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VOL. 8 | NO. 35 | Saturday, August 22, 2015

Brookhaven Boom

Circle has become East Memphis' main restaurant destination

By Lance Wiedower

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Downtown has the South Main Historic Arts District and the Main Street core. Midtown has Cooper-Young, Overton Square and the Broad Avenue Arts District, among others.

Fino's owner Jerry Wilson walks through construction on his new property at 703 W. Brookhaven Circle, which he purchased in June.

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

In East Memphis, defining a proper restaurant and entertainment district might seem to be more difficult, but in fact it’s existed all along on Brookhaven Circle. It’s just taken a few new restaurant openings to bring the neighborhood into full focus.

Activity in the Brookhaven Circle scene has been going for years, from the now-closed Circle Café and Rampage Bar and Grill to The Windjammer and Brookhaven Pub & Grill. But it’s been the past few years that the neighborhood’s status has been elevated, thanks in part to the work of Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman, co-owners of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Hog & Hominy and Porcellino’s Craft Butcher.

Now, Jerry Wilson is bringing his Midtown institution, Fino’s from the Hill, to Brookhaven Circle, which will add to the neighborhood’s overall scene as well as its Italian-centric core. Fino’s East is set to open in October.

“I spent years working at Rampage and Circle Café so I’m very versed on how busy Brookhaven Circle used to be,” Wilson said. “Brookhaven Pub is killing it and then (Hudman and Ticer) opened their stuff and it got crazy. I was sitting there the beginning of March and saw the building was for sale and I couldn’t believe it. I jumped on it."

Wilson said he purchased the Midtown Fino’s, at 1853 Madison Ave., with the intent to one day open an East Memphis location. Clark Tower and I Bank Tower, with their combined nearly 1 million square feet, form the vertical backbone of the thriving East Memphis office submarket and sit adjacent to Brookhaven Pub & Grill, Hog & Hominy, Porcellino’s, Bangkok Alley and now Fino’s.

“If you can’t do business next to the two towers, you’re not doing something right,” he said. “So the opportunity is absolutely there.”

And that’s just the restaurants that back up to Clark Tower. Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen sits on the east side of West Brookhaven Circle. Over on East Brookhaven Circle there is Windjammer and Marciano, among others.

Landon Williams, vice president of Cushman & Wakefield/Commercial Advisors, was part of the team that represented the building sale for Fino’s East at 703 W. Brookhaven Circle.

“I’m really high on the Brookhaven Circle area,” Williams said. “I think to some extent everything builds on each other. With the Whole Foods, the other restaurants closer to Sanderlin, the movie theater, Clark Tower – there is a lot of activity Monday through Friday to support the restaurants. It’s got all the makings and we’re really high on it.”

(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)

Les Binkley, vice president at Boyle Investment Co., said there is plenty of potential for the Brookhaven Circle neighborhood to rival some of the city’s great culinary destinations. Part of that is connecting to the larger neighborhood and its quality residential and commercial uses.

“But the broader opportunity is within the entire super block – Poplar, White Station, Mendenhall and Sanderlin – where Brookhaven Circle is,” he said. “If this zone can reinvent itself and become more walkable and knitted together, it could become quite a compelling place because there are already so many great uses within this super block, but they are poorly connected.”

There are challenges in addition to the connectivity, mainly parking. While not unique to Memphis and its other restaurant districts, parking woes are more unusual in car-centric East Memphis.

Brookhaven Circle resembles a residential street with small commercial buildings lining both sides. There are small parking lots and street parking, but as more restaurants find their way onto the circle, those spaces will be more difficult to find.

“The one challenge that needs a solution is the parking,” Williams said. “Brookhaven Pub has done a good job. They bought the lot next to them. At some point how do you overcome that challenge, how do you get a solution for parking?”

Wilson knows parking woes at Fino’s, where its tight space at the corner of Madison and McLean Boulevard sits within feet of the street.

“People in Midtown don’t care where they park. They figure it out,” he said. “I think in East Memphis they’ll do the same. It just won’t be necessarily the norm. I know people will walk over from the tower.”

One of the beauties of the area is that it’s within minutes of thousands of office workers and East Memphis residents in the larger area. Wilson said that while his restaurant can thrive on just the immediate neighborhood around Brookhaven Circle, the wider community presents so much potential.

“Most of the people I’ve heard major excitement from about our opening are from the Ridgeway Loop because there aren’t many restaurants in there,” he said. “They have high-end restaurants close but it’s all corporate stuff. They’re four or five minutes down (Poplar) and they can come down and quickly get back to Ridgeway and it’s a regular lunch.”

With the strong activity already, is there room for more? Williams said he believes so but it will have to be the right opportunity.

“It will be scenarios where you have an individual owner who for whatever reason decides to put it up for sale and you have a user that wants to come in with a restaurant concept to redevelop the property.”

PROPERTY SALES 57 94 2,713
MORTGAGES 16 37 1,820
BUILDING PERMITS 303 621 6,322
BANKRUPTCIES 138 138 1,115