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VOL. 132 | NO. 179 | Friday, September 8, 2017

Belly Acres Co-Owners Open New Concept

By Andy Meek

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Ben McLean, co-owner of the Overton Square burger restaurant Belly Acres, has been thinking about expanding his Memphis-area restaurant interests for a few years now.

Next week, that appetite for something new will see the opening of McLean’s second eatery, Tennessee Taco Company, in the Poplar Avenue space formerly occupied by Los Compadres.

Ben McLean and Belly Acres chef Rob Ray are launching their restaurant at 3295 Poplar Ave., which they took inspiration in part from Torchy’s Tacos in Austin, Texas, on Monday, Sept. 11. The “soft” opening is planned for the evening of Sept. 7.

The co-owners of the Overton Square burger restaurant Belly Acres are opening Tennessee Taco Company Monday in space formerly occupied by Los Compadres. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee Taco Company)

The new restaurant’s menu will feature about two dozen street tacos – Ray calls them “progressive tacos” – along with several different sides and salads, as well as fresh guacamole and doughnuts of the day.

“We’ve got quesadillas, we’ve got a big burrito, fun appetizers,” McLean said. “We’ve got what we call pot o’tots, and it’s literally a kettle of tater tots with things like queso and cheddar and sausage on them. So it’ll be just good, fun food. A lot like Belly Acres, the quality of Belly Acres – but tacos.”

Fans of Belly Acres should recognize a similar vibe. The menu is a mix of quality and comfort food. A playful vibe dominates the Overton Square space, from the name of the restaurant to the decor to the menu items, an atmosphere that will be carried over to Tennessee Taco Company with its street taco-focused concept.

After taking over the former Los Compadres space, the new team closed it in July and did what McLean described as an extensive cleaning of the kitchen. The inside was also repainted, and a new mural added. The tables and chairs were all changed - basically, an effort to “give it a refresh.”

A Facebook page has already been created for the business, which showcases a design that includes vibrant colors and a quasi-Day of the Dead motif.

“This will be the second project we watch every day,” McLean said. “We help out with some others, but those are just sort of consulting.”

Belly Acres opened on a date befitting its sense of lightheartedness, a physical manifestation of which can be seen via the 1950s-style crop duster protruding through one of the walls. The restaurant opened on Dec. 13, 2014, or 12/13/14.

A year later, McLean was already talking up plans to open more Belly Acres locations, with ambitions to grow the concept maybe even outside of Memphis.

More Belly Acres are still going to happen. That’s the plan, McLean said at week’s end; it’s just that the opportunity to develop what would become Tennessee Taco Company came first.

Trying to achieve something new – something out of the ordinary that customers especially respond to – has been a driving force behind what McLean and Ray wanted to do with Belly Acres, as well as with the new place.

Memphis, Ray told The Daily News after Belly Acres first opened, didn’t have the kind of burger restaurant he and McLean wanted to launch.

With Tennessee Taco Company, McLean said he and Ray are bringing a “Texas-inspired, Tennessee-perfected taco concept” to the city that they also want to help make “the culinary capital of Tennessee.”

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