CULLMAN, Ala. – Six years ago, Dinner on First started as a fundraiser for a handicapped-accessible playground. Thanks the pandemic last year, the event celebrated its 5th anniversary two weeks ago, with multiple park projects now funded and over $100,000 raised.
Cullman Parks, Recreation and Sports Tourism (CPRST) Recreational Development Director Christy Turner told The Tribune, “It’s hard to believe that we celebrated our 5th year of Dinner of First! This year was especially rewarding because we were able to enjoy our time with our friends and neighbors after a year’s absence. The evening was truly magical! The street improvements and light upgrades on First Avenue were also a great enhancement to the venue! We want our downtown area to always be viable and successful for our merchants and community.
“Dinner on First has raised over $100,000, which has gone directly to The Connected Playground at Ingle Park and amphitheater and restroom facilities at Art Park. This year’s proceeds will go toward building a restroom at Steifelmeyer park. These projects greatly improve our parks and enrich the experience for our community when enjoying them with their friends and families.”
From the beginning, Dyron Powell, owner of Dyron’s Low Country in Mountain Brook and now also of Cullman’s All Steak, has supplied the food and service staff for Dinner on First at his own expense. The successful restaurateur talked to The Tribune this week about how he became involved in the project.
Said Powell, “It all started when we moved to Cullman. So, I have my restaurant in Birmingham, Dyrons, and my kids were at Crestline Elementary. And I graduated from St. Bernard, and I wanted my kids to go to St. Bernard. Now, I was a boarding student when I was there, but my wife wouldn’t hear of boarding our kids, so we ended up moving to Cullman, and bought a house and the kids started at Sacred Heart because we were a year ahead.
“And that year was the year they were trying to fund The Connected Park for the disabled children, and they came up with this Dinner on First. They called me and wanted me to do it and being new to the community but still invested in the community, I agreed to do it. And we would close Dyron’s, and we came up there and we did Dinner on First. Started out with about 250 people, this last one was 450 people.”
Why do it?
“I believe in investment,” said Powell. “And I think oftentimes we hear the term ‘investment,’ and we always associated that with money, you know, to make good investments with money making money. I’m a believer that sometimes investment is not just about getting an income, but sometimes we have to invest in ourselves, sometimes we have to invest in our marriage. We definitely have to invest in our faith and our church, and our children and our community.
“And I do the same thing at St. Bernard, you know, I give them a dinner every year, all free. They make about 15, 20,000 off of it, and it costs me that! But again, to me, in life, that’s things that we’re supposed to do. And I live by that every day.
“I felt that way about what we were doing with the connected park. I thought it was important that we invest in our community, to allow children with disabilities to be able to enjoy the same playgrounds that children have that don’t have disabilities. And that’s how it started.”
“I want to be an example to my kids that giving, having a servant’s heart, is the most important thing. Lots of people make money. At every job, you go, you make money. It’s not that hard to do. But what you do with that gift is the hard thing. And so, I try to live as an example to be a giver and to return to the community that takes care of us, as well. I mean, Cullman supports All Steak, and so we support Cullman. And you know, it’s just important that my kids do that. And I just live my life that way.”
Advertising through action
Powell shared, “Some restaurants spend a lot of money in advertising, you know, they have advertising budgets. My advertising budget is doing things like Dinner on First. I’ve got an exclusive audience just for me, and the pressure for that event is huge because if I mess up, it’s bad. But if we do well — I think we did this year — it works great.
“I believe in Cullman, I love Cullman. I’ll probably live there the rest of my life. I love St. Bernard. I’ve served on their board, I’ve done everything and got two kids there now. I’m really happy with the way things are. We made it through COVID; we’re going to be okay.
“I live my life, I’m grateful and I’m very blessed. And I believe it’s because you have to give back and make investments, not only financially, but in your community and in yourself and people. You know, I have a restaurant in Birmingham 13 years old. Probably half my staff started with me day one. That’s unheard of in a restaurant, but I invest in those people and they stay there. We make great things happen. We’re on our second year at All Steak. It’s not perfect, it’s not where I want it to be, but we’re getting there. And we’re so far ahead of where we were when we started.”
Sharing the vision
Powell complemented the staff he brought with him to this year’s dinner, telling The Tribune, “They got to see a side of me at Dinner on First. We fed everybody lunch that day, I got everybody together for my talk and told them that ‘You’re not making the money that you’d usually make on a Friday night, but tonight, it’s about investment.’ I gave them the same speech, and they bought into that and had the time of their life. I couldn’t have asked for them to do any better; I thought they did a great job. They had never seen where we had to have a full production–you go in the tent here, you go out the tent here, carry the plates here, you know. And so, they learned a lot. It was good. This year, the stars lined up for us, from weather to staffing, everything. It just worked.”
Powell concluded, “We’re excited. I’m excited for Cullman. I’m so grateful for Cullman in so many ways, and I want Cullman to know that. And the way I can do that is to help them with events like this. It truly is a service … I’m grateful to be a part of it and St. Bernard, too.”
Turner told The Tribune, “This event takes a tremendous effort and it would not be possible without the commitment from Dyron and Sonya Powell, their staff and Cullman Parks and Recreation Foundation Board members. Their contributions are critical to the success of Dinner on First, and Cullman is blessed to have them be a part of our family.”
Copyright 2021 Humble Roots, LLC. All Rights Reserved.