COLAtoday Q+A Series


Congaree National Park’s 2.4 mile boardwalk is an excellent introduction to the park. | Photo by @annadiller

Newsflash: Columbia is full of interesting people making big moves in their respective fields and working to make our community thrive. We’ve been honored to interview a few of these folks, everyone from Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott to Gamecock Athletics media creator Jacob Reeves. Let’s take a walk down memory lane and take a look at a few Q + A highlights.

Gabby Alban

Gabby Alban is a Park Guide at Congaree National Park who does everything from learning how to safely relocate venomous snakes to helping visitors as they walk the boardwalks of the floodplain.

Hit us with your favorite piece of local trivia:

Learned this recently! Some of the artwork for the film The Princess and the Frog was inspired by areas within Congaree National Park. Members of our staff are actually featured in the credits.

Allen Franklin

Allen Franklin is the Director of Operations for City Center Partnership, in charge of the team of workers on Main Street in bright yellow shirts that help keep downtown Cola looking great.

What is a fun fact about The Yellow Shirts?

The Yellow Shirts removed over 67 tons of trash from the Main Street District in 2020.

Leon Lott

Leon Lott has been Sheriff of Richland County since 1996 and prior to that attended the University of South Carolina.

Michelle Lester and Sandy Dawkins

Sisters, co-founders + co-hosts of Wines to Find podcast, Michelle Lester and Sandy Dawkins, are no strangers to interviews, so they sat down with us to talk about the Soda City and where to, in fact, find wine.

What’s one thing you want Soda Citizens to know about you, your podcast, or anything else you have going on?

Just that the more you taste, the more you know and wine really is very subjective. Don’t be intimidated and if you like pink, sweet wine then you should order it.

Also, wine is made in the vineyard, not in a winery. There are some vintage wines that can be harder to find, but just because it’s an old wine, doesn’t mean it’s good. [Sandy added laughing] That’s a whole other discussion.

Cait Maloney

Local artist, Cait Maloney is a Columbia-based designer, illustrator, and macaroni + cheese advocate. She’s done everything from murals to beer can designs, illustrations, stickers, menus, logos, posters, and more.

Describe your perfect day in Columbia.

I would start my day with a river adventure. Afterward, I’d be hungry, so order onion rings and a pimento cheeseburger at Rockaways Athletic Club, take a nap, go to an art show (either my own or someone else’s) and finish my day by going to The Whig for mac and cheese and wine.

Jacob Reeves

Jacob Reeves is a graphic designer + photographer for Gamecock Athleticsaka the man behind the lens capturing the most exciting gameday moments. A South Carolina native, Jacob graduated from UofSC in 2017 and has continued to grow as a creative. He’s worked as a freelance photographer at the inaugural Formula 1 Grand Prix and the 2022 College Football National Championship.

Name a few other local leaders, influencers, or movers + shakers you’re watching.

Creatively, the people I work with here at South Carolina, I regard as some of the best creatives anywhere — especially Columbia. Outside of that, I’m also a big fan of what Mayor Rickenmann has been doing (and will continue to do) around the city development-wise.

Greg Sestero

Greg Sestero is a writer + producer — most famously known for the cult classic film The Room,” which inspired the movie “The Disaster Artist.” You may also know Greg from Netflix’s popular gothic-drama mini-series, “The Haunting of Bly Manor.” We caught up with Greg while he was in town for a Q+A at the Nickelodeon Theatre.

What are you looking forward to most while visiting Columbia?

I’m hoping to check out the SC State House and museum, and catch some live music. My local friends rave about Williams-Brice Stadium, but I think The Room will take over the football chatter in town.

Marius Valdes

Marius Valdes is a professor at UofSC in the School of Visual Art and Design whose work you might have seen in elementary schools around the Midlands, Transmission Arcade, Richland County Library, or MUSC Children’s Hospital just to name a few.

Describe your perfect day in Columbia.

I’d start with an early morning trip to see my favorite gibbon ape swinging around at the Riverbanks Zoo. Then I’d head over to Soda City Market to check out everybody’s dogs and people watch. After that, I’d duck into the Columbia Museum of Art to see some new art. I’d go across the street to see if there are any new cool kid’s books (I like the pictures) at the Richland Library. I’d grab lunch at Motor Supply.

On the way home to Forest Acres, I’d stop by Cosmic Ray’s to pick up a Spider-Man comic book and see what Ray is grumbling about this week. After walking my dog, Mary, around Citadel Park in my neighborhood, my wife, Beth, and I would go watch our daughter, Emma, play some soccer at SC United FC’s fields, aka, The Monty. If I had any energy left at this point (I wouldn’t), we’d drop the kid off and go see Pearl Jam at Colonial Life Arena.

Angela Yong

In January, Angela Yong was named an Experience Columbia ambassador, a group of four locals named each year offering insider tips on what to do in the capital city. In 2011 Angela opened Fit Columbia, a fitness studio that offers personal training, yoga classes, and stretch therapy.

What do you hope Cola is like in 10 years? 20 years?

Ten years ago I was a vegan and I had only a couple of places to eat and today there are tons of amazing vegan and vegetarian restaurants AND most restaurants have vegan/vegetarian options. I love our food scene in Columbia and watching it grow has been fun. I would love to see a beautiful traditional Chinese restaurant, dim sum take away (in Five Points would be awesome). I think food brings people together so I hope in 10, 20 years…we will have more creative menus and people of color chefs/restaurant owners. I also hope these POC have excellent locations to serve these eclectic menus.

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