Texan power publicist rises as new leader of Chris Shepherd's Southern Smoke Foundation
The Southern Smoke Foundation has identified the person who will lead it into the future. The Texas nonprofit (and our 2023 Tastemaker nonprofit beneficiary) has named co-founder Lindsey Brown to be its new executive director.
Known locally for her role as a publicist who represents restaurants, bars, and arts organizations, Brown replaces Southern Smoke’s original executive director Kathyrn Lott, who recently left the organization to become president of the Discovery Green Conservancy. As she prepared to depart Southern Smoke, Lott suggested to Brown that she transition from public relations to replace her as the organization's executive director.
“Lindsey is the natural choice to lead Southern Smoke,” Lott said. “As a founder, she helped build the company from conception to the national crisis relief organization that it is today. She is trusted and revered in the food and beverage industry and has decades of experience in nonprofit administration. Southern Smoke could not be in better hands and I am very excited to work with Lindsey as a partner of Discovery Green and to see all the new and exciting things she will accomplish along with the stellar team at Southern Smoke Foundation.”
As Lott notes, Brown’s history with Southern Smoke goes back to its beginning in 2015, when she and her husband, James Beard Award winner (and CultureMap wine columnist) Chris Shepherd, established the Southern Smoke Foundation to raise money for the National MS Society. After Hurricane Harvey, the organization shifted its focus to providing emergency assistance to hospitality workers in crisis situations. Subsequently, it expanded its mission by providing hospitality workers with free mental health care. As executive director, Brown's roles include working with the staff to ensure the foundation fulfills its mission and working with the board to ensure the organization remains financially healthy.
“Southern Smoke has been a huge part of my life for eight years,” Brown said in a statement. “This organization has grown from an annual fundraiser to a year-round crisis relief nonprofit to a safety net for an entire industry in the midst of a global pandemic. And now, it’s time for us to strategize a future for Southern Smoke in a post-pandemic world. We will work to provide crisis relief and mental health support to the food and beverage industry nationwide as long as the need is there. I’m excited to work with our team and our partners to take care of our own.”
While Lott’s endorsement helped pave the way for Brown to assume her new role, Southern Smoke’s board of directors only hired her after a thorough search that included input from the organization’s existing staff. In the end, the board determined that Brown’s vision for Southern Smoke’s future aligned with its own.
“This decision for the Southern Smoke Foundation was not taken lightly by the individuals that serve passionately as the Board of Directors,” Southern Smoke search committee chair and board vice president Dr. Kevin Gee said. “We viewed this as yet another pivotal turning point for Southern Smoke. When all candidates were considered and vetted after a careful and thorough process, one candidate stood out with that same amount of passion, and it just so happened to be our co-founder Lindsey Brown.”
Along with hiring Brown, Southern Smoke made two other important personnel moves. The board promoted Cris Tang from controller to chief financial officer. Catarina Bill has been elevated from director of programs and philanthropy to chief mission officer.
Only a couple weeks into her new role, Brown tells CultureMap she’s excited by how many people throughout the food and beverage industry want to work with Southern Smoke.
“I’m actually in Napa right now with Chris and our beverage director Matt Pridgen for a fundraiser at Farmstead," she writes in an email. "While we’re here, we’re meeting with the Napa Valley Vintners and a few other wineries to discuss both industry awareness about our resources and how we can increase support in the Valley.”
Brown and the entire Southern Smoke team are preparing to host the annual Southern Smoke Festival, which will take place at Discovery Green on October 14, 2023. More than 40 chefs from Houston, Texas, and across the country — including James Beard Award winners such as Aaron Franklin, Chris Bianco, and Ashley Christensen — will serve food at the event.
Taking over as Southern Smoke’s executive director means that Brown will shutter her public relations firm. Many of her clients will transfer to Giant Noise, a Texas-based PR firm with offices in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. The company will open a Houston office to service most of Brown’s former clients, including the Southern Smoke Foundation. To facilitate the transition, Brown will serve as a consultant to Giant Noise through the end of 2023. Two of the employees of Brown’s public relations firm, Julia Casbarian and Victoria Dearmond, are coming with her to Southern Smoke.
“Lindsey and I have been friends and peers for over ten years and I deeply respect and admire her work not only in PR, but also with Southern Smoke, an organization I support," Giant Noise CEO Elaine Garza added. "We are thrilled to be working with her on this transition and to grow with Lindsey and the team in Houston.”