VOL. 132 | NO. 15 | Friday, January 20, 2017
The Tipping Point
Restaurateur Couple Make Downtown Feel Like Home
BY LANCE WIEDOWER, Special to The Daily News
Memphis stands at the threshold of incredible possibility. In this series, we introduce innovative Memphians who are driving our city forward and forging its future success.
More than streets and buildings, neighborhoods are made of the people who live and work in them. Just ask Deni and Patrick Reilly. Over the last 10 years, as co-owners of the Majestic Grille, they’ve left their mark on Downtown Memphis.
“I’ve been in Memphis 18 years, and we love it,” Deni says. “I’ve always been about Downtown. Since I’ve been here I’ve been in absolute awe of living on the Mississippi River.”
Originally from Ireland, Patrick moved to Memphis in 2000 to open the former Gibson Guitar Showcase Lounge. Deni came from Philadelphia in 1998 when her employer, Doubletree Hotels, merged with Memphis-based Promus Hotels. She says she loved music and thought it would be fun to follow the company to Memphis.
Deni and Patrick Reilly (Ziggy Mack)
In fact, it was music that brought the two together; Deni met Patrick while attending a concert at the Gibson Lounge.
The Reillys married in September 2005 and opened the Majestic in 2006. But those early days weren’t easy for the fledgling couple or their restaurant. At the time, the Reillys imagined that Downtown was turning a corner – and then the Great Recession hit.
“Year two was touch and go,” Patrick recalls, with characteristic Irish brevity. “It was a tough time for us.”
Since then, the Majestic has consistently grown, today employing 85 full- and part-time workers. This past July, the Reillys were able to capitalize on their success by offering their employees paid time off, one of just a handful of local restaurants to do so.
“Deni and I want to enjoy time away from work and invest in our personal lives,” Patrick observes. “We think our employees should have the same.”
“We knew we were going to be spending a lot of time together,” Deni adds. “So the question becomes, what kind of workplace culture do we want to create?”
The Majestic is part of the larger wave of development that recently has occurred along Main Street between Peabody Place and Union Avenue. When developers eyed the block in the mid-2000s, they saw a neighborhood replete with restaurants, retail and residential. As it turns out, the Reillys saw it too. They don’t just work downtown; they live there.
“When we were building our business plan, everyone said we should prioritize tourists,” Deni recalls. “But to be honest, we designed this as a neighborhood gathering spot.”
The restaurant’s location near The Orpheum Theatre and Beale Street does make it an appealing destination for many visitors, and the Reillys have trained their staff to be ambassadors for the city. But they maintain that the neighborhood is their top priority – specifically residents and workers who stop in for a weekday lunch or a cozy dinner.
“What I love about Memphis is that it’s possible to make a big impact,” Deni says. “It doesn’t take years; you don’t have to know the right people.”
The Reillys are excited about the future of Downtown, especially as it becomes a hub for artists and creatives. Much of their daytime business derives from nearby AutoZone, and they’re eager for the arrival of ServiceMaster, which will relocate to Downtown later this year. The company’s new corporate headquarters is just a block away from the Majestic.
“We love being here,” Patrick says. “We always tell our staff: We’re not in the restaurant business. We’re in the Downtown Memphis business.”
Deni and Patrick Reilly are graduates of the New Memphis Fellows program. Learn more at newmemphis.org.