If cleanliness is next to godliness, then that must make Stephanie Hamling an angel.
1. Name, occupation, years in LR, neighborhood: Stephanie Hamling, proprietor and soapstress at Southern Girl Soapery, 11 years, Coolwood (which means I'm in a glorious triangle formed by downtown, Hillcrest, and the Heights).
2. Finish this sentence: I love my job because owning my own business...is a magical mix of terrifying and exhilarating. If I had to pare down my business to three words, it would be, "Southern Soap Stories." I love the South. I love her because of, in spite of, and, most of all, for what can be. As a one woman show, I also get to indulge in my love of graphic design and photography since I do all of the packaging design, promotional pieces, and photo shoots for Southern Girl Soapery. I also meet the coolest people. As I developed and released our traditional wet shaving product line, I heard the nostalgic stories about grandpas, dads, and shaving. I've been embraced by this growing community, largely because they love the novelty of a woman who says "y'all" and knows her way around a straight edge and a shaving soap.
3. What is, hands down, your favorite meal you can only get in LR? For over a decade, I've enjoyed the mixed fajitas with all the trimmings at Casa Mañana on Cantrell. If I could have one recipe from any restaurant, anywhere, it would be for their tortilla soup, which they serve as the starter for the meal. Paired with a cold Dr. Pepper (or occasionally an icy Dos Equis Amber), served by Miriam, and enjoyed with good company--it's second only to home cooking. That said, my single favorite meal I've enjoyed in Little Rock was at Ashley's at the Capital with the founders of the Argenta Farmers Market several years ago. I'm following the restaurant's new incarnation with interest and, separately, keeping check on Chef Lee Richardson's new adventures.
4. It's your day off -- what are you up to? Depending on the needs of the business, my weekend may be on Tuesday. It's always changing. Often, I'll take a break from the city and drive north to Wonderview where I grew up. I visit with my parents, help with the garden, and let the chickens loose - basically indulging in country life for a while. Once a month, I meet up with three of my best girl friends for From Scratch Saturday, our cooking club. If it's a rainy day with no obligations, you'll find me on the couch lost in a good book.
5. What do you think is LR's best kept secret? One of the best things about Little Rock is that she doesn't keep many secrets. There are so many community builders in this town and across the bridge in North Little Rock, that even the most tentative steps can lead you to be embraced. I love the connections I've made with business owners, farmers, food lovers, writers, and artisans. And we have some of the best and most beautiful venues to connect in: The River Market, The Bernice Gardens, the library system, the Big Damn Bridge and public parks, and the locally-owned eateries and other businesses. The best kept secret? Beneath the "big city' facade is a thriving network of deeply personal connections.
Meet Stephanie and check out her line of handmade soaps inspired by the traditions, stories, and scents of the South at the Little Rock Film Festival Artisan Street Fair, Saturday, May 17.