VOL. 130 | NO. 195 | Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Eat Here Brands Keeps Memphis Restaurants on Cutting Edge
By Andy Meek
A Jackson, Miss.-based restaurant company with some key holdings in Memphis is working hard to stay on the cutting edge of the culinary scene here.
Line chef Phillip Harris puts finishing touches on monkfish entrees at Interim restaurant in East Memphis. Eat Here Brands operates Interim and Babalu in Overton Square.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
At East Memphis’ Interim Restaurant and Bar, operated by Eat Here Brands, that ambition is manifesting itself in an updated lineup of management and culinary talent as well as tweaks around the edges of the dining experience.
Al Roberts, executive vice president and director of culinary development for Eat Here Brands, said the upscale eatery’s recent hires include a new general manager and executive chef. The company also is looking at things like possibly expanding the menu and, in Roberts’ words, “taking the level of service up another notch.”
Jake Miller is the restaurant’s new general manager, succeeding Lisa Franklin, who had been in the position a little less than a decade. Franklin left this summer to take a catering position with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Perhaps in recognition of how familiar her face was around the restaurant, a prominent business lunch spot, Interim posted on Facebook this summer that her successor “has big shoes to fill.”
Miller, though, is no stranger to the Eat Here Brands family. He’s rejoined the company after previously serving as the general manager with its other key Memphis property, Babalu Tacos & Tapas in Overton Square, when it opened last year in Overton Square.
Meanwhile, Sam Miller – no relation to the new general manager – has been tapped as interim’s new executive chef.
The company’s goal, Roberts said, is for the new talent to help Interim continue to do what it’s always done: rise to the next level in terms of service and the quality of the customer experience.
Interim staff from left: sous chef Sepand Mazahery, executive chef Sam Miller, manager Daniel Alston, sous chef BJ Cook, general manager Jake Miller and pastry chef Franck Oysel.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
“We want Interim to remain one of the favorite neighborhood restaurants – very, very culinary-forward, to continue to do our farm-to-fork emphasis and working with a lot of local suppliers,” Roberts said. “We have no desire for any of our management team or culinary people to ever hear the word ‘corporate.’
“We also want to possibly expand the menu somewhat, maybe have more specialty dinners. But even more important – I don’t care how great or exemplary your food is – if your service isn’t stellar and you’re not comfortable with your server, that’s going to hurt you more than the quality of the food, in my opinion.”
Babalu, meanwhile, continues to thrive. Roberts said the Overton Square eatery will track “north of $4.5 million in sales” this year, a testament to a particularly winning formula the company has hit on with the Babalu concept.
“Our volume there is through the roof,” Roberts said, adding that Babalu’s uniqueness is part of the appeal.
For an indication of the brand’s distinctiveness, he said the guacamole served tableside at the restaurant represents 10 percent of the company’s sales – “just that one menu item.”
The formula also calls for an insistence on quality – fresh squeezed juice, craft beers, top quality ingredients and the like – and the leadership tends to look for urban settings with a younger appeal in deciding where to place new Babalu locations.
“It’s not a suburban-type restaurant,” Roberts said. “It’s been overwhelming, the response Babalu has gotten at Overton Square. I think it’s kind of hit a nerve.
“We’re constantly tweaking our concepts and trying to stay relevant, better and different. That’s what’s going to keep you on trend. A lot of times, it’s harder to bring something back that’s gotten stale than it is to say on the cutting edge.”