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VOL. 132 | NO. 185 | Monday, September 18, 2017

Panel: Memphis a Food Town in Which Restaurants Build Community

By Andy Meek

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High Cotton Brewing Co. co-founder Brice Timmons has a quote he jokingly uses to describe the life of a beer brewer in Memphis.

“The craft of making beer is the art of manipulating nature in the pursuit of pleasure,” he explains. “Opening a brewery is taking all the pleasure you get from brewing that beer and squandering it in the pursuit of profit.”

Panelists at The Daily News’ most recent small-business-focused seminar included The Majestic Grille co-owner Deni Reilly; High Cotton Brewing Co. co-founder Brice Timmons; Chris Canale Jr., president and CEO of D. Canale & Co.; and attorney Alan Crone. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

There’s a bit more to it than that, of course, but he’s making a larger point about the business challenges of an operation like his, as well as what life is increasingly like for operators of food and drink enterprises in an increasingly dynamic food town like Memphis.

The industry statewide is projected to bring in more than $12 billion in sales in 2017, according to The Majestic Grille co-owner Deni Reilly. To Timmons’ half-serious point, it’s not all about math and profit, of course, though Reilly and her husband, Patrick, recently launched a consulting arm of their business as a kind of creative way to expand, rather than overextending themselves.

What she and some fellow industry insiders stressed to an audience at The Daily News’ most recent small-business-focused seminar – at which she was part of a panel of experts focused on Memphis’ status as a food destination – was the importance of using restaurants to build and support community.

“It’s easy sometimes for those of us in the industry to not treat our business with the seriousness it deserves, or look at it through rose-colored glasses,” Reilly said. “Restaurant jobs can be looked on as temporary or a stepping stone to that real job you want. People have a really romantic idea of what owning a restaurant takes.

“It can help define a community. (Restaurants) give us a chance to come together over a shared passion. It raises our level of togetherness … Which now seems way more important than ever.”

The panel included Timmons; Reilly; attorney Alan Crone; and Chris Canale Jr., president and CEO of D. Canale & Co. It was sponsored by Triumph Bank and The Crone Law Firm.

To add to her point about community, Reilly also pointed inside The Majestic Grille, which turned 11 in May. Employees, she said, are treated like family and given a stable income, health insurance and time off. What’s more, she estimates about 20 percent of the restaurant’s employees have been with the business for eight years or more.

Panelists at The Daily News’ most recent small-business-focused seminar chat with attendees. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

Likewise with Timmons, who said High Cotton is more than just “a place where we make beer.”

“We saw it as an opportunity to revitalize a neighborhood,” he said. “We made every single mistake you can make opening a capital-intensive business, and somehow we survived all that. And a year and a half later, we were opening a taproom.

“Small businesses, especially in the food and beverage industry, are the glue that hold communities together. In the parlance of city planning, they call them third places. They’re the places people go when they’re not at home and not at their job. And if you create the kind of place where people go and they feel comfortable and they can buy something that makes them feel talkative – whether that’s beer, coffee, little bit of liquor – then people will start to interact and build relationships. And those relationships are what create community and make communities dynamic and vibrant.”

Crone offered a few must-do’s from a lawyer’s perspective that entrepreneurs should keep in mind:

– Running a restaurant shouldn’t be treated as an in-between job until the real one comes along.

– Don’t treat job descriptions as “a check-off item,” something to measure candidates against and then check off boxes.

– Build a relationship with a banker, accountant, financial planner and the like. “You’d be amazed at the executives and entrepreneurs that come to see me and I say, ‘OK, who’s your team?’ And I’m the only professional person they’ve ever visited with.”

– And “You need to have good agreements with vendors, good agreements with your customers, if applicable, with your employees – you need to think through what they say and are they customized to your particular situation.”

PROPERTY SALES 57 280 1,209
MORTGAGES 55 244 916
BUILDING PERMITS 158 699 2,751