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How Often Do Restaurant Employees Really Work While Sick?

How Often Do Restaurant Employees Really Work While Sick?



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The cook making your sandwich might have a bad cold

It's not uncommon for restaurant staff to work sick.

When we’re sick with either a cold or stomach virus, we tend to avoid handling other people’s food just out of common courtesy, as we don’t want to get them sick, too. So what are restaurant employees to do when they feel themselves coming down with something? Though you might assume that they all call in sick, a lot more workers than you realize just tough it out.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently conducted a study of employees at 426 random restaurants by speaking to a manager and at least one worker at each about working while sick. The researchers discovered that 12 percent of workers said they’d worked two or more shifts in the past year while sick with vomiting or diarrhea. They also found that workers were more likely to work sick when the restaurant served more than 300 meals per day; when there was no policy requiring workers to notify a manager of illness; when there were no substitutes on-call; and when the manager had fewer than four years of experience. Male workers were also more likely to work sick than were female workers.

So if your server’s complexion looks a bit pallid, or if you spy a cook blowing his or her nose in the kitchen, don’t assume that if they were really sick they’d call out. And don’t risk your own health: Take your business somewhere else.


Rewriting the Recipe

The Memphis restaurant industry may be down, but it’s certainly not out, as owners introduce creative ways to retain customers — and keep them safe.

Beauty Shop owner Karen Blockman Carrier repurposed geodosic domes into a new dining experience in the Back Do / Mi Yard patio.

For three months, Karen Carrier toiled away in the Beauty Shop kitchen to fulfill a steady influx of takeout orders. No team, no servers, no dine-in customers — just Carrier and chef Shay Widmer cranking out meals, six days a week. It was tiring work, but Carrier wasn’t about to shut down her restaurant completely. That would mean almost two decades of work gone in an instant, and her staff, whom she considers family, wouldn’t have jobs to come back to. And so, like most of her peers, she soldiered on, even as restaurants struggled with an uncertain future.

When the hammer came, it came down hard. In mid-March, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland enforced closures on Memphis bars and restaurants, a huge decision made necessary by the increasing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, one of Memphis’ most thriving and creative industries saw a massive dip in revenue, while many kitchen and service staff found themselves out of a job. But even in upended times, establishments are finding a way to hold on.

Several months on from the initial lockdown, the reopening process, undertaken in June, was partially reversed in July following local surges in coronavirus cases. (Note: this issue of Memphis was sent to the printer July 20th.) The Beauty Shop carefully followed the first phases of a reopening plan, but as conditions in Memphis worsened, the Shelby County Health Department issued its Directive No. 8 on July 7th, mandating that bars must close once again, while restaurants dining rooms must close by 10 p.m. Meanwhile, restaurants must collect phone numbers of all customers to help with contact tracing as needed. There’s no easy solution, not in 2020 America. Public spaces like bars and restaurants find themselves at the center of an unfortunate, if predictable, argument over “safety” versus “liberty” when it comes to social distancing and wearing a mask in public.

“When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” — Tamra Patterson

On the consumer side, there’s another ethical dilemma. In the midst of a pandemic, dining out can be an unsettling experience. Even with restaurants adhering thoroughly to safety protocols, there’s still an element of risk to both patrons and staff. But the alternative — further jeopardizing the existence of a vibrant, generous restaurant industry and the local jobs it supports — is nauseating in its own right. Allowing Memphians to self-govern when it comes to public safety only works when everyone buys in to preventative measures, and so far, that’s not been the case.

photo courtesy tamra patterson

Chef Tamra Patterson at the Underground Café

Amid all the turmoil, restaurants need to function day-to-day to keep their doors open. Chef Tamra Patterson, owner of Chef Tam’s Underground Café, puts the situation most succinctly. “When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” That’s a sentiment echoed by many restaurant owners, who have found creative ways to adapt to the new normal and stay in business.

The year started out with optimism for Patterson. She vacated her old location in the Cooper-Young neighborhood and moved to a much larger Edge District space. “Before, we didn’t have the ability to serve as many customers as we wanted,” says Patterson. “We could fit 32 people, max, so we found a space that would give us a better opportunity to grow.”

The move gave the restaurant a whole new lease on life Patterson was already a recognizable name thanks to several memorable stints on The Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, and her Underground Café hit the ground running in the Edge District. She brought in live music most nights to entertain full houses, with a wait for a table sometimes extending upwards of two or three hours. And with the restaurant capable of holding 150 people at a time, business was booming.

The restaurant’s success didn’t shield Patterson from having to make major changes when COVID-19 hit. “Our building has multiple entrances,” explains Patterson, “so we had to close some of them off to create a safer way for people to come in and out. “ With no dine-in allowed, the menu needed to be adjusted so there wasn’t a surplus of ingredients. And while Patterson kept as much of her staff as she could, cuts were still necessary.

Chef Tam’s Underground Café plans to continue providing takeout, and Patterson is adamant that it stays that way. “We opened up a few weeks ago,” she says, “but when we saw that the numbers were going crazy in Memphis, we shut it right back down. I don’t want customers to come into our establishment and get sick. We know it’s not enough to bring all of our employees back, but it does put us in a position where we can bring back some folks, and in a safer way.”

photo courtesy karen carrier

Safety was a key word for Carrier when she first had to lay off her Beauty Shop Staff, and not just in the health sense. “When the mandate first ordered us to shut down on a Thursday night, the first thing I did was start a GoFundMe page for my staff,” says Carrier. “And then that Friday morning, I called a meeting for everyone from Mollie Fontaine Lounge, DKDC, the Beauty Shop, and Another Roadside Attraction.”

When they arrived, staff members lined up and applied for unemployment on two computers Carrier set up. Some of her workers, she says, don’t own computers, and might have had trouble applying otherwise. “This meant they had something going on at least,” she continues, “but I was really concerned. Who knew how long this was going to last? I have employees that have been with me 35 years. Lots of turnover affects the quality of a restaurant, so I like to approach this more like a family, as opposed to something corporate.”

When restaurants were allowed to reopen, Carrier’s full staff returned to the Beauty Shop after passing a COVID-19 test. While the restaurant looked much the same, the day-to-day operation incorporated new safety protocols. Carrier brought in wax paper bags to store silverware, while a bar cart enabled servers to ferry plates to diners with minimal contact. And through July, the Beauty Shop supplemented employee income with what they had been making on unemployment.

There were some initial growing pains with the new protocols, especially with the deluge of customers who poured in when the Beauty Shop reopened in early June. “We got hit hard,” says Carrier. “Everyone wanted to get outside the house, you know? I wasn’t sure how it would go, but everybody really stepped up.” After a first week of trial and error, things are running smoothly. To ensure social distancing, Carrier is utilizing space in the main restaurant, Bar DKDC next door, and the outdoor Back Do / Mi Yard.

The back patio, perhaps, provides one of the pandemic’s great restaurant innovations. Instead of the normal layout, two large geodesic domes are set up around tables and chairs. They certainly embody the aesthetic of something straight out of a sci-fi novel these days, it might just be the perfect setup.

“It’s a funny story,” says Carrier. “I actually bought these last October for Back Do / Mi Yard. I’d purchased them to have a heated space outside in the winter, but it started raining so much before that, they were really the only things I could set up there. They weren’t initially bought for this pandemic for a while we called them very expensive storage units, but it’s worked out now.”

Each unit is air-conditioned, but Carrier mentions that they struggle to remain cool inside during the day. For the time being, dome dining is available Monday through Saturday for dinner.

photo courtesy ed cabigao

Ed Cabigao, owner of South of Beale

Other restaurants took their pandemic planning in a different direction — literally. South of Beale (SOB) owner Ed Cabigao had been working on moving his restaurant into the former Ambassador Hotel at 345 S. Main. While the pandemic ultimately delayed the project by a few months, he hedged his bets and went full steam ahead on construction. “We had a conversation with our bank about halting or slowing down the process,” says Cabigao, “but we just thought it would be best to keep pushing forward, hoping that by the time SOB opened in the new spot, things would be a little bit better than they had been.”

For Cabigao, the pandemic has afforded him more time to carefully plan out the new digs. The restaurant will jump from 1,700 square feet to 5,000 square feet, with 1,000 of that turned into dedicated kitchen space (as opposed to the old location’s 300). “That will make it way better for the kitchen staff, in terms of safety and efficiency,” he says. “They’ll have more room to operate, and won’t be stuck on top of each other all the time.”

Another 1,200 square feet will be set aside for three private dining rooms that can be combined into one larger space. “I think private dining rooms will be in much higher demand than they were even a few months ago,” he says. “People will feel more secure in a separate space, rather than in the middle of the restaurant.” Complementing the interior space is a planned outdoor patio, another feature Cabigao thinks will remain popular.

Construction on the new SOB has a tentative opening date of October. The old space, which reopened in a limited capacity, has used the pandemic months to experiment with new menu items anything that proves to be popular with Memphians will become a permanent addition to the new space. But SOB’s footprint may extend farther than Downtown. Cabigao, who also owns Interim restaurant, decided to incorporate a few popular SOB items in the latter’s menu over the past few months.

“When everything closed, we tried to do some to-go food out of Interim’s kitchen,” he says. “That went well for about a week, but sales dropped off drastically. I think it’s because a lot of that menu is more fine dining and higher price points, and that doesn’t really work for takeout.”

The pivot was a hit with East Memphis, which prompted Cabigao to make that change permanent. “We were very sure that it was going to end up as SOB-East. We were remodeling the space and were confident that people would want that type of establishment. There isn’t a lot of food like that in East Memphis, so we’re certainly meeting that demand.”

Menus accessed via QR codes on personal mobile devices — pictured here at Café Eclectic in Midtown — help protect restaurant-goers by eliminating the need to share printed versions.

Cabigao sees many of the pandemic-enforced changes, like a focus on curbside and to-go orders, sticking around. SOB is already handling the issue of social distancing with its separate dining spaces and a new patio setup, but Cabigao credits the restaurant’s survival to the work put in over the last decade to make it a recognizable name.

“I think the restaurants that will survive this and do well are the ones that already have a good brand that people trust,” he says. “We’ve been around for a decade, our food’s been consistent, so people are familiar with us. Additionally, I think the brands that will do well are the ones that are completely compliant with the safety rules and regulations, like wearing masks, taking temperatures, ensuring social distancing. Guests need to feel that it’s a trustworthy brand, and I think those are the ones people will appreciate when everything is back open.”

For all the safety measures in place in local restaurants, it’s important for customers to remember that servers and other front-of-house staff are putting themselves at risk. What can normally be considered a thankless job is now made harder when factoring in health risks and less opportunity for tips.

“I would say be kind, be patient, and be aware,” offers Patterson. “Be aware of the changes that restaurants are making and what we’re doing to make this a safe space for you. Be courteous, and tip the servers! They’re getting far less customers into the building, which means less tips. They need that little extra boost.”

Carrier also maintains that a happy team is of paramount importance. “Front-of-house has to interact with the public,” she says. “It can be tough, so you really have to be on your toes and make sure you know what you’re doing.”

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.

With coronavirus cases still rising amid a disheartening national response, the pandemic doesn’t look to be going away any time soon. That places the restaurant industry at a crossroads. Where do they go from here? Owners like Patterson, Carrier, and Cabigao are doing their part to make their interiors as safe as can be, with staff members working extra hard on the sanitation front.

Some establishments are pivoting completely, like Majestic Grille’s ghost concept: Cocozza American Italian. The “virtual restaurant” is an entirely separate brand from Majestic and offers Italian takeout or curbside pickup to be enjoyed at home or on the Majestic patio on South Main. It’s a smart middle ground for owners Deni and Patrick Reilly to try something new without putting their workers and customers at risk in an enclosed space.

Other establishments, though, haven’t been so lucky amid all this uncertainty. Some restaurants have had to close their doors for good thanks to a severe drop in revenue the nebulous definition of a “restaurant” has seen a collective of closed bars file a lawsuit against Shelby County and the Health Department in an attempt to remain open. On the other hand, there have been reports that some employees feel pressured to return to work in what they consider unsafe conditions. Some out-of-work restaurant staffers have turned to alternate revenue streams, like the landscaping service Two Broke Bartenders. With plans to make it into a permanent business, there’s a question of whether those who joined the fledgling company as a temporary gig will even return to the hospitality industry.

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.


Rewriting the Recipe

The Memphis restaurant industry may be down, but it’s certainly not out, as owners introduce creative ways to retain customers — and keep them safe.

Beauty Shop owner Karen Blockman Carrier repurposed geodosic domes into a new dining experience in the Back Do / Mi Yard patio.

For three months, Karen Carrier toiled away in the Beauty Shop kitchen to fulfill a steady influx of takeout orders. No team, no servers, no dine-in customers — just Carrier and chef Shay Widmer cranking out meals, six days a week. It was tiring work, but Carrier wasn’t about to shut down her restaurant completely. That would mean almost two decades of work gone in an instant, and her staff, whom she considers family, wouldn’t have jobs to come back to. And so, like most of her peers, she soldiered on, even as restaurants struggled with an uncertain future.

When the hammer came, it came down hard. In mid-March, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland enforced closures on Memphis bars and restaurants, a huge decision made necessary by the increasing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, one of Memphis’ most thriving and creative industries saw a massive dip in revenue, while many kitchen and service staff found themselves out of a job. But even in upended times, establishments are finding a way to hold on.

Several months on from the initial lockdown, the reopening process, undertaken in June, was partially reversed in July following local surges in coronavirus cases. (Note: this issue of Memphis was sent to the printer July 20th.) The Beauty Shop carefully followed the first phases of a reopening plan, but as conditions in Memphis worsened, the Shelby County Health Department issued its Directive No. 8 on July 7th, mandating that bars must close once again, while restaurants dining rooms must close by 10 p.m. Meanwhile, restaurants must collect phone numbers of all customers to help with contact tracing as needed. There’s no easy solution, not in 2020 America. Public spaces like bars and restaurants find themselves at the center of an unfortunate, if predictable, argument over “safety” versus “liberty” when it comes to social distancing and wearing a mask in public.

“When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” — Tamra Patterson

On the consumer side, there’s another ethical dilemma. In the midst of a pandemic, dining out can be an unsettling experience. Even with restaurants adhering thoroughly to safety protocols, there’s still an element of risk to both patrons and staff. But the alternative — further jeopardizing the existence of a vibrant, generous restaurant industry and the local jobs it supports — is nauseating in its own right. Allowing Memphians to self-govern when it comes to public safety only works when everyone buys in to preventative measures, and so far, that’s not been the case.

photo courtesy tamra patterson

Chef Tamra Patterson at the Underground Café

Amid all the turmoil, restaurants need to function day-to-day to keep their doors open. Chef Tamra Patterson, owner of Chef Tam’s Underground Café, puts the situation most succinctly. “When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” That’s a sentiment echoed by many restaurant owners, who have found creative ways to adapt to the new normal and stay in business.

The year started out with optimism for Patterson. She vacated her old location in the Cooper-Young neighborhood and moved to a much larger Edge District space. “Before, we didn’t have the ability to serve as many customers as we wanted,” says Patterson. “We could fit 32 people, max, so we found a space that would give us a better opportunity to grow.”

The move gave the restaurant a whole new lease on life Patterson was already a recognizable name thanks to several memorable stints on The Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, and her Underground Café hit the ground running in the Edge District. She brought in live music most nights to entertain full houses, with a wait for a table sometimes extending upwards of two or three hours. And with the restaurant capable of holding 150 people at a time, business was booming.

The restaurant’s success didn’t shield Patterson from having to make major changes when COVID-19 hit. “Our building has multiple entrances,” explains Patterson, “so we had to close some of them off to create a safer way for people to come in and out. “ With no dine-in allowed, the menu needed to be adjusted so there wasn’t a surplus of ingredients. And while Patterson kept as much of her staff as she could, cuts were still necessary.

Chef Tam’s Underground Café plans to continue providing takeout, and Patterson is adamant that it stays that way. “We opened up a few weeks ago,” she says, “but when we saw that the numbers were going crazy in Memphis, we shut it right back down. I don’t want customers to come into our establishment and get sick. We know it’s not enough to bring all of our employees back, but it does put us in a position where we can bring back some folks, and in a safer way.”

photo courtesy karen carrier

Safety was a key word for Carrier when she first had to lay off her Beauty Shop Staff, and not just in the health sense. “When the mandate first ordered us to shut down on a Thursday night, the first thing I did was start a GoFundMe page for my staff,” says Carrier. “And then that Friday morning, I called a meeting for everyone from Mollie Fontaine Lounge, DKDC, the Beauty Shop, and Another Roadside Attraction.”

When they arrived, staff members lined up and applied for unemployment on two computers Carrier set up. Some of her workers, she says, don’t own computers, and might have had trouble applying otherwise. “This meant they had something going on at least,” she continues, “but I was really concerned. Who knew how long this was going to last? I have employees that have been with me 35 years. Lots of turnover affects the quality of a restaurant, so I like to approach this more like a family, as opposed to something corporate.”

When restaurants were allowed to reopen, Carrier’s full staff returned to the Beauty Shop after passing a COVID-19 test. While the restaurant looked much the same, the day-to-day operation incorporated new safety protocols. Carrier brought in wax paper bags to store silverware, while a bar cart enabled servers to ferry plates to diners with minimal contact. And through July, the Beauty Shop supplemented employee income with what they had been making on unemployment.

There were some initial growing pains with the new protocols, especially with the deluge of customers who poured in when the Beauty Shop reopened in early June. “We got hit hard,” says Carrier. “Everyone wanted to get outside the house, you know? I wasn’t sure how it would go, but everybody really stepped up.” After a first week of trial and error, things are running smoothly. To ensure social distancing, Carrier is utilizing space in the main restaurant, Bar DKDC next door, and the outdoor Back Do / Mi Yard.

The back patio, perhaps, provides one of the pandemic’s great restaurant innovations. Instead of the normal layout, two large geodesic domes are set up around tables and chairs. They certainly embody the aesthetic of something straight out of a sci-fi novel these days, it might just be the perfect setup.

“It’s a funny story,” says Carrier. “I actually bought these last October for Back Do / Mi Yard. I’d purchased them to have a heated space outside in the winter, but it started raining so much before that, they were really the only things I could set up there. They weren’t initially bought for this pandemic for a while we called them very expensive storage units, but it’s worked out now.”

Each unit is air-conditioned, but Carrier mentions that they struggle to remain cool inside during the day. For the time being, dome dining is available Monday through Saturday for dinner.

photo courtesy ed cabigao

Ed Cabigao, owner of South of Beale

Other restaurants took their pandemic planning in a different direction — literally. South of Beale (SOB) owner Ed Cabigao had been working on moving his restaurant into the former Ambassador Hotel at 345 S. Main. While the pandemic ultimately delayed the project by a few months, he hedged his bets and went full steam ahead on construction. “We had a conversation with our bank about halting or slowing down the process,” says Cabigao, “but we just thought it would be best to keep pushing forward, hoping that by the time SOB opened in the new spot, things would be a little bit better than they had been.”

For Cabigao, the pandemic has afforded him more time to carefully plan out the new digs. The restaurant will jump from 1,700 square feet to 5,000 square feet, with 1,000 of that turned into dedicated kitchen space (as opposed to the old location’s 300). “That will make it way better for the kitchen staff, in terms of safety and efficiency,” he says. “They’ll have more room to operate, and won’t be stuck on top of each other all the time.”

Another 1,200 square feet will be set aside for three private dining rooms that can be combined into one larger space. “I think private dining rooms will be in much higher demand than they were even a few months ago,” he says. “People will feel more secure in a separate space, rather than in the middle of the restaurant.” Complementing the interior space is a planned outdoor patio, another feature Cabigao thinks will remain popular.

Construction on the new SOB has a tentative opening date of October. The old space, which reopened in a limited capacity, has used the pandemic months to experiment with new menu items anything that proves to be popular with Memphians will become a permanent addition to the new space. But SOB’s footprint may extend farther than Downtown. Cabigao, who also owns Interim restaurant, decided to incorporate a few popular SOB items in the latter’s menu over the past few months.

“When everything closed, we tried to do some to-go food out of Interim’s kitchen,” he says. “That went well for about a week, but sales dropped off drastically. I think it’s because a lot of that menu is more fine dining and higher price points, and that doesn’t really work for takeout.”

The pivot was a hit with East Memphis, which prompted Cabigao to make that change permanent. “We were very sure that it was going to end up as SOB-East. We were remodeling the space and were confident that people would want that type of establishment. There isn’t a lot of food like that in East Memphis, so we’re certainly meeting that demand.”

Menus accessed via QR codes on personal mobile devices — pictured here at Café Eclectic in Midtown — help protect restaurant-goers by eliminating the need to share printed versions.

Cabigao sees many of the pandemic-enforced changes, like a focus on curbside and to-go orders, sticking around. SOB is already handling the issue of social distancing with its separate dining spaces and a new patio setup, but Cabigao credits the restaurant’s survival to the work put in over the last decade to make it a recognizable name.

“I think the restaurants that will survive this and do well are the ones that already have a good brand that people trust,” he says. “We’ve been around for a decade, our food’s been consistent, so people are familiar with us. Additionally, I think the brands that will do well are the ones that are completely compliant with the safety rules and regulations, like wearing masks, taking temperatures, ensuring social distancing. Guests need to feel that it’s a trustworthy brand, and I think those are the ones people will appreciate when everything is back open.”

For all the safety measures in place in local restaurants, it’s important for customers to remember that servers and other front-of-house staff are putting themselves at risk. What can normally be considered a thankless job is now made harder when factoring in health risks and less opportunity for tips.

“I would say be kind, be patient, and be aware,” offers Patterson. “Be aware of the changes that restaurants are making and what we’re doing to make this a safe space for you. Be courteous, and tip the servers! They’re getting far less customers into the building, which means less tips. They need that little extra boost.”

Carrier also maintains that a happy team is of paramount importance. “Front-of-house has to interact with the public,” she says. “It can be tough, so you really have to be on your toes and make sure you know what you’re doing.”

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.

With coronavirus cases still rising amid a disheartening national response, the pandemic doesn’t look to be going away any time soon. That places the restaurant industry at a crossroads. Where do they go from here? Owners like Patterson, Carrier, and Cabigao are doing their part to make their interiors as safe as can be, with staff members working extra hard on the sanitation front.

Some establishments are pivoting completely, like Majestic Grille’s ghost concept: Cocozza American Italian. The “virtual restaurant” is an entirely separate brand from Majestic and offers Italian takeout or curbside pickup to be enjoyed at home or on the Majestic patio on South Main. It’s a smart middle ground for owners Deni and Patrick Reilly to try something new without putting their workers and customers at risk in an enclosed space.

Other establishments, though, haven’t been so lucky amid all this uncertainty. Some restaurants have had to close their doors for good thanks to a severe drop in revenue the nebulous definition of a “restaurant” has seen a collective of closed bars file a lawsuit against Shelby County and the Health Department in an attempt to remain open. On the other hand, there have been reports that some employees feel pressured to return to work in what they consider unsafe conditions. Some out-of-work restaurant staffers have turned to alternate revenue streams, like the landscaping service Two Broke Bartenders. With plans to make it into a permanent business, there’s a question of whether those who joined the fledgling company as a temporary gig will even return to the hospitality industry.

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.


Rewriting the Recipe

The Memphis restaurant industry may be down, but it’s certainly not out, as owners introduce creative ways to retain customers — and keep them safe.

Beauty Shop owner Karen Blockman Carrier repurposed geodosic domes into a new dining experience in the Back Do / Mi Yard patio.

For three months, Karen Carrier toiled away in the Beauty Shop kitchen to fulfill a steady influx of takeout orders. No team, no servers, no dine-in customers — just Carrier and chef Shay Widmer cranking out meals, six days a week. It was tiring work, but Carrier wasn’t about to shut down her restaurant completely. That would mean almost two decades of work gone in an instant, and her staff, whom she considers family, wouldn’t have jobs to come back to. And so, like most of her peers, she soldiered on, even as restaurants struggled with an uncertain future.

When the hammer came, it came down hard. In mid-March, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland enforced closures on Memphis bars and restaurants, a huge decision made necessary by the increasing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, one of Memphis’ most thriving and creative industries saw a massive dip in revenue, while many kitchen and service staff found themselves out of a job. But even in upended times, establishments are finding a way to hold on.

Several months on from the initial lockdown, the reopening process, undertaken in June, was partially reversed in July following local surges in coronavirus cases. (Note: this issue of Memphis was sent to the printer July 20th.) The Beauty Shop carefully followed the first phases of a reopening plan, but as conditions in Memphis worsened, the Shelby County Health Department issued its Directive No. 8 on July 7th, mandating that bars must close once again, while restaurants dining rooms must close by 10 p.m. Meanwhile, restaurants must collect phone numbers of all customers to help with contact tracing as needed. There’s no easy solution, not in 2020 America. Public spaces like bars and restaurants find themselves at the center of an unfortunate, if predictable, argument over “safety” versus “liberty” when it comes to social distancing and wearing a mask in public.

“When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” — Tamra Patterson

On the consumer side, there’s another ethical dilemma. In the midst of a pandemic, dining out can be an unsettling experience. Even with restaurants adhering thoroughly to safety protocols, there’s still an element of risk to both patrons and staff. But the alternative — further jeopardizing the existence of a vibrant, generous restaurant industry and the local jobs it supports — is nauseating in its own right. Allowing Memphians to self-govern when it comes to public safety only works when everyone buys in to preventative measures, and so far, that’s not been the case.

photo courtesy tamra patterson

Chef Tamra Patterson at the Underground Café

Amid all the turmoil, restaurants need to function day-to-day to keep their doors open. Chef Tamra Patterson, owner of Chef Tam’s Underground Café, puts the situation most succinctly. “When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” That’s a sentiment echoed by many restaurant owners, who have found creative ways to adapt to the new normal and stay in business.

The year started out with optimism for Patterson. She vacated her old location in the Cooper-Young neighborhood and moved to a much larger Edge District space. “Before, we didn’t have the ability to serve as many customers as we wanted,” says Patterson. “We could fit 32 people, max, so we found a space that would give us a better opportunity to grow.”

The move gave the restaurant a whole new lease on life Patterson was already a recognizable name thanks to several memorable stints on The Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, and her Underground Café hit the ground running in the Edge District. She brought in live music most nights to entertain full houses, with a wait for a table sometimes extending upwards of two or three hours. And with the restaurant capable of holding 150 people at a time, business was booming.

The restaurant’s success didn’t shield Patterson from having to make major changes when COVID-19 hit. “Our building has multiple entrances,” explains Patterson, “so we had to close some of them off to create a safer way for people to come in and out. “ With no dine-in allowed, the menu needed to be adjusted so there wasn’t a surplus of ingredients. And while Patterson kept as much of her staff as she could, cuts were still necessary.

Chef Tam’s Underground Café plans to continue providing takeout, and Patterson is adamant that it stays that way. “We opened up a few weeks ago,” she says, “but when we saw that the numbers were going crazy in Memphis, we shut it right back down. I don’t want customers to come into our establishment and get sick. We know it’s not enough to bring all of our employees back, but it does put us in a position where we can bring back some folks, and in a safer way.”

photo courtesy karen carrier

Safety was a key word for Carrier when she first had to lay off her Beauty Shop Staff, and not just in the health sense. “When the mandate first ordered us to shut down on a Thursday night, the first thing I did was start a GoFundMe page for my staff,” says Carrier. “And then that Friday morning, I called a meeting for everyone from Mollie Fontaine Lounge, DKDC, the Beauty Shop, and Another Roadside Attraction.”

When they arrived, staff members lined up and applied for unemployment on two computers Carrier set up. Some of her workers, she says, don’t own computers, and might have had trouble applying otherwise. “This meant they had something going on at least,” she continues, “but I was really concerned. Who knew how long this was going to last? I have employees that have been with me 35 years. Lots of turnover affects the quality of a restaurant, so I like to approach this more like a family, as opposed to something corporate.”

When restaurants were allowed to reopen, Carrier’s full staff returned to the Beauty Shop after passing a COVID-19 test. While the restaurant looked much the same, the day-to-day operation incorporated new safety protocols. Carrier brought in wax paper bags to store silverware, while a bar cart enabled servers to ferry plates to diners with minimal contact. And through July, the Beauty Shop supplemented employee income with what they had been making on unemployment.

There were some initial growing pains with the new protocols, especially with the deluge of customers who poured in when the Beauty Shop reopened in early June. “We got hit hard,” says Carrier. “Everyone wanted to get outside the house, you know? I wasn’t sure how it would go, but everybody really stepped up.” After a first week of trial and error, things are running smoothly. To ensure social distancing, Carrier is utilizing space in the main restaurant, Bar DKDC next door, and the outdoor Back Do / Mi Yard.

The back patio, perhaps, provides one of the pandemic’s great restaurant innovations. Instead of the normal layout, two large geodesic domes are set up around tables and chairs. They certainly embody the aesthetic of something straight out of a sci-fi novel these days, it might just be the perfect setup.

“It’s a funny story,” says Carrier. “I actually bought these last October for Back Do / Mi Yard. I’d purchased them to have a heated space outside in the winter, but it started raining so much before that, they were really the only things I could set up there. They weren’t initially bought for this pandemic for a while we called them very expensive storage units, but it’s worked out now.”

Each unit is air-conditioned, but Carrier mentions that they struggle to remain cool inside during the day. For the time being, dome dining is available Monday through Saturday for dinner.

photo courtesy ed cabigao

Ed Cabigao, owner of South of Beale

Other restaurants took their pandemic planning in a different direction — literally. South of Beale (SOB) owner Ed Cabigao had been working on moving his restaurant into the former Ambassador Hotel at 345 S. Main. While the pandemic ultimately delayed the project by a few months, he hedged his bets and went full steam ahead on construction. “We had a conversation with our bank about halting or slowing down the process,” says Cabigao, “but we just thought it would be best to keep pushing forward, hoping that by the time SOB opened in the new spot, things would be a little bit better than they had been.”

For Cabigao, the pandemic has afforded him more time to carefully plan out the new digs. The restaurant will jump from 1,700 square feet to 5,000 square feet, with 1,000 of that turned into dedicated kitchen space (as opposed to the old location’s 300). “That will make it way better for the kitchen staff, in terms of safety and efficiency,” he says. “They’ll have more room to operate, and won’t be stuck on top of each other all the time.”

Another 1,200 square feet will be set aside for three private dining rooms that can be combined into one larger space. “I think private dining rooms will be in much higher demand than they were even a few months ago,” he says. “People will feel more secure in a separate space, rather than in the middle of the restaurant.” Complementing the interior space is a planned outdoor patio, another feature Cabigao thinks will remain popular.

Construction on the new SOB has a tentative opening date of October. The old space, which reopened in a limited capacity, has used the pandemic months to experiment with new menu items anything that proves to be popular with Memphians will become a permanent addition to the new space. But SOB’s footprint may extend farther than Downtown. Cabigao, who also owns Interim restaurant, decided to incorporate a few popular SOB items in the latter’s menu over the past few months.

“When everything closed, we tried to do some to-go food out of Interim’s kitchen,” he says. “That went well for about a week, but sales dropped off drastically. I think it’s because a lot of that menu is more fine dining and higher price points, and that doesn’t really work for takeout.”

The pivot was a hit with East Memphis, which prompted Cabigao to make that change permanent. “We were very sure that it was going to end up as SOB-East. We were remodeling the space and were confident that people would want that type of establishment. There isn’t a lot of food like that in East Memphis, so we’re certainly meeting that demand.”

Menus accessed via QR codes on personal mobile devices — pictured here at Café Eclectic in Midtown — help protect restaurant-goers by eliminating the need to share printed versions.

Cabigao sees many of the pandemic-enforced changes, like a focus on curbside and to-go orders, sticking around. SOB is already handling the issue of social distancing with its separate dining spaces and a new patio setup, but Cabigao credits the restaurant’s survival to the work put in over the last decade to make it a recognizable name.

“I think the restaurants that will survive this and do well are the ones that already have a good brand that people trust,” he says. “We’ve been around for a decade, our food’s been consistent, so people are familiar with us. Additionally, I think the brands that will do well are the ones that are completely compliant with the safety rules and regulations, like wearing masks, taking temperatures, ensuring social distancing. Guests need to feel that it’s a trustworthy brand, and I think those are the ones people will appreciate when everything is back open.”

For all the safety measures in place in local restaurants, it’s important for customers to remember that servers and other front-of-house staff are putting themselves at risk. What can normally be considered a thankless job is now made harder when factoring in health risks and less opportunity for tips.

“I would say be kind, be patient, and be aware,” offers Patterson. “Be aware of the changes that restaurants are making and what we’re doing to make this a safe space for you. Be courteous, and tip the servers! They’re getting far less customers into the building, which means less tips. They need that little extra boost.”

Carrier also maintains that a happy team is of paramount importance. “Front-of-house has to interact with the public,” she says. “It can be tough, so you really have to be on your toes and make sure you know what you’re doing.”

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.

With coronavirus cases still rising amid a disheartening national response, the pandemic doesn’t look to be going away any time soon. That places the restaurant industry at a crossroads. Where do they go from here? Owners like Patterson, Carrier, and Cabigao are doing their part to make their interiors as safe as can be, with staff members working extra hard on the sanitation front.

Some establishments are pivoting completely, like Majestic Grille’s ghost concept: Cocozza American Italian. The “virtual restaurant” is an entirely separate brand from Majestic and offers Italian takeout or curbside pickup to be enjoyed at home or on the Majestic patio on South Main. It’s a smart middle ground for owners Deni and Patrick Reilly to try something new without putting their workers and customers at risk in an enclosed space.

Other establishments, though, haven’t been so lucky amid all this uncertainty. Some restaurants have had to close their doors for good thanks to a severe drop in revenue the nebulous definition of a “restaurant” has seen a collective of closed bars file a lawsuit against Shelby County and the Health Department in an attempt to remain open. On the other hand, there have been reports that some employees feel pressured to return to work in what they consider unsafe conditions. Some out-of-work restaurant staffers have turned to alternate revenue streams, like the landscaping service Two Broke Bartenders. With plans to make it into a permanent business, there’s a question of whether those who joined the fledgling company as a temporary gig will even return to the hospitality industry.

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.


Rewriting the Recipe

The Memphis restaurant industry may be down, but it’s certainly not out, as owners introduce creative ways to retain customers — and keep them safe.

Beauty Shop owner Karen Blockman Carrier repurposed geodosic domes into a new dining experience in the Back Do / Mi Yard patio.

For three months, Karen Carrier toiled away in the Beauty Shop kitchen to fulfill a steady influx of takeout orders. No team, no servers, no dine-in customers — just Carrier and chef Shay Widmer cranking out meals, six days a week. It was tiring work, but Carrier wasn’t about to shut down her restaurant completely. That would mean almost two decades of work gone in an instant, and her staff, whom she considers family, wouldn’t have jobs to come back to. And so, like most of her peers, she soldiered on, even as restaurants struggled with an uncertain future.

When the hammer came, it came down hard. In mid-March, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland enforced closures on Memphis bars and restaurants, a huge decision made necessary by the increasing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, one of Memphis’ most thriving and creative industries saw a massive dip in revenue, while many kitchen and service staff found themselves out of a job. But even in upended times, establishments are finding a way to hold on.

Several months on from the initial lockdown, the reopening process, undertaken in June, was partially reversed in July following local surges in coronavirus cases. (Note: this issue of Memphis was sent to the printer July 20th.) The Beauty Shop carefully followed the first phases of a reopening plan, but as conditions in Memphis worsened, the Shelby County Health Department issued its Directive No. 8 on July 7th, mandating that bars must close once again, while restaurants dining rooms must close by 10 p.m. Meanwhile, restaurants must collect phone numbers of all customers to help with contact tracing as needed. There’s no easy solution, not in 2020 America. Public spaces like bars and restaurants find themselves at the center of an unfortunate, if predictable, argument over “safety” versus “liberty” when it comes to social distancing and wearing a mask in public.

“When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” — Tamra Patterson

On the consumer side, there’s another ethical dilemma. In the midst of a pandemic, dining out can be an unsettling experience. Even with restaurants adhering thoroughly to safety protocols, there’s still an element of risk to both patrons and staff. But the alternative — further jeopardizing the existence of a vibrant, generous restaurant industry and the local jobs it supports — is nauseating in its own right. Allowing Memphians to self-govern when it comes to public safety only works when everyone buys in to preventative measures, and so far, that’s not been the case.

photo courtesy tamra patterson

Chef Tamra Patterson at the Underground Café

Amid all the turmoil, restaurants need to function day-to-day to keep their doors open. Chef Tamra Patterson, owner of Chef Tam’s Underground Café, puts the situation most succinctly. “When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” That’s a sentiment echoed by many restaurant owners, who have found creative ways to adapt to the new normal and stay in business.

The year started out with optimism for Patterson. She vacated her old location in the Cooper-Young neighborhood and moved to a much larger Edge District space. “Before, we didn’t have the ability to serve as many customers as we wanted,” says Patterson. “We could fit 32 people, max, so we found a space that would give us a better opportunity to grow.”

The move gave the restaurant a whole new lease on life Patterson was already a recognizable name thanks to several memorable stints on The Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, and her Underground Café hit the ground running in the Edge District. She brought in live music most nights to entertain full houses, with a wait for a table sometimes extending upwards of two or three hours. And with the restaurant capable of holding 150 people at a time, business was booming.

The restaurant’s success didn’t shield Patterson from having to make major changes when COVID-19 hit. “Our building has multiple entrances,” explains Patterson, “so we had to close some of them off to create a safer way for people to come in and out. “ With no dine-in allowed, the menu needed to be adjusted so there wasn’t a surplus of ingredients. And while Patterson kept as much of her staff as she could, cuts were still necessary.

Chef Tam’s Underground Café plans to continue providing takeout, and Patterson is adamant that it stays that way. “We opened up a few weeks ago,” she says, “but when we saw that the numbers were going crazy in Memphis, we shut it right back down. I don’t want customers to come into our establishment and get sick. We know it’s not enough to bring all of our employees back, but it does put us in a position where we can bring back some folks, and in a safer way.”

photo courtesy karen carrier

Safety was a key word for Carrier when she first had to lay off her Beauty Shop Staff, and not just in the health sense. “When the mandate first ordered us to shut down on a Thursday night, the first thing I did was start a GoFundMe page for my staff,” says Carrier. “And then that Friday morning, I called a meeting for everyone from Mollie Fontaine Lounge, DKDC, the Beauty Shop, and Another Roadside Attraction.”

When they arrived, staff members lined up and applied for unemployment on two computers Carrier set up. Some of her workers, she says, don’t own computers, and might have had trouble applying otherwise. “This meant they had something going on at least,” she continues, “but I was really concerned. Who knew how long this was going to last? I have employees that have been with me 35 years. Lots of turnover affects the quality of a restaurant, so I like to approach this more like a family, as opposed to something corporate.”

When restaurants were allowed to reopen, Carrier’s full staff returned to the Beauty Shop after passing a COVID-19 test. While the restaurant looked much the same, the day-to-day operation incorporated new safety protocols. Carrier brought in wax paper bags to store silverware, while a bar cart enabled servers to ferry plates to diners with minimal contact. And through July, the Beauty Shop supplemented employee income with what they had been making on unemployment.

There were some initial growing pains with the new protocols, especially with the deluge of customers who poured in when the Beauty Shop reopened in early June. “We got hit hard,” says Carrier. “Everyone wanted to get outside the house, you know? I wasn’t sure how it would go, but everybody really stepped up.” After a first week of trial and error, things are running smoothly. To ensure social distancing, Carrier is utilizing space in the main restaurant, Bar DKDC next door, and the outdoor Back Do / Mi Yard.

The back patio, perhaps, provides one of the pandemic’s great restaurant innovations. Instead of the normal layout, two large geodesic domes are set up around tables and chairs. They certainly embody the aesthetic of something straight out of a sci-fi novel these days, it might just be the perfect setup.

“It’s a funny story,” says Carrier. “I actually bought these last October for Back Do / Mi Yard. I’d purchased them to have a heated space outside in the winter, but it started raining so much before that, they were really the only things I could set up there. They weren’t initially bought for this pandemic for a while we called them very expensive storage units, but it’s worked out now.”

Each unit is air-conditioned, but Carrier mentions that they struggle to remain cool inside during the day. For the time being, dome dining is available Monday through Saturday for dinner.

photo courtesy ed cabigao

Ed Cabigao, owner of South of Beale

Other restaurants took their pandemic planning in a different direction — literally. South of Beale (SOB) owner Ed Cabigao had been working on moving his restaurant into the former Ambassador Hotel at 345 S. Main. While the pandemic ultimately delayed the project by a few months, he hedged his bets and went full steam ahead on construction. “We had a conversation with our bank about halting or slowing down the process,” says Cabigao, “but we just thought it would be best to keep pushing forward, hoping that by the time SOB opened in the new spot, things would be a little bit better than they had been.”

For Cabigao, the pandemic has afforded him more time to carefully plan out the new digs. The restaurant will jump from 1,700 square feet to 5,000 square feet, with 1,000 of that turned into dedicated kitchen space (as opposed to the old location’s 300). “That will make it way better for the kitchen staff, in terms of safety and efficiency,” he says. “They’ll have more room to operate, and won’t be stuck on top of each other all the time.”

Another 1,200 square feet will be set aside for three private dining rooms that can be combined into one larger space. “I think private dining rooms will be in much higher demand than they were even a few months ago,” he says. “People will feel more secure in a separate space, rather than in the middle of the restaurant.” Complementing the interior space is a planned outdoor patio, another feature Cabigao thinks will remain popular.

Construction on the new SOB has a tentative opening date of October. The old space, which reopened in a limited capacity, has used the pandemic months to experiment with new menu items anything that proves to be popular with Memphians will become a permanent addition to the new space. But SOB’s footprint may extend farther than Downtown. Cabigao, who also owns Interim restaurant, decided to incorporate a few popular SOB items in the latter’s menu over the past few months.

“When everything closed, we tried to do some to-go food out of Interim’s kitchen,” he says. “That went well for about a week, but sales dropped off drastically. I think it’s because a lot of that menu is more fine dining and higher price points, and that doesn’t really work for takeout.”

The pivot was a hit with East Memphis, which prompted Cabigao to make that change permanent. “We were very sure that it was going to end up as SOB-East. We were remodeling the space and were confident that people would want that type of establishment. There isn’t a lot of food like that in East Memphis, so we’re certainly meeting that demand.”

Menus accessed via QR codes on personal mobile devices — pictured here at Café Eclectic in Midtown — help protect restaurant-goers by eliminating the need to share printed versions.

Cabigao sees many of the pandemic-enforced changes, like a focus on curbside and to-go orders, sticking around. SOB is already handling the issue of social distancing with its separate dining spaces and a new patio setup, but Cabigao credits the restaurant’s survival to the work put in over the last decade to make it a recognizable name.

“I think the restaurants that will survive this and do well are the ones that already have a good brand that people trust,” he says. “We’ve been around for a decade, our food’s been consistent, so people are familiar with us. Additionally, I think the brands that will do well are the ones that are completely compliant with the safety rules and regulations, like wearing masks, taking temperatures, ensuring social distancing. Guests need to feel that it’s a trustworthy brand, and I think those are the ones people will appreciate when everything is back open.”

For all the safety measures in place in local restaurants, it’s important for customers to remember that servers and other front-of-house staff are putting themselves at risk. What can normally be considered a thankless job is now made harder when factoring in health risks and less opportunity for tips.

“I would say be kind, be patient, and be aware,” offers Patterson. “Be aware of the changes that restaurants are making and what we’re doing to make this a safe space for you. Be courteous, and tip the servers! They’re getting far less customers into the building, which means less tips. They need that little extra boost.”

Carrier also maintains that a happy team is of paramount importance. “Front-of-house has to interact with the public,” she says. “It can be tough, so you really have to be on your toes and make sure you know what you’re doing.”

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.

With coronavirus cases still rising amid a disheartening national response, the pandemic doesn’t look to be going away any time soon. That places the restaurant industry at a crossroads. Where do they go from here? Owners like Patterson, Carrier, and Cabigao are doing their part to make their interiors as safe as can be, with staff members working extra hard on the sanitation front.

Some establishments are pivoting completely, like Majestic Grille’s ghost concept: Cocozza American Italian. The “virtual restaurant” is an entirely separate brand from Majestic and offers Italian takeout or curbside pickup to be enjoyed at home or on the Majestic patio on South Main. It’s a smart middle ground for owners Deni and Patrick Reilly to try something new without putting their workers and customers at risk in an enclosed space.

Other establishments, though, haven’t been so lucky amid all this uncertainty. Some restaurants have had to close their doors for good thanks to a severe drop in revenue the nebulous definition of a “restaurant” has seen a collective of closed bars file a lawsuit against Shelby County and the Health Department in an attempt to remain open. On the other hand, there have been reports that some employees feel pressured to return to work in what they consider unsafe conditions. Some out-of-work restaurant staffers have turned to alternate revenue streams, like the landscaping service Two Broke Bartenders. With plans to make it into a permanent business, there’s a question of whether those who joined the fledgling company as a temporary gig will even return to the hospitality industry.

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.


Rewriting the Recipe

The Memphis restaurant industry may be down, but it’s certainly not out, as owners introduce creative ways to retain customers — and keep them safe.

Beauty Shop owner Karen Blockman Carrier repurposed geodosic domes into a new dining experience in the Back Do / Mi Yard patio.

For three months, Karen Carrier toiled away in the Beauty Shop kitchen to fulfill a steady influx of takeout orders. No team, no servers, no dine-in customers — just Carrier and chef Shay Widmer cranking out meals, six days a week. It was tiring work, but Carrier wasn’t about to shut down her restaurant completely. That would mean almost two decades of work gone in an instant, and her staff, whom she considers family, wouldn’t have jobs to come back to. And so, like most of her peers, she soldiered on, even as restaurants struggled with an uncertain future.

When the hammer came, it came down hard. In mid-March, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland enforced closures on Memphis bars and restaurants, a huge decision made necessary by the increasing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, one of Memphis’ most thriving and creative industries saw a massive dip in revenue, while many kitchen and service staff found themselves out of a job. But even in upended times, establishments are finding a way to hold on.

Several months on from the initial lockdown, the reopening process, undertaken in June, was partially reversed in July following local surges in coronavirus cases. (Note: this issue of Memphis was sent to the printer July 20th.) The Beauty Shop carefully followed the first phases of a reopening plan, but as conditions in Memphis worsened, the Shelby County Health Department issued its Directive No. 8 on July 7th, mandating that bars must close once again, while restaurants dining rooms must close by 10 p.m. Meanwhile, restaurants must collect phone numbers of all customers to help with contact tracing as needed. There’s no easy solution, not in 2020 America. Public spaces like bars and restaurants find themselves at the center of an unfortunate, if predictable, argument over “safety” versus “liberty” when it comes to social distancing and wearing a mask in public.

“When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” — Tamra Patterson

On the consumer side, there’s another ethical dilemma. In the midst of a pandemic, dining out can be an unsettling experience. Even with restaurants adhering thoroughly to safety protocols, there’s still an element of risk to both patrons and staff. But the alternative — further jeopardizing the existence of a vibrant, generous restaurant industry and the local jobs it supports — is nauseating in its own right. Allowing Memphians to self-govern when it comes to public safety only works when everyone buys in to preventative measures, and so far, that’s not been the case.

photo courtesy tamra patterson

Chef Tamra Patterson at the Underground Café

Amid all the turmoil, restaurants need to function day-to-day to keep their doors open. Chef Tamra Patterson, owner of Chef Tam’s Underground Café, puts the situation most succinctly. “When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” That’s a sentiment echoed by many restaurant owners, who have found creative ways to adapt to the new normal and stay in business.

The year started out with optimism for Patterson. She vacated her old location in the Cooper-Young neighborhood and moved to a much larger Edge District space. “Before, we didn’t have the ability to serve as many customers as we wanted,” says Patterson. “We could fit 32 people, max, so we found a space that would give us a better opportunity to grow.”

The move gave the restaurant a whole new lease on life Patterson was already a recognizable name thanks to several memorable stints on The Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, and her Underground Café hit the ground running in the Edge District. She brought in live music most nights to entertain full houses, with a wait for a table sometimes extending upwards of two or three hours. And with the restaurant capable of holding 150 people at a time, business was booming.

The restaurant’s success didn’t shield Patterson from having to make major changes when COVID-19 hit. “Our building has multiple entrances,” explains Patterson, “so we had to close some of them off to create a safer way for people to come in and out. “ With no dine-in allowed, the menu needed to be adjusted so there wasn’t a surplus of ingredients. And while Patterson kept as much of her staff as she could, cuts were still necessary.

Chef Tam’s Underground Café plans to continue providing takeout, and Patterson is adamant that it stays that way. “We opened up a few weeks ago,” she says, “but when we saw that the numbers were going crazy in Memphis, we shut it right back down. I don’t want customers to come into our establishment and get sick. We know it’s not enough to bring all of our employees back, but it does put us in a position where we can bring back some folks, and in a safer way.”

photo courtesy karen carrier

Safety was a key word for Carrier when she first had to lay off her Beauty Shop Staff, and not just in the health sense. “When the mandate first ordered us to shut down on a Thursday night, the first thing I did was start a GoFundMe page for my staff,” says Carrier. “And then that Friday morning, I called a meeting for everyone from Mollie Fontaine Lounge, DKDC, the Beauty Shop, and Another Roadside Attraction.”

When they arrived, staff members lined up and applied for unemployment on two computers Carrier set up. Some of her workers, she says, don’t own computers, and might have had trouble applying otherwise. “This meant they had something going on at least,” she continues, “but I was really concerned. Who knew how long this was going to last? I have employees that have been with me 35 years. Lots of turnover affects the quality of a restaurant, so I like to approach this more like a family, as opposed to something corporate.”

When restaurants were allowed to reopen, Carrier’s full staff returned to the Beauty Shop after passing a COVID-19 test. While the restaurant looked much the same, the day-to-day operation incorporated new safety protocols. Carrier brought in wax paper bags to store silverware, while a bar cart enabled servers to ferry plates to diners with minimal contact. And through July, the Beauty Shop supplemented employee income with what they had been making on unemployment.

There were some initial growing pains with the new protocols, especially with the deluge of customers who poured in when the Beauty Shop reopened in early June. “We got hit hard,” says Carrier. “Everyone wanted to get outside the house, you know? I wasn’t sure how it would go, but everybody really stepped up.” After a first week of trial and error, things are running smoothly. To ensure social distancing, Carrier is utilizing space in the main restaurant, Bar DKDC next door, and the outdoor Back Do / Mi Yard.

The back patio, perhaps, provides one of the pandemic’s great restaurant innovations. Instead of the normal layout, two large geodesic domes are set up around tables and chairs. They certainly embody the aesthetic of something straight out of a sci-fi novel these days, it might just be the perfect setup.

“It’s a funny story,” says Carrier. “I actually bought these last October for Back Do / Mi Yard. I’d purchased them to have a heated space outside in the winter, but it started raining so much before that, they were really the only things I could set up there. They weren’t initially bought for this pandemic for a while we called them very expensive storage units, but it’s worked out now.”

Each unit is air-conditioned, but Carrier mentions that they struggle to remain cool inside during the day. For the time being, dome dining is available Monday through Saturday for dinner.

photo courtesy ed cabigao

Ed Cabigao, owner of South of Beale

Other restaurants took their pandemic planning in a different direction — literally. South of Beale (SOB) owner Ed Cabigao had been working on moving his restaurant into the former Ambassador Hotel at 345 S. Main. While the pandemic ultimately delayed the project by a few months, he hedged his bets and went full steam ahead on construction. “We had a conversation with our bank about halting or slowing down the process,” says Cabigao, “but we just thought it would be best to keep pushing forward, hoping that by the time SOB opened in the new spot, things would be a little bit better than they had been.”

For Cabigao, the pandemic has afforded him more time to carefully plan out the new digs. The restaurant will jump from 1,700 square feet to 5,000 square feet, with 1,000 of that turned into dedicated kitchen space (as opposed to the old location’s 300). “That will make it way better for the kitchen staff, in terms of safety and efficiency,” he says. “They’ll have more room to operate, and won’t be stuck on top of each other all the time.”

Another 1,200 square feet will be set aside for three private dining rooms that can be combined into one larger space. “I think private dining rooms will be in much higher demand than they were even a few months ago,” he says. “People will feel more secure in a separate space, rather than in the middle of the restaurant.” Complementing the interior space is a planned outdoor patio, another feature Cabigao thinks will remain popular.

Construction on the new SOB has a tentative opening date of October. The old space, which reopened in a limited capacity, has used the pandemic months to experiment with new menu items anything that proves to be popular with Memphians will become a permanent addition to the new space. But SOB’s footprint may extend farther than Downtown. Cabigao, who also owns Interim restaurant, decided to incorporate a few popular SOB items in the latter’s menu over the past few months.

“When everything closed, we tried to do some to-go food out of Interim’s kitchen,” he says. “That went well for about a week, but sales dropped off drastically. I think it’s because a lot of that menu is more fine dining and higher price points, and that doesn’t really work for takeout.”

The pivot was a hit with East Memphis, which prompted Cabigao to make that change permanent. “We were very sure that it was going to end up as SOB-East. We were remodeling the space and were confident that people would want that type of establishment. There isn’t a lot of food like that in East Memphis, so we’re certainly meeting that demand.”

Menus accessed via QR codes on personal mobile devices — pictured here at Café Eclectic in Midtown — help protect restaurant-goers by eliminating the need to share printed versions.

Cabigao sees many of the pandemic-enforced changes, like a focus on curbside and to-go orders, sticking around. SOB is already handling the issue of social distancing with its separate dining spaces and a new patio setup, but Cabigao credits the restaurant’s survival to the work put in over the last decade to make it a recognizable name.

“I think the restaurants that will survive this and do well are the ones that already have a good brand that people trust,” he says. “We’ve been around for a decade, our food’s been consistent, so people are familiar with us. Additionally, I think the brands that will do well are the ones that are completely compliant with the safety rules and regulations, like wearing masks, taking temperatures, ensuring social distancing. Guests need to feel that it’s a trustworthy brand, and I think those are the ones people will appreciate when everything is back open.”

For all the safety measures in place in local restaurants, it’s important for customers to remember that servers and other front-of-house staff are putting themselves at risk. What can normally be considered a thankless job is now made harder when factoring in health risks and less opportunity for tips.

“I would say be kind, be patient, and be aware,” offers Patterson. “Be aware of the changes that restaurants are making and what we’re doing to make this a safe space for you. Be courteous, and tip the servers! They’re getting far less customers into the building, which means less tips. They need that little extra boost.”

Carrier also maintains that a happy team is of paramount importance. “Front-of-house has to interact with the public,” she says. “It can be tough, so you really have to be on your toes and make sure you know what you’re doing.”

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.

With coronavirus cases still rising amid a disheartening national response, the pandemic doesn’t look to be going away any time soon. That places the restaurant industry at a crossroads. Where do they go from here? Owners like Patterson, Carrier, and Cabigao are doing their part to make their interiors as safe as can be, with staff members working extra hard on the sanitation front.

Some establishments are pivoting completely, like Majestic Grille’s ghost concept: Cocozza American Italian. The “virtual restaurant” is an entirely separate brand from Majestic and offers Italian takeout or curbside pickup to be enjoyed at home or on the Majestic patio on South Main. It’s a smart middle ground for owners Deni and Patrick Reilly to try something new without putting their workers and customers at risk in an enclosed space.

Other establishments, though, haven’t been so lucky amid all this uncertainty. Some restaurants have had to close their doors for good thanks to a severe drop in revenue the nebulous definition of a “restaurant” has seen a collective of closed bars file a lawsuit against Shelby County and the Health Department in an attempt to remain open. On the other hand, there have been reports that some employees feel pressured to return to work in what they consider unsafe conditions. Some out-of-work restaurant staffers have turned to alternate revenue streams, like the landscaping service Two Broke Bartenders. With plans to make it into a permanent business, there’s a question of whether those who joined the fledgling company as a temporary gig will even return to the hospitality industry.

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.


Rewriting the Recipe

The Memphis restaurant industry may be down, but it’s certainly not out, as owners introduce creative ways to retain customers — and keep them safe.

Beauty Shop owner Karen Blockman Carrier repurposed geodosic domes into a new dining experience in the Back Do / Mi Yard patio.

For three months, Karen Carrier toiled away in the Beauty Shop kitchen to fulfill a steady influx of takeout orders. No team, no servers, no dine-in customers — just Carrier and chef Shay Widmer cranking out meals, six days a week. It was tiring work, but Carrier wasn’t about to shut down her restaurant completely. That would mean almost two decades of work gone in an instant, and her staff, whom she considers family, wouldn’t have jobs to come back to. And so, like most of her peers, she soldiered on, even as restaurants struggled with an uncertain future.

When the hammer came, it came down hard. In mid-March, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland enforced closures on Memphis bars and restaurants, a huge decision made necessary by the increasing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, one of Memphis’ most thriving and creative industries saw a massive dip in revenue, while many kitchen and service staff found themselves out of a job. But even in upended times, establishments are finding a way to hold on.

Several months on from the initial lockdown, the reopening process, undertaken in June, was partially reversed in July following local surges in coronavirus cases. (Note: this issue of Memphis was sent to the printer July 20th.) The Beauty Shop carefully followed the first phases of a reopening plan, but as conditions in Memphis worsened, the Shelby County Health Department issued its Directive No. 8 on July 7th, mandating that bars must close once again, while restaurants dining rooms must close by 10 p.m. Meanwhile, restaurants must collect phone numbers of all customers to help with contact tracing as needed. There’s no easy solution, not in 2020 America. Public spaces like bars and restaurants find themselves at the center of an unfortunate, if predictable, argument over “safety” versus “liberty” when it comes to social distancing and wearing a mask in public.

“When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” — Tamra Patterson

On the consumer side, there’s another ethical dilemma. In the midst of a pandemic, dining out can be an unsettling experience. Even with restaurants adhering thoroughly to safety protocols, there’s still an element of risk to both patrons and staff. But the alternative — further jeopardizing the existence of a vibrant, generous restaurant industry and the local jobs it supports — is nauseating in its own right. Allowing Memphians to self-govern when it comes to public safety only works when everyone buys in to preventative measures, and so far, that’s not been the case.

photo courtesy tamra patterson

Chef Tamra Patterson at the Underground Café

Amid all the turmoil, restaurants need to function day-to-day to keep their doors open. Chef Tamra Patterson, owner of Chef Tam’s Underground Café, puts the situation most succinctly. “When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” That’s a sentiment echoed by many restaurant owners, who have found creative ways to adapt to the new normal and stay in business.

The year started out with optimism for Patterson. She vacated her old location in the Cooper-Young neighborhood and moved to a much larger Edge District space. “Before, we didn’t have the ability to serve as many customers as we wanted,” says Patterson. “We could fit 32 people, max, so we found a space that would give us a better opportunity to grow.”

The move gave the restaurant a whole new lease on life Patterson was already a recognizable name thanks to several memorable stints on The Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, and her Underground Café hit the ground running in the Edge District. She brought in live music most nights to entertain full houses, with a wait for a table sometimes extending upwards of two or three hours. And with the restaurant capable of holding 150 people at a time, business was booming.

The restaurant’s success didn’t shield Patterson from having to make major changes when COVID-19 hit. “Our building has multiple entrances,” explains Patterson, “so we had to close some of them off to create a safer way for people to come in and out. “ With no dine-in allowed, the menu needed to be adjusted so there wasn’t a surplus of ingredients. And while Patterson kept as much of her staff as she could, cuts were still necessary.

Chef Tam’s Underground Café plans to continue providing takeout, and Patterson is adamant that it stays that way. “We opened up a few weeks ago,” she says, “but when we saw that the numbers were going crazy in Memphis, we shut it right back down. I don’t want customers to come into our establishment and get sick. We know it’s not enough to bring all of our employees back, but it does put us in a position where we can bring back some folks, and in a safer way.”

photo courtesy karen carrier

Safety was a key word for Carrier when she first had to lay off her Beauty Shop Staff, and not just in the health sense. “When the mandate first ordered us to shut down on a Thursday night, the first thing I did was start a GoFundMe page for my staff,” says Carrier. “And then that Friday morning, I called a meeting for everyone from Mollie Fontaine Lounge, DKDC, the Beauty Shop, and Another Roadside Attraction.”

When they arrived, staff members lined up and applied for unemployment on two computers Carrier set up. Some of her workers, she says, don’t own computers, and might have had trouble applying otherwise. “This meant they had something going on at least,” she continues, “but I was really concerned. Who knew how long this was going to last? I have employees that have been with me 35 years. Lots of turnover affects the quality of a restaurant, so I like to approach this more like a family, as opposed to something corporate.”

When restaurants were allowed to reopen, Carrier’s full staff returned to the Beauty Shop after passing a COVID-19 test. While the restaurant looked much the same, the day-to-day operation incorporated new safety protocols. Carrier brought in wax paper bags to store silverware, while a bar cart enabled servers to ferry plates to diners with minimal contact. And through July, the Beauty Shop supplemented employee income with what they had been making on unemployment.

There were some initial growing pains with the new protocols, especially with the deluge of customers who poured in when the Beauty Shop reopened in early June. “We got hit hard,” says Carrier. “Everyone wanted to get outside the house, you know? I wasn’t sure how it would go, but everybody really stepped up.” After a first week of trial and error, things are running smoothly. To ensure social distancing, Carrier is utilizing space in the main restaurant, Bar DKDC next door, and the outdoor Back Do / Mi Yard.

The back patio, perhaps, provides one of the pandemic’s great restaurant innovations. Instead of the normal layout, two large geodesic domes are set up around tables and chairs. They certainly embody the aesthetic of something straight out of a sci-fi novel these days, it might just be the perfect setup.

“It’s a funny story,” says Carrier. “I actually bought these last October for Back Do / Mi Yard. I’d purchased them to have a heated space outside in the winter, but it started raining so much before that, they were really the only things I could set up there. They weren’t initially bought for this pandemic for a while we called them very expensive storage units, but it’s worked out now.”

Each unit is air-conditioned, but Carrier mentions that they struggle to remain cool inside during the day. For the time being, dome dining is available Monday through Saturday for dinner.

photo courtesy ed cabigao

Ed Cabigao, owner of South of Beale

Other restaurants took their pandemic planning in a different direction — literally. South of Beale (SOB) owner Ed Cabigao had been working on moving his restaurant into the former Ambassador Hotel at 345 S. Main. While the pandemic ultimately delayed the project by a few months, he hedged his bets and went full steam ahead on construction. “We had a conversation with our bank about halting or slowing down the process,” says Cabigao, “but we just thought it would be best to keep pushing forward, hoping that by the time SOB opened in the new spot, things would be a little bit better than they had been.”

For Cabigao, the pandemic has afforded him more time to carefully plan out the new digs. The restaurant will jump from 1,700 square feet to 5,000 square feet, with 1,000 of that turned into dedicated kitchen space (as opposed to the old location’s 300). “That will make it way better for the kitchen staff, in terms of safety and efficiency,” he says. “They’ll have more room to operate, and won’t be stuck on top of each other all the time.”

Another 1,200 square feet will be set aside for three private dining rooms that can be combined into one larger space. “I think private dining rooms will be in much higher demand than they were even a few months ago,” he says. “People will feel more secure in a separate space, rather than in the middle of the restaurant.” Complementing the interior space is a planned outdoor patio, another feature Cabigao thinks will remain popular.

Construction on the new SOB has a tentative opening date of October. The old space, which reopened in a limited capacity, has used the pandemic months to experiment with new menu items anything that proves to be popular with Memphians will become a permanent addition to the new space. But SOB’s footprint may extend farther than Downtown. Cabigao, who also owns Interim restaurant, decided to incorporate a few popular SOB items in the latter’s menu over the past few months.

“When everything closed, we tried to do some to-go food out of Interim’s kitchen,” he says. “That went well for about a week, but sales dropped off drastically. I think it’s because a lot of that menu is more fine dining and higher price points, and that doesn’t really work for takeout.”

The pivot was a hit with East Memphis, which prompted Cabigao to make that change permanent. “We were very sure that it was going to end up as SOB-East. We were remodeling the space and were confident that people would want that type of establishment. There isn’t a lot of food like that in East Memphis, so we’re certainly meeting that demand.”

Menus accessed via QR codes on personal mobile devices — pictured here at Café Eclectic in Midtown — help protect restaurant-goers by eliminating the need to share printed versions.

Cabigao sees many of the pandemic-enforced changes, like a focus on curbside and to-go orders, sticking around. SOB is already handling the issue of social distancing with its separate dining spaces and a new patio setup, but Cabigao credits the restaurant’s survival to the work put in over the last decade to make it a recognizable name.

“I think the restaurants that will survive this and do well are the ones that already have a good brand that people trust,” he says. “We’ve been around for a decade, our food’s been consistent, so people are familiar with us. Additionally, I think the brands that will do well are the ones that are completely compliant with the safety rules and regulations, like wearing masks, taking temperatures, ensuring social distancing. Guests need to feel that it’s a trustworthy brand, and I think those are the ones people will appreciate when everything is back open.”

For all the safety measures in place in local restaurants, it’s important for customers to remember that servers and other front-of-house staff are putting themselves at risk. What can normally be considered a thankless job is now made harder when factoring in health risks and less opportunity for tips.

“I would say be kind, be patient, and be aware,” offers Patterson. “Be aware of the changes that restaurants are making and what we’re doing to make this a safe space for you. Be courteous, and tip the servers! They’re getting far less customers into the building, which means less tips. They need that little extra boost.”

Carrier also maintains that a happy team is of paramount importance. “Front-of-house has to interact with the public,” she says. “It can be tough, so you really have to be on your toes and make sure you know what you’re doing.”

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.

With coronavirus cases still rising amid a disheartening national response, the pandemic doesn’t look to be going away any time soon. That places the restaurant industry at a crossroads. Where do they go from here? Owners like Patterson, Carrier, and Cabigao are doing their part to make their interiors as safe as can be, with staff members working extra hard on the sanitation front.

Some establishments are pivoting completely, like Majestic Grille’s ghost concept: Cocozza American Italian. The “virtual restaurant” is an entirely separate brand from Majestic and offers Italian takeout or curbside pickup to be enjoyed at home or on the Majestic patio on South Main. It’s a smart middle ground for owners Deni and Patrick Reilly to try something new without putting their workers and customers at risk in an enclosed space.

Other establishments, though, haven’t been so lucky amid all this uncertainty. Some restaurants have had to close their doors for good thanks to a severe drop in revenue the nebulous definition of a “restaurant” has seen a collective of closed bars file a lawsuit against Shelby County and the Health Department in an attempt to remain open. On the other hand, there have been reports that some employees feel pressured to return to work in what they consider unsafe conditions. Some out-of-work restaurant staffers have turned to alternate revenue streams, like the landscaping service Two Broke Bartenders. With plans to make it into a permanent business, there’s a question of whether those who joined the fledgling company as a temporary gig will even return to the hospitality industry.

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.


Rewriting the Recipe

The Memphis restaurant industry may be down, but it’s certainly not out, as owners introduce creative ways to retain customers — and keep them safe.

Beauty Shop owner Karen Blockman Carrier repurposed geodosic domes into a new dining experience in the Back Do / Mi Yard patio.

For three months, Karen Carrier toiled away in the Beauty Shop kitchen to fulfill a steady influx of takeout orders. No team, no servers, no dine-in customers — just Carrier and chef Shay Widmer cranking out meals, six days a week. It was tiring work, but Carrier wasn’t about to shut down her restaurant completely. That would mean almost two decades of work gone in an instant, and her staff, whom she considers family, wouldn’t have jobs to come back to. And so, like most of her peers, she soldiered on, even as restaurants struggled with an uncertain future.

When the hammer came, it came down hard. In mid-March, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland enforced closures on Memphis bars and restaurants, a huge decision made necessary by the increasing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, one of Memphis’ most thriving and creative industries saw a massive dip in revenue, while many kitchen and service staff found themselves out of a job. But even in upended times, establishments are finding a way to hold on.

Several months on from the initial lockdown, the reopening process, undertaken in June, was partially reversed in July following local surges in coronavirus cases. (Note: this issue of Memphis was sent to the printer July 20th.) The Beauty Shop carefully followed the first phases of a reopening plan, but as conditions in Memphis worsened, the Shelby County Health Department issued its Directive No. 8 on July 7th, mandating that bars must close once again, while restaurants dining rooms must close by 10 p.m. Meanwhile, restaurants must collect phone numbers of all customers to help with contact tracing as needed. There’s no easy solution, not in 2020 America. Public spaces like bars and restaurants find themselves at the center of an unfortunate, if predictable, argument over “safety” versus “liberty” when it comes to social distancing and wearing a mask in public.

“When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” — Tamra Patterson

On the consumer side, there’s another ethical dilemma. In the midst of a pandemic, dining out can be an unsettling experience. Even with restaurants adhering thoroughly to safety protocols, there’s still an element of risk to both patrons and staff. But the alternative — further jeopardizing the existence of a vibrant, generous restaurant industry and the local jobs it supports — is nauseating in its own right. Allowing Memphians to self-govern when it comes to public safety only works when everyone buys in to preventative measures, and so far, that’s not been the case.

photo courtesy tamra patterson

Chef Tamra Patterson at the Underground Café

Amid all the turmoil, restaurants need to function day-to-day to keep their doors open. Chef Tamra Patterson, owner of Chef Tam’s Underground Café, puts the situation most succinctly. “When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” That’s a sentiment echoed by many restaurant owners, who have found creative ways to adapt to the new normal and stay in business.

The year started out with optimism for Patterson. She vacated her old location in the Cooper-Young neighborhood and moved to a much larger Edge District space. “Before, we didn’t have the ability to serve as many customers as we wanted,” says Patterson. “We could fit 32 people, max, so we found a space that would give us a better opportunity to grow.”

The move gave the restaurant a whole new lease on life Patterson was already a recognizable name thanks to several memorable stints on The Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, and her Underground Café hit the ground running in the Edge District. She brought in live music most nights to entertain full houses, with a wait for a table sometimes extending upwards of two or three hours. And with the restaurant capable of holding 150 people at a time, business was booming.

The restaurant’s success didn’t shield Patterson from having to make major changes when COVID-19 hit. “Our building has multiple entrances,” explains Patterson, “so we had to close some of them off to create a safer way for people to come in and out. “ With no dine-in allowed, the menu needed to be adjusted so there wasn’t a surplus of ingredients. And while Patterson kept as much of her staff as she could, cuts were still necessary.

Chef Tam’s Underground Café plans to continue providing takeout, and Patterson is adamant that it stays that way. “We opened up a few weeks ago,” she says, “but when we saw that the numbers were going crazy in Memphis, we shut it right back down. I don’t want customers to come into our establishment and get sick. We know it’s not enough to bring all of our employees back, but it does put us in a position where we can bring back some folks, and in a safer way.”

photo courtesy karen carrier

Safety was a key word for Carrier when she first had to lay off her Beauty Shop Staff, and not just in the health sense. “When the mandate first ordered us to shut down on a Thursday night, the first thing I did was start a GoFundMe page for my staff,” says Carrier. “And then that Friday morning, I called a meeting for everyone from Mollie Fontaine Lounge, DKDC, the Beauty Shop, and Another Roadside Attraction.”

When they arrived, staff members lined up and applied for unemployment on two computers Carrier set up. Some of her workers, she says, don’t own computers, and might have had trouble applying otherwise. “This meant they had something going on at least,” she continues, “but I was really concerned. Who knew how long this was going to last? I have employees that have been with me 35 years. Lots of turnover affects the quality of a restaurant, so I like to approach this more like a family, as opposed to something corporate.”

When restaurants were allowed to reopen, Carrier’s full staff returned to the Beauty Shop after passing a COVID-19 test. While the restaurant looked much the same, the day-to-day operation incorporated new safety protocols. Carrier brought in wax paper bags to store silverware, while a bar cart enabled servers to ferry plates to diners with minimal contact. And through July, the Beauty Shop supplemented employee income with what they had been making on unemployment.

There were some initial growing pains with the new protocols, especially with the deluge of customers who poured in when the Beauty Shop reopened in early June. “We got hit hard,” says Carrier. “Everyone wanted to get outside the house, you know? I wasn’t sure how it would go, but everybody really stepped up.” After a first week of trial and error, things are running smoothly. To ensure social distancing, Carrier is utilizing space in the main restaurant, Bar DKDC next door, and the outdoor Back Do / Mi Yard.

The back patio, perhaps, provides one of the pandemic’s great restaurant innovations. Instead of the normal layout, two large geodesic domes are set up around tables and chairs. They certainly embody the aesthetic of something straight out of a sci-fi novel these days, it might just be the perfect setup.

“It’s a funny story,” says Carrier. “I actually bought these last October for Back Do / Mi Yard. I’d purchased them to have a heated space outside in the winter, but it started raining so much before that, they were really the only things I could set up there. They weren’t initially bought for this pandemic for a while we called them very expensive storage units, but it’s worked out now.”

Each unit is air-conditioned, but Carrier mentions that they struggle to remain cool inside during the day. For the time being, dome dining is available Monday through Saturday for dinner.

photo courtesy ed cabigao

Ed Cabigao, owner of South of Beale

Other restaurants took their pandemic planning in a different direction — literally. South of Beale (SOB) owner Ed Cabigao had been working on moving his restaurant into the former Ambassador Hotel at 345 S. Main. While the pandemic ultimately delayed the project by a few months, he hedged his bets and went full steam ahead on construction. “We had a conversation with our bank about halting or slowing down the process,” says Cabigao, “but we just thought it would be best to keep pushing forward, hoping that by the time SOB opened in the new spot, things would be a little bit better than they had been.”

For Cabigao, the pandemic has afforded him more time to carefully plan out the new digs. The restaurant will jump from 1,700 square feet to 5,000 square feet, with 1,000 of that turned into dedicated kitchen space (as opposed to the old location’s 300). “That will make it way better for the kitchen staff, in terms of safety and efficiency,” he says. “They’ll have more room to operate, and won’t be stuck on top of each other all the time.”

Another 1,200 square feet will be set aside for three private dining rooms that can be combined into one larger space. “I think private dining rooms will be in much higher demand than they were even a few months ago,” he says. “People will feel more secure in a separate space, rather than in the middle of the restaurant.” Complementing the interior space is a planned outdoor patio, another feature Cabigao thinks will remain popular.

Construction on the new SOB has a tentative opening date of October. The old space, which reopened in a limited capacity, has used the pandemic months to experiment with new menu items anything that proves to be popular with Memphians will become a permanent addition to the new space. But SOB’s footprint may extend farther than Downtown. Cabigao, who also owns Interim restaurant, decided to incorporate a few popular SOB items in the latter’s menu over the past few months.

“When everything closed, we tried to do some to-go food out of Interim’s kitchen,” he says. “That went well for about a week, but sales dropped off drastically. I think it’s because a lot of that menu is more fine dining and higher price points, and that doesn’t really work for takeout.”

The pivot was a hit with East Memphis, which prompted Cabigao to make that change permanent. “We were very sure that it was going to end up as SOB-East. We were remodeling the space and were confident that people would want that type of establishment. There isn’t a lot of food like that in East Memphis, so we’re certainly meeting that demand.”

Menus accessed via QR codes on personal mobile devices — pictured here at Café Eclectic in Midtown — help protect restaurant-goers by eliminating the need to share printed versions.

Cabigao sees many of the pandemic-enforced changes, like a focus on curbside and to-go orders, sticking around. SOB is already handling the issue of social distancing with its separate dining spaces and a new patio setup, but Cabigao credits the restaurant’s survival to the work put in over the last decade to make it a recognizable name.

“I think the restaurants that will survive this and do well are the ones that already have a good brand that people trust,” he says. “We’ve been around for a decade, our food’s been consistent, so people are familiar with us. Additionally, I think the brands that will do well are the ones that are completely compliant with the safety rules and regulations, like wearing masks, taking temperatures, ensuring social distancing. Guests need to feel that it’s a trustworthy brand, and I think those are the ones people will appreciate when everything is back open.”

For all the safety measures in place in local restaurants, it’s important for customers to remember that servers and other front-of-house staff are putting themselves at risk. What can normally be considered a thankless job is now made harder when factoring in health risks and less opportunity for tips.

“I would say be kind, be patient, and be aware,” offers Patterson. “Be aware of the changes that restaurants are making and what we’re doing to make this a safe space for you. Be courteous, and tip the servers! They’re getting far less customers into the building, which means less tips. They need that little extra boost.”

Carrier also maintains that a happy team is of paramount importance. “Front-of-house has to interact with the public,” she says. “It can be tough, so you really have to be on your toes and make sure you know what you’re doing.”

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.

With coronavirus cases still rising amid a disheartening national response, the pandemic doesn’t look to be going away any time soon. That places the restaurant industry at a crossroads. Where do they go from here? Owners like Patterson, Carrier, and Cabigao are doing their part to make their interiors as safe as can be, with staff members working extra hard on the sanitation front.

Some establishments are pivoting completely, like Majestic Grille’s ghost concept: Cocozza American Italian. The “virtual restaurant” is an entirely separate brand from Majestic and offers Italian takeout or curbside pickup to be enjoyed at home or on the Majestic patio on South Main. It’s a smart middle ground for owners Deni and Patrick Reilly to try something new without putting their workers and customers at risk in an enclosed space.

Other establishments, though, haven’t been so lucky amid all this uncertainty. Some restaurants have had to close their doors for good thanks to a severe drop in revenue the nebulous definition of a “restaurant” has seen a collective of closed bars file a lawsuit against Shelby County and the Health Department in an attempt to remain open. On the other hand, there have been reports that some employees feel pressured to return to work in what they consider unsafe conditions. Some out-of-work restaurant staffers have turned to alternate revenue streams, like the landscaping service Two Broke Bartenders. With plans to make it into a permanent business, there’s a question of whether those who joined the fledgling company as a temporary gig will even return to the hospitality industry.

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.


Rewriting the Recipe

The Memphis restaurant industry may be down, but it’s certainly not out, as owners introduce creative ways to retain customers — and keep them safe.

Beauty Shop owner Karen Blockman Carrier repurposed geodosic domes into a new dining experience in the Back Do / Mi Yard patio.

For three months, Karen Carrier toiled away in the Beauty Shop kitchen to fulfill a steady influx of takeout orders. No team, no servers, no dine-in customers — just Carrier and chef Shay Widmer cranking out meals, six days a week. It was tiring work, but Carrier wasn’t about to shut down her restaurant completely. That would mean almost two decades of work gone in an instant, and her staff, whom she considers family, wouldn’t have jobs to come back to. And so, like most of her peers, she soldiered on, even as restaurants struggled with an uncertain future.

When the hammer came, it came down hard. In mid-March, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland enforced closures on Memphis bars and restaurants, a huge decision made necessary by the increasing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, one of Memphis’ most thriving and creative industries saw a massive dip in revenue, while many kitchen and service staff found themselves out of a job. But even in upended times, establishments are finding a way to hold on.

Several months on from the initial lockdown, the reopening process, undertaken in June, was partially reversed in July following local surges in coronavirus cases. (Note: this issue of Memphis was sent to the printer July 20th.) The Beauty Shop carefully followed the first phases of a reopening plan, but as conditions in Memphis worsened, the Shelby County Health Department issued its Directive No. 8 on July 7th, mandating that bars must close once again, while restaurants dining rooms must close by 10 p.m. Meanwhile, restaurants must collect phone numbers of all customers to help with contact tracing as needed. There’s no easy solution, not in 2020 America. Public spaces like bars and restaurants find themselves at the center of an unfortunate, if predictable, argument over “safety” versus “liberty” when it comes to social distancing and wearing a mask in public.

“When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” — Tamra Patterson

On the consumer side, there’s another ethical dilemma. In the midst of a pandemic, dining out can be an unsettling experience. Even with restaurants adhering thoroughly to safety protocols, there’s still an element of risk to both patrons and staff. But the alternative — further jeopardizing the existence of a vibrant, generous restaurant industry and the local jobs it supports — is nauseating in its own right. Allowing Memphians to self-govern when it comes to public safety only works when everyone buys in to preventative measures, and so far, that’s not been the case.

photo courtesy tamra patterson

Chef Tamra Patterson at the Underground Café

Amid all the turmoil, restaurants need to function day-to-day to keep their doors open. Chef Tamra Patterson, owner of Chef Tam’s Underground Café, puts the situation most succinctly. “When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” That’s a sentiment echoed by many restaurant owners, who have found creative ways to adapt to the new normal and stay in business.

The year started out with optimism for Patterson. She vacated her old location in the Cooper-Young neighborhood and moved to a much larger Edge District space. “Before, we didn’t have the ability to serve as many customers as we wanted,” says Patterson. “We could fit 32 people, max, so we found a space that would give us a better opportunity to grow.”

The move gave the restaurant a whole new lease on life Patterson was already a recognizable name thanks to several memorable stints on The Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, and her Underground Café hit the ground running in the Edge District. She brought in live music most nights to entertain full houses, with a wait for a table sometimes extending upwards of two or three hours. And with the restaurant capable of holding 150 people at a time, business was booming.

The restaurant’s success didn’t shield Patterson from having to make major changes when COVID-19 hit. “Our building has multiple entrances,” explains Patterson, “so we had to close some of them off to create a safer way for people to come in and out. “ With no dine-in allowed, the menu needed to be adjusted so there wasn’t a surplus of ingredients. And while Patterson kept as much of her staff as she could, cuts were still necessary.

Chef Tam’s Underground Café plans to continue providing takeout, and Patterson is adamant that it stays that way. “We opened up a few weeks ago,” she says, “but when we saw that the numbers were going crazy in Memphis, we shut it right back down. I don’t want customers to come into our establishment and get sick. We know it’s not enough to bring all of our employees back, but it does put us in a position where we can bring back some folks, and in a safer way.”

photo courtesy karen carrier

Safety was a key word for Carrier when she first had to lay off her Beauty Shop Staff, and not just in the health sense. “When the mandate first ordered us to shut down on a Thursday night, the first thing I did was start a GoFundMe page for my staff,” says Carrier. “And then that Friday morning, I called a meeting for everyone from Mollie Fontaine Lounge, DKDC, the Beauty Shop, and Another Roadside Attraction.”

When they arrived, staff members lined up and applied for unemployment on two computers Carrier set up. Some of her workers, she says, don’t own computers, and might have had trouble applying otherwise. “This meant they had something going on at least,” she continues, “but I was really concerned. Who knew how long this was going to last? I have employees that have been with me 35 years. Lots of turnover affects the quality of a restaurant, so I like to approach this more like a family, as opposed to something corporate.”

When restaurants were allowed to reopen, Carrier’s full staff returned to the Beauty Shop after passing a COVID-19 test. While the restaurant looked much the same, the day-to-day operation incorporated new safety protocols. Carrier brought in wax paper bags to store silverware, while a bar cart enabled servers to ferry plates to diners with minimal contact. And through July, the Beauty Shop supplemented employee income with what they had been making on unemployment.

There were some initial growing pains with the new protocols, especially with the deluge of customers who poured in when the Beauty Shop reopened in early June. “We got hit hard,” says Carrier. “Everyone wanted to get outside the house, you know? I wasn’t sure how it would go, but everybody really stepped up.” After a first week of trial and error, things are running smoothly. To ensure social distancing, Carrier is utilizing space in the main restaurant, Bar DKDC next door, and the outdoor Back Do / Mi Yard.

The back patio, perhaps, provides one of the pandemic’s great restaurant innovations. Instead of the normal layout, two large geodesic domes are set up around tables and chairs. They certainly embody the aesthetic of something straight out of a sci-fi novel these days, it might just be the perfect setup.

“It’s a funny story,” says Carrier. “I actually bought these last October for Back Do / Mi Yard. I’d purchased them to have a heated space outside in the winter, but it started raining so much before that, they were really the only things I could set up there. They weren’t initially bought for this pandemic for a while we called them very expensive storage units, but it’s worked out now.”

Each unit is air-conditioned, but Carrier mentions that they struggle to remain cool inside during the day. For the time being, dome dining is available Monday through Saturday for dinner.

photo courtesy ed cabigao

Ed Cabigao, owner of South of Beale

Other restaurants took their pandemic planning in a different direction — literally. South of Beale (SOB) owner Ed Cabigao had been working on moving his restaurant into the former Ambassador Hotel at 345 S. Main. While the pandemic ultimately delayed the project by a few months, he hedged his bets and went full steam ahead on construction. “We had a conversation with our bank about halting or slowing down the process,” says Cabigao, “but we just thought it would be best to keep pushing forward, hoping that by the time SOB opened in the new spot, things would be a little bit better than they had been.”

For Cabigao, the pandemic has afforded him more time to carefully plan out the new digs. The restaurant will jump from 1,700 square feet to 5,000 square feet, with 1,000 of that turned into dedicated kitchen space (as opposed to the old location’s 300). “That will make it way better for the kitchen staff, in terms of safety and efficiency,” he says. “They’ll have more room to operate, and won’t be stuck on top of each other all the time.”

Another 1,200 square feet will be set aside for three private dining rooms that can be combined into one larger space. “I think private dining rooms will be in much higher demand than they were even a few months ago,” he says. “People will feel more secure in a separate space, rather than in the middle of the restaurant.” Complementing the interior space is a planned outdoor patio, another feature Cabigao thinks will remain popular.

Construction on the new SOB has a tentative opening date of October. The old space, which reopened in a limited capacity, has used the pandemic months to experiment with new menu items anything that proves to be popular with Memphians will become a permanent addition to the new space. But SOB’s footprint may extend farther than Downtown. Cabigao, who also owns Interim restaurant, decided to incorporate a few popular SOB items in the latter’s menu over the past few months.

“When everything closed, we tried to do some to-go food out of Interim’s kitchen,” he says. “That went well for about a week, but sales dropped off drastically. I think it’s because a lot of that menu is more fine dining and higher price points, and that doesn’t really work for takeout.”

The pivot was a hit with East Memphis, which prompted Cabigao to make that change permanent. “We were very sure that it was going to end up as SOB-East. We were remodeling the space and were confident that people would want that type of establishment. There isn’t a lot of food like that in East Memphis, so we’re certainly meeting that demand.”

Menus accessed via QR codes on personal mobile devices — pictured here at Café Eclectic in Midtown — help protect restaurant-goers by eliminating the need to share printed versions.

Cabigao sees many of the pandemic-enforced changes, like a focus on curbside and to-go orders, sticking around. SOB is already handling the issue of social distancing with its separate dining spaces and a new patio setup, but Cabigao credits the restaurant’s survival to the work put in over the last decade to make it a recognizable name.

“I think the restaurants that will survive this and do well are the ones that already have a good brand that people trust,” he says. “We’ve been around for a decade, our food’s been consistent, so people are familiar with us. Additionally, I think the brands that will do well are the ones that are completely compliant with the safety rules and regulations, like wearing masks, taking temperatures, ensuring social distancing. Guests need to feel that it’s a trustworthy brand, and I think those are the ones people will appreciate when everything is back open.”

For all the safety measures in place in local restaurants, it’s important for customers to remember that servers and other front-of-house staff are putting themselves at risk. What can normally be considered a thankless job is now made harder when factoring in health risks and less opportunity for tips.

“I would say be kind, be patient, and be aware,” offers Patterson. “Be aware of the changes that restaurants are making and what we’re doing to make this a safe space for you. Be courteous, and tip the servers! They’re getting far less customers into the building, which means less tips. They need that little extra boost.”

Carrier also maintains that a happy team is of paramount importance. “Front-of-house has to interact with the public,” she says. “It can be tough, so you really have to be on your toes and make sure you know what you’re doing.”

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.

With coronavirus cases still rising amid a disheartening national response, the pandemic doesn’t look to be going away any time soon. That places the restaurant industry at a crossroads. Where do they go from here? Owners like Patterson, Carrier, and Cabigao are doing their part to make their interiors as safe as can be, with staff members working extra hard on the sanitation front.

Some establishments are pivoting completely, like Majestic Grille’s ghost concept: Cocozza American Italian. The “virtual restaurant” is an entirely separate brand from Majestic and offers Italian takeout or curbside pickup to be enjoyed at home or on the Majestic patio on South Main. It’s a smart middle ground for owners Deni and Patrick Reilly to try something new without putting their workers and customers at risk in an enclosed space.

Other establishments, though, haven’t been so lucky amid all this uncertainty. Some restaurants have had to close their doors for good thanks to a severe drop in revenue the nebulous definition of a “restaurant” has seen a collective of closed bars file a lawsuit against Shelby County and the Health Department in an attempt to remain open. On the other hand, there have been reports that some employees feel pressured to return to work in what they consider unsafe conditions. Some out-of-work restaurant staffers have turned to alternate revenue streams, like the landscaping service Two Broke Bartenders. With plans to make it into a permanent business, there’s a question of whether those who joined the fledgling company as a temporary gig will even return to the hospitality industry.

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.


Rewriting the Recipe

The Memphis restaurant industry may be down, but it’s certainly not out, as owners introduce creative ways to retain customers — and keep them safe.

Beauty Shop owner Karen Blockman Carrier repurposed geodosic domes into a new dining experience in the Back Do / Mi Yard patio.

For three months, Karen Carrier toiled away in the Beauty Shop kitchen to fulfill a steady influx of takeout orders. No team, no servers, no dine-in customers — just Carrier and chef Shay Widmer cranking out meals, six days a week. It was tiring work, but Carrier wasn’t about to shut down her restaurant completely. That would mean almost two decades of work gone in an instant, and her staff, whom she considers family, wouldn’t have jobs to come back to. And so, like most of her peers, she soldiered on, even as restaurants struggled with an uncertain future.

When the hammer came, it came down hard. In mid-March, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland enforced closures on Memphis bars and restaurants, a huge decision made necessary by the increasing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, one of Memphis’ most thriving and creative industries saw a massive dip in revenue, while many kitchen and service staff found themselves out of a job. But even in upended times, establishments are finding a way to hold on.

Several months on from the initial lockdown, the reopening process, undertaken in June, was partially reversed in July following local surges in coronavirus cases. (Note: this issue of Memphis was sent to the printer July 20th.) The Beauty Shop carefully followed the first phases of a reopening plan, but as conditions in Memphis worsened, the Shelby County Health Department issued its Directive No. 8 on July 7th, mandating that bars must close once again, while restaurants dining rooms must close by 10 p.m. Meanwhile, restaurants must collect phone numbers of all customers to help with contact tracing as needed. There’s no easy solution, not in 2020 America. Public spaces like bars and restaurants find themselves at the center of an unfortunate, if predictable, argument over “safety” versus “liberty” when it comes to social distancing and wearing a mask in public.

“When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” — Tamra Patterson

On the consumer side, there’s another ethical dilemma. In the midst of a pandemic, dining out can be an unsettling experience. Even with restaurants adhering thoroughly to safety protocols, there’s still an element of risk to both patrons and staff. But the alternative — further jeopardizing the existence of a vibrant, generous restaurant industry and the local jobs it supports — is nauseating in its own right. Allowing Memphians to self-govern when it comes to public safety only works when everyone buys in to preventative measures, and so far, that’s not been the case.

photo courtesy tamra patterson

Chef Tamra Patterson at the Underground Café

Amid all the turmoil, restaurants need to function day-to-day to keep their doors open. Chef Tamra Patterson, owner of Chef Tam’s Underground Café, puts the situation most succinctly. “When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” That’s a sentiment echoed by many restaurant owners, who have found creative ways to adapt to the new normal and stay in business.

The year started out with optimism for Patterson. She vacated her old location in the Cooper-Young neighborhood and moved to a much larger Edge District space. “Before, we didn’t have the ability to serve as many customers as we wanted,” says Patterson. “We could fit 32 people, max, so we found a space that would give us a better opportunity to grow.”

The move gave the restaurant a whole new lease on life Patterson was already a recognizable name thanks to several memorable stints on The Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, and her Underground Café hit the ground running in the Edge District. She brought in live music most nights to entertain full houses, with a wait for a table sometimes extending upwards of two or three hours. And with the restaurant capable of holding 150 people at a time, business was booming.

The restaurant’s success didn’t shield Patterson from having to make major changes when COVID-19 hit. “Our building has multiple entrances,” explains Patterson, “so we had to close some of them off to create a safer way for people to come in and out. “ With no dine-in allowed, the menu needed to be adjusted so there wasn’t a surplus of ingredients. And while Patterson kept as much of her staff as she could, cuts were still necessary.

Chef Tam’s Underground Café plans to continue providing takeout, and Patterson is adamant that it stays that way. “We opened up a few weeks ago,” she says, “but when we saw that the numbers were going crazy in Memphis, we shut it right back down. I don’t want customers to come into our establishment and get sick. We know it’s not enough to bring all of our employees back, but it does put us in a position where we can bring back some folks, and in a safer way.”

photo courtesy karen carrier

Safety was a key word for Carrier when she first had to lay off her Beauty Shop Staff, and not just in the health sense. “When the mandate first ordered us to shut down on a Thursday night, the first thing I did was start a GoFundMe page for my staff,” says Carrier. “And then that Friday morning, I called a meeting for everyone from Mollie Fontaine Lounge, DKDC, the Beauty Shop, and Another Roadside Attraction.”

When they arrived, staff members lined up and applied for unemployment on two computers Carrier set up. Some of her workers, she says, don’t own computers, and might have had trouble applying otherwise. “This meant they had something going on at least,” she continues, “but I was really concerned. Who knew how long this was going to last? I have employees that have been with me 35 years. Lots of turnover affects the quality of a restaurant, so I like to approach this more like a family, as opposed to something corporate.”

When restaurants were allowed to reopen, Carrier’s full staff returned to the Beauty Shop after passing a COVID-19 test. While the restaurant looked much the same, the day-to-day operation incorporated new safety protocols. Carrier brought in wax paper bags to store silverware, while a bar cart enabled servers to ferry plates to diners with minimal contact. And through July, the Beauty Shop supplemented employee income with what they had been making on unemployment.

There were some initial growing pains with the new protocols, especially with the deluge of customers who poured in when the Beauty Shop reopened in early June. “We got hit hard,” says Carrier. “Everyone wanted to get outside the house, you know? I wasn’t sure how it would go, but everybody really stepped up.” After a first week of trial and error, things are running smoothly. To ensure social distancing, Carrier is utilizing space in the main restaurant, Bar DKDC next door, and the outdoor Back Do / Mi Yard.

The back patio, perhaps, provides one of the pandemic’s great restaurant innovations. Instead of the normal layout, two large geodesic domes are set up around tables and chairs. They certainly embody the aesthetic of something straight out of a sci-fi novel these days, it might just be the perfect setup.

“It’s a funny story,” says Carrier. “I actually bought these last October for Back Do / Mi Yard. I’d purchased them to have a heated space outside in the winter, but it started raining so much before that, they were really the only things I could set up there. They weren’t initially bought for this pandemic for a while we called them very expensive storage units, but it’s worked out now.”

Each unit is air-conditioned, but Carrier mentions that they struggle to remain cool inside during the day. For the time being, dome dining is available Monday through Saturday for dinner.

photo courtesy ed cabigao

Ed Cabigao, owner of South of Beale

Other restaurants took their pandemic planning in a different direction — literally. South of Beale (SOB) owner Ed Cabigao had been working on moving his restaurant into the former Ambassador Hotel at 345 S. Main. While the pandemic ultimately delayed the project by a few months, he hedged his bets and went full steam ahead on construction. “We had a conversation with our bank about halting or slowing down the process,” says Cabigao, “but we just thought it would be best to keep pushing forward, hoping that by the time SOB opened in the new spot, things would be a little bit better than they had been.”

For Cabigao, the pandemic has afforded him more time to carefully plan out the new digs. The restaurant will jump from 1,700 square feet to 5,000 square feet, with 1,000 of that turned into dedicated kitchen space (as opposed to the old location’s 300). “That will make it way better for the kitchen staff, in terms of safety and efficiency,” he says. “They’ll have more room to operate, and won’t be stuck on top of each other all the time.”

Another 1,200 square feet will be set aside for three private dining rooms that can be combined into one larger space. “I think private dining rooms will be in much higher demand than they were even a few months ago,” he says. “People will feel more secure in a separate space, rather than in the middle of the restaurant.” Complementing the interior space is a planned outdoor patio, another feature Cabigao thinks will remain popular.

Construction on the new SOB has a tentative opening date of October. The old space, which reopened in a limited capacity, has used the pandemic months to experiment with new menu items anything that proves to be popular with Memphians will become a permanent addition to the new space. But SOB’s footprint may extend farther than Downtown. Cabigao, who also owns Interim restaurant, decided to incorporate a few popular SOB items in the latter’s menu over the past few months.

“When everything closed, we tried to do some to-go food out of Interim’s kitchen,” he says. “That went well for about a week, but sales dropped off drastically. I think it’s because a lot of that menu is more fine dining and higher price points, and that doesn’t really work for takeout.”

The pivot was a hit with East Memphis, which prompted Cabigao to make that change permanent. “We were very sure that it was going to end up as SOB-East. We were remodeling the space and were confident that people would want that type of establishment. There isn’t a lot of food like that in East Memphis, so we’re certainly meeting that demand.”

Menus accessed via QR codes on personal mobile devices — pictured here at Café Eclectic in Midtown — help protect restaurant-goers by eliminating the need to share printed versions.

Cabigao sees many of the pandemic-enforced changes, like a focus on curbside and to-go orders, sticking around. SOB is already handling the issue of social distancing with its separate dining spaces and a new patio setup, but Cabigao credits the restaurant’s survival to the work put in over the last decade to make it a recognizable name.

“I think the restaurants that will survive this and do well are the ones that already have a good brand that people trust,” he says. “We’ve been around for a decade, our food’s been consistent, so people are familiar with us. Additionally, I think the brands that will do well are the ones that are completely compliant with the safety rules and regulations, like wearing masks, taking temperatures, ensuring social distancing. Guests need to feel that it’s a trustworthy brand, and I think those are the ones people will appreciate when everything is back open.”

For all the safety measures in place in local restaurants, it’s important for customers to remember that servers and other front-of-house staff are putting themselves at risk. What can normally be considered a thankless job is now made harder when factoring in health risks and less opportunity for tips.

“I would say be kind, be patient, and be aware,” offers Patterson. “Be aware of the changes that restaurants are making and what we’re doing to make this a safe space for you. Be courteous, and tip the servers! They’re getting far less customers into the building, which means less tips. They need that little extra boost.”

Carrier also maintains that a happy team is of paramount importance. “Front-of-house has to interact with the public,” she says. “It can be tough, so you really have to be on your toes and make sure you know what you’re doing.”

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.

With coronavirus cases still rising amid a disheartening national response, the pandemic doesn’t look to be going away any time soon. That places the restaurant industry at a crossroads. Where do they go from here? Owners like Patterson, Carrier, and Cabigao are doing their part to make their interiors as safe as can be, with staff members working extra hard on the sanitation front.

Some establishments are pivoting completely, like Majestic Grille’s ghost concept: Cocozza American Italian. The “virtual restaurant” is an entirely separate brand from Majestic and offers Italian takeout or curbside pickup to be enjoyed at home or on the Majestic patio on South Main. It’s a smart middle ground for owners Deni and Patrick Reilly to try something new without putting their workers and customers at risk in an enclosed space.

Other establishments, though, haven’t been so lucky amid all this uncertainty. Some restaurants have had to close their doors for good thanks to a severe drop in revenue the nebulous definition of a “restaurant” has seen a collective of closed bars file a lawsuit against Shelby County and the Health Department in an attempt to remain open. On the other hand, there have been reports that some employees feel pressured to return to work in what they consider unsafe conditions. Some out-of-work restaurant staffers have turned to alternate revenue streams, like the landscaping service Two Broke Bartenders. With plans to make it into a permanent business, there’s a question of whether those who joined the fledgling company as a temporary gig will even return to the hospitality industry.

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.


Rewriting the Recipe

The Memphis restaurant industry may be down, but it’s certainly not out, as owners introduce creative ways to retain customers — and keep them safe.

Beauty Shop owner Karen Blockman Carrier repurposed geodosic domes into a new dining experience in the Back Do / Mi Yard patio.

For three months, Karen Carrier toiled away in the Beauty Shop kitchen to fulfill a steady influx of takeout orders. No team, no servers, no dine-in customers — just Carrier and chef Shay Widmer cranking out meals, six days a week. It was tiring work, but Carrier wasn’t about to shut down her restaurant completely. That would mean almost two decades of work gone in an instant, and her staff, whom she considers family, wouldn’t have jobs to come back to. And so, like most of her peers, she soldiered on, even as restaurants struggled with an uncertain future.

When the hammer came, it came down hard. In mid-March, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland enforced closures on Memphis bars and restaurants, a huge decision made necessary by the increasing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, one of Memphis’ most thriving and creative industries saw a massive dip in revenue, while many kitchen and service staff found themselves out of a job. But even in upended times, establishments are finding a way to hold on.

Several months on from the initial lockdown, the reopening process, undertaken in June, was partially reversed in July following local surges in coronavirus cases. (Note: this issue of Memphis was sent to the printer July 20th.) The Beauty Shop carefully followed the first phases of a reopening plan, but as conditions in Memphis worsened, the Shelby County Health Department issued its Directive No. 8 on July 7th, mandating that bars must close once again, while restaurants dining rooms must close by 10 p.m. Meanwhile, restaurants must collect phone numbers of all customers to help with contact tracing as needed. There’s no easy solution, not in 2020 America. Public spaces like bars and restaurants find themselves at the center of an unfortunate, if predictable, argument over “safety” versus “liberty” when it comes to social distancing and wearing a mask in public.

“When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” — Tamra Patterson

On the consumer side, there’s another ethical dilemma. In the midst of a pandemic, dining out can be an unsettling experience. Even with restaurants adhering thoroughly to safety protocols, there’s still an element of risk to both patrons and staff. But the alternative — further jeopardizing the existence of a vibrant, generous restaurant industry and the local jobs it supports — is nauseating in its own right. Allowing Memphians to self-govern when it comes to public safety only works when everyone buys in to preventative measures, and so far, that’s not been the case.

photo courtesy tamra patterson

Chef Tamra Patterson at the Underground Café

Amid all the turmoil, restaurants need to function day-to-day to keep their doors open. Chef Tamra Patterson, owner of Chef Tam’s Underground Café, puts the situation most succinctly. “When this whole thing hit, we could either straighten our backs and get to work, or we could crumble,” she says. “And I don’t know how to crumble.” That’s a sentiment echoed by many restaurant owners, who have found creative ways to adapt to the new normal and stay in business.

The year started out with optimism for Patterson. She vacated her old location in the Cooper-Young neighborhood and moved to a much larger Edge District space. “Before, we didn’t have the ability to serve as many customers as we wanted,” says Patterson. “We could fit 32 people, max, so we found a space that would give us a better opportunity to grow.”

The move gave the restaurant a whole new lease on life Patterson was already a recognizable name thanks to several memorable stints on The Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, and her Underground Café hit the ground running in the Edge District. She brought in live music most nights to entertain full houses, with a wait for a table sometimes extending upwards of two or three hours. And with the restaurant capable of holding 150 people at a time, business was booming.

The restaurant’s success didn’t shield Patterson from having to make major changes when COVID-19 hit. “Our building has multiple entrances,” explains Patterson, “so we had to close some of them off to create a safer way for people to come in and out. “ With no dine-in allowed, the menu needed to be adjusted so there wasn’t a surplus of ingredients. And while Patterson kept as much of her staff as she could, cuts were still necessary.

Chef Tam’s Underground Café plans to continue providing takeout, and Patterson is adamant that it stays that way. “We opened up a few weeks ago,” she says, “but when we saw that the numbers were going crazy in Memphis, we shut it right back down. I don’t want customers to come into our establishment and get sick. We know it’s not enough to bring all of our employees back, but it does put us in a position where we can bring back some folks, and in a safer way.”

photo courtesy karen carrier

Safety was a key word for Carrier when she first had to lay off her Beauty Shop Staff, and not just in the health sense. “When the mandate first ordered us to shut down on a Thursday night, the first thing I did was start a GoFundMe page for my staff,” says Carrier. “And then that Friday morning, I called a meeting for everyone from Mollie Fontaine Lounge, DKDC, the Beauty Shop, and Another Roadside Attraction.”

When they arrived, staff members lined up and applied for unemployment on two computers Carrier set up. Some of her workers, she says, don’t own computers, and might have had trouble applying otherwise. “This meant they had something going on at least,” she continues, “but I was really concerned. Who knew how long this was going to last? I have employees that have been with me 35 years. Lots of turnover affects the quality of a restaurant, so I like to approach this more like a family, as opposed to something corporate.”

When restaurants were allowed to reopen, Carrier’s full staff returned to the Beauty Shop after passing a COVID-19 test. While the restaurant looked much the same, the day-to-day operation incorporated new safety protocols. Carrier brought in wax paper bags to store silverware, while a bar cart enabled servers to ferry plates to diners with minimal contact. And through July, the Beauty Shop supplemented employee income with what they had been making on unemployment.

There were some initial growing pains with the new protocols, especially with the deluge of customers who poured in when the Beauty Shop reopened in early June. “We got hit hard,” says Carrier. “Everyone wanted to get outside the house, you know? I wasn’t sure how it would go, but everybody really stepped up.” After a first week of trial and error, things are running smoothly. To ensure social distancing, Carrier is utilizing space in the main restaurant, Bar DKDC next door, and the outdoor Back Do / Mi Yard.

The back patio, perhaps, provides one of the pandemic’s great restaurant innovations. Instead of the normal layout, two large geodesic domes are set up around tables and chairs. They certainly embody the aesthetic of something straight out of a sci-fi novel these days, it might just be the perfect setup.

“It’s a funny story,” says Carrier. “I actually bought these last October for Back Do / Mi Yard. I’d purchased them to have a heated space outside in the winter, but it started raining so much before that, they were really the only things I could set up there. They weren’t initially bought for this pandemic for a while we called them very expensive storage units, but it’s worked out now.”

Each unit is air-conditioned, but Carrier mentions that they struggle to remain cool inside during the day. For the time being, dome dining is available Monday through Saturday for dinner.

photo courtesy ed cabigao

Ed Cabigao, owner of South of Beale

Other restaurants took their pandemic planning in a different direction — literally. South of Beale (SOB) owner Ed Cabigao had been working on moving his restaurant into the former Ambassador Hotel at 345 S. Main. While the pandemic ultimately delayed the project by a few months, he hedged his bets and went full steam ahead on construction. “We had a conversation with our bank about halting or slowing down the process,” says Cabigao, “but we just thought it would be best to keep pushing forward, hoping that by the time SOB opened in the new spot, things would be a little bit better than they had been.”

For Cabigao, the pandemic has afforded him more time to carefully plan out the new digs. The restaurant will jump from 1,700 square feet to 5,000 square feet, with 1,000 of that turned into dedicated kitchen space (as opposed to the old location’s 300). “That will make it way better for the kitchen staff, in terms of safety and efficiency,” he says. “They’ll have more room to operate, and won’t be stuck on top of each other all the time.”

Another 1,200 square feet will be set aside for three private dining rooms that can be combined into one larger space. “I think private dining rooms will be in much higher demand than they were even a few months ago,” he says. “People will feel more secure in a separate space, rather than in the middle of the restaurant.” Complementing the interior space is a planned outdoor patio, another feature Cabigao thinks will remain popular.

Construction on the new SOB has a tentative opening date of October. The old space, which reopened in a limited capacity, has used the pandemic months to experiment with new menu items anything that proves to be popular with Memphians will become a permanent addition to the new space. But SOB’s footprint may extend farther than Downtown. Cabigao, who also owns Interim restaurant, decided to incorporate a few popular SOB items in the latter’s menu over the past few months.

“When everything closed, we tried to do some to-go food out of Interim’s kitchen,” he says. “That went well for about a week, but sales dropped off drastically. I think it’s because a lot of that menu is more fine dining and higher price points, and that doesn’t really work for takeout.”

The pivot was a hit with East Memphis, which prompted Cabigao to make that change permanent. “We were very sure that it was going to end up as SOB-East. We were remodeling the space and were confident that people would want that type of establishment. There isn’t a lot of food like that in East Memphis, so we’re certainly meeting that demand.”

Menus accessed via QR codes on personal mobile devices — pictured here at Café Eclectic in Midtown — help protect restaurant-goers by eliminating the need to share printed versions.

Cabigao sees many of the pandemic-enforced changes, like a focus on curbside and to-go orders, sticking around. SOB is already handling the issue of social distancing with its separate dining spaces and a new patio setup, but Cabigao credits the restaurant’s survival to the work put in over the last decade to make it a recognizable name.

“I think the restaurants that will survive this and do well are the ones that already have a good brand that people trust,” he says. “We’ve been around for a decade, our food’s been consistent, so people are familiar with us. Additionally, I think the brands that will do well are the ones that are completely compliant with the safety rules and regulations, like wearing masks, taking temperatures, ensuring social distancing. Guests need to feel that it’s a trustworthy brand, and I think those are the ones people will appreciate when everything is back open.”

For all the safety measures in place in local restaurants, it’s important for customers to remember that servers and other front-of-house staff are putting themselves at risk. What can normally be considered a thankless job is now made harder when factoring in health risks and less opportunity for tips.

“I would say be kind, be patient, and be aware,” offers Patterson. “Be aware of the changes that restaurants are making and what we’re doing to make this a safe space for you. Be courteous, and tip the servers! They’re getting far less customers into the building, which means less tips. They need that little extra boost.”

Carrier also maintains that a happy team is of paramount importance. “Front-of-house has to interact with the public,” she says. “It can be tough, so you really have to be on your toes and make sure you know what you’re doing.”

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.

With coronavirus cases still rising amid a disheartening national response, the pandemic doesn’t look to be going away any time soon. That places the restaurant industry at a crossroads. Where do they go from here? Owners like Patterson, Carrier, and Cabigao are doing their part to make their interiors as safe as can be, with staff members working extra hard on the sanitation front.

Some establishments are pivoting completely, like Majestic Grille’s ghost concept: Cocozza American Italian. The “virtual restaurant” is an entirely separate brand from Majestic and offers Italian takeout or curbside pickup to be enjoyed at home or on the Majestic patio on South Main. It’s a smart middle ground for owners Deni and Patrick Reilly to try something new without putting their workers and customers at risk in an enclosed space.

Other establishments, though, haven’t been so lucky amid all this uncertainty. Some restaurants have had to close their doors for good thanks to a severe drop in revenue the nebulous definition of a “restaurant” has seen a collective of closed bars file a lawsuit against Shelby County and the Health Department in an attempt to remain open. On the other hand, there have been reports that some employees feel pressured to return to work in what they consider unsafe conditions. Some out-of-work restaurant staffers have turned to alternate revenue streams, like the landscaping service Two Broke Bartenders. With plans to make it into a permanent business, there’s a question of whether those who joined the fledgling company as a temporary gig will even return to the hospitality industry.

To keep restaurants open and people healthy, there needs to be a united front, with everyone doing their part to beat COVID-19. Luckily, food is the great unifier. And food, as anyone from the Bluff City can attest, is certainly something Memphis does well.