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VOL. 126 | NO. 109 | Monday, June 6, 2011

Restaurant Uproot

Owners of longtime eateries finding success in new locales

By Sarah Baker

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If a prime time television show moves to a different day and time, there’s undoubtedly a risk factor involved.

Paulette’s Restaurant, which has been in Memphis for 37 years, recently moved to the River Inn at 50 Harbor Town Square. 

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

But if the show’s good enough, it’s going to attract you, said Scott Gentleman, general manager of Jim’s Place East, who hopes that theory also holds true for a popular restaurant.

“You carry the tradition no matter where you go and if you do a good enough job, they’ll change their habits in order to keep coming,” Gentleman said. “As long as you’re doing what’s made you successful for that amount of time, then I don’t think it really matters where you are.”

In fall of 2010, Jim’s Place East moved from 5560 Shelby Oaks Drive – a home to the family-owned business for 34 years – to 518 Perkins Road Extended in the heart of East Memphis. The process of relocating wasn’t an easy task, but it’s one that has been well worth it, Gentleman said.

“It was one of those things where it had to be right,” he said. “There were a few other locations that we looked at that just didn’t work, either on our end or they were asking too much rent. This was kind of the perfect spot – in the epicenter of East Memphis, right there in the middle of everything.”

The 90-year-old restaurant has found that the new location is actually closer now to the majority of its target clientele. In fact, the Poplar and Perkins spot still brings in the “old faithfuls” for lunch and early dinner but also a young professional crowd for the bar at night.

“It’s like going from the country to the city,” Gentleman said. “Shelby Oaks and Summer Avenue is off the beaten path, especially now, over the past 10 or 15 years. I talk to people every day and I’ve only come across one couple that told me that we were closer at Shelby Oaks than we are here.”

Jim’s Place isn’t the only longtime restaurant to leave an established location in the past year.

George Falls, owner of Paulette’s, has also seen an uptick in the amount of younger patrons in his new location at the River Inn of Harbor Town, 50 Harbor Town Square.

“They’ve always come to Tugs for the happy hour and comfort food, but we’re noticing a younger crowd come into Paulette’s now too,” said Falls, who moved the restaurant from Overton Square earlier this year. “It’s just a good mix, it’s been amazing. We’ll have a couple in their 20s and right across there will be somebody celebrating an 80th birthday.”

The people who came from afar – including those who reside in East Memphis, Germantown, Collierville, Cordova and Bartlett – are still coming, Falls said. He’s also noticed more Mud Islanders stop by and come back for more.

“In the previous operation, they came on their anniversary or something like that, but now, people on the island, we’re seeing them three or four times a month for dinner,” Falls said.

Falls admits that he was “holding (his) breath a little bit,” when he made the decision to relocate Downtown in March after 37 years in business at 2110 Madison Ave., but the move has worked out better than he could have ever imagined. It’s also brought life to a space that had previously struggled with identifying its following.

“After 37 years, people knew where Paulette’s was,” Falls said. “When we announced we were moving to the River Inn, a lot of people were not aware of where it was or maybe they had never heard of it, so now it’s given the River Inn some identification with Memphians and Mid-Southerners.”

John Bragg, owner of Circa by John Bragg, knows that a restaurant’s location and personality go hand in hand. He moved Circa to Regalia Shopping Center, 6150 Poplar Ave., in February, while also converting Circa’s previous locale, 119 S. Main St., to a new concept called Bar None.

“A good building is a good building, it’s a matter of coming up with something that suits it,” Bragg said. “The Circa concept was good, and it was the location that was less than perfect Downtown. That’s why we did the Bar None thing Downtown, because having been down there for almost five years, I had a lot better feel for the flow of Downtown and the types of people and things they were into, and so it allowed me to come up with a much better concept for that location.”

Before, Circa’s clientele would only venture Downtown if there was a Memphis Grizzlies game or big show at the Orpheum Theatre, Bragg said. Now, his restaurant is closer to his regulars.

“The biggest difference I see out here is the frequency with which they return,” he said. “It’s a nice shopping center that they are otherwise familiar with and feel comfortable in with Oak Hall and Ruth’s Chris, they’re used to coming here. It’s a lot easier for them to choose us rather than make a special trip because their time is important.”

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