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Chef Dixon dishes it out at Wesson Chamber banquet

Television chef Katie Dixon dished out a heapin’ helping of inspiration at Wesson’s 27th annual Chamber of Commerce banquet, and the audience of some 150 business owners, educators and local politicians ate it up.   

The event took place Thursday at the Thames Center on the campus of Copiah-Lincoln Community College. Dixon, whose parents have roots in Wesson, detailed how her healthy take on traditional, Southern fare brought her Fox and Food Network fame as well as entrepreneurial opportunities back home in Mississippi. 

“There are hard days and amazing days when you’re a business owner,” she admitted. “With a passion for what you do, anything is possible.”

Dixon’s “anything is possible” is a litany of accomplishments, including serving as Mississippi’s Miss Hospitality 2002. “I have Kay Burton to thank for that,” she noted, referring to a push she received to compete in Lincoln County’s competition as her “launch pad.”

Nearly two decades later, Dixon continues to showcase Mississippi hospitality through media appearances and her own Hattiesburg eatery, Birdhouse Café. Since 2017 the popular spot has offered a range of power foods like acai bowls, vegan soups, and house-made almond milk. Dixon, a personal trainer, recognizes her menu is rare in the area, but it falls in line with her challenge to audience members: Be true to yourself even when it’s a risk.

“On the show, they wanted me to be the Southern belle, but I didn’t want to make Southern fried chicken, because that’s not what I’m passionate about. When I decided to make healthy chicken, I knew I might not win the show, but opportunities came from that. The good Lord made us all different. Dare to be authentically you,” she said.

That advice resonated with Wesson Chamber member Laura Smith, owner of an embroidery enterprise she calls Loddie Jane’s Monograms & More. Her family’s search for a small town to call home led them to Wesson several years ago, but these days, she’s searching for a small place to set up shop. That’s why

Smith became a Chamber member recently. Her banquet duties had Smith decorating at the Thames Center early Thursday morning and manning the ticket table as guests arrived that night.

Smith’s fellow Chamber members had award presentation duties, including one for Janice Mullen Smith, who was named Wesson Attendance Center Educator of the Year. Audience members gave Smith a standing ovation in honor of her 31-years-long teaching career, with WAC Principal Marilyn Phillips calling attention to Smith’s devotion to reading aloud to her older elementary students. “I didn’t understand it at first,” Phillips recalled, “but test scores are good.”

“Business of the Year” honors went to The Carpenter Shop, a Wesson enterprise Jimmy Keys started in a cow barn 45 years ago. Today, the modest Spring Street storefront attracts a growing number of home builders and improvers seeking custom woodwork. According to Chamber President Janet Currie, their success is built on a stellar reputation — the kind of word-of-mouth advertising you can’t Google. “Their business has been a consistent asset to Wesson,” she said.

Keys claimed the prize along with a few laughs for his admission that he had guessed they might win: “I knew something was going on when my sweetheart bought me a shirt. Then she came out with a tie, already tied.”

He shared the stage with The Carpenter Shop’s longtime employee and new owner, Keith Hart, who took over management midyear.

Other winners are:

• Wesson Ageless Hero: Eddie Lee and Sharon Ashley

• Community Service Award: William Brown

• Public Service Award: Wesson Volunteer Fire Department

• Copiah-Lincoln Community College Educator or the Year: Anita Cliburn

The Wesson Chamber also presented their new board of directors, headed by Marty Stroud.