Huntsville restaurateurs Stan Stinson and Tina Ford started with a private gig for friends in Albertville in 2013. The well-regarded food truck, parked right outside a microbrewery near you, came next. Then the first Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza restaurant opened barely two years later, at Campus No. 805.
And it doesn’t take Stan long to mention the pizza dough. “We probably gave away a thousand pizzas before we came up with our dough recipe,” Stan reflects.
Indeed. The pizza is excellent top to bottom, but the crust is the best I’ve ever eaten.
The portfolio has expanded at a brisk clip. There is another Earth and Stone in Madison. There is Bark & Barrel BBQ at Stovehouse. And the newest addition is Parm & Pepper–a gourmet sandwich shop–also at Stovehouse. It will surprise no one to learn that I am a big fan of all three. Stan and Tina have high standards, and if they head for Asian food next, then they may get all of my eating-out money.
Even in the best of times, the restaurant business is for risk-takers. And who could have predicted the past 18 months? “I never would have signed a lease anywhere during a pandemic. But the challenge is once you sign the lease, you’re on the hook. So you have to figure out how to make it work,” Stan says.
COVID-19 has meant bold choices. Some ventures were nearly stillborn because of the pandemic. The Drinkery, a self-serve beer stop, was one. “We opened The Drinkery on March 14 – the day the world stopped. The next week the governor said ‘no self-serve.’ We turned that into Parm & Pepper through creative thinking and risk-taking,” Stan says. That included selling pizza by the slice until the courthouse shut down, and then a fortuitous lease swap that landed Parm & Pepper in its current Stovehouse location.
To the west, Bark & Barrel BBQ in Madison is now closed to the public. “During the beginning of the pandemic, we did very well out there because of our drive-through window,” Stan remembers. “But then once a sense of normalcy came in, we were just doing OK. And we were really struggling with staffing.”
So how to make lemonade?
“The catering has picked up in barbecue. And by eliminating the daily out there but being able to utilize the full kitchen, I have capacity I wouldn’t have if I was also feeding people through the window,” Stan says.
Staffing challenges have bled over into other realities, as well. Parm & Pepper has had to open lunch-only for a time. Bark & Barrel is closed on Monday. And Earth and Stone in Madison has felt the encroachment of the Huntsville area’s ongoing boom. “At the end of the year we lost four kids in one week, all of them headed to Toyota-Mazda. And who can blame them?” Stan says.
And then, amid pandemic hurdles that had not yet begun abating, Tina sustained a serious injury requiring lengthy rehabilitation. “I think I’ve had two days off since she hurt herself, and those were Sundays that it rained,” he muses. Tina continues to work hard and is now expected to recover fully, though it will be some time before she is 100 percent.
When I ask Stan what in his eight years (and counting) as a restaurateur has positively surprised him, he immediately says “our resiliency, and that goes for our company and employees but also for our customers. Customer loyalty has always humbled me. So many people have said ‘this is the first place we’ve been out since COVID, and we wanted to come here.'”
Bo Williams is a Christian, husband, father, writer, and human trafficking activist. He is the Director of Public Relations for the North Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force (stnow.org). He enjoys IndyCar racing, wristwatches, and spending time with his family, especially at the beach. You can keep up with Bo day to day at BoWilliams.com.