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VOL. 125 | NO. 139 | Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Events Company Sparks New Activity Atop Clark Tower

JON W. SPARKS | Special to The Daily News

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Wade Hartsfield has signed on to manage Tower Room Events, the restaurant and event space on the 33rd floor of the Clark Tower. The company will focus on both corporate and social events in the 20,000-square-foot space.  Photo: Lance Murphey

After four years of refining and expanding his catering business, Wade Hartsfield has taken on a soaring new challenge.

His new Tower Room Events is giving a fresh infusion of activity atop Clark Tower at 5100 Poplar Ave.

The Tower Room – actually the entire 33rd floor – will get a sprucing up and a fresh focus as a social and corporate event space with a stunning view.

With 20,000 square feet and capacity of about 600 people, the Tower Room is providing Hartsfield an opportunity to expand his own business. It’s also part of a decision by In-Rel Management LLC – Clark Tower’s managing company – to let the site reach its full potential.

“In-Rel is in the business of owning real estate,” said Ron Riley of In-Rel Management. “We own office buildings and retail buildings throughout the Southeast. It’s always been our intention to find a restaurant operator or restaurateur to take over the facility of the Tower Room.”

Formerly known as The Summit Club, the private club was shuttered in 2003 and the Tower Room American Grill opened to the public in the space.

“It has a great history and memories,” Hartsfield said. “Memphians remember coming here when it was the Summit Club.”

Now, however, the emphasis will be more on events and, at least for the time being, less on lunch and dinner.

“We decided we’d evaluate the options and come up with a strategic plan for five years,” Hartsfield said. “We wanted to pick one thing and concentrate on that.”

The venue at the nearly 40-year-old Clark Tower has always been a good one for corporate get-togethers, weddings and rehearsal dinners, Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs, birthdays, anniversaries and graduations.

And the plan is to continue that along with special events such as New Year’s Eve parties and Mother’s Day brunches.

Hartsfield expects regular lunch service to resume in August or September after he’s studied the situation, including analyzing what those who work at Clark Tower do for lunch.

He will be canvassing the local lunch crowd for preferences and expects to have a mixer for tenants soon to show off what they’ve got.

Hartsfield said that a few months ago he started looking for another project to take on in addition to his Wade & Co. catering service, a boutique company that is full-service and works off-site.

Wade and Co. has seven full-time employees and a staff of 40-plus available. But it gets as many as it needs – the opening of the new University of Memphis law school was an event that required him to have 140 staff members.

Hartsfield said he spoke with In-Rel who told him the company wanted someone with food service and event savvy to handle it.

He formed Wade Hartsfield Enterprises as an umbrella organization and now Tower Room Events is part of that and completely separate from his catering business.

“We’re putting in place a management team with a general manager, head of banquet services and executive chef and support staff,” he said.

He projects that it will employ eight full-time staff and 30 part-time.

“In-Rel is very supportive,” Hartsfield said. “I love the idea of this as a great restaurant but Memphis has a lot of those and our study shows this needed to be one or the other, so we’re focusing on full service events.”

There are six small banquet rooms and one large one. The kitchen is huge, and redecorating is going on at present, with new bars and other amenities getting makeovers. Hartsfield also wants to dedicate one of the small rooms to the legacy of the place, calling it the Summit Room and having photos and other mementoes of those days.

Hartsfield worked for the city of Covington for 15 years as director of the parks and recreation department, a job that handled special events all the time.

So it was a natural move to get into event planning and catering.

“I’ve always loved good food and wine and Southern hospitality,” he said.

Nor was he daunted by the shaky economy. Compared to running a restaurant, catering is, he said, a more stable enterprise.

“So much of catering is specific to one event so it’s easy to project and budget,” he said, as opposed to always having to maintain a full menu as do restaurants.

For more information, go to towerroom.com or call 767-8776.

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