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VOL. 126 | NO. 253 | Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Dishes

City’s restaurant scene sees plenty of change in 2011

By Sarah Baker

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Memphis’ eyes were bigger than its stomach in 2011, but in a good way.

Lunchgoers order at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, 730 S. Mendenhall Road in East Memphis. The popular restaurant, the fourth Gus’s franchise, was one of many new options for diners in 2011. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

Some local restaurateurs launched completely new concepts; others entered new submarkets with additional stores. Even a handful of national retailers entered the Memphis market after having locations elsewhere in Tennessee for years.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries set up its first of 10 Memphis-area shops in a 2,882-square-foot space in Primacy Place, on Ridgeway Road just south of the Poplar-Interstate 240 loop. Cheddar’s Casual Café began work on sites at Interstate 385 and Winchester Road as well as in Collierville.

Scott Barton, senior vice president of retail services with CB Richard Ellis Memphis, said national retailers look at all aspects of the real estate decision – from income levels to rental rates to property taxes – before pulling the trigger.

“At the end of the day, retailers are still primarily concerned with location and growing their brand,” Barton said. “Oftentimes, Nashville will have a retail concept before Memphis.”

And when the retailers do come to Memphis, they’re site-specific. After solidifying a strong East Memphis and Germantown presence, Gigi’s Cupcakes USA expanded into Midtown’s Belvedere Collection shopping center this year.

But the Nashville-based cupcake franchise wasn’t the only eatery that saw real estate value in Midtown. Slider Inn, a roadside, California burger shack inspired concept from Bardog Tavern owner Aldo DeMartino, filled the 1,200-square-foot space formerly occupied by Bluff City Bayou at 2117 Peabody Ave.

“It’s a good, creative re-use of that second generation restaurant,” said Rasberry Commercial Real Estate’s Robert Taylor. “It’s a great corner at the light of Peabody and Cooper; it’s a really great location. I think they’ll kill it there.”

Other concepts that expanded into Midtown’s 38104 ZIP code in 2011 were Alchemy – a trendy cocktail and small-plate-focused food venture from McEwen’s on Monroe’s Bert Smythe and John Littlefield that took over the 5,200-square-foot space formerly occupied by Grace and Au Fond Farmtable, 938 and 940 S. Cooper St.

Also, sports bar Jack Magoo’s, owned by local investors, took over a century-old building in the Broad Avenue Arts District.

Unfortunately, Midtown didn’t work for every tenant this year, as evidenced earlier this month by the demolition of Neil’s Bar at Madison Avenue and South McLean Boulevard, following a summer fire and extensive property damage. The longtime Memphis drinking hole bid its farewell after nearly 20 years.

Also, Yosemite Sam’s at Madison and Cooper closed after 30 years upon the former owner’s retirement, but Loeb Properties Inc. purchased the property and has several solid tenant prospects as part of its $35 million theater district plan for Overton Square.

Paulette’s, which was a few blocks west, relocated to Downtown’s River Inn of Harbor Town in March after 37 years in business at 2110 Madison Ave.

Meanwhile, the University of Memphis district saw its fair share of restaurant activity this year. Although not permanent, but worthy of note due to this spring’s Mississippi River flooding, the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest moved from Tom Lee Park to Tiger Lane at the Mid-South Fairgrounds. And – with the exception of the river not in the background – it worked.

Cheffie’s Café filled the space formerly occupied by Gild the Lily on the northern bay of the High Point Terrace strip, yet another collaboration concept between local restaurateurs.

Nearby, in East Memphis, Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken expanded its empire by building a 2,500-square-foot restaurant near The Half Shell and Gibson’s Donuts.

And just around the corner, a Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin Robbins franchisee entered the prime East Memphis trade area with the sixth store in the Memphis area, after trying to penetrate the trade area for years.

As a city, Memphis is full of opportunities for new restaurant concepts, said Mike Miller, president of the Memphis Restaurant Association and owner of Patrick’s Steaks & Spirits. Though Memphis isn’t immune to commodity prices and food inflation, it’s on an even keel for the most part when analyzing peer markets.

“You look at what’s going on in the fine-dining scene, and there’s lots of people out there now that really are competitive and even on a national scale are recognized for the quality of what they do,” he said, citing restaurants such as the Elegant Farmer at Highland and Central and Acre on South Perkins. “That’s why I think you find people coming to Memphis to settle and really expand on their culinary experience and bring things to Memphis that maybe weren’t here 20 years ago.”

Evidence of that point, along with evidence of food success in Downtown Memphis during 2011, are the rebranded hotel restaurants the Madison Hotel’s Eighty3 and The Westin Memphis Beale Street’s bleu. Both ventures brought in nationally acclaimed chefs.

Other new Downtown eateries included Thai Bistro and The Brass Door on Madison Avenue; Krispy Krunchy Chicken and the Green Beetle on Main Street; and Rizzos Diner on G.E. Patterson Avenue.

Also working in the 38103 ZIP code’s favor during 2011 was the arrival of food trucks such as Fuel Café, YoLo Froyo and Revival Southern Food Co. They began parking, cooking and serving Downtown pedestrians daily at various intersections thanks to recent modifications by city council on food truck ordinances earlier this year.

Downtown’s portfolio of dining options will expand even further in 2012, when Aldo’s Pizza Pies occupies the 3,900-square-foot space in the ground level of Henry Turley Co.’s Barboro Flats, 64 S. Main St. This will be DeMartino’s third restaurant investment in Memphis and second in Downtown.

“It’s going to be in the spotlight,” DeMartino said. “It might not necessarily be a renter’s market, but it’s not anti-renters, either. It’s the newest building on Main Street. It’s just amazing.”

PROPERTY SALES 64 151 1,493
MORTGAGES 45 105 1,152
BUILDING PERMITS 201 410 3,466