VOL. 121 | NO. 23 | Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Real Estate & Development
River Oaks to Replace Cockeyed Camel at Junction
By Andrew Ashby
STRATEGIC THINKER: John Bragg is opening a restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Cockeyed Camel at Poplar Avenue and Interstate 240 - right where he can take full advantage of proximity to his customer base. -- Photograph By Andrew Ashby
John Bragg's restaurant may still be under construction, but the neighborhood he's chosen is definitely established.
River Oaks by John Bragg is scheduled to open in February in a 2,800-square-foot space that used to house the Cockeyed Camel at Poplar Avenue and Interstate 240. It shares parking space with Park Place Hotel and will be able to seat 99 diners.
"I've got a great opportunity to be right in the middle of East Memphis and be in a nice neighborhood restaurant in a nice neighborhood," Bragg said.
Where the high rollers live
Bragg liked the neighborhood so much he named his restaurant after it. The River Oaks neighborhood was developed by Boyle Investment Company around 1966. The original development, which began at the intersection of Shady Grove and Sweetbriar roads, has several large estates, including the homes of FedEx founder Fred Smith and AutoZone founder Pitt Hyde.
"A lot of CEOs, presidents of local headquarters are located in River Oaks," said Rusty Bloodworth, executive vice president at Boyle Investment. "We have a lot of different types of neighborhoods inside of it, but it is a high-end neighborhood and the name is hopefully well thought of."
Since the 1960s, there have been 11 additions, including The Cloisters of River Oaks, the Gardens of River Oaks and Normandy Park. The term refers to a broader area than the original developments, bordered by I-240 in the west, Poplar Avenue in the south, Walnut Grove Road in the north and Humphreys Boulevard in the east.
It's a hot residential market, Bloodworth said.
"It's just a superb location because you have great access to the interstate and you're in the golden triangle between Poplar and Walnut Grove," he said.
The area looks to be good for other types of development as well.
"We have good visibility, high traffic and we're close to a lot of businesses for the lunch and after-
work crowds," Bragg said.
"It's just a superb location because you have great access to the interstate and you're in the golden triangle between Poplar and Walnut Grove."
- John Bragg
Bragg, who is executive chef and owner of the restaurant, got started in the business right after high school. He worked for Erling Jensen at La Tourelle Restaurant for several years. He worked other restaurant jobs before going to Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris for a year. Then he took a job with Silversea cruise line, cooking all over the world.
Bragg returned to Memphis and worked at La Tourelle again before taking a hiatus to get his accounting degree. He worked for Pricewaterhouse Coopers and for Thompson Dunavant. He returned to cooking by reopening La Montagne on Park Avenue.
Bragg said he sees some similarities between cooking and accounting when it comes to helping clients or customers.
"It's about taking care of their needs and hopefully exceeding their expectations along the way. That's how you build relationships and make long-term value for both parties," Bragg said.
Catering to demand
Bragg decided to open a restaurant in the River Oaks area to be closer to his customer base.
"It became pretty apparent to me at La Montagne that this general area here, west of Germantown and east of Highland, this is where a lot of my customers live or work," Bragg said. "People were saying, 'We love your food and your place is really attractive, but you've got to get out East.'"
Bragg went to Memphis University School and Christian Brothers High School, so he knew the area well and knows many people around it.
"Poplar Avenue retail property is a premium deal. You see the lengths to which people will go to put a restaurant around here," Bragg said. "This Poplar corridor is really hot because it's where everybody is. It's right by the interstate, it's right by their work, it's right by their house. You can get here from Downtown, Hernando, Germantown or Millington without spending more than 20 minutes on the road. It just seems like this is where it's at."
Crews are building a small patio area out front with fencing and a flower box. It will also have a private dining area with its own audio-visual system for business presentations and special functions.
Bragg teamed up with restaurant designer Nancy Mah, who has worked on projects like the high-end restaurant Lutece in New York.
"One of the things we're trying to do with the design is totally change the image of the building and define our image at the same time," Bragg said.
That includes using artists and designers who have Memphis ties. The mahogany paneling and table tops were done by Element Woodworks, while some of the glasswork was done by by Laukhuff Stained Glass. The restaurant will have paintings by local artists David Mah and Matthew Hasty.
"One of the themes of the restaurant is Memphis. This is 100-percent home grown. I've traveled the world and gained some experience, but I'm still here," Bragg said.
The restaurant's design will incorporate natural materials, including woods with slight finishes and light fixtures with cooper wire. The floor will be slate, while the bar top will be granite.
"They're both refined and earthly at the same time and that's what I'm trying to do food-wise as well," Bragg said.
The restaurant, which will serve contemporary American cuisine, will have a lot of personal touches.
"My goal is that the sum of all those efforts adds up to an experience that is complete and satisfying," Bragg said. "You may not notice all those things individually, but you should notice that it's really nice and feels good in here."