Coffee with Deon Gordon [of REV Birmingham] and Zebbie Carney [of Eugene’s Hot Chicken]

For this issue’s Coffee With feature, we brought together Rev Birmingham’s Deon Gordon and hot chicken food truck entrepreneur Zebbie Carney to talk about the burgeoning scene for small business in the city.

Gordon is a native son of Birmingham and graduate of Ramsay High School. He attended Auburn University to pursue a career in architecture but soon turned his focus to entrepreneurship. After class, Gordon taught himself computer coding languages, a skill he then used to launch an online multimedia content service.

In 2011, he was recruited to help form the tech startup Chronicle Studio. He joined REV Birmingham in 2015 as their director of business growth, a role he describes as an opportunity to “help build better neighborhoods by helping neighbors build better businesses.” Gordon currently serves on the Railroad Park Foundation board of directors and the American Heart Association Communications Coordinating Committee.

Carney grew up in East Nashville, where he fell in love with the soul food that was prominent in his neighborhood. He had a particular fondness for hot chicken from Prince’s Hot Chicken. He graduated from Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. His love of food and working at The Merchant in Green Hills inspired him to pursue a career in the culinary world, and he relocated to Birmingham, where he was executive chef at J. Alexander’s. While refining his skills there, he followed a dream he had envisioned for years: bringing hot chicken to Birmingham. He made his dream a reality with his food truck, Eugene’s Hot Chicken. Eugene’s Hot Chicken is seeing great success with fresh food made from scratch, and Carney couldn’t be happier. The next step will be a brick and mortar location where the menu will expand, giving Birmingham residents a taste of a soulful food that they will never forget.

The two men first got to know each other during a pop-up retsaurant takeover that Gordon arranged so that Carney could do some testing of his hot chicken recipes. The event was a great success and led to Eugene’s Hot Chicken food truck, which you can find popping up in a myriad of locations throughout the metro. One of the most popular lunch time locations for the truck, according to Carney, has been in various office parks along Highway 280.  Conversations about opening up a permanent restaurant are heating up for this hot chicken man.

Building the connections between entrepreneurs, the city, and the customers they hope to serve is Gordon’s mission. “Everyone has great business idea from time to time. However, that doesn’t mean everyone knows how to turn that great idea into a great business,” he says. “It’s one thing to bake a delicious batch of cookies or to cook a Southern-inspired meal or to craft an eye-catching outfit. But it’s another thing entirely to run a thriving bakery, restaurant, or boutique.”

That’s where, Gordon says, Rev Birmingham comes in. “As far as I can remember, my passions have always been two things: Birmingham and entrepreneurship. This role is where they intersect,” he explains. “As director of business growth for REV Birmingham, I help to shape the programs, services, and tools that assist entrepreneurs and small business owners in their quests to take an idea from concept to creation.

“Over the past five years, we’ve witnessed the transformation of this city,” Gordon continues. “Much of it can be traced to the people and their enterprising spirit…their small businesses and startups, their coffee houses and event spaces, their restaurants and retail outlets. These are the businesses that help brand a city; they help convey its soul to visitors and reinforce its culture to residents. During a time when we’re reshaping our image, locally and nationally, these businesses couldn’t be more important.

“Every day, by actively encouraging entrepreneurship and small business growth, I have a chance to advance our mission of revitalizing this promising and vibrant city of ours,” Gordon says.

And that, for Gordon, is a job worth doing.