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Quail Ridge Press rolling along with regional offerings

BRANDON — With only seven states left to go in their “Best of the Best” cookbook series and a new author in Janie Walters of Madison, Quail Ridge Press is moving ahead with their popular regional booklist and the profitable relationship with the QVC Home Shopping channel.

In 1978, Barney McKee was director of the University Press of Mississippi when he brought home a cookbook manuscript they couldn’t publish. That manuscript, titled “The Twelve Days of Christmas Cookbook,” became the first book from Quail Ridge Press, named for the street the family lived on in Brandon.

Quail Ridge Press now has an office building in Brandon (which opened in 1998) with a large storage facility on site and 11 full-time employees. The company has published over 100 books, with only a handful currently out of print. “The little book that started it all, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas Cookbook,’ is still in print after all these years,” said Gwen McKee, co-owner.

The beginnings of the “Best of the Best” Cookbook Series came as Gwen was asked countless times what her favorite cookbook was. As she began making a list of her favorite Mississippi titles, Barney suggested asking each one to select their favorite recipes to compile into a single book. The pattern for the subsequent series was laid down in “Best of the Best from Mississippi” — which Barney McKee said will soon be updated and republished with new cookbooks asked to participate.

“We have adopted the goal of preserving America’s food heritage,” said Barney. “These books are the definitive collection of that state’s cooking heritage.”

Next spring will bring the Best of the Best Cookbooks from Wyoming, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, with special events planned for the Alaska book, said Barney. “QVC has shown an interest in promoting Best of Alaska with a live remote from Alaska,” McKee said.

The QVC relationship is something else again, giving Quail Ridge Press national exposure since Gwen’s first appearance in 1997. QVC set up a products fair at the Ag Museum in Jackson to search for new items to advertise and sell on TV — and out of 20 items selected nationwide that year, one was the “Best of the Best From Mississippi.”

Since then, QVC and Quail Ridge Press have sold numerous copies of the Recipe Hall of Fame Books, with 100,000 copies of “Recipe Hall of Fame Quick and Easy Recipes” sold via QVC in 2001 before publication.

And in April, a joint venture titled “Best of the Best from QVC: Favorite Recipes from Viewers, Hosts, Employees and Friends” debuted, selling 100,000 copies — even before Gwen went on QVC last weekend to promote the book some more on “In the Kitchen with Bob.”

But publishing more Southern titles has allowed the company to expand even more, with the success of children’s books by Laurie Parker and the local flavor of Phil Hardwick’s Mississippi Mysteries series, both of whom published new work this year: “The Turtle Saver” by Parker, which just won an award from Booksense, the independent bookseller’s association, and “Sixth Inning in Southaven” by Hardwick, the ninth novel in the collection.

Quail Ridge’s newest author is Janie Walters, a motivational speaker from Madison, who spent over eight years putting together “Blow a Bubble, Not A Gasket: 101 Ways to Reduce Stress and Add Fun to Your Life,” based on a morale-boosting speech she regularly gave in her speaking career.

“As a part of the presentation, I always gave a list of 20 ways to relieve stress,” said Walters, who travels at least 10 days out the month and has given speeches in 20 states in the two years she’s been speaking full-time.

“As I learned more about the speaking business, I learned that I needed to somehow give permanence to what I do on the platform,” said Walters. The manuscript was born, adding a new direction to Walters’ work and Quail Ridge’s Mississippi booklist into inspirational books.

Their coffeetable book offerings have thus far been Wyatt Waters’ view of Jackson in “Another Coat of Paint” and photos of historic Mississippi towns in “Written in the Bricks.” Their newest art book venture just in time for Christmas is “Carousels Abound,” a book about the carousel horses exhibit in Meridian.

The “Carousels Abound” horses, designed by local artists, are on permanent exhibition in throughout Meridian, said Stacie Griffith, artistic director for the book. Actress Sela Ward contributes the foreword to the new book, which also features Meridian photographer Wayne Rawson, project co-founders Jamie Cater and Debbie Martin and a brief history of the exhibit’s inspiration, the Dentzel Carousel.

Proceeds from the book fund Hope Village for Children in Meridian, which supports and houses children and sponsors community awareness and educational programs. “For those who want to take home a piece of this project and be able to see the horses all together, this book is really perfect,” said Griffith.

Griffith had worked with Barney McKee before on Mississippi books with artistic leanings — and McKee’s willingness to donate the printing time and costs enables even more of the book’s $29.95 price tag to go to Hope Village programs. “That really does speak well of Barney as a charitable businessman,” said Griffith.

“We’re very happy to publish Carousels Abound for artistic reasons, but, most importantly, for the opportunity to contribute to such a worthy cause as Hope Village for Children,” Barney said.

So where to next with Quail Ridge Press? “We started out as a very small company that published primarily cookbooks, then a few regional titles,” said Gwen, “but now we are branching out everywhere. We’re publishing national titles with wide appeal by popular authors. There’s just no telling where we’ll go from here.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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