N O. 43
MEMPHIS FOOD, FARM AND COMMUNITY IN THE MID-SOUTH
PING E TIP
E N O U G H?
• P H O B I N H’S M E M P H I S-S T
FU • S
Member of Edible Communities
Get a Taste of Church Health!
You’re invited to learn and experience well-being in Church Health Nutrition Hub at Crosstown Concourse. FREE COMMUNITY CLASSES • TEAM-BUILDING ACTIVITIES • ART OF DINNER • SPECIAL EVENTS • TEACHING KITCHEN & DINING ROOM
3/20/2019 3:38:14 PM
Family owned and operated since 1948.
LETTER FROM PUBLISHER
ARE WE TIPPING ENOUGH?
BY BILL GANUS • PORTRAIT BY MICHAEL BUTLER, JR.
The short answer: Probably not
ART BY SHRIDHAR ATHINARAYANAN
BY STACEY GREENBERG • PORTRAIT BY MICHAEL BUTLER, JR.
BY STACEY GREENBERG • PHOTOS BY KIM THOMAS
LETTER FROM EDITOR
What it takes to keep neighborhood grocery stores in business
BY EMMA MESKOVIC
10 RISING STAR
REPLENISH THE KOMBUCHA
BY ANDY MEEK • PHOTOS BY RICHARD LAWRENCE
42 KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL
Angel Jackson’s probiotic tea keeps customers asking for more
The “work hard, play hard” culture in the restaurant industry has driven some to addiction, but that culture is shifting as attitudes around sobriety are changing
BY DALISIA BRYE • PHOTOS BY KIM THOMAS
12 THE BUZZ
An interview with Maurice Henderson
BY BIANCA PHILLIPS • PHOTOS BY MICHAEL BUTLER, JR.
46 BACK OF THE HOUSE
THE POINT-BLANK TRUTH OF BOBBY ELLIS
BY STACEY GREENBERG • PHOTOS BY ZIGGY MACK
Fifty-one years of life at the Rendezvous
Brandon Pugh embraces the queer farm movement
BY JAYNE ELLEN WHITE • PHOTOS BY HOUSTON COFIELD
50 ROAD THERAPY
COME DOWN TO COMO
BY SARAH HAGAMAN • PHOTOS BY BREEZY LUCIA
Get there fast, then take it slow
20 LADY BOSSES
GREEN GIRL PRODUCE
A full-on nature-science embrace
BY STACEY GREENBERG • PHOTOS BY RICHARD LAWRENCE
54 DARING DUO
BY ERIKA CAIN • PHOTOS BY JUSTIN FOX BURKS
One order of pickled tongue, please
24 TRASH TALK
THE MAGIC OF COMPOSTING
The Compost Fairy turns your scraps into soil
BY JULIA MCCLOY • PHOTOS BY CHIP CHOCKLEY
56 EDIBLE INK
SEED TO CUP
BY HEIDI RUPKE • PHOTOS BY JUSTIN FOX BURKS
Explicit origins to erroneous extracts
28 LOCAL LOVIN’
Midtown institution Pho Binh has been dishing up its famous fried tofu for 18 years BY BIANCA PHILLIPS • PHOTOS BY BREEZY LUCIA
32 MEET THE MAKER
ANITA: THE HARDWORKING PUPUSERA Anita, la de las pupusas
BY ALEJANDRO PAREDES • PHOTOS BY ANDREA MORALES
2 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
STORY AND ILLUSTRATION BY ERIN KIM
Thank you to these locally owned businesses that make Memphis a better, tastier city
spring/summer 2019 PUBLISHER Bill Ganus firstname.lastname@example.org EDITOR AT LARGE Brian Halweil @brianhalweil EDITOR IN CHIEF Stacey Greenberg email@example.com COPY EDITOR Manda Gibson AD SALES firstname.lastname@example.org DIGITAL CONTENT CREATOR Emma Meskovic email@example.com DESIGN AND LAYOUT Chloe Hoeg chloehoeg.com FOLLOW US Facebook: Edible Memphis Instagram: @ediblememphis Website: ediblememphis.com Every effort is made to avoid errors, misspellings and omissions. If, however, an error comes to your attention, please accept our apologies. Thank you. No part of this publication may be used without written permission of the publisher. © 2019 All Rights Reserved.
ON THE COVER Green Girl’s microgreen names include Band of Misfits, Spicy Green Girl, and Mirepoix Mix, their newest concoction. Page 20. Photo: Justin Fox Burks ON THIS PAGE Delta Sol’s Butch Flowers. Page 16. Photo: Breezy Lucia ediblememphis.com 3
keep good dirt from going bad. compost scraps
grow FO O D
Rizzo's always wanted to be that restaurant you couldn't live without. Thanks to our community’s graciousness during our renovations, you never had to live without us!
now back h om e - 492 -
S ou t h m a in s t re e
901.304.6985 4 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
LETTER FROM THE PUBLISHER
Photo: Michael Butler, Jr.
Shridhar Athinarayanan, 12th grader at White Station High School, illustrates how food sustains our lives.
e love being a part of the Mid-South farm and food community. We love every single day that we get to spend with farmers, chefs, restaurateurs, makers and other leaders who do their part to embrace and elevate food and agriculture in the Memphis area. Recently, I was invited to contribute to a panel discussion with one of our region’s anchor institutions, the Agricenter International. One of the key programs at their National Ag Day Celebration was an art competition in which students around the region were invited to submit art that represented their relationships with and perspectives on agriculture. I love art, and I love kids. Guilt-ridden by my realization that I rarely include kids in my research or planning, I have tried to commit to ensuring that a diversity of ages informs my views. A tiny piece of that inclusion is the beautiful painting on this page by Shridhar Athinarayanan, a 12th-grade student at White Station High School. Shridhar won his age group’s art competi-
tion at the Agricenter event, and his piece inspired me and the rest of the group with its anticipation of new growth, literally and figuratively. We need more growth. We need more conversations. And we need the action that follows those conversations. We need to be open to reminders from people who don’t look like us or act like us or think like us. We’re looking forward to continuing to ask, to learn, to write and to experience the growth of this amazing community. •
BILL GANUS Publisher Follow: @billganus ediblememphis.com 5
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
6 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
McCarter of City Tasting Tours and with the Downtown Memphis Commission to bring you the inaugural Craft Food & Wine Festival (back cover) at The Columns on June 23. The festival will showcase locally produced breads, cheeses, fruit preserves, cured meats and more from 40 vendors. An on-site shop will offer attendees an opportunity to purchase sampled foods and drinks. Proceeds benefit Church Health. Coffee, farmers markets and special events are just the beginning. With so much going on this spring and summer, we couldn’t possibly contain it all in one magazine. Be sure to follow us online for all of the latest happenings. •
STACEY GREENBERG Editor in Chief Follow: @nancy_jew
Photos: Michael Butler, Jr.
s there anything better than spring and summer Saturdays in the Mid-South? I like to start mine off with a cup of coffee and a trip to a farmers market and then hit the road for an adventure. Some days my cup of coffee (at least the first one!) is brewed at home. I like to pick up beans from local shops and on trips so I can learn about roasters from around the region and the world and then practice my pour-over skills. Other days I like to sit in a sunny window and let someone else brew my coffee and tell me all about it. I’ve found that baristas here are quite passionate, extremely knowledgeable and more than happy to tell you about brewing methods, roasting processes, the different growers and regions, and so on. My interview with Maurice Henderson (page 12) opened my eyes to the dark past of coffee and the importance of drinking it black, and has inspired me to learn all that I can. A simple and easy start was The New Rules of Coffee: A Modern Guide for Everyone by Jordan Michelman and Zachary Carlsen, the founders and editors of sprudge.com, which covers global coffee culture. This illustrated and easy-to-read guide is available at City & State. Thanks to local roaster Vice & Virtue and home roaster Tiffany Calhoun with LuLu’s, a good cup of coffee is also easily found at the Cooper-Young and downtown farmers markets. This year, we will have a third market on Saturdays—the all-new Chelsea Avenue Farmers Market in North Memphis. While it’s certainly possible to zip in and zip out with a bunch of kale or a bag of freshly grown tomatoes, it’s so much more fun to take the time to talk to the farmers and vendors. On Instagram, we’re introducing our readers to a new farmer or vendor every Saturday. Getting to know the growers and artisans at the markets has blended perfectly with my love of road trips (aka “Road Therapy”). I’m looking forward to visiting some of my favorite farms, thanks to special events like the farm dinner at Delta Sol (page 16) in Proctor, Arkansas, and Feast on the Farm at the Agricenter International in June (inside cover) and the Hill Country Boucherie and Blues Picnic at Home Place Pastures (page 50) in Como, Mississippi, in August. And let’s not forget lazy Sundays—now rebranded as Sunday Fundays. Edible Memphis will be joining forces with Cristina
$10 OFF your first box with the code
Our monthly farm share, is a great way to know exactly where your meat comes from. It's Delivered straight from our pastures to your door. With four sizes to fit any budget, there's something for everyone. So take a look.
H O M E P L A C E P A S T U R E S . C O M / CSA Untitled-1 1 4/4/2019 8:00:45 PM
menus, directions, and reservations @ edge-alley.com
“NOT YOUR ORDINARY PORK RINDS.
IT’S PAPA.” FOLLOW US @PAPABEARSKINS
order now at PAPABEARSKINS.COM 8 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
Chip Chockley, an attorney by day, has been a professional photographer since 2008. Things that make him happy include tacos, mai tais and his wife and kids. @chipchockley
Candice Baxter writes on homegrown food, kids and other topics out there shimmering. Born in Paris—not the French one, but Tennessee—she tells the truth like it is. With a BS in business and MFA in creative nonﬁction, Baxter has published local cover features in the Memphis Flyer, Memphis Parent and The Collierville Herald. For six years she taught English composition at L’École Culinaire. @cbaxsquared
Dalisia Brye is an award-winning publicist and CEO of Dollface Public Relations. She is also a social media strategist and marketing coordinator for several brands across the Mid-South. @dollfacelyfestyle
Justin Fox Burks has been a professional photographer for 20 years, but that’s not all. He photographed and co-authored two vegetarian cookbooks, The Southern Vegetarian: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table and The Chubby Vegetarian: 100 Inspired Vegetable Recipes for the Modern Table. He feels fortunate to be able to make interesting images for a living. @justinfoxburks
Michael Butler, Jr. loves everything Memphis. His goal is to show the beauty in Memphis that others overlook. He’s a photographer, videographer, Memphis tee collector, foodie, lover of tacos and mayor of South Memphis. @_one901
Erika Cain is a communications vet with chops in writing, public relations, graphic design, TV, radio and brand strategy. She is a skilled storyteller and has been a trusted adviser to executives and companies for almost two decades. Erika founded GIRL 24, a business mentoring initiative to help build a culture of gifted and ingenious female leaders. She is a spouse, mom, speaker, community volunteer and member of Junior League, and loves dissecting brands. @ecain_co
Houston Coﬁeld is a photographer and artist living and working in Memphis. He received his MFA in photography from the University of Illinois at Chicago and his BA in journalism from the University of Mississippi. He is a fourth generation photographer, all of which have photographed the American South. @houstoncoﬁeld
Sarah Hagaman is a native Tennessean who frequents the Memphis food scene. She has written for various publications, including Edible Nashville, The Oxford Student at England’s Oxford University and The Daily Beacon at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. @swagaman_
Erin Kim is a new neighbor in Memphis and its creative community. When she’s not barista-ing at City & State, she is teaching all things ESL at Connect Language Center to adult refugees and asylum seekers. She also writes about her experience as a Korean American adoptee on her blog, One of a Kim, at melloyelloyeoja.com. If she could do anything right now, it would be to road-trip across the country sharing stories and meals with new and old friends while jamming to some Anderson .Paak. @oneofakim7
Richard Lawrence takes pictures in and around the city of Memphis and the Mid-South. @sundayinmemphis
Breezy Lucia is a Memphis transplant from Kansas City, Missouri. She’s a freelance photographer and ﬁlmmaker living in Midtown. @breezylucia
Ziggy Mack is an internationally published photographer about town. When not immortalizing the movements of ballerinas, circus performers and mermaids, he spends his time ﬁnding candid moments involving delectable cuisines and the people that create them. @fomoloop
Julia McCloy is a writer living in Memphis. Laughing is her raison d’etre, which is French for her other raisin. She has two raisins. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s. @julia_mccloy
Andy Meek is a native Memphian whose work during a nearly two-decade career in journalism has appeared in outlets like The Guardian, The Washington Post and Fast Company. @andymeek
Emma Meskovic is the queen of all trades at Edible Memphis. You can ﬁnd her standing on a chair, taking photos of her food and saying, “Sorry! This is my job!” @emmamesk
Andrea Morales is a producer with the Southern Documentary Project at the University of Mississippi. She’s Peruvian-born, Miami-bred and Memphis-based. After years of existing in spaces heavy with the constructs of socioeconomic binaries, her work moves with the hope of observing the things in between. @_andrea_morales
Alejandro Paredes is an audiovisual journalist and producer. In 2014 he visited Memphis for the ﬁrst time and fell in love with the city. He has been involved in many initiatives to promote Latino culture, such as Cazateatro Bilingual Theatre Group, Ruta Memphis and New Mix FM. @panarkista
Bianca Phillips writes about vegan food (and shares images of everything she eats) on her blog, Vegan Crunk. She's the author of Cookin' Crunk: Eatin' Vegan in the Dirty South. By day, she works as the communications coordinator for Crosstown Arts/Crosstown Concourse. She and her partner, Paul, are the proud parents of ﬁve cats and one very stubborn (but adorable) pit bull. @biancaphillips
Heidi Rupke spends her days tending chickens and children, and defending her garden against squirrels. Her current food obsession is making the perfect pavlova. @rupkeheidi
Kim Thomas is a lifestyle blogger and photographer based in Memphis. Launched in September 2010, her blog KP Fusion provides of-the-moment fashion, style and beauty tips and trends with a little Memphis ﬂavor thrown in. @kpfusion
Jayne Ellen White has worked in the Memphis tourism industry for 11 years. She is a Memphis music history enthusiast and an adventurous home cook. She is the director of visitor experience at Stax Museum of American Soul Music. @jayne.ellen.vv
KOMBUCHA Angel Jackson’s probiotic tea keeps customers asking for more BY DALISIA BRY E • PHOTOGR APHS BY KIM THOMA S
10 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
“A lot of problems usually start in the gut, and my tea helps with detoxing that area.” Known in ancient Chinese times as “the tea of immortality,” kombucha has origins extending back over 2,000 years, researchers say. Although there’s no particular location of origin for kombucha, Memphis local Angel Jackson is ecstatic to have created her own brand, Replenish Kombucha, that’s currently filling the shelves at area markets, and soon will be available on tap. TRAGEDY CREATES A NEW OPPORTUNITY “I came from a family where we really cared about what we were putting into our bodies,” says Jackson. Her love of health and wellness was a genetic one, as her parents were devoted to herbal medicine. With her own love of natural herbal remedies, she took a leap of faith into part-time entrepreneurship, opening Replenish Cold-Press juice bar in Cordova in early 2015. However, after her mother-in-law passed away due to complications from diabetes later that year, it became a personal mission to help others with the same condition. “My motherin-law’s passing really gave me reason to start digging into what could I do to help, but how?” she says. After researching tirelessly, the pathways led her to close down her brick-and-mortar store and focus on making a new product, Replenish Kombucha. TRUST THE PROCESS Making the perfect batch of kombucha takes at least 30 days. During this period, the sugar-based tea ferments with the help of a bacteria culture scientifically known as a “SCOBY.” A SCOBY (an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”) is a jelly-like mushroom formation that transforms the tea into something bitter and sour. The bacteria and yeast eventually eat the sugar, creating a delicious, refreshing, non-alcoholic beverage that’s unbelievably low
in calories. With your first sip, you’ll notice a robust flavor packed with a natural sweetness that will leave you wanting more. Although there aren’t any proven healing properties in kombucha, loyal customers of Replenish seem to think otherwise. While some say the gluten-free beverage boosts their immune system, others have testified that the tea has helped their digestive system. “A lot of problems usually start in the gut, and my tea helps with detoxing that area,” says Jackson. “I usually drink kombucha in the morning to give me a natural boost. It has a similar kick like coffee, but it’s healthier, plus it tastes pretty good if you ask me.” THE FUTURE OF KOMBUCHA While kombucha is a very popular product in a growing market, there are very few kombucha dispensaries in the South, creating a lane that Jackson dominates. Hers is currently the only local kombucha brewery in Memphis. Her products tend to sell out as soon as she restocks them. She currently sells her product by the bottle and can at both Whole Foods locations, The Curb Market, City Silo, Cash Saver, Joe’s Wines & Liquor and the Memphis Farmers Market. Jackson plans to open a Replenish taproom this spring at her brewery. It will be open on Fridays and Saturdays to start. Taps will feature classic flavors, seasonal brews, teas and alkaline water. There will be a small food menu of fermented foods to complement the kombucha flavors: gouda, cheddar and vegan grilled cheese with pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi and olives. Memphis movies, documentaries, TV shows and music will play on a big screen (or speaker) back to back. • Replenish taproom and brewery; 2965 North Germantown Road #115; @replenishkombucha ediblememphis.com 11
cxffeeblack An interview with Maurice Henderson
BY STACE Y GREENBERG • PHOTOGR APHS BY ZIGGY MACK
aurice Henderson (also known by his pen name, Bartholomew Jones), 28, is a local creative currently creating hip-hop, working in education reform and making a lot of coffee. Henderson teaches eighth grade English at Sherwood Middle School—the last fully public middle school serving Orange Mound and Binghampton—and slings “spro” at the coffee shop inside Society Memphis in the Broad Avenue Arts District every Tuesday and Thursday night. He says Society Memphis has been a great supporter of his ideas, and they’ve allowed him to use the space as a lab of sorts. He grew up in Memphis and later attended Wheaton College in the Chicago suburbs, where he studied elementary education and sociology. In the process, he fell in love with music and art. “Like most people, when I got to college I started experimenting with alternatives. For me that was in music and art,” he says. “As a kid who grew up freestyling with his friends during the height of crunk music in Memphis, my experimentation led me towards alternative forms of soul and hip-hop. As an indie artist, that led me to a few other forms of art in search of DIY album covers and apparel. All of this inevitably landed me in a lot of coffee shops.” He would go for quiet, and then for inspiration, and eventually began to be fascinated by the beverage itself. “That led me down the rabbit hole into the weird world of third-wave coffee. Not gonna lie—I was apprehensive at first, but I’ve always been sort of a geek for niche things, and the science and art of it all drew me in,” he says. But there was something off. “The more I went, though, the more I realized I was often one of few people of color in these spaces, and that puzzled me. Was it because we weren’t welcome? Or because we weren’t interested? I wasn’t really sure,” says Henderson. The thought nagged him. “It was strange that shops I loved were so good at developing a fruit grown mostly by people of color, but so deficient when it came to interacting with those same people’s culture, especially as it’s reflected here in America,” he says. “At the same time, lots of American people were unaware of the resurgence of attention on this fruit from their home countries. How does something like that happen?” That question followed him into his education reform. 12 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
“As an artist, I knew in my soul that whatever I taught had to be more that just punctuation and paragraphs, and so I always left room in my work to host a hip-hop empowerment program. The crazy thing was whether I was at a private school in Frayser, a church in East Memphis or a public school in Orange Mound, my students always ended up producing the most compelling literature when I gave them room to express their genius in a hiphop context. It was kind of amazing,” he says. He took this approach and applied it to the coffee he was drinking. “The less attention I put on my own preference—hazelnut creamer, sugar in the raw, honey, whatever—and the more attention I put into what was naturally going on with the coffee at hand, the better the stuff in the cup became. That’s when cxffeeblack was born,” says Henderson. Cxffeeblack is primarily an entrepreneurial venture with specific social implications. Henderson says the goal is to generate a profit from apparel and events and consultations and then use those funds to provide opportunities for people of origin to create and generate inspiring work. His wife, Renata, does a lot of the graphic design through her company, Brown Girl Lettering. Why the x? “In math x represents the variable, and that’s what we’re all about—highlighting the variables God has placed in each person to create a better sum. The x is also what black people have historically used to replace the sugars and cream they were given as a last name during slavery. Most did this until they found a connection with their origins powerful enough to become their new family name. The x served as a fulcrum to connect them to their natural notes as humans, and that’s exactly what we wanna do as well,” he explains. Henderson started cxffeeblack just like he started his musical journey in college—as an experiment. “What would happen if cxffeeculture loved people of color as much as it loved their cash crops? What if we cared for and celebrated single-origin people as much as we celebrated single-origin coffee?” he asks. “Cxffeeblack is a social experiment interested in exploring the impact people can have when they are empowered to live with no sugar and no cream. It’s a hip-hop cypher over a
“What would happen if cxffeeculture loved people of color as much as it loved their cash crops?”
“America is a place where most things black are valued by their proximity to whiteness. I think coffee is a great place to start the conversation about why that is.” cup of probably overpriced coffee between the people who grew it, the people who roasted it, and the people who consume it daily. Cxffeeblack is a lifestyle and form of expressing one’s individual and unique self.” There are three primary arms of cxffeeblack, as explained by Henderson: 1) Education: “We really want to share our passion for God’s creation as a good in itself—the beauty of coffee and people when they’re valued for what they’ve been given as a part of creation, with no sugar and no cream needed. That comes from tastings and posts on Instagram.” 2) Empowerment: “We also want to empower people to identify their natural notes and use them to create a life process that highlights their giftings. We call that ‘brew better.’ Most of that happens with the hip-hop dialogues we do with the youth. The whole goal is to move our agenda out of the way and resource the youth to connect with their natural genius and curiosity through the arts.” 3) Creation and Inspiration: “The output is just as important as the input. Our whole goal of inputting information and resources is so that people can see what a world without sugar and cream would look like. That means we need physical goods to show to our community, and we approach that in pretty much any way our inspiration hits us. As of late that has been through creating photographs, music and apparel to reflect our vision for our community, but we look forward to some more experiential ventures in the next year. We feel like the more ways that people can hear, see, feel, smell and taste how great life can be when it’s brewed as intended, the more inspired and curious they’ll be to look into their own personal origin and notes.” But what about the coffee? Does he literally only serve it black? Short answer: Yes. Long answer: “The goal of that isn’t to shame people who want cream and sugar, though. God made those things too. My biggest goal is giving people the opportunity to make an intrinsically motivated decision about what they want to pursue. America is a place where most things black are valued by their proximity to whiteness. I think coffee is a great place to start the conversation about why that is,” Henderson explains. “Have we actually gotten acquainted with the substance well enough to even know which particular brews would be complemented by the addition of a condiment? The point of drinking your cxffeeblack is to value what God has made; that includes coffee just a much as the people who drink it.” Where to start? “Try a light roast coffee that comes from a specific country—like an experimental micro-lot from Columbia, Ethiopia or Ecuador. Ethiopia is the gateway drug of drinking your cxffeeblack,” he says. “Also check out local roasters Vice & Virtue, Reverb and Dr. Beans, who focus on light roast, singleorigin coffees.” Henderson is also a fan of Bean Fruit Coffee in Jackson, Mississippi; Coffee Lab in Warsaw, Poland; and Onyx Coffee in Fayetteville, Arkansas. • @cxffeeblack • @browngirllettering 14 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
join us at
ART BAR 1350 Concourse Ave. Suite 280 Memphis, TN 38104
Butch Flowers Brandon Pugh embraces the queer farm movement BY SAR AH HAG AMAN PHOTOGR APHS BY BREE Z Y LUCIA “It’s like making 3-D art,” says Brandon Pugh, owner of Delta Sol Farm, as he arranges summer annuals into a bouquet. “Start with the greenery,” he says. The greenery—basil—sits in a corner bucket. Pugh approaches this container first. He pulls out a few stalks, and then scans the farm table. Before us sit several buckets, brimming with flowers. Slowly, Pugh makes his way around the table and pulls from each of the buckets: sunflower, celosia and a final f lourish of tuberose. “Triangulate,” he instructs. The bouquet takes a pyramid shape. He finishes on an odd number of flowers—he likes to stick with either three or five. By the time Pugh has finished, he holds a bouquet of gorgeous summer annuals. To show me the source of these blooms, Pugh walks to the Delta Sol fields only a few yards away. Some rows have greenery, including lemon basil, cinnamon basil and equisetum. Summer annuals—zinnias, marigolds and celosia—make up the rest. Pugh notes that the blooms connect us to our memories. “People often associate celosia with their grandmothers,” he says.
Find Delta Sol’s Butch Flowers and produce at Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market, Garden District and Le Fleur. Bouquets & Buckets, a 12-week flower share, starts in May. 16 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
Pugh is proud to be one of many U.S. farmers who dispel stereotypes about traditional masculinity and farming.
He pauses, and thinks a moment. “Tuberose reminds me of church ladies,” he says. Pugh says that customers order flowers much like they order ice cream: “They like to see the blooms prepared, and wrapped up in a paper cone.” Delta Sol provides flowers for events and weddings, and makes in-season bouquets and boutonnieres. More and more brides recognize the seasonality of flowers, and source locally, Pugh says. Through Butch Flowers—the official umbrella for Delta Sol’s flowers—Pugh is embracing the Queer Farm movement. He explains that heteronormativity and visions of buff, gruff men occupy the American farming imagination. Rural farmers are underrepresented in the LGBTQ movement, and the presence of farmers like Pugh challenges social norms of traditional farms. Pugh is proud to be one of many U.S. farmers who dispel stereotypes about traditional masculinity and farming. Delta Sol is located in the winding lanes of Proctor, Arkansas, but didn’t begin as a flower farm. This land yielded years of produce and livestock. It has passed through three generations of his family. Pugh earned a degree in environmental science in North Carolina and joined AmeriCorps to study the effects of pesticide exposure on migrant farmers in eastern Arkansas. Afterward, he went off to explore farm life in Oregon and California. He was drawn back to the South in 2008 through the Memphis in May International Festival’s World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. This yearly event piqued his interest in the growing Memphis food scene and its deeply rooted 18 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
traditions. His family home in the Arkansas Delta suddenly seemed like the perfect place to put into practice all of his knowledge of and education in sustainable farms. The better cost of living helped seal the deal. By October, Pugh had returned to Proctor to plant garlic. He harvested in June 2009 and set Delta Sol officially into motion. His is the only organically certified farm in eastern Arkansas, having received the certification in their second year of farming. In addition to promoting sustainability, Pugh wishes to inform culture and acknowledges his favorite approach is through humor. Cheeky merchandise is available through Delta Sol’s website. Pugh’s favorite shirt features a leaping unicorn with “John Queer” stamped beneath. This subtle twist on the traditional John Deere brand captures the playful approach of Delta Sol. Additionally, the store sells a “Totes Gay” tote bag and a “Butch Flowers” trucker hat. He created a 2018 Farmer John mini calendar with 12 photos of his cohort working shirtless on the farm. A network of queer farmers has spread across the United States, aided by social media and events. Pugh says visibility creates support. His farm’s past events—including Queer Dinneer, Outstanding in the Field, and Farm is Art—have promoted Delta Sol’s social and sustainable mission. At the Queer Dinneer, Pugh and two amateur musicians paired up for some musical entertainment; they dubbed themselves the Dixie Dicks. The group was a hit, and they continue to grow in popularity. The Dixie Dicks have performed locally at Wiseacre Brewing Co., Bar DKDC, The Cove and Railgarten. Their album, VERS, is available on Spotify. Pugh smiles. “The resistance is showing up and having fun,” he says. He is celebrating his 10th anniversary with a farm dinner on June 2. Chefs Spencer Coplan of Wok’n in Memphis and Trevor Anderson of Hog & Hominy are devising a multi-course menu featuring the farm’s amazing produce. Beverages will be provided by Will Davenport of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. Tickets are available online through a link on Delta Sol’s Facebook page. “Come celebrate the farm and its wonderful offerings with us!” says Pugh. • deltasolfarm.com
advertising? EMAIL firstname.lastname@example.org
FOLLOW US ON
instagram. FRESH STORIES DAILY @ediblememphis
L ADY BOSSES
A full-on nature-science embrace BY ERIK A C AIN • PHOTOGR APHS BY JUSTIN FOX BURK S
20 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
rowing a field of typical edible greens can be thought of as nature-meets-science. But Emma Self Treadwell, founder of Green Girl Produce, has learned that for microgreens to grow, nature and science have to go beyond the meeting to a full-on nature-science embrace. Several years ago Emma was an artsy, nature-loving Southern farm girl with a crazy idea: to grow a multitude of microgreens— indoors, without soil. She launched her Green Girl Produce eco brand after an intense 48-hour pitch and planning session with mentors and investors at Launch Memphis in 2012. As Tennessee’s first indoor vertical farm, Green Girl specializes in microgreens—a gourmet mix of tasty, nutritious greens—cultivated in Midtown Memphis. Emma uses a hydroponic system, which is a soilless method of growing plants in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution. The basic premise behind hydroponics is to allow the plant roots to come in direct contact with the nutrient solution, while also having access to oxygen, which is essential for proper growth. Advantages of hydroponics include using 90 percent less water than traditional farming, planting and harvesting despite weather conditions, and eliminating the need for pesticides, herbicides and other harsh chemical treatments. No stranger to farming, Emma, born and raised in Memphis, has deep roots in gardening and growing produce. Her mom’s family grew their own vegetables, and her dad grew up on a soybean farm in Marks, Mississippi. (The soybean meal was refined into vegetable oil at a place called Humko Oil Refinery, just across the street from where Green Girl is now located.) Growing up, Emma liked going down to the farm to play in the big trailers filled with cotton and ride around with the guys driving the big tractors. Sitting on her dad’s lap, she learned to drive a Bronco on all the dirt roads in and around the farm. Emma studied fine arts and crafting at Tennessee Tech University’s Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Tennessee, receiving a degree in textiles with an emphasis in woodworking, ceramics and metalsmithing. While in college, she studied abroad in Peru, working with a community of weavers—women who trained her in process, attention to detail and mastering color. She later taught art and gardening at Evergreen Montessori School (now closed) before hitching her wagon to the restaurant industry, specifically as a waitress at Sweet Grass. Working with Chef Ryan Trimm and other local chefs, she found herself drawn to the world of fresh farm-to-table produce. She would later meet restaurant owner and entrepreneur Taylor Berger, who encouraged her to pursue Green Girl Produce. Growing microgreens ethically with hydroponics offers challenges, including system setup, pumping, water supply, maintaining proper nutrients and plant maturity. But Emma has found that her crafting and farming skills work hand in hand to help her meet these challenges. She loves building and constructing and designed ediblememphis.com 21
Green Girl processes about 50 pounds of microgreens and baby greens weekly.
22 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
a meticulous system for growing microgreens. In fact, all of her prototypes and irrigation systems were crafted by hand using materials she repurposed to create superb functionality. “Mistakes are the best teachable moments, and I embrace them,” says Emma. “Whether flooding out tenants below me in my early days at Emerge Memphis, or just the other day when I almost fried the electrical system using the wrong cord—these type of things help improve the entire system.” After five years in business, Emma recruited two experts to help expand capacity: Rob Coleman, her operations manager with a biology degree, and Jennifer Marshall, a fellow farmer who assists with growing, sprouting, harvesting and promoting their “green” brand on social media. Green Girl farms vertically rather than horizontally. Rob explains: “We’re not in a field with soil, but we’re farming crops to feed people. We’re not just local, but hyper-local—urban farming in the heart of the city right down the street from the customer. Our way of farming allows you to reuse old landscapes or buildings, preserving culture and history.” Green Girl processes about 50 pounds of microgreens and baby greens weekly. These microgreens are more than fancy garnishes; they are bursting with flavors of celery, carrots, radishes and leeks. Chefs love them because they provide a bit of elegance to top off their dishes, and a memorable taste. With the flavorful selections, some use microgreens to increase their intake of veggies through the straw of a fresh green smoothie. “Memphians need fresh produce daily to enhance their physical and mental attributes,” says Jennifer. “The more local the produce, the more nutritional benefits you receive.” Green Girl resembles a boutique indoor farm and believes in catering to the specific individual. Like individuals, Emma’s plants encompass different personalities. “I would say we definitely have cliques,” Emma laughs. “For the majority of our varieties, I call them divas, because they are super high maintenance. Then we have our mainstays that grow really easy and channel direction well.” Emma’s microgreens are branded by name, including Band of Misfits, one of her most popular mixes with a balance of nutty, sweet, earthy and tart flavor. If you want spice, then try Spicy Green Girl, a blend of red and green mustards with a peppery kick of flavor. Her newest concoction is Mirepoix Mix, an herbaceous mix of micro leeks, carrots and celery. Currently Green Girl partners locally with Folk’s Folly, Sweet Grass, Next Door, 117 Prime, The Peabody, City Silo, Sushi Jimmi, The Grove Grill, The University Club, Dixon Gallery and Gardens and personal chefs such as Andrea LeTard, author of Andrea’s Cooktales. They plan to offer microgreens to consumers at the Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market in the near future. • greengirlproduce.com; @greengirlproduce_901 ediblememphis.com 23
TR ASH TALK
THE MAGIC OF COMPOSTING The Compost Fairy turns your scraps into soil BY HEIDI RUPKE • PHOTOGR APHS BY JUS TIN FOX BURK S
24 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
he gate is just west of the zombie graffiti,” reads the text from Mike Larrivee, executive director of Compost Fairy. Directions to an interview have never been so alluring. Even so, I cruise the block twice before calling to clarify the location. Without additional directions and a sense of adventure, I would have missed it entirely. What appears to be an abandoned lot—complete with a busted-up truck, broken glass and spray-painted cement walls— is actually an incubator for millions of hungry microbes creating some of the richest soil in Memphis. The folks behind Compost Fairy have set up shop amid this urban jungle of kudzu and privet, a stone’s throw from a railroad track. Slowly and surely, they aim to transform the landscape by cultivating lush, organic dirt that is ready to support new growth. The main operation of Compost Fairy occurs in two rows of organic matter about three feet wide and two feet high. About 10 and 20 feet in length (the shorter one is newer), the rows
sport dead leaves and grass clippings and a couple of cantaloupes growing out of the rich dirt. When he arrives, Mike snags the melons and sets them inside his vehicle, Truck Norris. “Side benefit of the job,” he says with a nod toward the melons. Inside the rows is a process even hotter than the 98-inthe-shade Memphis afternoon in which I am standing. Active compost has an internal temperature of 140 to 150 degrees. Hence, the pitchforks and tall work boots sported by team members who come with Mike to tell the stories of Compost Fairy and a vision for a more sustainable Memphis. Compost Fairy is a subscription-based service that turns unwanted vegetative materials—fruit and vegetable scraps, leaves, sticks and lawn clippings mostly—into rich earth. The green materials provide the nitrogen, while dry brown elements provide carbon. An imbalance of one or the other leads to poor results, like bad odors and unwanted critters. In balance, however, compost is a kind of magic, brought to you by tiny, hungry microbes. ediblememphis.com 25
Mike Larrivee “The good microbes that break down [the raw materials in the pile] need the same things we do: water, oxygen and something to eat. Fortunately, they like to eat the things that we don’t,” explains Mike. Perhaps the zombie reference is more fitting than I first thought. While many folks tend personal compost piles, Compost 26 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
Fairy is the only Memphis organization that does this work on a large scale. For a small monthly fee ($20 for residential and $50 for commercial clients), they pick up materials once per week and deliver finished soil twice per year. They provide custom logo buckets which are cleaned and replaced with each weekly pickup. Additionally, Compost Fairy provides a free drop-off location at the Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market on
“HUMANS SHOULDN’T DIG A HOLE AND BURY OUR PROBLEMS IN THE GROUND. WE’RE STEWARDS OF THE PLANET.”
Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those who drop off at the market can purchase finished compost if they choose. Mike and his colleagues also handle “zero waste events,” such as the Mid-South Farm to Table Conference at Christian Brothers University. Zero waste events create no garbage that will not break down into healthy soil. Organic products can go into local piles, while the Compost Fairy team ships post-consumer waste to an affiliate in middle Tennessee for processing. Like many Memphis origin stories, Compost Fairy began with a connection among neighbors. When he moved to the Cooper-Young area in 2013, Mike put a request on Nextdoor for compostable materials for a new garden. Within days, he had more material than he could use. “I ran out of places to put it,” he says. Mike and his friend Chris Peterson (current president of Compost Fairy) then hatched the idea for an organization with an even wider reach and larger capacity. As geologists, farmers and school garden managers by day, Compost Fairy team members are extremely aware of the need for good topsoil to grow crops. Industrial agriculture has stripped up to 80 percent of the topsoil from some areas, and soil erosion rates continue to climb. Materials that make good compost (and soil) are thrown into landfills, where they decompose without oxygen (“anaerobically,” for the scientifically inclined), mix with other contaminants and leach into groundwater. Anaerobic decomposition also creates methane gas, which contributes to climate change. “Landfills are housecat-level technology. Humans shouldn’t dig a hole and bury our problems in the ground. We’re stewards of the planet,” says Mike. While the case for composting is strong, the actuality may be cumbersome or uninteresting to some. Compost Fairy provides the link between aspirational values and practical action. “I think people sign up for our service because they like doing something good not only for our city but also for the Earth,” says operations manager Theo Davies. “If you direct 40 percent of your cooking waste into a different bucket, you have the instant gratification of taking out one less trash bag per week. If you already recycle because it makes you feel good, [composting] makes you feel even better. It’s a quick win,” adds Treasurer Caroline Smart. Composting is a low-tech, high-impact activity that protects clean air and groundwater while creating healthy topsoil. By directing food scraps and lawn clippings to the rows at Compost Fairy’s urban lot, customers are reducing landfill waste. They are also ensuring healthy foodways for future generations. “Just throw your compostables into a bucket. And you don’t even have to find a bucket—we bring you a bucket,” says Mike. Sounds like a no-brainer to me. • compostfairy.com; @compostfairymemphis ediblememphis.com 27
LOC AL LOVIN’
“Once we were able to speak more English and communicate with our customers, that’s when it took off.”
MEMPHISSTYLE TOFU Midtown institution Pho Binh has been dishing up its famous fried tofu for 18 years BY BIANC A PHILLIP S • PHOTOGR APHS BY BREE Z Y LUCIA
28 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
op into Pho Binh at noon on any weekday, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a seat. Bearded Midtown hipsters, business people in suits, moms and dads with young children, and people from all walks of life are gathered at tables, their plates piled high with lemongrass tofu, chicken wings and mounds of sticky white rice. The Midtown restaurant’s lunch buffet is legendary. For $8.73 (including tax), diners gain all-you-can-eat access to a small but impressive spread of authentic Vietnamese cuisine, a deal that has certainly contributed to the restaurant’s success. But this popular family-run diner has humble beginnings. In 1992, the Sacred Heart Church on Jefferson sponsored Pho Binh matriarch Nhu Pham, her (then) husband Toan Nguyen and their three girls (Thu-Huyen, Thu and Tam) in their move from Vietnam to Memphis. By 1993, the couple’s family expanded with a son, Joseph. By 1994, Nhu had started a weekend gig making and selling rice pancakes and traditional Vietnamese food out of their apartment in the Washington Bottoms neighborhood, which back then served as home to a thriving Vietnamese community. The family lived in a duplex, and the landlord cut out the middle so the family was able to live on one side, while the other side served as a restaurant. “We had a little kitchen with portable plastic chairs and tables, so we could only sit a few people at a time, but most people took the food to their jobs,” says Tam Nguyen, the youngest daughter, who now works in the kitchen at Pho Binh. Nhu eventually outgrew the little operation and purchased the current Pho Binh space at 1615 Madison, across from what was then the Piggly Wiggly grocery store (now Cash Saver).
She opened the business as a billiard room and café catering to the Vietnamese community, but that business failed to take off. So she changed the concept to a Vietnamese restaurant, and Pho Hoa Binh was born (the Hoa was dropped several years ago when another Pho Hoa Binh restaurant in Atlanta threatened to sue). At the time, it mainly served Vietnamese clientele, and Tam, who was around eight years old then, says business was slow. But over time, business picked up as word got out to the greater Midtown community that Pho Binh had some really great food at a really cheap price. “Word of mouth went around. We never advertised,” Tam says. One of Tam’s older sisters, Thu, was old enough to help her mother in the restaurant from the beginning. “My sister has been helping my mom since she was little. She had a warehouse job too, so she’d work there during the day and come into the restaurant at 3 p.m.,” Tam says. “I would come home from school at 2:15 and go straight to the restaurant. I’d do my homework there, and that was life until we closed at 9 p.m. My brother and I spent pretty much all of our childhood there.” By age 14, Tam went to work there as well, and Joseph followed suit a few years later. Sister Thu-Huyen pursued other career interests and eventually moved to Houston. Their father, Toan, split with Nhu a few years after their move to the States and was never involved in the restaurant. Tam says business really started booming in 2010 after she and her brother, who both speak fluent English, were working there. “Once we were able to speak more English and communicate with our customers, that’s when it took off. That’s when we got a more American customer base,” she says. “My older sister speaks English but not fluently.” ediblememphis.com 29
The lunch buffet, at that time, was just $5, the same price it had been since Pho Binh opened in 2000. That low price and their famous lemongrass tofu—a dry fried tofu dish with a citrusy tang— was likely a reason for the restaurant’s sudden success with the American customer base. But that cheap price didn’t account for inflation, so the restaurant began to struggle despite its uptick in business. “My mom didn’t want to go up on the price, knowing there were a lot of struggling college students. We tried to stay low so it would be affordable, but my mom was struggling because we didn’t make enough money. The prices were so low, and food costs went up every year. There was a point when we thought we might have to close because of it,” says Tam. As hard as Nhu fought to keep the buffet at $5, it was her children who finally convinced her to raise the price so the restaurant could stay afloat. Pho Binh’s loyal customers didn’t seem to mind the price increase, though, and they kept coming in for lemongrass tofu, chicken wings and egg rolls. Those have been the most popular menu items since day one, according to Tam (pro tip: Tam recommends ordering the lemongrass tofu with a side of curry sauce for dipping). Tam credits their Midtown location as part of the reason behind their success. She feels like they fit in Midtown, which she calls “an easygoing community.” “In Midtown, everyone is calm and chill, so that makes it easier for us. We love that about Midtown,” says Tam. “Everyone is welcome from all walks of life—musicians, doctors, lawyers, people in jogging pants. You can be yourself in Midtown.” Tam can tell stories about regulars all day. There’s Benny Carter, who owns Murphy’s bar next door and has been coming in since the beginning. Or the woman who brought her baby son in wearing an “I Love Curry” bib for one of his first solid food meals of coconut curry tofu. “We’ve had customers who moved away, and then their moms will come in and pick up lemongrass tofu and ship it to them in New York or California,” Tam says. “It amazes me that people pay for overnight shipping for that.” One longtime regular, Jason Baker, came in one day and made an offer—he’d create T-shirt designs for Pho Binh, and, if the shirts didn’t sell, he’d pay for the first batch. Thus, the iconic blue, soft-cotton tees with the yellow chopsticks logo and the words “Memphis-Style Tofu” were born. They were an instant hit. “We’ve gone through four batches of the Memphis-Style Tofu shirts. That’s almost 300 shirts,” Tam says. Pho Binh’s success wouldn’t be possible, she says, without their loyal customer base. “Our customers see how hard we work and how long we’ve been there and how we stay there all day,” says Tam. “They want to support us. If it wasn’t for our customers, we wouldn’t be here.” • Pho Binh; 1615 Madison Avenue; 901.276.0006 30 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
For $8.73 (including tax), diners gain all-you-can-eat access to a small but impressive spread of authentic Vietnamese cuisine.
Anita: the hardworking pupusera Anita, la de las pupusas BY ALE JANDRO PAREDES • PHOTOGR APHS BY ANDREA MOR ALES
32 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
MEET THE MAKER All of Anita Martinez’s quotations have been translated from Spanish by the writer.
Nobody really taught Anita how to make them; they have always been part of her life.
n the day after making it to Memphis, Ana “Anita” Martinez was admitted to the hospital. She spent six weeks there, having a dialysis treatment almost daily. “My blood was poisoned,” she recalled. She had come from El Salvador to Dallas, Texas, three years before, in 1995, leaving behind gang violence that cost her two brothers and two sons. As many Latinos do, Anita lived an exhausting lifestyle in Dallas, working night shifts at an air conditioner factory and cooking as many as 50 pupusas in the daytime to sell at the factory. “No wonder your kidneys gave up, sleeping only two hours a day,” the doctor had told her. When her medical treatment was done, she moved to Memphis on recommendation of a relative; she soon found herself unemployed in a new city, without a house and with a huge medical debt. The frantic Dallas years had allowed her to have some savings, and she rented a small apartment close to the hospital, where she had to go for dialysis treatment three times a week. “I couldn’t really get a job, given my condition, but I still needed to find a way to make money,” she said. And so she started cooking pupusas at home, basically for her Central American neighbors, who would show their support as they enjoyed those nostalgic flavors. It was then that “Anita’s,” her business brand, got started. “I cooked them just like at home with queso, chicharron and even loroco [an edible flower very popular in Central America],” she said. “I also prepare a great curtido [a type of pickled coleslaw typically served with the pupusas], so I would be very busy every weekend, and worked some days at a factory, depending on my health.” Pupusas are considered El Salvador’s typical dish, although they’re also widely consumed in Guatemala and Honduras. They are stuffed, thick flatbreads made of cornmeal. Nobody really taught Anita how to make them; they have always been part of her life. “One of my oldest memories is that of me and my siblings shelling the corn, and then our mother using la piedra de moler [grinding stone],” she said. This is a typical Mayan way to process tender corn. It took her less than a year to save enough money to get a little wooden trailer built. Every weekend she would drive it to the flea market on Highway 61. In ediblememphis.com 33
“No canned beans, no processed foods—we like everything fresh even if it’s a bit more work.”
34 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
“I have been blessed in this country thanks to all my hard work.” addition to pupusas, she would sell bed linens and secondhand clothing items. Her business became very popular. “Back then there weren’t many Latinos in Memphis, so basically all of them used to know who I was: Anita, la de las pupusas [‘the one of the pupusas’],” she recalled. In 2002, her older sister donated her a kidney. Finally capable of working every day, Anita ditched the linen venture and focused completely on growing her food business. “My dream had always been to open my own restaurant, so on top of the pupusas I started to do other Salvadorean dishes, like tamales [Salvadorean tamales are cooked in a plantain leaf, unlike Mexican ones, which are cooked on a corn leaf] and menudo [a soup made of rumen],” she said. She would work seven days a week and lived in a trailer. “I really didn’t live there, only slept there,” she laughs, full of energy. She bought a larger trailer and turned it into a food truck that worked every day on Jackson Avenue, as her original small wooden trailer visited fairs and parties. “We would set a tent up to cover our tables in the summer and had gas heaters in the winter. We would never stop,” she recalled. Now she focuses her food business on her restaurant, Pupuseria Anita’s, which she opened in 2018 on the corner of Summer and Stratford. It has already become a kind of unofficial family club for Salvadoreans and Guatemalans. “People like it here be-
cause we do things like back home. No canned beans, no processed foods—we like everything fresh even if it’s a bit more work, so they keep coming now that it is much more comfortable with the indoor setup,” she said. She also offers fresh fruit cocktails, snow cones and homemade marmalades. Nowadays, as she’s in her mid 50s, she keeps her restaurant closed on Mondays. “I have worked very hard to get here,” she said. She now offers Mexican food too in order to reach a broader audience, but she admits that pupusas are people’s favorites. “We got people coming from other cities to try them: Little Rock, Jackson, you name it. We have a couple from Tupelo—an American woman married to a Guatemalan—who come every Tuesday when he’s off,” she stated proudly. She’s no longer doing the cooking herself, but her aides follow her instructions and she keeps on top of every detail. She’s recently been told she needs a new kidney transplant, and she’s preparing for it. This time the donor will be her 28-year-old daughter. Anita has no plans to retire anytime soon. “I have been blessed in this country thanks to all my hard work,” she said. “All the angels that have protected me, my business, my kids and grandchildren I owe to this country, where dreams become true if you are truly willing to work hard. • Pupuseria Anita’s; 658 Stratford Road; 901.275.7840 ediblememphis.com 35
ARE WE TIPPING ENOUGH? The short answer: Probably not BY S TACE Y GREENBERG • PHOTOGR APHS BY KIM THOMA S Remember when things were easy and we were expected to leave a 20 percent tip at the end of the meal? When we think back to the “good ol’ days,” we are sitting at a table and we’ve placed our order with a server who has brought a check to us in a little black book. With the rise of fast-casual dining and our reliance on coffee shops, juice bars and whatnot, though, it’s hard to know what to tip and when. 36 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
The tip jar that was once easy to ignore or merely fill with leftover change has now mostly been replaced by cashless, flip-screen POS (point of service) systems like Square. That’s right—we’re not only being asked to tip before we receive our coffee or our juice, but we’re also staring into the eyes of the person running the register. It’s a lot of pressure.
I used to casually hit the option with the least amount of tip (10 or 15 percent) and smile as though everything was just fine and dandy. Then I noticed that the minimum tip amounts can vary wildly from place to place. While I would guess that choices of “No Tip, 10%, 15%, 20%” would be the norm, they’re not. Look closely and you’ll see that 20 percent is often the starting or mid-range amount. Clearly some store owners are cashing in on the fact that we all are feeling slightly awkward and not paying too much attention—especially when we aren’t seeing our receipts until we check our email. SO WHAT DO WE DO? Scott Tashie, who owns I Love Juice Bar and City Silo Table + Pantry with his wife, Rebekah, employs the flip-screen approach at both businesses, and says that tipping is a personal choice. “At Juice Bar, the person who takes the order is often the same person who makes it,” he says, adding that they’ve often spent hours prepping the food that goes into the juices, smoothies and “grab ’n‘ go.” “Our employees are trained to be cool, friendly and fun. Think of them as your spirit food guides. We tell them that if they want tips, they have to earn them,” he says. Scott uses 10-15-20-25 percent as the default options. “It’s awkward, but at the same time it’s just the way it is now with Square,” he says, noting that both of his businesses do a tip share so that all employees get tips whether they are in the front of the house or not. He also explains why so many restaurants seem to be switching to the fast-casual model: “You can serve good, high-end foods and plate them all pretty, but get them to the customer faster. We still bring it to the table, get water or whatever the customer needs, and bus the table. It just leaves the timing out. Everyone is in a hurry now. The days of a casual business lunch are over.” Ian Vo sold South Main Sushi, which had a wait staff, and started fam, a fast-casual restaurant specializing in to-go orders, for the sole purpose of reducing the number of employees needed. “I spent way too much time managing the wait staff at South Main. At fam, I want to focus on the food,” he says. “I didn’t even want to have tables!” (Yes, there are a few tables!) Ian went from 40 employees at South Main Sushi to eight at fam, and they all are on salary. There is no tip jar, and there is no expectation of tipping, though employees have been sharing 6 to 8 percent in bonus tips that have come through the POS system (that still has a built-in tip line from the days at South Main Sushi). OK, BUT WHAT ABOUT COFFEE? Lisa Toro, who owns City & State with her husband, Luis, says to consider the following when tipping: “Even though you may only see the final pour, baristas are still responsible for all things behind
the bar including dish washing, prep, bathroom cleaning, etc. Unlike many restaurants, they have to be jacks of all trades.” David Pender and his wife, Bailey Biggers, opened Low Fi Coffee after moving here from Los Angeles. He says that coffee should be the same as most things: 20 percent. “We’ve noticed that people here tip way less—10 percent to 12 percent,” he says. He acknowledges that tipping is a touchy subject. “A lot of owners do something Bailey and I consider completely unethical—they pay below living wage and place all the responsibility on the guest to tip and make up for the lack of a paycheck,” he says. They find it extremely bad form to not pay employees a living wage and to expect customers to fill the gap. They’ve recently hired their first part-time employee, who’s paid a living wage on par with City of Memphis workers. IS ELIMINATING TIPPING WHAT WE REALLY WANT? Brice Bailey is the owner of Stak’s Pancake Kitchen. Early on they attempted a no-tipping policy; however, when Brice bought out his partner and became the sole owner, he immediately changed that policy. “We found that by capping our servers at a set amount, it caused high turnover and eliminated the incentive to go the extra mile,” he says. They also found that the labor costs were excessive and really taking a toll on the bottom line. As a compromise, they dropped the hourly rate and added the ability to tip. Employees were told that if they did not hit the previous hourly rate through tips, the restaurant would pay the difference. “Since that change, not once have we had to cover a shortage,” says Brice. “Our employees are more motivated to provide good customer service, therefore making more money. Employee turnover is down significantly, and labor costs are closer to where they need to be for us to efficiently operate our business.” WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED? Even though the equipment has changed, and we’re doing some of the work ourselves, the age-old concept remains the same: If we can afford to eat out, we can afford to tip. Chef Ryan Trimm offers us a guide. As the owner of two fine-dining establishments (Sweet Grass and 117 Prime), a sit-down restaurant with a bar (Next Door) and a fast-casual restaurant (Sunrise Memphis), he knows a thing or two. Ryan’s rules of tipping: • Coffee (and other drinks): $1 each. • Fast-casual: 10 to 15 percent at the counter and maybe a little more at the table if overly impressed with the service. • To-go orders: 10 to 15 percent as they take a lot of work to prepare and box. • Table service: 20 percent or more. “It takes a whole lot, and mainly the attitude of the server, for me to tip less than 20 percent,” Ryan says. • ediblememphis.com 37
FIGHTING GIANTS What it takes to keep neighborhood grocery stores in business BY ANDY MEEK • PHOTOGR APHS BY RICHARD L AWRENCE
ome people, when they look at a nearly 50-year-old neighborhood grocery store like the one at 469 High Point Terrace, see a quaint slice of Americana. A feelgood throwback to a time before smartphones turned commerce into the cold calculus of apps and one-click buying and digital storefronts. Compared to all that, it’s enough to make a legacy enterprise like High Point Grocery—founded back in 1970 by the father of current owner “C.D.” Shirley—look pretty uncomplicated. The fact of the matter, though, is that stores like this one and others in Memphis today stand in stark contrast to
38 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
the reality of this particular retail segment. Nostalgia and tradition are all well and good, but it’s not like those sentiments are even remotely a bulwark against competitors with big-box stores, splashy websites and asset-rich balance sheets. Or are they? A store like High Point Grocery endures because it does a thing and it does it well. If retail today is about bigness, from vast product assortments to coast-to-coast retail footprints, High Point Grocery is very much the antithesis of that. It’s basically one room, a few thousand square feet in size. Shelves stocked with the essentials— milk, cereal, toiletries, the usual grocery staples. There are a meat
counter, freezer and locally made products like cookies and an assortment of other baked goods. Handmade signs posted on the front windows announce the value herein, like two-liter Coke for $1.69, Angus T-Bone steak for $8.99 and “Best Choice Shredded Mild Cheese,” $1.49 for eight ounces. Children of parents whose grandparents were regular shoppers likewise push carts down its aisles today. It’s cute and small and very much a High Point neighborhood institution—one that everyone involved, from the owners to the regulars, prefers just the way it is. “A third to half of our customers, I’d say, come in every single day,” says manager Michael Shirley, who’s also C.D.’s son. “It certainly doesn’t feel like you’re walking in to a grocery where people are just there to get a paycheck and clock out. We have one of the managers who works here who drives an hour and a half to get to work, she loves it here so much.” It’s easy to become attached to a place like this. But when you disenthrall yourself, you start to look at a business like High Point Grocery the way real estate consultants like David Laube do. Yes, la-
dies and gentlemen, it’s time for a diversion about nobody’s favorite part of this or any commercial enterprise. We’re talking, of course, about the math behind it all. Getting a handle on what it takes to make an independent grocery operation run smoothly will actually help you make sense of— well, a lot. Those of you who’ve been inside a Kroger recently don’t need to be reminded that there’s a veritable grocery war under way. One that we will see continue to unfold throughout 2019 in spectacular clashes, in well-planned campaigns and quick skirmishes at almost every level of the business. Kroger, to cite one example familiar to local shoppers, is rapidly kitting itself out with new tech and digital capabilities, the ability to order online and schedule pickups. Likewise, the biggest retailers in the country—where grocery offerings aren’t necessarily the centerpiece of what they do—are lusting after the regularity of shoppers who need to come in for staples like milk and bread every single week. Which is why you see everyone from Target to Walmart and even Amazon shoring up their own takes on the grocery business. So where does that leave a place like High Point Grocery? That depends on how well the store keeps executing on a number of fronts, but especially on the math behind an operation like this. Laube, a principal with Atlanta-based Noell Consulting, walked Edible Memphis through the numbers associated with running a grocery business. Listen up, because if the handful of independent grocery stores around Memphis want to stick around, or if anyone out there is thinking of opening a new store at a time when the biggest corporations with the deepest pockets are likewise getting into the grocery game, this is the dollars-and-cents framework they’ll all have to follow. Here’s the first thing to understand, if you don’t already—a grocery is a very, very low-margin enterprise. There’s only so much, in other words, you can charge for a gallon of milk, right? “So it has to rely on volume,” Laube explains. The average annual sales per square foot for a grocery store, he continues, is around $400 to $500 that they have to bring in. Regardless of size. “You do the math on that. It depends on the economics of your area and what the average ticket price is, but generally, a small, independent store, they need to bring in anywhere from 300 to 500 people through their door every day to hit that,” Laube said. “If you can’t hit that, then economically it just never works.” As he explains it, it’s actually a pretty simple economic model, one that lets you work backward to see if a grocery concern can be viable. The challenge is that because the business is so low-margin, the owners only have so much money they can pay for operating, for rent, for employees and the like. “And those are all relatively fixed numbers,” Laube said. “So it really just all comes down to volume.” When you talk to the operators of many of these independent grocers in Memphis, you have to listen carefully. They will talk to you about things like personalized service and paying close attention to customers, to the point of even remembering the names and ediblememphis.com 39
predilections of regulars. What’s a byproduct of that attention? Those customers keep coming back. They tell other people, and other people come. Voila, there’s your volume. “My grandfather is the reason the store is the way it is,” Michael Shirley said about High Point Grocery. “He’d always been very hands-on with customers. And we’ve kept an old-timey-like, friendly feel. A lot of our customers, their grandparents came here and then the next generation and now the children shop here.” Adds his father, “We buy the best meat we can buy. Certified Angus choice beef. Our pork is the best we can buy. You can see your meat cut right in front of you. . . . A lot of our customers, we know by name. We just give them better service.” Lest this make things sound particularly rosy for an independent grocer, the reality is actually quite the opposite. It’s a grind mixed with the lingering specter of an existential crisis mixed with the hard slog of presenting yourself as a local, independent alternative that you hope you can convince enough people to choose over, well, the other guy. In Harbor Town on Mud Island, meanwhile, staying small and independent doesn’t have to mean the past takes precedence over everything. The grocery store that opened in 1998 as Miss Cordelia’s— named after real estate developer Henry Turley’s mother Cordelia Jones Turley, who died in 2005 at the age of 93—has been given a fresh coat of paint, in a manner of speaking. As 2018 came to a close, the store rebranded itself as Cordelia’s Market, which served to combine the store’s eat-in space that had been known as Cordelia’s Table with the grocery itself. Twenty years is as good a time as any to take stock of how far a business has come and where it needs to go. Times change, and in this case the store decided it needed to change to meet them. For one thing, the store pursued a remodel as part of the update to make itself more of a neighborhood hangout via an expanded café section, where you can stop by for a beer or to get a bite to eat. Cosmetically, the store also changed its lighting and even the signage and logo. Even so, a touch of the old-fashioned still remains. A sign was added to the cold section, which includes items like milk, announcing “Welcome Home.” The store added a quaint-sounding “Butcher” sign to the meat section. Those kinds of details are important, because it was a sense of heritage that was infused into the store from the beginning and gave it a personality. Cordelia Turley herself was a fixture at the store during its early days—welcoming shoppers, sitting in the store and smiling and talking to whoever passed by. Curb Market is another prominent independent grocery business. In 2018 its owner reconfigured the store inside Crosstown Concourse and gave up some of its space to allow a pair of new concepts—Lucy J’s Bakery and Global Café—to open there. “That’s made our space somewhat smaller,” said Curb Market owner Peter Schutt. “But we’re still able to stock 99 percent of the locally made and grown items as before.” 40 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
His grocery store, which takes its name from the old marketplace that used to operate on Cleveland Street north of Poplar Avenue, had actually opened first in Midtown in 2016, in the space formerly occupied by Easy Way at 596 South Cooper Street. A year later, he shifted the store to Crosstown, to a space roughly four times the size of the Cooper location before trimming it slightly last year. The reason he feels stores like his often have the cards stacked against them has to do in part with the way people increasingly default to whatever is most convenient. “I have come to realize that people of all ages are less and less interested in cooking at home, much less getting in their car to go shop,” Schutt said. “People, in general, have become addicted to looking at phone or tablet or TV screens, so while they’re doing that, they do their shopping and ordering out for food. “The Curb Market now does about two-thirds of its business from the hot bar, salad bar and catering. We now do off-site catering. I don’t think there’s another caterer in Memphis that uses locally grown vegetables and meats. It’s the same quality that we serve on our hot bar.” In terms of the future of stores like his? Schutt points to Walmart testing self-driving cars to deliver groceries. Plus the fact that Amazon owns Whole Foods, in addition to the fact that you can order your groceries from Kroger over the Internet. “People are losing touch with each other, except through virtual, digital means,” he said. “The art of food is changing, mostly for the worse.” Hamida Mandani, meanwhile, owns City Market with her husband, Sunny. They have two locations of their small grocery store—one Downtown, at Main Street and Union Avenue, the other in Midtown, at 836 South Cooper Street. She’s not as negative in her assessment as Schutt is, but she’s no less direct in the work required to pull off a concept like this. “Hard work, that’s the secret,” she said. “Knowing your customers. Having that personal impact. More than 60 percent of my customers that walk in, I know them by their name, and they know me. Winning their trust and loyalty, that’s the key. Would I prefer to go buy a box of cereal that’s probably 50, 70 cents cheaper at Walmart or Kroger, or buy it from you? I like to see who I buy it from and know that the tax dollars are going back into the same system. All those things help.” It’s a pretty straightforward business, serving customers the groceries they need week-in, week-out. These and certainly other Memphis-based independent grocers are making a go out of it as best they can, at a time when “Buy Local” is a mantra, and yet convenient, bigger and digital alternatives are even more convenient than ever. Some will make it, no doubt some won’t, and about the only thing that’s certain is their collective story will only unfold slowly, in increments—unlike the lightning-fast pace of change at their bigger digital brethren. In other words, one customer, one shopping cart, one sale at a time. •
Owner “C.D.” Shirley and his son, Michael Shirley, who manages the store.
“A lot of our customers, their grandparents came here and then the next generation and now the children shop here.”
KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL Evan Potts
Zero Proof The “work hard, play hard” culture in the restaurant industry has driven some to addiction, but that culture is shifting as attitudes around sobriety are changing BY BIANC A PHILLIP S • PHOTOGR APHS BY MICHAEL BUTLER , JR . 42 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
f you ordered a cocktail at The Cove a few years back, it was likely mixed by award-winning Memphis bartender Evan Potts. And he was likely drunk (and possibly shirtless) when he made your drink. Potts, now two-and-a-half years sober and working as a general manager at Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, was in a dark place back then. His hangovers from post-work binge drinking were so bad that he had to drink first thing in the morning to feel “normal.” When his then-fiancé (now wife) encouraged him to leave the bar scene for another job, Potts landed at Andrew Michael, in the hopes that the fine-dining industry would help him clean up his act. “But if you’re an addict, you always find a way to do what you’re going to do,” Potts says. “They had just done a big bar expansion, which is why they wanted me out there. It was great. I got to meet new clientele and learn so many new things. But I wouldn’t stop drinking.” He had his first wake-up call when, after leaving work one New Year’s Eve, he stopped at The Cove to slam a few drinks before attending a house party with his wife. “I knew she’d count what I was drinking at the party or institute a ‘no shots rule,’” he says. He left The Cove after a few too many drinks and stopped at a gas station to buy cigarettes. “I fell asleep in my car, and I got a DUI for that. In my eyes at the time, I didn’t get a real DUI because I wasn’t moving, so I asked the officer if I could just drive a few feet so I could earn it,” laughs Potts. While a DUI arrest may have been the motivation some would need to get sober right away, it would be months before Potts would give up booze once and for all. These days, Potts is one of several Memphis restaurant industry workers who have been outspoken about their own struggles with alcohol and/or drugs, a sign that the “work hard, play hard” culture of restaurants, both in Memphis and on a national scale, may be shifting toward a healthier environment for chefs, managers, servers and other staff. The classic picture of hard-boozing, drug-addled chefs à la Anthony Bourdain’s 2000 memoir Kitchen Confidential is changing as more and more chefs and kitchen staff are getting sober. There’s celebrity chef Sean Brock (the Southern culinary revivalist and founder of Husk restaurants in Charleston, Nashville, Greenville and Savannah), who, according to a 2017 New York Times article, got sober after years of excess by going through a good, old-fashioned intervention from family and friends. These days, Brock works to help restaurant industry workers with mental health issues. Or David McMillan and Fred Morin—the legendary (and now sober) chef-owners of Joe Beef in Montreal—who in February of this year wrote a column for Bon Appétit titled “My Restaurant Was the Greatest Show of Excess You’d Ever Seen and It Almost Killed Me.”
“I don’t run a specifically sober kitchen, but I’m sought out by people who are looking for a place that’s safe and the chef isn’t drunk.” —DAVID KROG ediblememphis.com 43
David Todd “The snapshot I had of a chef when I was younger has changed,” says Interim executive chef David Todd, sober for 11 years. “The chef doesn’t have to be the screaming, lunatic, pirate alcoholic dude in the kitchen. There are a lot of chefs who work out and eat right and cook for a living. I go to the gym now, and I see wait staff there before work. Healthy lifestyles are inserting themselves more and more in American society.” 4 4 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
Todd, who has worked in restaurants for all of his adult life, turned to alcohol and drugs at an early age but got sober on August 4, 2007, after a family intervention led him to seek treatment at a rehab facility in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He considers himself a sobriety “OG” (that’s “original gangster”) in the local restaurant scene, and in his years sober from booze and drugs, he’s seen many of his peers get clean as well. “Earlier in my career, the road seemed a little lonelier. I worked in some restaurants where I was the only person who wasn’t drunk or high and was definitely the last person who hadn’t drank or gotten high in the last 24 hours,” Todd says. The long hours and intense pressure in restaurant kitchens, coupled with the allure of shift drinks and the temptation to party all night at after-hours bars with co-workers, have led plenty of workers down a dark path. And that’s certainly still the case for many chefs and restaurant staff. “It’s such a high-stress industry, and you need to unwind. You get off so late, so it’s not like you can just go home and eat dinner,” says Potts, who, in the darkest days of his alcoholism, would often work until 4 a.m. and then go to Alex’s Tavern and drink until “the sun was coming up and kids were going to school at Snowden Elementary.” So what’s changing? “These days, everybody knows somebody who has been to rehab. Self-help is a much larger thing. Acceptance of mental health issues has skyrocketed. We seem to be cool around understanding people doing things for themselves,” Todd says. As more and more chefs and restaurant staff are getting sober, others who may be struggling suddenly have positive role models in the kitchen. “I’ll be in dry storage sometimes, and I’ll turn around and someone will just be standing there, and you know they have something to say. They got a DUI or got too drunk the night before,” Todd says. “I’ve had a lot of conversations where people would ask me about sobriety. I can be a confidante, not a counselor. I can’t fix you, but I can show you some places that can.” Those chefs are also creating safer kitchens, where the temptation to drink is lessened. That’s the case with any kitchen David Krog runs these days. Krog has cheffed at Interim, Terrace at the River Inn, Bari and The Tennessean (now closed), among other restaurants. He struggled with alcohol, cocaine and heroin for years, until he finally got clean five years ago when he was fired by famed Memphis chef Erling Jensen. These days, he says his kitchens are safe places for others in the industry. “I don’t run a specifically sober kitchen, but I’m sought out by people who are looking for a place that’s safe and the chef isn’t drunk,” says Krog, who is slated to open a new restaurant, Dory, on West Brookhaven Circle with his wife, Amanda, this fall. “They can be safe in my kitchen at least for those 12 hours. There’s nobody drinking on the line or doing drugs in the bathroom or smoking
“I will go back and make drinks, but I don’t taste what I make. I have to go with my muscle memory.” —EVAN POTTS bowls at the dumpster. At places where I am the chef, there is no shift drink. There is no drinking on-site by any of the staff after the shift.” Despite the beginning of a culture shift, those who have turned to sobriety in the restaurant industry have to make a concerted effort to stay that way. For Todd, that means staying active with the 12-step program and avoiding negativity in general. “I’m not saying I’m some zen person, but I can’t choose to engage in negativity,” Todd says. “The only thing I’ve consistently shown in my life is, with anything, I’ll take it too far. If I want to choose to participate in dishonesty or negativity or toxic behaviors, I’ll take it past the point of hurting others around me to the point where it hurts me.” Todd says he’ll soon be launching a podcast titled Lost in the Sauce, which will deal with all sorts of topics that may be of interest to chefs, but he says he’ll also be “exploring the avenues of sobriety and personal growth, largely in terms of the restaurant business and other creative careers.” Potts says sharing his personal addiction story helps him stay sober by reminding him just how terrible things were. After the DUI, he knew he needed to stop drinking, so he made all sorts of rules for himself: He could only have two drinks after work, or he could only drink beer. “If you have to give yourself rules, there’s probably something wrong,” he says. He started going to AA meetings, but all the while, he was still drinking and hiding it from his wife and work. Then one week his wife left town for a conference; Potts viewed that week as his “green light to go out with buddies and really tear it up.” “I went on the spree to end all sprees,” he says. “I was going out every night until 7 or 8 a.m.” During that time, he consumed all of the high-end whiskey he and his wife had put up for special occasions. He remembers taking an Uber to Buster’s to restock the stash so his wife wouldn’t find out, but he then drank all of the replacement bottles before she returned home.
“I drank myself into almost a psychosis,” Potts says. “I remember being sick in the sink and hearing voices asking me who I was and what I was doing. It was the weirdest thing, but it gave me a moment of clarity. I realized this wasn’t who I was. I wrote my wife this long text saying I wanted to go into treatment and told her what happened.” His wife took him straight to Lakeside Behavioral Health System when she returned. After treatment, his bosses, Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman, sent him to work at one of their other restaurants, Hog & Hominy, to wait tables and take a break from bartending. But he was eventually welcomed back to Andrew Michael with a GM position. “I came full circle, except I was sober Evan instead of drunk, entertaining Evan,” he says. “It was hard being around alcohol for a long time. Every once in a while, I’ll have a regular ask me to make their favorite drink, which definitely strokes my ego. I will go back and make drinks, but I don’t taste what I make. I have to go with my muscle memory.” Though the kitchen culture is slowly shifting, there is still plenty of work to do. According to research from Fair Kitchens—a Unilever Food Solutions-backed initiative to create healthier work environments in kitchens across the globe—53 percent of kitchen staff feel pushed to the breaking point, and 74 percent report feeling sleep-deprived; 63 percent of chefs say they’re suffering from depression. “You’re being worked quite hard, and and there’s not a lot of room for sick days and vacation days or work-from-home days,” says Memphian Kristopher Hassett, who works with Fair Kitchens and formerly was vice president and general manager of Chefwear. “It’s a very machismo atmosphere and it’s like, ‘You’re screwing us by taking off.’ And that pressure can drive people to drink and do drugs.” Fair Kitchens works to address these issues from a top-down approach in corporate kitchens. “We talk with the executives and the owners because they can set the tone and culture of an operation,” says Hassett. “It’s about changing the mentality of what the work is and what it means. And if someone needs a day off to spend with family, they should have it, like any other workplace.” On a local level, Hassett believes Memphis restaurant culture will continue a positive shift toward sobriety, and he hopes to see new, healthier social outlets spring up for restaurant workers looking for alcohol-free, late-night ways to unwind after work. Not much exists in Memphis in that arena yet, though more and more bars, such as Art Bar at Crosstown Arts, are adding zero-proof drinks (or mocktails) to their bar menus. “We’ll have a huge influx of hospitality folks moving into Memphis with all of our development projects that are underway, and that will hopefully drive a more wholesome late-night scene,” says Hassett. • ediblememphis.com 45
“ I WA S B O R N A ND R A I S E D U P O N B A R B E C U E .” 46 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
Bobby has been employed at Rendezvous since he was 13 years old.
BACK OF THE HOUSE
THE P OINT-BL ANK T R U T H OF BOBBY EL L IS Fifty-one years of life at the Rendezvous BY JAY NE ELLEN WHITE • PHOTOGR APHS BY HOUS TON COFIELD I met Nelson “Bobby” Ellis on a sunny Friday morning, in an alley in downtown Memphis. Yes, of course, the alley that is the home of the world-famous, 70-year-old Charles Vergos Rendezvous, where Bobby has been employed since he was 13 years old. That morning, Bobby was standing outside of the load-in entrance to the restaurant, directing food shipments, and looking busy and important. Unsure if this was the man I was supposed to meet, I said to him rather timidly, “I’m here to meet Bobby.” He chuckled and said, “Are you sure?” Bobby, who has been working as the kitchen manager at the Rendezvous for over a half century, sat with me in the dining room of the Memphis institution. While he fielded questions about beer deliveries and other requests from his staff, I asked him about his life and the things one sees from his point of view over so many years—and he told me the story of his work. Bobby grew up in South Memphis in the 1950s and ’60s. He graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1972, and by that time he had already been working for the Rendezvous for six years. Bobby’s father, Early Ellis, was a city sanitation worker who brought barbecue home every single Friday. What barbecue meant back then isn’t exactly what it means to Memphians now. “I was born and raised up on barbecue,” Bobby explained, “You see, when I’m talking about barbecue—they didn’t have these fancy rigs and all this other stuff. They took a big washtub and put a screen on top. They cooked neck bones and chicken backs. It wasn’t ribs, and all this other stuff.” He remembers his father as a hard worker. “If it rained, they worked in the rain,” he says. “If it snowed, they worked in the snow. They were working payday. The only blessing that they had was that food wasn’t as high as it is nowadays. You could go buy neck bones for five cents, and ground beef was 10 cents, or something like that. You know, for 20 or 30 dollars you could come out [of the store] with 10 bags of groceries, but nowadays you can’t do that.” ediblememphis.com 47
Rendezvous is known for its signature dry rub ribs. In 1966 Bobby was working his first job at the Downtown Motor Inn on Union Avenue, with his older brother. He had been working there for six months when the manager got fired. Bobby says that he, his brother and everyone else quit and started working at the Rendezvous. There was only one side to the restaurant at that time, and the menu had only five items. Bobby lists them for me from his memory: “We didn’t sell nothing but a large order [of ribs], small order [of ribs], pork shoulder sandwich, a roast beef sandwich and a cheese and sausage plate. Now, I’m talking about cold beer! We sold some beer! The Rendezvous used to sell 60 kegs of beer a week.” He notes that over the 51 years he has been at the restaurant, he has watched people’s appetites change. “I never thought we’d have a salad in the Rendezvous ’cause people didn’t care back then,” he says. “We got a picture in here of a guy who one time ate nine orders [of ribs]. It’s different nowadays. The beef brisket has been on the menu for probably close to 10 years, and it’s a good item. Right now we probably sell as much of that as we do anything else.” From the beginning of Bobby’s career, his late mentor—and the man he credits for being the most influential person in his life—Charles Vergos, preached the value of a good product at a popular price. “Before all the internet situation, we always said word of mouth is always better than anything else,” Bobby says. “And that was true for the Rendezvous.” He speaks of Charles as an ambassador of downtown Memphis. “Mr. Charlie was downtown. He bled it. He never turned his back on it,” he says. In life, Vergos often credited Bobby and other members of the back-of-the-house staff as being the true spirit of the restaurant and the key to its success. Bobby says he considers himself a background person: “I’ve done everything in the Rendezvous from bussing tables, to waiting, and everything else. But my true profession always has been in the kitchen. Because I like the background.” In the 1980s, the Rendezvous was holding strong as a down48 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
town Memphis staple, and Bobby was putting in up to 90 hours a week at the restaurant. Hard drugs and alcohol in kitchen culture were often just part of the job. “Back then there was more drugs and alcohol in the restaurant business than any other business in the world,” he says. Bobby had to work hard to get away from that lifestyle. He went into cocaine recovery treatment in 1988, and his 30th anniversary of getting clean was late October 2018. “I went in and told my boss I was using cocaine. He gave me the option and said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I told him that I tried on my own [to quit]. It didn’t work. I think I may have lasted a week. And after that I went into treatment. It was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. I wouldn’t be here today,” he says. These days Bobby works 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. He says he doesn’t get burned-out out on the job: “I never looked at my job as a job. I looked at it as a challenge, because I love what I do.” For a time, Bobby was worried he wouldn’t be able to continue doing the job he loves. Due to recent health issues, he receives regular dialysis treatment, and he feared the illness wouldn’t let him return to work. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t depressed,” he says. “It does make you depressed, when you feel that you can’t do what you used to do anymore.” Bobby paused to fuss at his kitchen staff to quiet down, before giving me some final, simple advice: “Nothing has been changed about our product since we began. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you want sauce, it’s right on the table. The key to success of this restaurant, and for future generation restaurants, will be the same: Don’t take shortcuts, baste the ribs, and watch the restaurant. You have to watch your restaurant. Don’t think you can sit at home and have somebody else running your operation. That’s just point-blank the truth about it.” • Charlie Vergos Rendezvous; 52 South Second Street; 901.523.2746
ROAD THER APY
Come Down to Como Get there fast, then take it slow
BY STACE Y GREENBERG • PHOTOGR APHS BY RICHARD L AWRENCE
50 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
THE NEXT BOUCHERIE DINNER WILL TAKE PL ACE AUGUST 17, 2019
Bottom Right Photograph: Stacey Greenberg
ass through Como, Mississippi, and it may not look like much, but stay awhile and this little hill-country town will surprise you with its abundance. It’s a straightforward 45-mile drive south on I-55, but it’s worth the extra minutes to go a little slower on Highway 51 and then cut over to scenic Highway 4. (Keep an eye out for old juke joints like Harris Place in Old Tunica and rib shacks like Pig Pit BBQ next to Hudspeth’s Grocery in Sarah, Mississippi.) When you arrive in Como, you’ll discover a fifth-generation family farm, a top-notch steakhouse, possibly the best burger in Mississippi, and charming places to lay your sleepy head. WANT TO CHECK OUT A REALLY RAD FARM? ENTER THE AMAZING MR. MARSHALL BARTLETT. Home Place Pastures should be your first stop in Como. The Bartlett family has farmed this land since 1871. Brothers Marshall and Jemison started transforming the farm—now in its fifth generation—into a sustainable, pastured-animal operation in 2014. They raise ethically treated pork, lamb, beef and goat on pasture and operate the only USDA-inspected meat-processing plant in the area. Marshall, a handsome young fella with an easy smile, earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental studies at Dartmouth College and then completed an internship at the Virgin Island Sustainable Farm Institute in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. He served with Americorps leading volunteers to rebuild Hurricane Katrina victims’ homes, and later worked as the chief of operations for a small business that specialized in custom butchering and marketing pasture-raised meats to chefs across the Crescent City. Then he moved back home to Como.
Boucherie Dinner ediblememphis.com 51
Home Place Pastures
All of his education and experiences clearly paid off. Home Place provides meat to over 75 fancy-pants restaurants from Memphis to Nashville, Oxford to New Orleans, and everywhere in between. Memphis restaurants include Sweet Grass, Tsunami, Las Tortugas, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Catherine and Mary’s, Hog & Hominy, Erling Jensen: The Restaurant and The Beauty Shop. Marshall lives in the family home on the farm and hosts some amazing events right outside his door, often inviting people to camp out on the property for maximum enjoyment. The Boucherie Dinner in August hosts some of the big-name chefs from various restaurants that the farm serves. There’s a lottery for unusual animal parts (i.e., pig heart, face bacon, lamb’s tongue, etc.), which serve as the basis of the meal. It’s a great place for Memphians to really get a taste of what is happening in other cities and meet top chefs face to face. I attended in August and got to tell Mason Hereford of New Orleans’s award-winning Turkey and the Wolf that he was my culinary (and Instagram) hero and get my photo taken with him. The Oyster Roast in November is a more laid-back affair with allyou-can-eat oysters and an epic bonfire. The most recent one was held as a fundraiser for RB Southern Cuisine, a Como soul-food restaurant which had closed due to a fire. This event is great for meeting locals and getting to know the farm staff. Marshall was there happily shucking oysters and soaking wood palettes with lighter fluid. Whether or not there’s an event, visitors are always welcome at the farm. Email or call ahead to set up a tour, and at the very least, stop by the retail store (Thursdays and Fridays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) for packaged pork, lamb and beef products, as well as Home Place merchandise. Bring a cooler and load up on goodies in the $3 Bargain Box freezer. If you like what you see, sign up for the CSA and have a box of quality meats delivered right to your door. Options include: 5-pound Millennial for $45, 8-pound Individual for $75, 12-pound Family for $99, and 15-pound Boss Hog for $199. 52 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
The Como Steakhouse
Dinner at the Como Steakhouse
HUNGRY YET? COMO IS FOR MEAT LOVERS. The town square, which is really more of a strip, is where you’ll find most of the dining options—steak, burgers, Chicago-style pizza, catfish, Mexican and even Thai. Time it right (Memorial Day and Thanksgiving), and the local firemen start a giant fire of their own to smoke 85 Boston butts to raise money for the station. By far, the best known “eatin’ spot” is The Como Steakhouse, and as someone who was raised on steak dinners, I can attest to the fact that it truly lives up to the hype. Open for dinner every evening except Sunday, it’s the place to be in Como. Here you will find locals and folks from all over (Oxford, Tunica, Memphis, etc.) dining and drinking together. (Yes, there’s a full bar!) Count on a wait, but ask for a seat in the smoking section (aka the bar) and that wait will be half as long. Don’t worry—no one actually smokes in the smoking section. Ok, maybe there’s that
Top Left Photograph: Stacey Greenberg
June Lewers at Como Billards Restaurant one guy, but the bartender keeps the ashtrays hidden and doesn’t advertise that smoking is allowed. For really long waits, or just because you can, head upstairs to the oyster bar and have a dozen and a beer or two. When the weather is nice, sit and relax on the balcony that overlooks Main Street. Back downstairs, you’ll pass open grills where perfectly aged, hand-cut steaks sizzle as you walk to your table. Prices for steaks range from $17.95 (16-ounce chop steak) to $38.95 (25-ounce bone-in ribeye), and all entrees include a salad with your choice of homemade dressing; a baked potato loaded with your choice of cheese, sour cream and bacon; and Texas toast. It feels like a deal, and the steak literally melts in your mouth. No one goes home hungry from The Como Steakhouse. In fact, it’s likely you’ll leave in a full-on meat coma. For lighter fare and maybe some pool playin’, check out the Como Billiards Restaurant at the end of Main Street, adjacent to the Bullfrog Corner convenience store and gas station. Upon first glance, it seems that the one pool table in the main dining room hardly constitutes a pool hall, but go around the counter, down the hall past the bathrooms, and you’ll find a much larger room with multiple tables—and, uh, some random workout equipment. But let’s go back to the counter. Have a seat, order a beer and let owner June Lewers make you the best damn burger you’ve ever tasted. Ask him to make it the way he makes it for himself— cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and mayo on a grilled bun. He’s got plenty of other things on his menu, but he stands by the burger, and rightly so. He’s open for lunch, and he serves food and beer until 1 a.m. on weekends, so you can let your steak digest. A few other options for a third meal in Como: El Rio Mexican Restaurant is great for a quick margarita (or two) and a chipand-dip fix; Thai Hut has excellent egg rolls, and a friendly owner who will tell you all about how he met his wife in Thailand; Windy City Grille’s pizza is delicious, but I’d debate the “Chicago-style” claim (however, the beers are cold, and there’s often live music on weekends).
Craig Street Cabin FEELING SLEEPY? HOLE UP IN THE CRAIG STREET CABIN. Como has a number of pretty sweet lodging options. I absolutely love staying at the Craig Street Cabin ($125 per night). In fact, I probably shouldn’t even tell you about it! It’s less than a mile from town, and is tucked away in a pasture so you get the best of both worlds. There’s a comfy queen-size bed, fancy robes, lots of snacks and an amazing porch for sitting, reading and/or sipping a beer. Depending on the time of year, you can watch the cows feeding, get a visit from deer or say hello to the resident fox. Next door to the cabin is the Craig Street Cottage ($350 per night), which was built in 1894 and has been beautifully renovated. It features three bedrooms and two baths, heart-pine floors and a claw-foot tub. It’s the perfect spot for a family or a small group of friends. Finally, the Como Inn ($125 per night), just a few doors down from the steakhouse, offers six guest rooms with king-size beds, private baths, a large gathering hall, a library and a fully stocked kitchen. There’s even a balcony overlooking the courtyard. One of these days, I’m going to take my besties and rent the place out. All of these properties are owned by Frances May, who is a delight to talk to. The best way to reach her is by phone. CONVINCED? PLAN YOUR VISIT. Como is close enough that you can zip over for a steak dinner one week and go back for a burger and a game of pool the next. Follow Home Place Pastures on social and make plans to hit an event and spend the night. Whatever you decide, Como won’t disappoint. • Home Place Pastures; 1789 Home Place Road; 662.426.6067; homeplacepastures.com; @homeplacepastures The Como Steakhouse; 203 Main Street; 662.526.9529 Como Billiards Restaurant; 103 Oak Street; 662.426.5058 Como Inn, Craig Street Cottage & Cabin; 662.560.7454 (Frances May); comoinnms.com ediblememphis.com 53
#WEIRDMEMPHISTHINGS One order of pickled tongue, please
BY JULIA MCCLOY • PHOTOGR APH Y BY CHIP CHOCKLE Y What exactly is the technical definition of a French kiss? Is it just another tongue in your mouth? Does it have to be a person’s tongue? Could it be an animal’s? And does that animal have to be alive for it to qualify as a French kiss? I wonder all these things as my husband slices a piece of pickled pig tongue for me to taste. I’m not excited about putting the tongue in my mouth. I don’t really think eating it is French kissing, but I’ve started sweating a little and wringing my hands. I’ve been told not to worry, that the tongue goes well with mustard. Where do you get pickled pig’s tongue? Maybe a lot of places, but I got it at The Curb Market. The butchers at Curb are my heroes. They picked out tomahawk steaks for me that made me a Father’s Day legend. My family finished eating Father’s Day dinner and erupted into a chorus of chef’s kisses. The steaks were un-hyperbolically amazing. Plus they were a sight gag—the steaks looked like something between an actual tomahawk and those ribs that made Fred Flintstone’s car tip over. 54 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
And so I trusted the butchers. I also lied to them and myself. I said I was an adventurous person. So when they showed me the pig tongue, I bought it as any adventurous poseur would do. When I put the pig tongue next to the orange juice in my refrigerator, I finally realized why one of the Ten Commandments was not lying. It’s a very important commandment. That commandment helps protect you and your loved ones from opening the refrigerator door and seeing tongues floating around next to your arugula. What does pickled pig tongue look like? Well, like a tongue swimming around with some onion friends in a Mason jar. That’s what it looks like before you take it out of the jar. Before you eat it. And before you have to cut it. To eat it. I couldn’t cut it. I had to look away. My husband cut me a slice and brought it to me on a huge dinner plate. My piece of tongue was the size of one of those big pink erasers you used in elementary school. I immediately yelled “thinner.” My husband cut a thinner slice and presented it to me. I yelled “thinner” again. Stephen King has a book called Thinner. I doubt it is as scary as
your husband slowly walking toward you with a hunk of pickled pig tongue. And Stephen King is a master of horror. My husband ate the slices that were too thick for me. He just shrugged and said they tasted “pickled.” He is adventurous. He doesn’t have to lie. I had to work up to it. I had to shake my arms and roll my neck like I was about to enter a boxing ring. Like I was Rocky Balboa about to fight for all the working people in America. Like that tongue had killed Apollo Creed. What does the tongue look like when it is cut? Well, light brown. And slick. And bright yellow once you cover it with mustard. Did I put the tongue in my mouth? Yes, I did. Because that tongue killed Apollo Creed. And I won’t stand for that. Did I like it? That’s hard. I was so stressed about it. I thought about it too much. Made it too big of a deal. All I wanted was it to be done. So in that way it was like my first French kiss. Would I recommend it to a friend? If they are adventurous, yes. I would also remind them about the Ten Commandments. • ediblememphis.com 55
SEED TO CUP Explicit origins to erroneous extracts WRIT TEN AND ILLUS TR ATED BY ERIN KIM
his drawing communicates that the crop of a livelihood does eventually hit the cup, but we must acknowledge the brown hands of those who grew the original symphony of its extractions before it is colonized to a few notes lost in the comfort of sugar and cream. It’s not a crime. But it’s also not a crime to try different and call it beautiful, maybe even better. As a Woman of Color barista, I see multiple sides of consciousness in this industry. As an ESL educator to refugee students from the countries many featured roasts come from, it’s hard to not jump into a manifesto when someone exotifies coffee just to objectify its caffeine purposes. It’s not just a “cup of coffee.” It’s not just another refugee story. Just like doing a pour-over on a Kalita or slingin’ some customized, single-origin spro, there is a process of being excellent and valuing what we are grasping in the moment. Just as we push the limits of extraction and flavor, I hope we push our limits of seeing the whole process. •
56 edible MEMPHIS • SPRING/SUMMER 2019
MOSA ASIAN BISTRO
COOPER STREET 20/20
GRECIAN GOURMET TAVERNA
Mosa Asian Bistro blends the bold flavors and savory spices found in classic Thai, Chinese and Japanese cuisines. To make our Asian comfort food dishes, we use the freshest local ingredients, inspiration from family recipes and a modern approach. We offer dine-in and carryout for lunch and dinner, along with catering.
If you have eyes for healthy, flavorful food that’s ready to take home and heat, Cooper Street 20/20 is your place. For a special occasion or just dinner in front of your favorite show, a five-star meal is only an oven away. With more than 25 years in the restaurant business, owner Kathy Katz creates fresh, prepared foods, using local ingredients whenever possible.
Grecian Gourmet Taverna is a local, familyowned-and-operated business in the heart of the South Main Arts District. We pride ourselves on sharing our delicious, authentic Greek cuisine in a comfortable and friendly environment, while creating great experiences for our customers.
mosaasianbistro.com 901.683.8889 850 South White Station Road
cooperstreet2020.com 901.871.6879 800 South Cooper Street
thegreciangourmet.com 901.249.6626 412 South Main Street
MEMPHIS CITY SILO
City Silo offers food that appeals to all taste buds, diets and bodies. Our menu is aimed to create an inclusive dining experience for all. Whether you have food allergies, dietary restrictions or eat anything under the sun, all will feel welcome here at City Silo. thecitysilo.com 901.729.7687 5101 Sanderlin Avenue Suite 104b
MARKET PL ACE Thank you to these locally owned businesses that make Memphis a better, tastier city.
We bring locally raised, all-natural meat and eggs from our farm to your table. Our products include pasture-raised poultry, grass-fed beef and lamb, and Tamworth and Mangalitsa pork. You can find us every Saturday at the Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market.
With jazz in the air, our inspired culinary artists get to work daily, squeezing, slicing and prepping our products for your enjoyment. A well-balanced menu of air, land and ocean meets storied and newage cocktails. Find us in the charming and rejuvenated South Main district.
renaissancefarmstn.com 731.764.0341 195 Leadford Lane Saulsbury, TN
pontotoclounge.com 901.207.7576 314 South Main Street
CITY BLOCK SALUMERIA City Block Salumeria is Memphis’s only full-service deli and butcher shop that specializes in European-style cured meats and sausages. Our deli is open Tuesday to Sunday for breakfast and lunch. Our butcher shop is open Tuesday to Saturday until 7 p.m. and Sunday until 4 p.m. Southern Living magazine calls us “a carnivore’s playground.” cityblock901.com 901.500.6548 409 South Main Street
MAKEDA’S HOMEMADE BUTTER COOKIES The home of the best butter cookies in the world! Our family-operated business has been spreading butterific love for 19 years in Memphis. Favorites include cookies, banana pudding and our pies made with a butter cookie crust. We have two locations, and our butter cookies are in every Kroger in Memphis and the surrounding areas. makedascookies.com • 901.745.2667 488 South Second Street 2370 Airways Boulevard
The Columns at one commerce square
Bari · ben e. keith · City Block Salumeria · Cordelia’s Market Cranes Nest River Apiaries · Crosstown Brewing Co. · Dave’s Bagels Dogwood Carpentry · Dr. Bean’s Coffee · Fezzik · Frost Bake Shop Grecian Gourmet · THE grove grill · Hard Knot Designs · Home Place Pastures · Jacko’s Pepper Jelly · Long Road Cider Lulu’s Foods · Meddlesome Brewing Co. · Midtown Crossing Grill My Cup of Tea · Papa Bear Skins · Papi Joe’s Tennessee Pepper Sauce Piece of Meat · Pontotoc Lounge · Pop’s Kernel · Por Fuego Lento Primas Bakery · Riverside 1844 Artisanal Foods · Rizzo’s Stemmed Glass Winery Tours · sur la table · Sweet Magnolia · Sweetwater Valley Farm Tamboli Produce Co. · Wilson Cafe · southern Glazer’s wine & Spirits + MORE
proceeds benefit church health
cr a f t f o o da nd win e fe st ival .c om
Our spring issue focuses on new growth from farmers, gardens and restaurants. It also dives in deep on some of the issues at hand in the foo...
Published on May 1, 2019
Our spring issue focuses on new growth from farmers, gardens and restaurants. It also dives in deep on some of the issues at hand in the foo...