VOL. 130 | NO. 221 | Thursday, November 12, 2015
SMALL BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT
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Office@Uptown Serves Neighborhood
By LANCE WIEDOWER
When Valerie Peavy bought the building at 594 N. Second St. in 2011, it was a furniture store that had been a community fixture in Uptown for years.
And to say what has become The Office@Uptown always was her vision wouldn’t even be close to correct. Peavy didn’t have a solid idea, other than maybe finding a spot closer to her Mud Island home where she could find her next professional endeavor.
Retired contractor and East Memphis resident Frank Inman Jr. comes to The Office@Uptown regularly to work on his memoir. “I get a lot of work done here,” Inman said.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
But out of a renovation came a vision for an Uptown neighborhood gathering spot. The Office@Uptown, which opened in April 2013, is a mix of workspace – with desks, office equipment, Wi-Fi and a conference room – and cafe, which serves sandwiches, soups and salads.
“I often said imagine Panera Bread and Kinko’s merging,” she said. “I knew it would work. It’s a place where people come to meet and make friends.”
Peavy’s career has varied. Her computer services company provided products for Memphis City Schools. She also worked as a contractor for IBM. Figuring out her next career phase wasn’t so clear.
“I had no intention of getting back into offering products,” she said. “I started re-examining what I wanted to do with the second phase of life. Whatever office I bought, I wanted to have flexibility if I wanted to do something drastic I could. I was looking at how this could be a social enterprise. That was the purpose of the conference room, so we could do one-on-one training.”
As a Mud Island resident, Peavy drove by the Uptown neighborhood daily for her commute out East. She looked at properties in Downtown’s south end, but ultimately was attracted to Uptown because of its up-and-coming status and the variety of properties available. By that time, she had begun to shift out of the computer services business.
Owning her own business has been difficult, particularly in the early days. About seven months after opening, Peavy was diagnosed with cancer.
“Everybody held their breath,” she said. “Everything in me said we won’t miss a beat.”
Thanks to employees from her former business who came in and helped, Office@Uptown continued in Peavy’s absence. She returned in May 2014, and since that time the business continues to see steady growth based on the neighborhood.
Gale Ratliff prepares a croissant egg sandwich, which has proven to be a popular menu item with the breakfast crowd at The Office@Uptown.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
“Now we have this group that never knew each other that meet up,” Peavy said. “It’s a gathering place.”
Office@Uptown features dining tables in the center with casual workspaces in the front. There is a sofa and chairs and bookcases that serve as a free lending library.
Peavy already owned much of the office equipment and furniture. Much like a traditional coffee shop, patrons can be seen sitting around worktables eating, sipping coffee and working on laptops.
The business is a casual dining concept, where patrons order food at the register and then it’s delivered to their tables.
The typical customer works in the Downtown area, Peavy said. There is a heavy mix of government employees, from the health department and city and county offices to Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division workers and area school staff.
Office@Uptown hosted groups of young people during the recent Memphis election season. One customer rented the conference room during the summer as a teaching space.
The 3,800-square-foot restaurant and remote working spot has two part-time and four full-time employees. It’s open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
As far as the name, well, there is a little play on words. Peavy said many of her family members and friends wanted her to change it, but she was really attached to the @ sign.
“Part of that was a play on words,” she said. “You can stay all day and you can say, ‘I’m at the office.’ Depending on who you’re talking to, they might think you’re sitting hard at work at a desk, and you might be – here. But it’s a nice atmosphere.”