me. I was in public speaking. I did a lot of work in 4-H, and I think in terms of those kinds of things that help you with self-confidence, my mom was a huge influence. I look back now, and it was nearly a borderline between pushing me and encouraging me kind of thing, but she knew I had some talent in leadership skills and she tried to cultivate that in me. I wasn’t the best student but I did always accomplish what I set out to accomplish,” said Granstaff.

As a child of the ’50s, he whetted his appetite for movies going to Saturday afternoon matinees at The Princess Theater in Carthage.

“I think the cost was either 25 cents or 50 cents,” he said. “The most memorable movies that I can remember seeing as a child were Peter Pan, Old Yeller and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”

The country boy also found another way to get to town during those long, hot summers. His excuse to flee the farm and carve out a little income for himself came via a job at a new hamburger joint in Carthage.

“They were opening up a little hamburger place called G&R, which is now Brenda’s [Restaurant]. Me and my buddy Tom McCall were the first two employees. I made 40 cents an hour, and it was a good experience. It was pretty much the only place to go and hang out,” he says. “It gave me a time not only to work but to socialize and to see people.”

After graduating Smith County High, the 17-year-old talked his way into a job at Ross-Gear in Lebanon, saved his money and entered Middle Tennessee State University that fall.

“It set a foundation. I became self-reliant and learned the value of money,” said Gary, who graduated in 1970 with a degree in business.

He and his buddy C.K. Smith of Hartsville, with whom he played a lot of games of hearts, planned to enter the University of Tennessee Law School together. Then his uncle referred him to a TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation) officer.

Their conversation led Granstaff into almost becoming a member of the first class of ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). To get the job he had to agree to go undercover for six to nine months in the Florida Everglades and cut himself completely off from family and friends.

However, he and girlfriend Wanda Key were on the edge of matrimony, so he turned down the job in law enforcement, got married and wound up teaching and coaching junior high basketball for a year in a small town in South Carolina.

Returning to the Volunteer State, he accepted a job with the Tennessee Department of Corrections at Spencer Youth Center. He resigned two years later and became an insurance salesman.

“In 1984 I converted into pension planning. Later I got into retirement planning and took over the marketing department of a small company in Seattle and helped grow it from $30 million a year to $300 million a year,” he said.

Today he oversees a marketing organization of 250 sales representatives nationwide who handle retirement planning for educators, teachers, nonprofits, colleges and universities.

And he produces movies.

His favorite film of all time? That would be Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Favorite actor? Paul Newman.

Hard-driven at business, for relaxation or short getaways Granstaff drives a small fleet of antique vehicles that includes a ’56 Chevy Bel Air, a ’69 Camaro and ’91 Mercedes. He also plays the piano and guitar and enjoys a game of tennis now and then.

“Probably right now I’m spending three-fourths of my time in the film business. The other fourth is spent overseeing about 20 commercial and residential properties I own here in Smith County,” he said of his work regimen.

Horses on Granstaff’s Smith County farm.

“As a youth growing up at Defeated, I always had an adventuresome spirit and wanted to travel and see the world. Since my love of my life, Wanda, had the same spirit, we were able to share the adventures that gave us the opportunity to not only live in many places such as Colorado, Washington, Nevada, California and South Carolina but also travel over the globe and have experiences that my grandfather and I dreamed, and I imagined as a child when I spent so much of my time with him.

“He enriched my imagination as a child, and then I was able to live out many of those dreams and then return to enjoy the beauty and people of my home where I grew up,” said the moviemaker, a man whose Smith County roots run as deep as his imagination.

Smith County filmmaker

For more details about Gary Granstaff’s Ridgerock Entertainment Group, go online to The film production company behind Johnny Depp’s Black Mass has several projects in development and debuts The Masked Saint in 600 theaters nationwide January 8.

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