VOL. 118 | NO. 167 | Wednesday, September 15, 2004
By Andy Meek
Little Tea Shop Serves Up Southern Charm
The Daily News
From humble beginnings, the Little Tea Shop restaurant in
Downtown Memphis has grown into a magnet for the citys movers and shakers.
At lunchtime on any given weekday, the restaurant at 69
Monroe Ave. is usually packed with politicians, judges, bankers, doctors and
lawyers all of whom enjoy the eaterys Southern cuisine and the homespun
charm of its owner, Suhair Lauck.
Warm welcome. Shes
usually the first face seen inside by customers and the one most readily
associated with the Downtown fixture. Lauck, born in
Palestine and a Memphis resident for almost 40 years, handles most of the
duties at the restaurant. She warmly welcomes regulars by name and never
forgets a new face. She knows which tables longtime customers prefer, what time
theyll likely arrive and any special diet needs they have.
Some of them, particularly of the power lunch crowd, have
been rewarded for their patronage by having dishes named after them. Memphis
lawyer Arnold Perl, for example, one of the founding members of the Young &
Perl law firm, chairman of the New Memphis Arena Public Building Authority and
a regular Little Tea Shop patron, has his name attached to one of the
restaurants specialty soups.
People think this is just a restaurant, but its not, Lauck said.
In reality, its a social spot with regional charm. For many
customers, said Laucks husband, Jim, eating at the
restaurant is like eating at home. The walls and windows are covered with local
artwork and University of Memphis Tigers and Memphis Grizzlies posters, many of
them autographed with personal notes to Lauck.
Its about loyalty. But its the Southern cuisine
that Lauck said keeps customers coming back especially
the dishes that bear their names.
Everybody always asks me that, Lauck
laughed when asked how she decides to name dishes after customers. Its about
loyalty. For customers who come here a long time, its the least we can do to
Jim Lauck said the Little Tea Shop
has a regular daily menu, with specific entrees offered on certain days of the
week. Customers fill out their own menus at the table, checking off the items
they want as soon as they sit down. That way, he said, service is faster and
My wife is from the Middle East, and cooking is very dear
to her, he said. With her seasonings and spices, she really wanted to get
into the restaurant business.
Rooted in history. And
while the restaurants name could appear misleading to new customers, he said
the name has its origins in history.
In most towns, there was always a little tea shop, usually
downtown, which generally had home-cooked types of food, he said. So with the
Little Tea Shop, we just carried on the name because of the history and the
reputation and tried to improve it a little bit.
The Laucks live in a space above
the restaurant, which opened in 1918. The Little Tea Shop serves lunch from 11
a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and Lauck
usually can be seen in her baseball cap scurrying between tables, the kitchen
and the cash register, meeting and greeting patrons.
Popular topics. And she
always has time to talk to anyone about two of her biggest passions: sports and
Her father was a coach, and her love of local sports is evident
from the restaurants Grizzlies- and Tigers-themed decor. In conversation, shes
also quick to share her ideas on local, regional and international politics. Shes
known U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. since he was young, and she counts Shelby
County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. as a friend and regular
Lauck also tells the story of how
she talked her way into getting current vice presidential candidate John
Edwards to autograph a copy of Time magazine for her on Edwards recent
campaign stop in Memphis.
And she has some advice for aspiring politicians.
If you want to win an election, you better eat at the Tea Shop
and be seen, she laughed. I can make you or break you.
Showing support. To demonstrate
her point, she recalled the day she heard former county Mayor Jim Rout announce
he would not seek re-election. Lauck said she urged Wharton
to run. She put up a handmade sign in her restaurant behind the cash register
Wharton for Mayor before he even entered the race. She plugged Wharton
heavily until he won the position.
And in July, Wharton returned the favor. He made a
proclamation before the Little Tea Shops customers in honor of the
restaurants 22nd anniversary under its current ownership. He noted that some of
the most important business negotiations and deals that affect the health and
well-being of our county are conducted over the best food in the entire region.
Southern charm. Perhaps
one of the best-loved aspects of the restaurants charm, Jim Lauck suggested, is its healthy serving of Southern
hospitality. In Whartons proclamation, for example, he noted that along with
the restaurants food, we are served with some of the finest Southern
hospitality in the Bluff City.
Lauck smiled in agreement.
Many people talk like they dont like Memphis, and I say
why? she said. Memphis welcomed me with open arms from the beginning. Theres
nothing like Southern hospitality.
Judging from the many notes of appreciation shes saved, her
customers would agree.
The Little Tea Shop
Owners: Suhair and Jim Lauck
Basics: The restaurant, a Downtown fixture, dishes up
Southern-style cuisine and service.