Serving Memphis

Organization connects hospitality industry with healthy lifestyle tools

By Sarah Baker

The hospitality industry is the nation’s largest private sector employer, yet many in its workforce do not have access to affordable and consistent health care, education opportunities or financial mentoring.

Wendy Pietri of The Shot Nurse administers a flu shot for Marquita Jasper and other employees of Tops Bar-B-Q as part of Serving Memphis. The program helps meet specific needs for service industry workers.  

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

That’s why a nonprofit organization called Serving Memphis was recently founded in memoriam by the families of restaurateurs and humanitarians Thomas Boggs, John Robertson and Jay Uiberall.

With the tagline, “serving those who serve you,” its purpose is to connect those in the local restaurant and hospitality sector with services that improve their overall wellbeing – tools that may otherwise be unavailable.

Serving Memphis does this through partnering with other established organizations such as Church Health Center, Memphis Restaurant Association, RISE Foundation and The Shot Nurse.

“What we endeavor to do is find needs in the hospitality and restaurant community and match them with existing programs by way of providing funding and incentives for people to take advantage of those programs,” said Michael Uiberall, father of the late Jay Uiberall and partner with Watkins Uiberall PLLC. “It’s honoring and giving back to an industry that helped three very prominent people succeed in life.”

Serving Memphis was founded by Wight Boggs of Huey’s Restaurant, Sandy Robertson of Alfred’s on Beale and the Jay Uiberall Legacy Fund, created last year to honor its namesake’s time at Alfred’s, Automatic Slim’s, Catering for U, Dyer’s on Beale and Ubee’s.

“We see the caring and giving that this restaurant community has,” Boggs said. “Yet we also see the people working in this industry who are poor, who have a difficult time getting to work because they live far away and the bus routes aren’t great, who don’t have health insurance, who can’t read – so you can’t keep them in the job that you’ve given them. What we want to do with Serving Memphis is to connect these individuals with programs that are already in place, but they might not be aware of.”

For instance, the RISE Foundation started its Common Cents program in 2004 to give employers the opportunity to provide their employees a better understanding of their finances. More than 1,000 Memphis-area employees from dozens of companies have successfully completed the curriculum in topics such as banking, budgeting, debt management, spending strategies and credit.

One of Serving Memphis’ most well-received efforts in its nine months in existence was when it subsidized a Common Cents course for housekeeping personnel at The Peabody hotel. Upon completion of the program, they received a $50 gift certificate to Target and two tickets to the Memphis Grizzlies.

“What we endeavor to do is find needs in the hospitality and restaurant community and match them with existing programs.”

–Michael Uiberall

“I was amazed at how quickly (Doug Browne and The Peabody) embraced it because they realized the importance for their employees as well as the need for it,” Uiberall said. “To us, that’s a perfect partnership. We provide no services, but we provided the funding for the program and the incentive for employees to take it.”

The main reason that Serving Memphis rewards its participants with retail and entertainment goodies is because a lot of the people it’s trying to reach fall in the 20- to 30-year-old age group.

“Sometimes they think they’re infallible or they don’t think they need all of this,” Boggs said. “So if you give them a little bit of an incentive, they’ll realize a little bit earlier in life that they do need these things.”

Another need that Serving Memphis recently identified was for hospitality workers that don’t have access to flu shots. By engaging The Shot Nurse and capitalizing on its marketing efforts, Serving Memphis was able to reach 500 individuals for the price of 400.

“There are certain criteria that you have to meet, and The Shot Nurse, if there’s 10 or more individuals at a restaurant, they will go to that restaurant and give the flu shots at no cost to the restaurant,” Boggs said. “Or an individual can go to The Shot Nurse, take a paycheck stub, show that and get a flu shot free of charge.”

Serving Memphis is currently supported by United Way of the Mid-South, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, First Tennessee Foundation and the Memphis Grizzlies Charitable Foundation. Its board includes Uiberall, Boggs, Robertson, the Half Shell’s Danny Sumrall, Patrick’s Steaks & Spirits Mike Miller and Memphis Restaurant Association executive director Kimberly Carlson.

The next three months for Serving Memphis will be an evaluation period, where the nonprofit will conduct due diligence on the possibility of future programs such as literacy education, allergy screenings and alcohol and drug support.

“Right now, we really want to perfect and polish what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” Boggs said. “Once we do that, at some point in the future, we would hope to be able to market it and promote and make it bigger and better.”

Serving Memphis’ founding members have agreed to fund the organization for the next three years. But Uiberall said it won’t be much longer before they seek “key supporters to drop in some bucks.”

“The restaurant industry is really a close group and does care about community service,” Uiberall said. “I’m cocky enough to think there’s enough people in that community that could give $5,000 or $10,000 to an organization that helps that industry.”