By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
One evening a week ago, 17 women piled into The Coffee Addict in downtown New Albany.
First, they dined on shrimp and grits, chicken gumbo and bread pudding. Next, they went to work on canvases with brushes and palettes of paint. And finally, they headed home with full tummies and a finished work of art.
The ladies were part of a Girls’ Night Out, a social event coordinated and carried out by Leslie Gray – the artist – and Kristi Hines – the cook.
“I’d heard about the idea from places like Birmingham and Jackson where people take an art lesson and learn how to paint a canvas,” said Gray. “I thought we’d try it at Creative Union. So I called Kristi and asked her to make goodies for an art class.”
Creative Union is where the Tallahatchie Arts Council meets and where various pieces of local artwork are displayed.
For that inaugural class, 15 people showed up for Gray’s art lesson and Hines prepared cupcakes and coffee.
When they decided to do a second class, 45 women expressed interest, so they moved it to The Coffee Addict to have more room.
“We decided to do a full dinner, so we upped the price from $25 to $35,” Gray said.
“We were still feeling it out, so I prepared a box lunch with chicken salad sandwiches for that one,” Hines said. “Then, we decided if we were going to do it, we may as well do it big and have a real meal.”
Most months, the ladies offer anywhere from two to four themed classes, depending on interest. Sign-up day is the first day of the month and payment in advance guarantees a spot.
This month, they came up with a Mardi Gras theme, so Gray had participants paint a New Orleans street scene and Hines prepared shrimp and grits and chicken gumbo. In March, they’ll go with an Easter theme: The painting will be of a cross and the food will probably be egg-based, like a quiche.
“We try to stick with foods we think are appealing to the most people,” Hines said. “And we try to have something for vegetarians, too. We’ve done veggie pizza and vegetable lasagna. We go by whatever we can get fresh and whatever we can get seasonally.”
Gray and Hines met in December 2008, right after Hines opened The Coffee Addict on West Bankhead Street in downtown New Albany.
Gray would often stop in the coffee shop to hook up to Wi-Fi and get away from work for a while. Or Hines would visit Gray at her art studio down the street. The two quickly became friends.
“And one day, Kristi came up with a proposal,” Gray said. “She was going to be working for a church on Wednesday afternoons and needed some help in the kitchen. I thought that would give me the opportunity to learn to cook. Well, I learned how to cook all right – but in bulk, in mass. Now, I can cook for 250 people, but I have trouble cooking for two.”
And that’s OK, because Gray doesn’t do any of the cooking at Girls’ Night out. That’s strictly up to Hines, who, oddly, has no culinary background.
“How did I get into this?” she said. “Well, I moved here from Cincinnati because my parents retired here. When I got here, there was no coffee shop. I’m from up North where that’s a sin. So I opened one.”
The two women work well together at the Girls’ Night Out events. Participants begin arriving about 5:45 and find a table. Gray already has art supplies and paintbrushes and paper towels ready. Hines begins serving the meal a little before 6. By 6:30, dishes are cleared away and the canvases come out.
Gray stands in front of the class with a finished painting. She then takes the women through the steps of creating a similar painting themselves.
“People come in here and say, ‘I can’t even paint a stick figure,’ and then they’re amazed by what they can do,” Gray said.
The women make sketches in pencil before filling in their work with actual paint. Hines usually participates in the painting part of the evening, if she has a chance.
“We encourage rambunctiousness as much as possible here,” she said above the chatter in the room. “That’s why there’s paint all over the floor.”
Mark your calendar
– What: Girls’ Night Out.
– Where: The Coffee Addict, 104 W. Bankhead St., in downtown New Albany.
– When: 5:45 to 9:30 p.m., two to four nights a month; the next two classes being offered are March 29 and 31.
– Cost: $35 includes a meal, a canvas and art supplies to complete a painting.
– Info: Call (662) 534-5180 on the first day of the month to see when classes are scheduled and to reserve a spot.