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VOL. 127 | NO. 49 | Monday, March 12, 2012

Cultures and Flavors Meld at Evelyn & Olive

FREDRIC KOEPPEL | Special to The Memphis News

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What does it take to open a restaurant?

Karen Foster, from left, Lindsey Smith, Kingsley George and Anna George, eat lunch at Evelyn & Olive Restaurant and Wine Bar at 630 Madison Ave. The restaurant offers a blend of Jamaican and Southern food. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

Nerve, desire, concept, location, money.

Vicki Newsum-Hall and her husband, Ernest “Tony” Hall, certainly had the desire, they got the nerve, they had a concept, they found the location and somehow the money and – not least by any means – a chef named Xena Lovelady, and they opened Evelyn & Olive Restaurant and Wine Bar on Jan. 9 at 630 Madison Ave., a rather lonely stretch of Madison between Downtown and the Medical Center.

“I think it’s a good location,” Newsum-Hall said. “I like the idea of being a little off the beaten path. Some people like the lure of that. There is parking, the restaurant is the right size, and that makes for a smart location.”

Actually, Evelyn & Olive isn’t that isolated. Trolley Stop is a few short blocks to the east, Neely’s is over on Jefferson to the north, and Kudzu’s is just south on Monroe.

“You see,” Newsum-Hall said, “it has the potential to be a little restaurant district.”

As for the concept, that was ordained. Newsum-Hall is from Memphis and Hall is from Kingston, Jamaica. Voila, a restaurant that combines the cuisines of the South and the Caribbean.

They met in New York, where Hall had lived “forever, well, since 1978 or ’79.” The couple moved back to Memphis in 2006. Hall works for the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

“I moved to New York in 1986,” Newsum-Hall said, “chasing another dream at that time, music. I was a singer in Memphis. Many years before I left Memphis, I did a lot of background work with Stax and Hi Records. I did some things in New York, but more than anything I got to study in an actor’s workshop. It really helped with the singing.”

Newsum-Hall tried singing a little at Evelyn & Olive, “but before I could finish a song, I’d be picking up a napkin from a table. At some point, we hope to marry music and the restaurant, but that’s in the future.”

While the southern presence on the restaurant’s menu is from Newsum-Hall, Tony Hall, he said, is the Jamaican influence.

“I cook a little,” he said, “but I know the recipes, which I learned from my mother.”

Newsum-Hall also cooks, “but I’m not a chef,” she said. “Many of the things on the menu are things my husband learned to cook from his mom, and I learned with my mom, and we added a chef who can do wonderful presentations and can be creative. We’re a team, we don’t work separately.”

They named the restaurant in memory of their mothers; Evelyn for her mom, Olive for his.

The couple has not been in the restaurant business. “Vicki had the idea,” Hall said. “We’re doing it for fun.”

Newsum-Hall called Lovelady “the bomb of southern cooking.”

Lovelady, 34, originally from Alabama, began her restaurant career as a front of house person but gradually shifted to the kitchen.

“I’ve been cooking all my life,” she said, “and the kitchen was a more natural place for me. It’s more of an artistic outlet, and cooking is a medium I can support myself with.” She “worked all over the place,” but in Memphis cooked at McEwen’s on Monroe and then followed Mac Edwards to The Elegant Farmer. The menu at Evelyn & Olive, she said, “is the kind that allows for creativity.”

Lovelady definitely had input into the menu, said Newsum-Hall. “We changed the menu because she would say you don’t have to have this or you do have to have that. Her experience was invaluable.”

“She’s a real complement to the team,” said Hall.

Lovelady deprecates. “I’m not a real chef,” she said, “I’m just a real good line cook. Thank goodness, they don’t agree.”

The menu at Evelyn & Olive offers a handful of dishes appropriate for vegetarians and vegans – the Kingston cabbage, the rice and peas, the “Rasta Pasta” and “Marley Meal,” the black bean tacos – and Lovelady would like to expand that aspect.

“I try to be mindful of vegan,” she said. “That’s very important. I certainly want it to be an option, and it works for our audience. It’s not just the politics, I don’t get involved in that. It’s just that everyone has the right to a fantastic meal whatever their philosophy is.”

The menu also offers a range of dishes for dedicated meat and fish eaters: jerk chicken and pork and shrimp, pork tenderloin, “Kingston stew fish,” a burger.

Newsum-Hall and her husband looked for the right space for their restaurant for about three years, at first casually and then more urgently at their dream took hold.

“Finally,” Newsum-Hall said, “my wonderful dad said ‘Look, I’m kind of sick of you going on this way,’ so we got a little financial help from him.” (Floyd Newsum contributed to local history by being one of the city’s first black firefighters.)

The location had been a bar and grill and had a kitchen – “well, a stove,” said Hall – and the couple did a great deal of the remodeling design and work, calling in contractors for the more complicated jobs like plumbing.

“Oh, the plumbing expenses,” Newsum-Hall said. “Sure there were unanticipated problems. That’s the nature of the business. You suck it up.”

Altogether, she said, “it’s exciting. It shows a lot of potential and promise. We could still do some growing” – the storefront just to the west in the same building is empty – “but it feels like what we wanted it to be.”

PROPERTY SALES 0 133 1,342
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