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VOL. 121 | NO. 226 | Monday, November 20, 2006

New Cordova Businesses Stand To Draw More Traffic, Observers Say

By Andy Meek

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MORNING RITUAL: Javasurf manager Denny Smith rings up loyal customer Jimmy Spain, a physical education teacher at First Assembly Christian School in Cordova. -- Photo By Andy Meek

One is a coffee shop tucked inside a cozy strip center space and run by a retired Memphis Police Department lieutenant. One is a swanky new restaurant that boasts a first-rate chef, upscale cuisine and late-night DJ entertainment.

Both are new business ventures in Cordova, which lately has been in the news because the city of Memphis is preparing to annex one of the last pieces of the suburb left to grab. But there's certainly more going on in the fast-developing community than, as the perception might suggest, angry homeowners ready to turn out in force at City Hall.

Burgeoning 'burb

Two of the newest businesses - Javasurf, the coffee shop, and King Biscuit Diner, the new eatery - are, among other factors, emblematic of a growth spurt that's lifting the profile of the east Memphis suburb. That fact also is bolstered by Shelby County's latest residential real estate sales figures, which show Cordova as a haven for homebuyers.

The majority of October home sales - 136 - in Shelby County happened within Cordova's 38016 ZIP code, according to real estate information company Chandler Reports, www.chandlerreports.com. The average price in Cordova was $183,132, which was $30,000 more than the month's average price for the entire county.

Those numbers affirm part of the picture. That Cordova is in the throes of a season of growth should be apparent to any of the businesspeople who meet regularly at Javasurf Coffeehouse, 2200 N. Germantown Parkway, for fresh-roasted coffee, and it soon will be to diners who sample the strip sirloin and other dishes at King Biscuit Diner when it opens this month at 8050 Dexter Road.

And for now, at least, the entrepreneurs behind each business regard their new quarters with as much excitement as they have for the new ventures themselves.

Making merry

Restaurateur Thomas Pak said he lucked out in finding the vacant spot at 8050 Dexter, formerly occupied by Huffman's Deli Café. And he brought over the same ownership team from his previous Memphis venture, Swanky's Taco Shop, a Mexican eatery known for its Subway-style, pick-what-you-want food bar.

"This is my joy," said Pak, part of the team behind King Biscuit Diner. "I enjoy entertaining, I enjoy making people happy, and food and wine certainly make people happy.

"If it's done right, this can be like a $60 mini-vacation for people. Get out, have some good wine, have some good food, enjoy yourself and laugh."

Late last week, Pak was putting the finishing touches on his new restaurant, which will offer a full menu of choices that he insists can't be matched elsewhere in Cordova and, for that matter, is hard to beat anywhere in Memphis.

And in a suburb dominated by familiar golden arches and chain eateries such as Applebee's and Olive Garden, Pak is bringing in at least one chef who studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and who apprenticed under master chefs in Europe. One of the members of his ownership team, Rob Carter, also sits on the board of directors of Saks Inc.

Laying the bait

A preliminary menu Pak brandished last week showed dishes that include sea bass baked in banana leaves, tenderloin with shrimp and crab, and a nine-layer lasagna.

"Our job is to make sure people have a good time here," Pak said, as he supervised the final details for the restaurant's grand opening.

Said developer Marvin Palmer, whose real estate company built the strip center where King Biscuit Diner will operate: "This looks like a new menu and concept that should generate some additional traffic for the center, so we're excited about them getting open and getting started."

About two miles north of King Biscuit Diner, Javasurf is a new coffee shop that opened in June. Denny Smith, who retired from the Memphis Police Department after 20 years of service, manages the store, which includes wireless Internet access and carries some high-end teas and homemade pastries.

"I was just looking for something to occupy my time, and now I've gone from working 20 hours a week to 60 hours," Smith said with a laugh.

Midtown is Memphis - and Cordova?

Mark Chambers, president of the Cordova Leadership Council (CLC), said his civic group also is eager to throw its weight behind the momentum those stores appear to herald in Cordova. He's planning a slate of events in 2007 that includes scheduling an open forum with guests such as a Cooper-Young representative. The idea is to learn how the success story of that culinary and commercial hotspot in Midtown Memphis can be adapted to Cordova.

The CLC, which wants to try to attract state grant money to beautify the suburb's roads, such as Germantown Parkway, also is looking at writing a master plan for Cordova soon.

"I think a protected approach to development - really looking at the whole area, not just looking at immediate gains - is going to be what's important for us," said Chambers, who's a behavioral analyst.

The success of that or any effort could be foreordained by the fate of ventures like Pak's urban enclave, which - as its name suggests - also will spend a good deal of energy on that mainstay of Southern meals: the biscuit.

To get where he is today, Pak partly has scoped out the competition, seen what works, what doesn't, and whipped it all up into a blend that's his own.

"I went to a breakfast place once that had great food - but the coffee was horrible," he said, by way of explaining some of his choices for King Biscuit Diner. "Here, the food's the only thing I'm not worried about."

RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 32 176 2,507
MORTGAGES 26 101 1,687
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 10 37 259
BUILDING PERMITS 0 365 5,497
BANKRUPTCIES 16 57 963
BUSINESS LICENSES 0 107 488
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 0 0 0
MARRIAGE LICENSES 0 0 0