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VOL. 122 | NO. 136 | Monday, July 23, 2007

Memphis Literacy Council Fundraiser Offers 'Taste of Cooper-Young'

By Andy Meek

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OFFERING A TASTE: Richard and Evalee Grenamyer's Blue Fish Restaurant is one of several eateries in the Cooper-Young neighborhood participating in the "A Taste of Cooper-Young" fundraiser Thursday benefiting the Memphis Literacy Council. -- Daily News File Photo

Debra Hall was eating lunch with a co-worker on the outdoor patio at Young Avenue Deli, both of them relishing the trendy vista of Midtown's Cooper-Young neighborhood around them.

Hall, director of development and marketing at the Memphis Literacy Council (MLC), and Jon Devin, its director of program development, casually chatted about the multitude of restaurants sandwiched between Cooper Street and Young Avenue. The eateries, they noted, afford plenty of possibilities for their workday lunches.

Then the light bulb went off.

"Honestly, we kind of looked at each other and said, 'Wouldn't it be great if we had an event where we could incorporate all the food in the neighborhood?'" Hall said, recounting how this week's "A Taste of Cooper-Young" progressive dinner and fundraiser for the MLC came to be.

"It was a bolt out of the blue, but it was a pretty darn good idea, I think. And it kind of grew from there."

A taste for a cause

"Because of the high turnover in property management with apartments, we want to make sure everyone is aware of the program and to not let it fall through the cracks. We want it to stay on everyone's mind so that everyone knows we're there to help them. It's been a while (since holding an information session), and that's one of the reasons we wanted to get it on the front burner."
- Jackie Condrey
Investigator in the Shelby County District Attorney General's office

Midtown denizens will get to see just how much that idea grew when on Thursday, eight of the district's unique eateries provide various courses for their part in the evening's dinner. The event, which is a different kind of fundraiser for the MLC, involves participants carrying a punch card with them to each restaurant - where the card will be marked accordingly - before ending up at the MLC's facility for dessert, live music and an auction.

Participating restaurants will provide generally one course, be it an appetizer or entrée, with servings for 230 people.

"Basically, what we're going to do is we're giving people a chance to go around to all their favorite restaurants here in Cooper-Young and kind of get a taste," Hall said. "We'll have a silent auction at the literacy council featuring a lot of artwork from the artists and businesses here in the neighborhood.

"So really, for the price of the ticket, which is $50, you get food from eight different restaurants, you get a pre-dinner cocktail, you get post-dinner wine - so that's a pretty good deal. And you get to see one of the more eclectic neighborhoods in the city."

A growing neighborhood

That neighborhood - generally tagged with one of a host of adjectives along the lines of "trendy," "hip" and "bursting with character" - also happens to be in the midst of a protracted growth streak. This week's fundraiser is one example of that.

The night's festivities begin with cocktails at Burke's Book Store, which just so happens to be one of the newest additions to Cooper-Young.

The Cooper-Young Business Association recently moved into new digs at 2120 Young Ave., apparently to be closer to where the business-related action is in the district. And new ventures continue to seize available space, such as the pizza parlor being opened by Lou Savarin.

He opened his restaurant, Pie in the Sky, first in the 1990s, then, for personal reasons, sold it a few years ago. The new owners closed the eatery about a year ago, and Savarin now has decided to try again. This time it will be called Lou's Pizza Pie.

"I still love this neighborhood, and (the new restaurant) won't be any different than before," he said. "The menu's exactly the same, and the prices are the same as they were before."

The MLC, of course, is another of the Cooper-Young neighborhood's tenants. Founded in 1974, it operates via hundreds of volunteers who provide instruction to students.

The building, at 902 S. Cooper, is open from about 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, then on an abbreviated schedule Friday and Saturday.

"Whenever people can get to class," Hall said, "we want to be here."

Evalee Grenamyer, who owns the Blue Fish Restaurant in Cooper-Young with her husband, Richard, said this week's event will be a boon for the neighborhood. She especially hopes it goes well for the MLC.

"I'm really hoping that people from all over come to support this," she said.

Participating businesses include Tsunami, Blue Fish, Do, Beauty Shop, Cafe Ole, Young Avenue Deli, Celtic Crossing, Sweet the Exquisite Desserterie and Burke's Book Store.

"This neighborhood is so supportive of each other - this is not the case where everyone sees each other as competition," Hall said. "And everybody's excited not just to show off their own food, but the neighborhood as well - this is really a destination for food."

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