Alumni and faculty add zest to Birmingham's rising food scene

Carla Jean Whitley

Sweet Success: Kristen Farmer Hall

Kristen Farmer Hall initially was drawn to UAB’s medical opportunities. Hall (pictured above), a Georgia native who received her bachelor’s degree from Samford University, had intended to become a doctor. But as she worked in postpartum labor and delivery, she became interested instead in public health and the systems of medicine.

That path would ultimately lead her into the restaurant business.

In 2001 Hall received her master’s degree from the School of Public Health focusing on maternal and child health, and the first 13 years of her career related to that field. She served as assistant director of the school’s Lister Hill Center for Health Policy before moving into development at the School of Medicine.

As Hall planned fund-raising events for work, she found Birmingham lacked an event space to serve small groups. “My goal was to create an environment so that people could learn about the programs and match up their interests with the goals of the university,” Hall says. “The fund-raising I liked to do was more intimate, so a small group of potential donors could get to know the program director.”

At the same time, Hall began baking goodies with her daughters, Eleanor and Emma, as a family hobby. The trio delivered treats to friends, who labeled them the “Baking Bandits.” Hall hosted a pop-up pastry shop under that name in October 2013.

Hall entered and won REV Birmingham’s first Big Pitch in 2014, a contest meant to stimulate entrepreneurship in the city. The prize was capital to launch her business. Hall opened The Nest event space in Birmingham’s Avondale neighborhood and moved in Baking Bandits operations. Soon afterward, the demand for her food and hospitality encouraged her to look for opportunities to expand.

Hall appreciated the city’s fine dining options, but craved a casual cafe culture. That would allow people a chance to enjoy high-quality, seasonal food in a laid-back environment. “We want to be a place where you can come every day. We know your name and we know your order,” Hall says.

With chef Victor King, Hall opened Feast & Forest in November 2015, contributing to the city’s thriving Second Avenue North. Hall is pleased that the restaurant has hit its stride. But even after three business launches in as many years, she promises she’s not out of delicious ideas yet.

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