Travis Kephart is our IT Manager who is a jack of all trades. He works everyday to make sure that our guests have the best shopping (and checkout) experience possible, in addition to making sure that everything operates smoothly in our restaurant and store. Aside from being a long-time team member of Southern Season, you can catch him at various points around our store, and he is always glad to help you out, should you have the chance to meet him!
Q. Tell us about yourself and your time at Southern Season.
A. I grew up in the small rural community of Murphy, NC, at the far-western tip of the state (two hours west of Asheville – most people think the state stops there!). I went to college at UNC, and never left the area, becoming a permanent resident. While I was finishing my last year of college, I began working for “A Southern Season” as a cashier; I grew into an inventory data management position, and through the shifting sands of the company I eventually became the IT Manager. I gained an in-depth understanding of the product mix during the inventory data days, and from my IT experience I have a great respect for all the staff positions throughout this store (in order to do my job optimally, it helps to understand how the company functions throughout).
Q. What is your favorite food?
A. Oh, that’s a hard one. Very few foods DON’T agree with me (cucumber would be the one I avoid most often). If I have to pick, I think it just about has to be authentic North Carolina barbecue pork. Growing up in WNC, with no exposure to the two traditional styles of “NC BBQ” – Eastern and Lexington until I made it to college, I like both traditions just about equally; although the “Whole-Hog” style I’ve discovered in the suburbs of Greenville are among the best I’ve ever had – check out “Skylight Inn” on the Great NC BBQ Map
Q. What is a fun fact no one would typically know about you?
A. I’ve sung in Carnegie Hall in New York City (and not just in the bathroom – actually on-stage!). My first exposure to the World “writ large” was through the chorus trips we took in middle/high school. Our choir director, BettySue Cowan, would always find opportunities to expand our view of the world through musical travel, and we performed in such destinations as New York City, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. When you grow up in a town of around 5,000 people, the hustle and bustle of the big city really catches your eye and makes an impression that won’t let go. I’d have to say also that my original love of food exploration comes from these trips as well. You’ve never really lived until you’ve eaten a steaming hot knish from a New York street vendor on Thanksgiving Day in freezing rain!
Q. If you could have any person over for a meal, who would it be and what would you choose to cook for them?
A. Being a child of the 80’s, I’m not quite sure how this happened, but my favorite musical group of all time is Chicago. I’ve seen them three times in my life in concert, and I always thought it would be amazing to meet them in person (especially to get insight from their trombone player, James Pankow). I don’t know what the occasion would be, but the recipe would probably be something I once cooked inspired by Adam Rose (a local chef with ties to Il Palio) and the dish he sampled at the Durham Farmers’ Market a few years ago: charred Padrón peppers cooked with scrambled sausage, served over polenta. Watch out – eating Padrón peppers is very much like Russian Roulette – most are as mild as a Bell pepper, but about 1 in 30 will make your ears burn!
Q. Tell us about your favorite guest experience?
A. I once had the honor of having UNC’s Nobel Laureate, the late Oliver Smithies, stop through my checkout line when I was helping out at the customer service counter. He was one of the most humble men I have met, and certainly didn’t seem to let the Nobel Prize go to his head. My wife and I also once had the coincidence of eating beside him and his wife at the same local sushi bar, although we never officially met!
Q. What are some of your favorite products from North Carolina?
A. I happen to really like the Southern Season Chocolate-Dipped Tar Heel Sugar Cookies. They are manufactured for us by a bakery in Winston-Salem, NC, in the Moravian tradition. They are very thin, very crispy, and the chocolate foot-shaped cookies bring back fond memories of my college days in the Tar Heel state.
Q. What is your favorite product that we sell?
A. A relatively new addition to the Southern Season lineup is a canned coffee beverage that’s been a part of my morning routine for a few years now. UCC Hawaii Kona Blend Coffee with Milk is a thick steel-can full of a smooth, slightly sweet delight. At 10% Kona, you don’t have to worry about caffeine overload, but the flavor is definitely there. The brand is Japanese (UCC stands for Ueshima Coffee Company), but the Kona coffee is grown in Hawaii. Serve chilled.
Since I don’t belong to a merchandising department, I’m going to cross-represent candy here as well: Southern Season Chocolate Dipped Fruit has been a staple ever since I can remember (certainly since I started working here in 2003). I’ve officially adopted the chocolate-dipped blueberries as my favorite of the lot, but that’s only a slight bit ahead of the other flavors (the cherries and raspberries are delicious). Dried fruits are enrobed in milk chocolate, then glazed – I like to let the chocolates melt in my mouth before pouncing on the fruit, but you can also consume them in whole bites as well.