This love letter to the city appeared this morning on the Huffington Post’s blog. It’s a lovely piece that captures the way so many of us feel about our city, to which I would only add that we have an arts community that rivals and will soon surpass any other city in the Southeast. Lots of folks seem to want to compare us to Austin — and that’s nice. Austin is a very nice town. But we aren’t Austin — we’re our own city. We are Columbia.
And this is Emile — and he’s running for office.
Dear Columbia, or as I like to call you, Soda City,
It’s been 23 years since I was dropped off at your doorstep with only a suitcase, a box and not much to offer. You quickly became one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Within days, you gave me three restaurant jobs throughout your Five Points. I worked the breakfast shift at what is now Drip Coffee, lunch at the Gourmet Shop and dinner at Garibaldi’s. You gave me the opportunity to attend grad school at the University of South Carolina. You gave me my first home, a small and sturdy in-town house for $39,000, on which I made many monthly payments of $332 by selling vegetables I grew in the back yard. You gave me a neighbor who loved me like a son. You gave me Chris the Postman who sees the overdraft notice come in one day and texts me the next when he has a few checks for me in his bag.
You gave my two children great educational opportunities. One grew up in the (three!) ballet companies here and is headed to Yale after a dance stint in D.C., and the other is spending her tenth grade year in Spain on her own volition.
You gave me great mentors and people to look up to and emulate, and I take great pleasure in returning the favor to help folks get up the ladder. You gave me newspapers that are small enough to listen and engage with me, yet large enough to matter. You gave me racial and international diversity. You gave me a business atmosphere that had plenty of opportunities for me to fill in the missing pieces with my own ideas. You gave me a city filled with people who are ready for good things to happen and who give people that try a chance.
You have a vibrant Main Street with my favorite dive bar, The Whig. I can take the family to dinner for less than $50 out on Decker Boulevard at my favorite Korean restaurant, Arirang, or hit up Real Mexico for lunch – Cubano, please! You help me relax with killer cocktails at Motor Supply, The Oak Table – and oh yeah, thanks for the 150 bourbons to choose from at Bourbon! We sneak away to the Nickelodeon for great indie movies and hit the amazing Three Rivers Greenway when we want to get out and move our bodies. You give me everything I want and need. I lack for nothing. You are the most underrated and misunderstood town in the South, the gangly girl who’s growing into a great beauty.
I’ve done my level best to give back even more than you’ve given me, and after it’s all over, I hope you think I’m one of the best things that ever happened to you.
Emile DeFelice loves food, the challenges of farming and business, and finding ways to connect farmers and feeders. He founded the All Local Farmer’s Market in 2004, now called Soda City, featuring dozens of farmers, food, and artisans from Columbia every Saturday morning on Main Street. Emile grew vegetables and produced specialty pork at his nationally-acclaimed Caw Caw Creek Farm for nearly 20 years before recently redirecting his attention to Soda City and a brick and mortar version of the market, Nest. His efforts earned him a fellowship award by the Southern Foodways Alliance. He serves on the board of the Animal Mission and co-founded Columbia’s Mardi Gras Festival, from which 100% of the profit goes toward the Mission’s spay and neuter program.