The 2018-19 Annual Report, published by the College of Business and Economic Development at The University of Southern Mississippi, tells stories of outstanding achievements made by our faculty, students, staff, donors, and alumni over the course of the academic year.
SERVING LOVE ON A PLATE LOVE. NOURISH. INSPIRE. This is the vision alumna Katie Dixon has for her restaurant, Birdhouse Café in Hattiesburg. Miss. Dixon, a 2005 graduate from our BSBA Marketing program, desires to serve nutrient-rich food to the South. She does so through her diverse and healthy menu. When entering her restaurant, it is far from a traditional dining experience. Instead, it feels as though you are walking right into a home. The “kitchen” is actually an island in the center of the room with fresh tea brewing on the stovetop. “We want to show people it is not as complicated as people make it, that healthy eating can be easy and fun,” said Katie as we explored the layout of her restaurant. Each meal is cooked to order right in front of the guests’ eyes. Katie’s passions are far greater than just adding nutritional value to food. In addition, she wants to add value in the lives of those around her. She has personal relationships with each of her seven employees, five of which are Southern Miss students or alumni. “I want to know what their vision is, where they want to see themselves in a year,” Katie said thoughtfully. She invests in her employees, empowering them to be creative within the business. She encouraged her restaurant manager, Lydia, to use her talent for design and art. “I asked her, while you are here, what can we do to make your work environment more fun? You’re creative, and you are not getting to use that talent. This summer, she will sew aprons, and we will use all of our excess fruits and vegetables, like avocado cores and strawberries, to naturally tie-dye the aprons to give to children while we teach them a cooking class.” She also encouraged her former head chef, who had dreams of traveling, to accept a position as a chef in New York City. Katie’s love for food was inspired by her grandmother. “My grandmother and grandfather had a farmhouse with chickens and cows and a fresh vegetable garden. My grandmother cooked every day for a large family. On the weekends, my family and I spent a lot of time at the farm. I learned from my grandmother. Both of our hearts wanted to serve love on a plate, food for the soul. I can still vividly see the flour on my grandmother’s hands as she was making fresh biscuits.” I TELL PEOPLE ALL THE TIME THAT WE ARE SOME OF THE LUCKIEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD LIVING IN MISSISSIPPI, WITH ALL OF THE FARM LAND WE HAVE. WE HAVE SOME OF THE FRESHEST AND BEST PRODUCE RIGHT HERE AT OUR DOORSTEP.” 34 | C O L L E G E O F B U S I N E S S A N D E C O N O M I C D E V E L O P M E N T
CONTESTANT ON MASTERCHEF In 2016, Katie appeared as a contestant on MasterChef. After applying on a whim, she was immediately asked to audition in Jackson, Miss. Katie is self-taught and has no formal training;however, she does enjoy taking cooking classes while traveling, learning to cook international dishes, and putting her own healthy, Southern spin on them. “For my audition, I made a salmon burger with a sweet potato mash. I brought along one of my raw desserts for each judge, and they loved it! I swear that is what sealed the deal that day.” Out of 22,000 applicants nationwide, Katie ultimately finished in the Top 6. She describes her experience on MasterChef “like living in a dream. I still have a great relationship with Gordon [Ramsey] and his team.” While on MasterChef, Katie made lamb curry for one of her challenges. One of the judges was Edward Lee, a chef out of Louisville, Kentucky. “Chef Edward Lee told me that my curry was one of the best he had ever had!” In <strong>2018</strong>, she competed once again, this time on Food Network Star and is currently under a signed contract with Food Network. I THINK THE NUMBER ONE THING I ATTRIBUTE A LOT OF MY SUCCESS TO IS MY PROFESSORS.” COMING HOME TO SOUTHERN MISS During Katie’s collegiate career, she was very involved in campus life. She was a member of Greek life, Southern Style and a cheerleader, while holding a full-time job as a waitress. When asked who her favorite professor was, she stated that former marketing professor, Dr. Bill Smith, and his wife, Ginger, are still close friends of hers. She explained that the principles she learned throughout college have proven useful in owning her own business. While taking his class, Dr. Smith told her, “If you meet the need of your customer, you will succeed.” She has lived up to this advice by providing nutrient-rich food to Hattiesburg. The Dixon family stays engaged with Southern Miss. “At USM, there is something for everyone.” Coming back to campus as a family has become a bonding experience. She and her husband Todd, who also graduated from USM, enjoy cheering for the Southern Miss football team during the fall. The family attends beach volleyball games regularly because of her 13-year-old daughter, Stevee Kate’s, interest in volleyball, and they enjoy coming to plays performed by the Theatre department because of her seven-year-old daughter, Risi’s, passion for theatre and dance. “We recently went and saw The Three Musketeers two nights in a row on Southern Miss’ campus.” Katie also visited Scianna Hall this spring to speak at the USM School of Marketing Major Confidential, sharing her story with the students and encouraging them to follow their passions. Katie’s future looks bright as she writes her first cookbook, travels for international catering jobs, and searches for her second restaurant location. A N N U A L R E P O R T 2 0 1 8 - 1 9 | 35