Now is the Time. Memphis is the Place.

Celebrating Some of Memphis’ Oldest Black-Owned Restaurants

Photo: Elizabeth Van Lierde

Memphis is rich in history; so it’s only fitting that portions of that history can be found in some of the city’s most notable black-owned restaurants. Although the creation of dining establishments has steadily increased in the Bluff City over the years, there are others that have been around for decades, withstanding some of the city’s most monumental events.

Cozy Corner co-founder, Desiree Robinson poses with a plate of the restaurant’s infamous BBQ. Photo: Cozy Corner BBQ

 

“You have to embrace the food places in Memphis that have withstood the test of time. These places are full of history and besides the good food, there is always a story behind each restaurant.  It’s up to us to learn it and share it.”- Cristina McCarter, City Tasting Tours

Memphians, like Cristina McCarter, can easily recite the history of many of the city’s oldest restaurants. She’s made it her mission to do so through her company, City Tasting Tours. The self-proclaimed foodie encourages other locals to visit these historical gems at least once. Their stories are plentiful, but none are absent from struggle. After all, it takes a lot to stay afloat during a recession, the civil rights movement, natural disasters, etc. Perhaps that’s why many of them have become neighborhood favorites. From dessert shops to soul food spots, we’re highlighting some of the oldest Black-owned restaurants in the Bluff City.

Photo: The Four Way

 

Located in the heart of Soulsville, this iconic restaurant has been around since 1946 making it the oldest soul food establishment in the city. A pivotal part of the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ate at the Four Way during his last visit to Memphis in 1968 before he was assassinated. As a staple in the community, the restaurant has seen its share of notable celebrities, including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Jesse Jackson, B. B. King, and more.  Owned and operated by the Bates family, the restaurant has been recognized nationally for it’s hearty, soul food dishes, most recently with a feature on the Travel Channel.

 

 

Photo: Roxie’s Grocery

This family-owned grocery/convenience store is known to offer one of the best burgers in the city. Roxie’s grocery is nestled just past St. Jude and south of Greenlaw Park, in an unassuming brick building; but don’t let the exterior fool you. People from across the city venture out to Roxie’s to enjoy their over-sized burgers and selection of other comfort foods. The grocery will celebrate its 36th year of operation this year.

 

Photo: Ms. Girlee’s

Ms. Girlee’s Soulfood Restaurant

Located along the historic strip in Uptown, Ms. Girlee’s has been in business for more than thirty years. The restaurant is a local gem that has even been recognized nationwide for its soul food cuisine. Initially known as Melanie’s Restaurant, the location became the go-to spot for not only people in the neighborhood but from all over the country. Stevie Wonder even stopped by to enjoy some of the good southern food back in the 70s. After a fire burned through the strip where Melanie’s was located, the family relocated to Chelsea Avenue and renamed the restaurant, Ms. Girlee’s. Though the location changed, the hospitable customer service and authentic southern cuisine always remained the same.

Photo: Cozy Corner BBQ

This iconic BBQ shop is recognized nationwide for its ribs, wings, and smoked sausages. It’s even been featured on the Food Network. The restaurant was opened in 1977 by husband and wife duo Raymond and Desiree Robinson. While the restaurant has been through its series of trials, the death of Raymond and a fire in 2015 that caused a short relocation, that hasn’t stopped business. They re-opened their original spot in two years later and have kept pushing forward ever since.

Photo: Makeda’s Cookies

Opened in the 90s, this quaint cookie shop hasn’t been around as long as some of the others on the list, but perhaps longer than most dessert shops in the city including Muddy’s Bake Shop. Though known for their infamous homemade butter cookies, the story behind the shop is just as remarkable. Makeda’s is named after Makeda Denise Hill, a young girl who died in 1997 after losing her battle with Leukemia. Her family named the shop in her honor. Makeda’s offers a variety of cookie choices that range from double chocolate dream to tea cake cookies.

Do you know of any black-owned restaurants that have been around for a while? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below. 

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