“How’s lunch fellas,” Charlie Daniels asked with a knowing smile on her full red lips as she greeted the two men who were about to make her wildest dreams come true.
“Great, Ms. Daniels.” Rob said around a jaw full of food. “We thought we’d grab a bite while we waited for a lull.” Charlie looked fondly over her beautifully decorated restaurant. Every table was taken and there was a line that stretched down the center aisle all the way to the front door.
“Mm-hm,” Charlie said watching the men attack their plates as if the food was going to run away. “Sounds like a plan fellas, and the name is Charlie, you hear?” Both men nodded in unison, jaws still jumping as they stuffed their faces. They hadn’t stopped eating since they’d arrived. “But, truth be told, this is about the best lull you’re going to get,” Charlie said looking around the room again.
“Shoot yeah,” Charlie smiled. “This is the brunch crowd which leads into the late lunch crowd then before you know it the dinner crowd will be filing in. Plus, tonight is open mic so it’s probably going to be standing room only after four o’clock.”
“Wow, well maybe,” Sam paused to wipe every morsel of gravy off the plate with his last bit of sandwich then tossed it in his mouth. “Maybe we should just get started. Find a quiet spot, if we can.”
“Sure thing,” Charlie smiled.
“We were hoping to start with you,” Rob said grabbing his camera.
“We’ll interview the remaining staff after you,” Sam said. “Then we’ll be all done.”
“Sounds perfect,” Charlie said unclenching her teeth to smile her biggest and brightest. Smoothing the gold skirt down around her long legs, she adjusted the carnation colored camisole she’d paired with it. The bangles on her toned arms delicately clinked together with each movement. On the outside she appeared to be her usual perfect picture of southern gentility, cool and confident, but on the inside was a whole other thing today. Should have kept your mouth shut, now look. No turning back now, girl, it’s showtime whether you’re ready or not.
Charlie was a beautiful woman, but today she’d made sure to take extra care with her image, knowing that the beauty without branding didn’t mean a thing. So, the full Southern Fried Honeybee experience she’d cultivated over the years was in effect. Which meant the majestic lion mane like fro was full and luscious. Her clothes soft, delicate and always colorful, were chosen to tastefully accentuate her curves. As for her signature hoops and bangles she’d put on as many as her wrists could handle. Charlie just hoped she didn’t appear as nervous as she suddenly felt. This was the biggest opportunity they’d ever had, and she was determined that nothing was going to screw it up.
“I’m all yours, darling,” Charlie said smiling as she turned up the charm. It was go time, so Charlie was going to do what Charlie always did- make magic happen. This was her time to show how special the Honeybee was to the world, and there was nothing that was going to stand in her way- not even herself.
At first, they tried to set up a spot in a corner of the dining area next to the picture windows to capitalize on the light, but there was just too much activity. Eventually they ended up going onto the patio courtyard that was cattycorner to the kitchen. It sat between the Honeybee’s wall and their bookstore neighbors.
Last winter they’d set up an awning that covered half of the space, and then decorated it with white lights and some small shrubs with bright flowers. Once they added some chairs and tables it had become a nice spot for her employees to hang out.
Charlie had been flirting with the idea of opening it up for customer seating, but it would mean the staff wouldn’t have anywhere outside to take their breaks. Eventually Charlie figured it wasn’t worth it. The renovation alone to match the inside southern farmhouse decor would take too much time. It just seemed like it was much more trouble than it was worth.
“Okay guys, how’s my hair,” Charlie said fluffing the enormous cotton-soft mounds of jet-black hair that framed her beautiful face with perfectly manicured fingers. “Am I good?” she said as she settled into one of the padded wicker chairs smiling at the appreciative looks of both Rob and Sam. “Ok, ask away.”
“Sure thing! Now, our voices are not going to be on the final taping, so your answers need to be able to stand alone. I’ll be asking you the questions. But make sure to look right here. Your answers should be directed at the camera not at me,” Sam said.
“Got it,” Charlie said, “So I look here?” Pointing to the tiny monitoring screen where her face appeared.
“No,” Rob pointed at the lens. “Look here. That way you’ll be looking at the millions and millions of people that will be watching you in their living rooms.”
“Millions, huh? Give a girl a complex why don’t you?” Charlie said and the two men laughed with her making her feel even more at ease with them. Rob operated the camera and Sam acted as interviewer from a seat off to the side.
“Alright, Charlie are you ready?”
“Of course,” she said putting her best smile on ignoring the uncommon nervousness vexing her suddenly. Get it together girl, this is your big shot. Time to shine!
“And Sam,” Rob said cueing his partner, “We. Are. Rolling.”
“Okay Charlie, tell us your name and what you do.”
“My name is Charlean Daniels, but my friends and family, who am I kidding? Everyone calls me Charlie. I am the owner and head chef of the Southern Fried Honeybee. We are one of the best kept secrets on the Gulf coast. Our restaurant is located right off Main Street in the heart of downtown Biloxi, Mississippi. We’ve been open and serving the area our sweet southern fried fare for about ten years now.”
“How’s the food?”
“Well, y’all know. Lord knows both of y’all done ate enough of it,” Charlie said laughing. “Why, it’s delicious, of course. Otherwise you nice folks wouldn’t be here,” Charlie said as sassy as possible smiling at the thumbs up she got from Rob behind the camera. It was hard keeping her eyes straight ahead and not looking at Sam since he was the one talking to her, but she made sure to follow his directions. She didn’t want to be the one to screw up the Honeybee’s shot at the big time.
“And how did the Honeybee come to be.”
“Beeee, ahh I get it,” Charlie laughed at the corny joke, relaxing the more she got to talk about her first love, the Honeybee. “I see you got jokes.” Charlie started feeling more like herself as the fear of messing up faded.
She was sparkling, she was effervescent, and she looked damn good. For the first time since getting the offer for a camera crew to feature the Southern Fried Honeybee, Charlie began to relax. She’d kept the name of the host a secret from everyone except her two closest friends, Sue and Cyndi. Only they knew how big of a deal today was. Only they knew that the Oprah Winfrey had requested they be put in the running for a spot on a cooking show highlighting southern cuisine.
Now that the day had arrived, Charlie was more determined than ever that Ms. Oprah would pick her to be on her show. Once she saw this, she had to see Charlie was OWN material. Just to be sure she ratcheted up the southern drawl in her voice.
“Well, The Southern Fried Honeybee, aka Southern Fried, aka the Honeybee aka the best little restaurant on the Golden Gulf Coast was kind of a fluke, an accident really. A little over ten years ago I was a poor student at the University of Southern Mississippi. Go Eagles! I was in desperate need for money to buy books my sophomore year. Business was my major and believe me those books are expensive. I think they price them by the pound. Anyway, since my parents were tapped out with already paying for tuition, I had to be creative. I needed six hundred bucks. So, I did what I’d seen my grandmother do for years to pull in extra money. I pulled out some of my Grand’s old baking recipes and got to work. When I first started, I had three recipes. It was one for chocolate chip cookies, one for pralines and one for this twinkie thing Grand used to do at Christmas. Well, the cookies did all right, the pralines not so much. To tell the truth I always sucked at pralines. It’s the reason I don’t have them on the menu to this day. They sale alright, but no one can do them like my grandma in fact everyone in the world should be banned from making them if your first name isn’t Sheryl and your last name isn’t Daniels. That was my grandma, Mrs. Sheryl Daniels. She passed a few years back, but she was the start of all of this. Oh yeah, and the twinkie thing. The twinkie thing is what would become the backbone of the Southern Fried Honeybee. You see that was Grand’s nickname for me when I was growing up. She called me honeybee because I used to flit around from thing to thing, just a busy little thing. She swore that I would go so fast sometimes I actually made a little buzzing noise. So, she started calling me honeybee or Ms. Bee or little busy bee. Anyways when I started making those little twinkie things in the kitchen it was a big hit. I sold the first batch so quick I had to run out to the store to get more ingredients that same night. The second batch I doubled the price and that sold out even quicker. The third batch I tripled the price. Again, the folks kept coming back for more and they brought their friends with them. In less than a week I made more than enough money for my books, the cooking supplies and a little left over that I could save. Talk about psyched. I couldn’t believe it at first, but I kept making them and it became my little side hustle. It grew so big so fast that I ended up recruiting a few friends to help me out with making product and distributing it.”
“Is that when you came up with the name Southern Fried Honeybee.”
“Actually, no,” Charlie said a mischievous grin covering her full lips. “I didn’t call them that at first. At first,” Charlie said before leaning out of the line of the camera, “you’re not going to use this part, right.” Rob gave her a perplexed look, before shrugging his shoulders. Sam shrugged as well. She was in the zone. If this interview didn’t get her on the show, she didn’t know what would.
“What the hell,” she said leaning back in her seat. “When I first started making them, they were called Dick on a Stick,” Rob burst out laughing and so did Sam. They laughed so long that finally Rob shut the camera off.
“You are shitting me,” Rob said.
“You’ve got to be making this stuff up,” Sam added still laughing. Offended, Charlie yelled for Sue. A few seconds later the petite woman’s shiny dark head popped out of the kitchen.
“Sue what did we use to call the honeybees when I first started making them at USM.”
“Dick on a Stick,” Sue yelled back before ducking back in the kitchen. Charlie raised her eyebrows at the two stunned men. Shaking his head in disbelief, Rob reset the camera before hitting the record button again. Once again, the little red light came on and Charlie continued with her story.
“So, as I was saying the Honeybees initially were called Dick on A Stick mainly because of their, you know, phallus shape, and the cream- well, you get the picture. Now this was not Grand’s name this was something I came up with to sell them. You know how raunchy college kids can get especially late at night when they’re looking for something to get into. Everyone on campus loved the naughtiness of it, but, of course, as the treats gained a more shall we say, “off campus crowd appeal” the name became a problem. No matter how progressive a lot of people claim to be they don’t appreciate having to ask for an order of dicks on a stick. The imagery is kind of hard to get over. The college crowd didn’t mind but by then the non-college crowd was growing even quicker especially when I changed the name. Grand couldn’t stand the name either, so you know, got to do what granny says. Plus, Cyndi, my PR person, although back then she ain’t have no title. But it was her idea that if we wanted this thing to grow, we had to give it a more family friendly name. That’s when I decided to call them honeybees, in homage to my Grand, of course. The Southern Fried moniker, I thought, gave them a regional appeal, but it’s kind of taken on a life of its own. We, meaning my staff, all consider ourselves Southern Fried Honeybees. That really gave Cyndy something to work with too. She stepped it up big time with branding once I got set on a name. She slapped a honeybee on everything she could. So, with her marketing, and my cooking it became a big hit.”
“What about Sue?”
“Oh, Sue,” Charlie laughed, “she’s the brawn of the deal.” The men laughed considering the barely five-foot woman that had stepped out earlier. “No seriously, Sue may be small but she’s mighty. Sue makes sure we have what we need with all the buildings, contracts. And if we need some folks smacked around verbally to get them, in line, we send Sue in. If she were two feet taller and had a few more pounds on her she could probably do it for real too. Don’t get it twisted, Sue about that life.”
“I understand where the honeybee name came from, but what does southern fried mean?”
“Means you’re a little crazy, just a little nuts, and a lot weird, but it’s all love. You know like: that boy is southern fried as hell, but he’s still good people. That’s what southern fried means. It’s like crazy, but harmless crazy. You know us Southerners, we’re all a little southern fried, or touched in the head as my Grand used to say something to do with the heat and hurricanes you know. Not dumb, just different. I mean you got to be to live down here. Mississippi ain’t for the faint of heart, lord no.”
“So, would you say you’ve created a community of sorts here.”
“Most definitely, and we pride ourselves on that. At Southern Fried Honeybee, community is everything. We’ve got a bunch of regulars. They have meetings here once a week, and one of our faves, her name is Gracieann, hi Gracieann,” she said winking at the camera knowing the woman would get a kick out of having her name said on TV if this ever got shown. “Well, Gracieann even got us an annual spot in Biloxi’s Mardi Gras. Let me tell you, that float was rocking last season, honey. Yes, it was.”
“So, what does it take to become an honorary Southern Fried Honeybee.”
“Nothing but wanting it really. I mean everyone’s welcome. Whether you’re from here or a tourist from out of state, if you want to be a Honeybee then you can be a Honeybee, just got to remember that everything is better when it’s southern fried,” Charlie smiled brightly for the camera.
“So that’s how it all happened?”
“Yup that’s it. The southern fried part also came when I started experimenting with the honeybees, you know getting a little crazy with them. You know I took the honeybee theme and went crazy with it. Dipping them in frosting and drizzling them in chocolate and lemon. It was all pretty random but looking back on it I have to say it feels like it was fate.”
“Yeah,” Charlie said. “I owe everything in my life to fate, and God. None of it was because of me. This business is bigger than me, bigger than any one of us. It’s the reason for my lifestyle, the nice things I have, and especially for my chosen family of friends. Every single person inside that restaurant in there I consider to be a part of my family including the customers and it’s because of this business they’re in my life. The Honeybee has afforded me with a life that I couldn’t have ever imagined as a little girl. I don’t know what I’d do without it.”