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The venerable Savannah mainstay shows no signs of slowing down.
Leah Bell sits down with Julie Donaldson Lowenthal to dish on the family business as it turns 90 years old.
There are certain flavors we associate with place. And, if Savannah had a singular taste, most folk would say it’s the smoky barbecue sauce bottled by Johnny Harris Restaurant—a mainstay on Victory Drive for 90 years. Even while growing up in Atlanta, there was no other option for sauce in my house—it was Johnny Harris all the way—and it’s been the same for generations of families, not just in Georgia but throughout the world.
Julie Donaldson Lowenthal has never known it any other way, either. Lowenthal, the granddaughter of Red Donaldson, who took over the business from its namesake and passed it on, has captured the restaurant’s history and (thankfully) recipes in the Johnny Harris Restaurant Cookbook (Pelican Press 2014). She wrote the book to celebrate not only her family’s history, but that of the city and its food. And, she led the renovation of the venerable rotunda—the former ballroom of the supper club that ruled Savannah society during the mid-20th century—which will be unveiled at a birthday celebration today.
I got a chance to sit with Lowenthal and get a taste of the past as Johnny Harris looks toward the next 90 years.SM: When did you decide it was time for a Johnny Harris makeover?
Julie: About two and a half years ago. It was when we were updating our catering menu and I was photographing food for the new items. In between courses, sitting in the ballroom, I found myself looking around at all of the things I felt needed an update. It started with just a little here and a little there, but I eventually found myself seeing the potential for renovation in every piece of the room.SM: How did you start such an undertaking?
Julie: We followed what I like to call the “chip away” method. I’ve found that in a town like Savannah, change isn’t always best in some peoples’ eyes. Everyone here likes what they’ve grown up with—what they’re used to. I quickly learned that when it comes to our regulars, its best to update things in pieces rather than all at once, as to not overwhelm everyone with huge changes. It’s not a bad method for the budget either.SM: You mentioned regular customers—every restaurant has them. Tell us about Johnny Harris’s.
Julie: Our regulars have been around since the beginning, as far as I know. Back in the day when there were only, say, five restaurants in town, Johnny Harris was a regular spot for most Savannahians. It wasn’t just the restaurant that was a mainstay for customers, though. I know my grandparents sat at Booth #1 every time they came to eat; and I’m certain they weren’t the only ones with a “regular booth.” We’ve even have people wait in the lobby because they have a certain place in the ballroom or “the kitchen” where they HAVE to eat.SM: The kitchen?
Julie: ”The Kitchen” is the side of Johnny Harris that has a more diner-like atmosphere. We call the side in front of the counter “The Kitchen,” and behind the counter “The Pit.” That was where our first grill in the restaurant was located, so it’s had the nickname since day one. We’ve taken old photographs of the restaurant and blown them up to display in The Kitchen as a way to remember the restaurant’s history.
SM: Speaking of history, what have you learned about the restaurant that you didn’t know before?
Julie: I actually had to do a lot of research on the building when I started writing the cookbook. This whole endeavor has been such a huge learning experience on the history behind the restaurant, and this building, for that matter. For instance, we discovered that the back of the restaurant may have, at one point, been a drive through package store back in the Prohibition days. Prohibition also was the reason for the deep set booths—people used to close them off with a curtain and bring their own alcohol to drink. Couple that with the centerpiece of the room, which used to be a rotating bandstand, and you’ll find that Johnny Harris was the place to come in Savannah to have a good time!SM: What was your favorite part of the renovation?
Julie: I think what I like most are the parts that we were able to keep original. Those are the pieces that keep people coming back, and those are the parts with the stories. The ballroom mural, for example, was painted by a homeless man who offered to paint the landscape for free in exchange for food. What started as a short-term project turned into a year of painting and free food for the local wanderer, but that mural he painted looks just like new even today. No hired professional could match that kind of story.
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Eccentric? Elegant? Sweet or dry?
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It’s not just some post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction. More than 35 percent of Chatham County’s residents don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Nearly half of those are children. We want to make a difference, and we need your help.
For every new, renewal or gift subscription received between May 1 and June 30, Savannah magazine will donate $1 to Second Harvest’s Kids Café program. Our goal: $1,000.
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Pres Fest toasts city’s commitment to preserving our past.
Allison Hersh raises a glass to the Historic Savannah Foundation’s years of success.
Call it tradition. For decades, forward-thinking Savannahians have faced down bulldozers and stopped wrecking balls, making sure local architectural and cultural treasures can be enjoyed by future generations.
The city’s grassroots commitment to preservation runs deep—nearly three centuries deep. Since Georgia’s founding in 1733, Savannah’s urban plan has stood apart, defined by an elegant system of public squares and a pedestrian-friendly design.
“Preservation is the backbone of Savannah,” says Daniel Carey, president and CEO of Historic Savannah Foundation. “It’s what distinguishes us from every other city in Georgia and makes us the world-class destination we are. It all stems from our roots: appreciation for our environment and natural resources, General Oglethorpe’s timeless plan, respect for history, outstanding architecture and, of course, our famous hospitality.”
In honor of the city’s impressive legacy of preservation, HSF will host the third annual Savannah Preservation Festival, May 8 through 10. This year’s event, sponsored by United Community Bank, will span three days of education, outreach and inspiration, making it the nation’s largest and most ambitious preservation celebration.
“We want to celebrate Savannah’s commitment to preservation,” says Carey, “and share our secrets with visitors from across the country and around the world.”THE 2014 SAVANNAH PRESERVATION FESTIVAL SCHEDULE* Donovan D. Rypkema Lecture, Preservation Panel Discussion and Reception
May 8, 6 p.m., Free, Arnold Hall, 1810 Bull St.
Rypkema, principal of the Washington, D.C., firm PlaceEconomics, will discuss the economic impact of historic preservation in Savannah.SCAD Adaptive Reuse Tour
May 9, 10 a.m.–Noon, $35 per person, departing from the Clarence Thomas Center, 439 East Broad St.
The Savannah College of Art and Design has given new life to many of Savannah’s significant landmark structures. Enjoy an insider tour.Preservation Wine Tour
May 9, 6–9 p.m., $75 per person, throughout Savannah’s National Historic Landmark District
Tour five of Savannah’s finest private homes, including HSF Preservation Award winners, and hear their stories over food, wine and live music.HSF Revolving Fund Presentation and Trolley Tour
May 10, 10 a.m.-Noon, $35 per person, Kennedy Pharmacy, 323 E. Broughton St.
See preservation in action and enjoy a narrated overview of HSF’s Revolving Fund, which has helped save nearly 360 significant Savannah structures.Raise the Roof Party
May 10, 7-10 p.m., $75 per person, Ships of the Sea Museum, 41 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
Celebrate the power of preservation at this high-energy soiree, with live music and tasty cuisine by some of the city’s finest chefs.
*An all-access pass, $250, includes admission to all events and a discounted HSF Preserver Membership. To buy tickets to events, CLICK HERE >>
Photography credit: Home page image courtesy of Historic Savannah Foundation
Savannah Arts Academy’s “Best in Show” student designer takes to the SFW Runway.
By Skye Sienkiewicz ¦ Photography by Savannah Morning News/Shelly Mobley
Troy is a junior at the Savannah Arts Academy, where students compete to create fashion collections from recycled materials at the annual Junk2Funk fashion show. This year, Troy’s skilled craftsmanship at Junk2Funk won him a Best in Show nod and the first-ever Fashion Week scholarship. He counts Savannah’s own Project Runway star April Johnston and local designer Brooke Atwood among his mentors, and plans to intern at The Row in New York City this summer.
On May 1 in Forsyth Park, Troy will display the six-piece women’s sportswear collection he created for Junk2Funk.
Concept: What began as “cowboys vs. Indians” evolved into a “rebellion against what fashion is” in his eyes. Each piece embodies a sense of nostalgia and child’s play into the survivor of today. The recycled materials used in his garments are rope, window screening, vinyl, glitter, zip lines, zip ties, fringed pin-caps, and hand beading.
Inspiration: Troy loves to “go against the grain,” challenge himself and discover new aspects of himself as a designer. He sees this collection as revealing that “imperfections are still beautiful.” His favorite design luminaries include Alexander Wang and Nicolas Ghesquière during his Balenciaga tenure.
Must-have: A dancer protects his feet, so Troy lives in sneakers. He wears his Nike Free Runners with chinos rolled at the ankle.
Boho-rocker chic designer to show latest collection at Savannah Fashion Week.
By Skye Sienkiewicz ¦ Photography by Tim Willoughby
Originally from Mississippi, Brooke Atwood learned to sew from her grandmother, then came to Savannah to earn an MFA in fashion design at The Savannah College of Art and Design. In 2012, her love affair with leather led Brooke to launch her own label. She lives in Savannah, where she styles and designs at her in-home studio.
Brooke will be showing her 2014 Fall/Winter collection: 24 pieces designed in Savannah and produced in New York.
Concept: The Brooke Atwood label is casual, effortless women’s wear with a rocker edge. For her current collection, think 1975 rodeo/prom queen meets New York fashionista.
Inspiration: Travel, music and live shows—especially Mississippi blues by artists such as Hank Williams III. Rodarté and Alexander Wang are her favorite designers.
Process: Brooke starts by imagining two or three pieces, then builds on those silhouettes to round out the rest of her collection. Surprisingly, she doesn’t sketch her looks before designing—she only draws flats for production.
Must-have: The moto jacket. Brooke wears one from Schott NYC, and her new collection features a sleek, black moto blazer made from long-haired velvet.
As the May 1 fashion show approaches, DeAnn Goins gets an advance look at the Forsyth Park runways.Bleubelle Boutique
The runway look: “We love that luxe, sophisticated beading is making a strong presence on the runways,” says Bleubelle owner Heather Burge. “A touch of delicate sparkle can take a simple silhouette and make it perfect for a fun Savannah night out.”
The local muse: Graphic designer Emily McCarthy
The must-have piece: “I love these handmade Reece Blaire stackable bauble bracelets.”
» $28-$34 each at Bleubelle Boutique, 5500 Abercorn St, 355-3554
The runway look: Fascinated with movement in nature, Tara Kirkland says the word “togetherness” describes her runway look this year. Onlookers can expect to see custom-made jewelry (available for purchase after the runway event in Friday’s pop-up shop), leather and a bold attitude.
The must-have piece: “Dresses from our fall collection (like this one) will be available for preorder.”
The local muses: “I would love to see Molly Rowe in this dress,” says Kirkland “or Lindsay Thompson!”
» Custard Boutique, 422 Whitaker St., 232-4733
Runway look: Focused mainly on chic rompers, jumpsuits and fashion for the modern woman, Jennifer Miller Cole has curated a look that’s full of bright colors and bold patterns. It’s fresh, chic and designed to stand out.
The local muse: Staci Cannon
The must-have piece: This Bella Dahl button-down pocket top.
» $102 at J Paige, 107 C Charlotte Rd, 897-1525
The runway look: Owner Stephanie Lindley took inspiration from Audrey Hepburn to design this year’s runway show for James Gunn. Think “tailored neutral solids for an easy sophisticated woman,” she explains, “and our swim looks for this season are comfortable and sporty California chic.”
The must-have piece: “This full-coverage, black two-piece swimsuit.”
The local muses: “The Whelan family!”
» James Gunn, 8413 Ferguson Ave. in Sandfly, 335-1887
Sara Jane Children’s Boutique
The runway look: Inspired by nautical trends in adult fashion, Sarah Jane Strickland is decking out her adorable little models in chambray, seersucker and linen.
The must-have piece: “These leggings are a great transition piece for girls—perfect for shorter dresses and to wear with tunic tops,” Strickland says.
» $22 at Sara Jane Children’s Boutique, 202 E. 37th St., 234-5266
The runway look: “Simple designs, luxurious materials” is the motto at Satchel—and it’s also the inspiration behind designer/owner Elizabeth Seeger’s runway collection. Seeger promises light, airy, neutrals mixed with metallics, monochromatic textures, white-on-white animal prints and pops of metallic in lilac, cobalt and tomato to light up the night of May 1 in Forsyth Park.
The local muse: Elizabeth’s sister, Alison Seeger
The must-have piece: “Our metallic leather cuff bracelets go with everything,” says Seeger “and make great hostess gifts.”
The runway look: Pop art and 1940 silhouettes captured Lindsay LeMaster’s imagination this season, so look out for artsy prints, floral patterns and reinvented classics straight from the Trunk.
The local muse: Erin Wessling. “She’s fearless when it comes to fashion—and life in general,” LeMaster says.
The must-have piece: “A crisp white collar shirt (like this one from BCBG) can be worn a million different ways.”
» $58 at Trunk 13, 414 Whitaker St., 349-4129,
The runway look: Zia Sachedina’s Fashion Week looks are always show-stoppers, but this year he took inspiration from the birds of paradise in African jungles. We’re sure to be wowed by his exotic jewelry and accessories.
The local muses: Miriam Urizar or Stephanie Lindley
The must-have piece: “(I love this) obsidian arrowhead and rock crystal necklace set in sterling silver,” Sachedina says.
» $2,249 at Zia Boutique, 325 W. Broughton St, 233-3237
Join Savannah magazine staffers and stylists on our whirlwind tour of the 5th Annual Savannah Fashion Week, April 28-May 3.Monday, April 28
Meet us at 11 a.m. at the corner of Broughton and Barnard streets, where we’ll be cheering on Mayor Edna Jackson as she receives the first-ever Savannah Fashion Advocate Award.
Next, we’ll cruise by ZIA at noon for an early peek at Zia Sachedina’s latest jewelry label from Spain.
We’ll grab salads at Butterhead Greens on our way south to Twelve Oaks for Heather Burge’s Diane von Furstenberg trunk show at BleuBelle. Like the iconic DVF herself, Heather and her staff always know how to make us look our best.
We’ll end the day at Satchel, where the talented Elizabeth Seeger will help us design our own custom leather accessories—from cuffs to koozies.Tuesday, April 29
Today is the day to get ready for fun in the sun, thanks to the L*Space swim collection trunk show at James Gunn in Sandfly and Trunk 13’s Beach Bash, complete with resort wear, beach bags and other summer essentials.
After an afternoon with the American Girls at Sara Jane Children’s Boutique, we’ll swing by the Mamie Ruth Studio for a trunk show and accessory bar with boho-chic designer Emily Bargeron. Then we’re off to the Modern Bronze jewelry trunk show at Custard Boutique, where edgy owner Tara Kirkland’s parties are as singular as her store’s selection.Wednesday, April 30
In the eye of the sartorial storm, we’ll prop our feet up and watch the feature film Mademoiselle C, a documentary about French Vogue editor Carine Roitfeld—one of fashion’s most influential movers.
Time Out New York said, “For fashion junkies, Mademoiselle C is like five September issues of Vogue all rolled into one.” All for just $10 at the door of the Jepson Center for the Arts at 6 p.m.Thursday, May 1
For the first time ever, Savannah’s independent fashion designers are joining Fashion Week retailers for a runway extravaganza in Forsyth Park at 7 p.m. Get the highlights in the March/April issue of Savannah magazine, and get your tickets now before they sell out.Friday, May 2
This year, we’ll be able to shop last night’s runway looks at the Savannah Fashion Week Pop-Up Shop, presented by The B Street District from noon to 7 p.m. at the corner of Broughton and Barnard. A $5 donation at the door will support the Savannah Style Fund, providing scholarships to talented young designers.Saturday, May 3
Trunk-show hop with us from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. as we visit with two local designers at beloved Midtown boutiques. Bridal whiz kid Faith Thornburg will display her collection at the whimsical new wedding design mecca, Ivory and Beau, and Kathryn Grotheer Hayes of Mix Julep will share her spring and summer collections at BleuBelle Boutique.
Slider Credit: Photography by Beau Kester
Article Credit: Photography by Tim Willoughby
Image 1: Mix Julep red shift dress, $198 at BleuBelle Boutique. Gold herringbone bracelet, $198 at Zia.
Image 2: Cate Lyon batik tunic, black pants and bubble necklace, call for price at Cate Lyon Studio, 238-9410. Stingray and gold cuff, $149, and cloissone Indian wedding earrings, $49 at Zia.
Image 4: Brooke Atwood leather cage sleeve top, $480 at Brookeatwood.com. Modern earrings, $198 at Zia. Ethel K. Schwabacher; The Rock, 1961; Telfair Museum of Art; Gift of Christopher C. Schwabacher and Brenda S. Webster, 2007.31.
Image 5: Alice & Olivia navy gown, $495 at BleuBelle Boutique. Gold chain with raw ruby and black onyx, $149, and hand-knotted tribal ring, $50 at Zia. Headpiece, Ikeda Feingold.
Image 6: Faith Thornburg “Scarlet” dress, $2,145 at Ivory and Beau. Wishbone gold earrings with champagne pearl, $65, and clear quartz with beaded gold chain necklace, $149 at Zia.
With Savannah Fashion Week approaching, Lily Fort sat down with the stylist behind our March/April cover look.What kind of look belongs on the cover of a magazine?
Ikeda Feingold: It needs to be original and it needs to look like something you can’t just go out to the shop and buy. If we shoot things that come from the shops in town, changing the look through accessories and the way its shot is really important to make the look more dynamic and original. A cover has to really catch people’s attention.How did you and designer Cate Lyon collaborate to create this piece?
We both came to the table with different designs. I think Cate was right (that) mine were (too) simple. She thought the dress needed to be a strong image for the cover. She wanted the fabric to be hand-dyed with the flower pattern; it needed to be a special dress. I definitely wanted one shoulder to be netted, and she came up with the all the draping.It’s definitely a unique piece. Are the flowers tie-dyed?
Yes. Cate did it herself. It’s kind of amazing because she did it on yards of fabric and she got the flowers in exactly the right place. It’s a really complicated and structured dress. I’m really surprised how well it turned out.What was the inspiration behind the tie dye?
Cate felt strongly that it couldn’t just be a solid color. We also had time limitations. Cate made the dress in a weekend, which is amazing. She knows how to work with silk and how to tie-dye it, so she took the fabric she had and worked with that.So where do you think someone would wear this dress?
It’s definitely a cocktail dress, but it’s also pretty elegant. The fabric and construction are beautiful so I think it could be worn to an event (gala, dinner party, wedding), easily.How would you accessorize this look?
For the cover we just did a simple bracelet. In life, definitely earrings and a bracelet, but nothing around the neck. You don’t need a necklace because the sleeve is really beautiful.We all know Cate for her intricate ball gowns and her work with Victoria’s Secret, but why did you choose to work with her for this Fashion Week cover?
She’s incredible; she’s designed such a variety of different types of clothing. I think anyone who can actually make lingerie knows a woman’s body really well. She can just look at someone and fit clothing exactly right. She really is a master seamstress. No one in town has her credentials and experience.