Believe it or not, this bitch tries to stay involved in the Memphis community. You see, when I spend all of my paycheck on things like leather leggings, pony hair pumps, dinners with the girls, expensive vodka and cash for bail, I am left with a 1/8 tank of gas and a shallow feeling. That is why I find great pleasure in giving back to those who are not as healthy as I am or who do not have certain resources available to them. It’s the Memphis way (or it should be). This is my home, dammit, and if I want to feel safe and sweet living here, I have a responsibility to do something about it. Likewise, I have found that I prefer to surrounded myself with like-minded people and frequent their businesses.
We all have our favorite causes, so I am not here to preach for one or another. However, as someone who knows many retailers and restaurant owners, I do have strong opinions on with whom I will spend my cash (like I mentioned earlier: my cashflow is less of a flow and more like a self-induced draught). I know I am leaving some off, because there are many local business owners that do great things for Memphis. But the following places of worthy of your money, and I will tell you why:
Delectable, yes. Pretentious, sometimes. Good-hearted owner, always. I had Erling (or his better half) make me a lasagna for a boy I care about very much. This boy is a St. Jude patient and is fighting osteosarcoma. His ALL TIME favorite food is lasagna, and as Erling specializes in French-inspired fine dining, lasagna is not his forte. But when I was casually mentioning this boy while at diner there one evening and how his birthday was approaching, Erling enlisted his wife to make her signature lasagna for me to give to him. His wife drove the lasagna up to the restaurant for me to retrieve it, then gave me heating instructions and a hug. I may add that she doesn’t know me from Adam; she just wanted to make someone’s day bright. It of course was delicious, and an act of kindness like that will not be forgotten.
No, I am not trying to brown nose one of my favorite local retailers: Kittie Kyle’s owner is Cindy Gambrell, and this woman is super involved. She assists with the Memphis City Beautiful campaign and about a dozen other local initiatives. However, for a recent photo shoot, I came to her with a unique request: I wanted to use Madonna Learning Center’s students as models for my fashion editorial. If you are not aware, the Madonna Learning Center is a school for children and young adults with learning disabilities. I do not think I have ever seen Cindy so excited about a shoot. She wasn’t nervous her garments would be damaged (turns out the students there are more mindful changing than many of my regular models). She wasn’t concerned that the model wouldn’t depict her clothes beautifully. In fact, she jumped on the bandwagon, knowing the concept was beautiful, and the opportunity to make a young girl squeal with delight, get glammed up, be a model for a day and then see herself in a real-life fashion spread is PRICELESS. This woman has the most unique and beautiful clothes; she also has real perspective on what is it is to be impressive. Check the fashion spread in Decemeber’s 4Memphis.
I can not say enough kind words about Josh Steiner, the owner and Chef of Strano. This is a new Sicilian-style restaurant located on the corner of Cooper and Young. Now, we all know that new restaurants are very touch-and-go, with budget nightmares, high turnover, crazy food costs, etc. New (and old) restaurant owners will pinch a penny and cut corners, but not this dude. Nope, he buys his produce from local CSAs, and that is not only good for local economy, but great for his guests’ health. He greets EVERYONE with a smile, which is why I camp out at his bar and drain as much wine as I do. As I do eat (booze) there on the reg, Josh and I have a great rapport. He even let me and my over-served girlfriends come into his kitchen and burn sage to ward off bad ju ju (long story). But what REALLY got me is when I came to him in a fuss because I needed more food for a St. Jude function. He supplied me with a ton of pizzas, and then he sent his assistant chef out to me with them. The man gave me the boxes and some very tender words about life and loss where young people are involved. Strano is THAT PLACE to go be a regular and get that homestyle warm-and-snuggly feeling. Also, the food is incredible; just don’t go on a diet.
The Second Line
Forget all of the (albeit deserved) hype around Kelly English. Blah blah his food is awesome. We KNOW that. The dude is majorly talented. But he is ALSO a huge fan of being way involved in the community. When he isn’t opening a gazillion restaurants and winning awards, he is organizing HUGE events for causes like Le Bonheur. The man can guilt the biggest culinary talents in the country into coming together and showing off for one another to pull off one of my favorite local events: Le BonAppetit. But Kelly doesn’t stop there. He let me rope him into going onto televised news and challenging him for my Memphis Love Challenge (4Memphis.com/MemphisLove), and he had some great words to share about what it means to be a Memphian and to care about the community. He also is constantly supporting other local restaurants and chefs instead of being weirdly competitive (because..DUHHHH… there can be more than one bad a** restaurant in town). I have not approached him with a weird charity-minded scheme yet that he hasn’t been open to, and for that, I will always be grateful that he lives in my city.
Gibsons has made the official “Best Doughnuts in the Country” list according to half a dozen publications. However, it is owner Don DeWeese’s attitude that makes his place so popular. He remembers every face; he has something to say to every customer; he may even throw a doughnut at your head. But what you may not know is that he provides our University of Memphis athletic teams with doughnuts. I have also seen him give free doughnuts to cancer patients, the elderly, and literally a dozen charities for charitable functions. All I’m sayin’ is that the man must really be selling some serious bearclaws to afford all of the charitable giving he does. Also, his wife Rita is a literal SAINT. She sits and reads to underprivileged children on the reg because it “gives her a sense of purpose and fills her heart.” I mean this place is so on it that it makes me smile just driving by the store. Go and get your sugar high there.
Think you deserved to make this list and didn’t? That is EXACTLY why you didn’t make this list. These men and women are unsung heroes. They are known for their trade, and only through direct encounter do I know how large their hearts are. They don’t Facebook it (unless I make them for the #MemphisLoveChallenge). They LIVE kind deeds, every single day. They just truly love the city and want it to prosper as their businesses prosper. It’s like paying it forward. So go blow your cash at these places. Lawt knows that I do.