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VOL. 126 | NO. 137 | Friday, July 15, 2011

New Eateries Coming to Midtown

By Sarah Baker

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Midtown has a reputation for one of Memphis’ most eclectic areas, adorned with vintage houses, international cuisine and funky entertainment venues.

Kara Dirling, center, and employees restock the shelves at Gigi’s Cupcakes, 4709 Poplar Ave. in Germantown. Plans are in the works for a new Gigi’s in Midtown.
(Memphis Daily News/Lance Murphey)

In the coming weeks, it will broaden its portfolio even more with three Memphis eateries: Gigi’s Cupcakes, The Slider Inn and a yet-to-be named concept in Cooper-Young.

Gigi’s Cupcakes USA has signed a 1,140-square-foot lease in the Belvedere Collection, 1680 Union Ave. Nashville-based Gigi’s will join tenants such as Pei Wei Asian Diner, GameStop, Peria, Baskin Robbins and Massage Envy, bringing the center’s occupancy to 82 percent.

Loeb Properties Inc.’s vice president of brokerage Aaron Petree represented the landlord as well as the owner, Morgan Weber Group Inc., in the deal.

“The Union Avenue location is a commuter route to Downtown, which is ideal for Gigi’s business model that relies on bulk orders,” Petree said. “Whether it’s yogurt and cupcakes or more traditional concepts that have been around for a while, I think retailers are viewing Midtown – especially in light of the revitalization that is going on in many parts of the area – as a place where they need to have a presence.”

Blake Weber, a partner in Memphis-based Internet solutions company WorldSpice Technologies, along with his wife, Marilyn, have franchise rights to the Memphis metropolitan area. The Collierville natives selected the Poplar-Perkins corridor for Gigi’s entrance into the Memphis market based on nearby businesses, neighborhoods and traffic counts. Midtown’s Belvedere Collection offers many of the same attributes.

“It’s a beautiful building with great frontage and it’s a place that’s already developed really exceptional habits,” Marilyn Weber said. “There’s already a dry cleaner, a Pei Wei and an amazing shoe store there. If you can go in with really terrific neighbors that you believe you can help bring something to the center, that’s what we really look for.”

This will be the franchisee’s third location, with at least one more in the works. While the duo’s objective is to appeal to a wider customer base, they are mindful not to over saturate the market.

“I’m really thinking that four is really going to manage Memphis,” Weber said. “We’re not looking to conquer the world with cupcakes.”

Also looking to capitalize on Midtown’s diverse clientele is Bert Smythe and John Littlefield, operating partners of McEwen’s on Monroe, 122 Monroe Ave. The two restaurateurs are teaming up with Karen Roth, formerly with Erling Jensen and Soulfish’s Ben McLean to set up shop in the 5,200-square-foot space formerly occupied by Grace and Au Fond Farmtable, 938 and 940 S. Cooper St.

The yet-to-be named eatery will feature seasonal small plates and an array of creative cocktails, wines and craft beers. The kitchen will be open late, Smythe said, and the atmosphere will encourage “grazing.”

“We want it to hip, but we don’t want it to be pretentious,” he said. “Midtown has thriving independent restaurants and it’s got a great mix of people. I live in Midtown, I love Midtown. If I could have a Target in Midtown, I’d never leave. People from East Memphis, from Highpoint Terrace, from further out, they will come to Cooper-Young sometimes to a degree before they would go Downtown.”

Jimmy Lewis with Rasberry Commercial Real Estate represented the tenant. James and Larry Block, also with Rasberry CRE, are the landlord reps.

The space was ideal from both a location and a financial perspective, Lewis said.

“The intersection at Cooper-Young has a tremendous amount of energy, so it’s this vortex of eating, drinking and retail,” he said. “From the standpoint of economics, Midtown is more attractive than opportunities farther east. There are no other second-generation restaurant spaces that are available to begin with, and secondarily, this one happens to be in the location where the prices per square foot are much more affordable, so your operating costs are accordingly lower.”

Meanwhile, Aldo DeMartino of Downtown’s Bardog Tavern has also snatched up a former restaurant space just down the street at 2117 Peadbody Ave. for his new venture, The Slider Inn.

The Slider Inn, slated to open Aug. 5, is taking over the 1,200-square-foot space formerly occupied by the bar One More and most recently Bluff City Bayou. Including the deck – which is about the same size as the brick and mortar space – the restaurant has the potential to seat about 80 to 110 people.

“The slider really is supposed to be like a roadside, California burger shack – the place that you stop by on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, have a drink on the deck, have a burger, maybe listen to some live music,” DeMartino told The Daily News in April. “It’s just going to be a fun, friendly, cozy neighborhood joint.”

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