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VOL. 128 | NO. 2 | Thursday, January 3, 2013

Restaurants See Plenty of Activity in 2012

By Sarah Baker

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There were new restaurant openings, expansions and major milestones celebrated.

Alliances were formed, events were debuted and, of course, a few joints were shuttered.

In most respects, 2012 was a banner year for the Memphis food scene, and 2013 could be even more promising, said Patrick Reilly, owner of Majestic Grille and president of the Memphis Restaurant Association.

“I’m really much more optimistic for this coming year than I was last year,” Reilly said. “I think that the story we have now is so much more compelling than it was even five years ago.”

Memphis welcomed novel concepts to its food portfolio with Hog and Hominy, Aldo’s Pizza Pies, Double J Smokehouse and Saloon, E’s 24 Hour Café, Crazy Noodle, Mulan Asian Bistro, Frida’s Mexican Restaurante and Low Arts Tea Haven. Bon Ton Café reopened and Dancing Jimmy’s filled Pat O’Brien’s space Downtown.

Reilly said his goal for the next two years as association president is to continue to put Memphis on the national culinary map.

“If we can get these restaurants that have opened in the last 12 months, and then some of these chefs that have been here for a long time like Erling (Jensen) and Jose (Gutierrez), we can put together this cohesive group and try and market ourselves as a destination,” Reilly said. “There’s a group of people out here doing some really fun and creative stuff. With the farmers and the farmers markets – local caviar, local beef, local pork – we’re doing it every bit as good as New York, Boston or Atlanta.”

What’s more, the Bluff City felt the love from various national platforms. Memphis restaurants were filmed for “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives;” “Food Paradise;” and “Chuck’s Eat the Street.” Project Green Fork was featured in The Washington Times and Felicia Suzanne Willet was invited to cook at the James Beard House in the Big Apple. Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman were nominated for both Food and Wine magazine’s People’s Choice: Best New Chef Southeast and also James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southeast award.

“I think that the story we have now is so much more compelling than it was even five years ago.”

–Patrick Reilly
President, Memphis Restaurant Association

“It certainly means that the people who make those nominations are paying attention to what’s happening in Memphis,” Reilly said. “That’s what’s really important.”

Local eateries also expanded their footprints in 2012. Sakura, Las Delicias, Mesquite Chop House, Local Gastropub, Central BBQ and Osaka Japanese Cuisine all added new stores. Broadway Pizza bought the building behind the Belmont Grill for its new East Memphis location after having a presence on Broad for 35 years. YoLo Frozen Yogurt and Gelato expanded into the University of Memphis dining hall and select Malco Theaters. And Chiwawa Restaurant inched closer to completing its buildout in the old Chicago Pizza Factory digs near Overton Square.

Companies growing their kitchens included Muddy’s Bake Shop, Bluff City Coffee and Cooper Street 20/20. Rock ‘n’ Dough Pizza sought its first brick-and-mortar location following a successful stint operating a food truck and supplying Trolley Stop Market. Charles Vergos Rendezvous entered FedExForum and Fuel Café’s veggie burgers were stocked on the shelves at Whole Foods – which is also in the midst of adding space for a bigger store.

Meanwhile, national franchises chose to set up shop in some of Memphis’ top shopping centers – BGR The Burger Joint opened in Ridgeway Trace, and deals were finalized for Taziki’s Mediterranean Café in Mendenhall Commons and Bar Louie in Overton Square. Panera Bread and Five Guys Burgers and Fries began construction on respective Midtown stores, both on Union Avenue, and Wingstop opened a Poplar Avenue location near Perkins Road.

Big anniversaries were observed, as Felicia Suzanne’s turned 10, Java Cabana turned 20, Café Ole turned 25, and Molly’s La Casita turned 30. Memphis hosted a variety of culinary parties for the first time – including Cochon 555, Cochon Heritage BBQ, Southern Foodways Alliance and Best Memphis Burger Festival.

Memphis Food Truck Alliance and a new nonprofit organization benefiting under-served hospitality workers called Serving Memphis were formed. Plans were executed for Green Girl Produce, Memphis Made Brewing Co. and High Cotton Brewery. And the Rendezvous and Aldo’s added delivery services to the 38103 ZIP code.

Memphis also bid farewell to a handful of classics – Neely’s Bar-B-Cue, Do Sushi-Noodles, Cockadoos, American Café and Escape Alley-Sundry. Hostess Brands Inc. went out of business and closed its Downtown Wonder Bread factory. Easy Way shuttered its original Main Street store and Ronnie Grisanti ceased operations at Chickasaw Crossing.

The Hi-Tone Café announced the end to its 15-year stint in Midtown, and the fate of the Super Submarine Sandwich Shop (also known as Chinese Sub Shop) on the University of Memphis Highland strip was questioned due to the building being sold.

PROPERTY SALES 56 295 6,392
MORTGAGES 26 180 4,035
BUILDING PERMITS 128 840 15,361
BANKRUPTCIES 31 153 3,270