Meet three ladies who run legendary Memphis eating places

It’s no secret that the Memphis food scene has a rich heritage based on traditional recipes and steeped in soul. Pillars of this legacy are three world-renowned restaurants with leading women who are now second, third and fourth generation owners. Each of them balances the act of highlighting their restaurants’ history while making things better for the next generation. It’s not easy, but everyone does their part to keep Memphis on the foodie menu in their own way.

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Meet 3 women who run legendary Memphis restaurants

Patrice Bates Thompson, second generation owner of The Four Way

Why did you choose to be part of an old restaurant?

To be honest, it was never a dream of mine to do this; However, in the five years I’ve done it, I’ve learned to embrace it, and I actually enjoy it. It was something my father started for our family and for his neighborhood. He wanted to be a beacon in this church and leave a legacy for me and my two children. LeMoyne Gardens was his home and giving something back to the neighborhood was important to him.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I have a very reliable, great kitchen manager who comes in at 7am sometimes to get things going. I go in around 9 a.m. to make sure I don’t have to run and fetch anything, then I do paperwork. After that, you’ll see me at the checkout, serving plates, greeting customers, packing orders, taking pictures with customers … pretty much anywhere.

Patrice never thought she would follow in her father’s footsteps to run The Four Way, but now that she is, she enjoys herself and continues his soul food legacy and giving back. Pictured: Lauren Crew

Would you say your customers are local or from outside of Memphis?

In December, Google contacted us about a commercial on The Four Way. This commercial aired internationally and has been an amazing blessing for us. For example, last Saturday we had 25 to 30 groups of people from Birmingham, Mobile, Chicago, Shreveport, Lake Charles, Alaska, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Missouri, Ohio – everywhere! Most of them saw the commercial and were out for the weekend. My family jokes with me that they want my autograph now because people want to be photographed with “the lady on TV”! We really benefited from that. The Memphis Black Restaurant Week helped us a lot too.

RELATED: The 4 Best Soul Food Restaurants in Memphis

What are your future goals and how do you balance them with your restaurant’s rich history?

We’re working hard on it right now and I’m keeping some of these under my hat until they’re done. Right now, I can say two dreams that I would love to see before I completely hand over the restaurant to my two children are outdoor seating and making our business a non-profit. I really believe in community building and giving back. I love helping and being a blessing to others so I want to do this as I can.

Cooks in the kitchen at The Four Way, a legendary Memphis restaurant

The Four Way is cooking great things for the future. Stay tuned! Pictured: Lauren Crew

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

When I think of the best advice I’ve received, both parents come to mind. My mother always said to us, “Remember who you are and who you are.” My father’s advice, which he regularly quoted, was: “Good, better, best, never let it rest until your good is better and your better is the best!”

What are three things you cannot live without besides faith, family, and friends?

I cannot live without integrity, peace and love! Love is what drives us to do what we do for who we are and to do our best! Our faith and beliefs, combined with love, assure us that someone will take care of us and bring us peace and happiness. Love is also a driving force for devotion and integrity.

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Anna Vergos Blair, third generation owner at Charlie Vergos’ rendezvous

Where do you fit in the Rendezvous family tree and how did you join the company?

Charlie Vergos was my grandfather and [his son] John is my father. After a stint in politics, law school, clerk to a federal judge, and some stint at Burch, Porter & Johnson, I returned to the restaurant in 2015. I am the oldest of the third generation of the Rendezvous family.

Why did you want to come back

I grew up on a date. I started hostessing when I was 15, worked in the ship’s kitchen over the Christmas holidays, was a bartender in law school, and the rendezvous was what we talked about at night. It is my family’s legacy and I always kept in mind that I would love to be a part of it [of it]. The rendezvous is fun and exciting. It’s family and it’s tough. My dad is a lawyer so he paved the way for me because law school really helps with the business side of things.

Anna Vergos Blair, third generation owner at The Rendezvous

Charlie Vergos’ granddaughter Anna grew up on the rendezvous she now leads with an eye to his legacy and the future. Pictured: Justin Fox Burks

How do you set future-oriented goals for a place that is famous for its past?

It’s a difficult balance to hold on to what it was (and what it’s famous for) while at the same time moving into the future. However, there are always ways to make subtle changes to make things better. For example, a few years ago we kept the three large dumpsters right next to the front door in the alley. This may have worked for decades, but at a time when people want to take photos, it just doesn’t work anymore. So we made arrangements to move the dumpsters to another alley. We also teamed up with Brandon Marshall, a muralist, and asked him to make the white garage wall opposite the entrance look like the rendezvous outside – he made it. Other ways we subtly tried to stay the same as we moved forward were cleaning up the alley and adding lighting, adding vegetarian options and introducing local beers to the menu and of course offering a service on Roadside. I know what our values ​​are: Our people, Memphis, make a good product and make sure people have a good time. Maintaining these while always looking for opportunities for improvement is my burden as a member of the third generation of the Rendezvous family.

What does it mean to you to be part of a legacy business?

I grew up on a rendezvous and I don’t know otherwise. I’m really proud of it and yet like everything else it can be frustrating at times. Still, I think it’s great that we’re not just working on the legacy of the rendezvous, but that it’s part of the history of Memphis. When I came back to the restaurant a few years ago, I humbly walked into the store. It wasn’t me who built this legacy, but it was the people who worked here for decades who made it – like Bobby, who recently passed away after working here for 52 years – who built it. Overall, I think we make people happy and I think what we do is good.

Team at The Rendezvous, a legendary restaurant in Memphis

Anna credits the people who worked for decades to make the rendezvous the success it is today. Pictured: Justin Fox Burks

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I think my best advice is simple: be kind.

What are three things you cannot live without besides faith, family, and friends?

  1. Eat good food
  2. Go outside
  3. Have a dog (or two)

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Kelcie Zepatos, fourth generation owner by marriage in the arcade

What ideas did you bring with you to freshen things up in The Arcade?

When I joined the team, I started getting an alcohol license and opening the restaurant at night. Also, I decided if we were going to have Bloody Marys, they were going to be the best Bloody Marys in town. We use Old Dominic vodka, organic Bloody Mary mix, Sonny salt on the rim made in Memphis, salami, Swiss cheese, olives, celery and a lemon wedge. We serve it in a milkshake glass to give it the atmosphere of a dinner. We have expanded and I am very proud of what we came up with.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I work every day and it’s a lifestyle. I go to the restaurant every day and first feel the energy. We have a lot of regulars who come every day or sometimes twice a day. I always talk to them and see how they are doing. South Main is a culture with so many stories.

Kelcie Zepatos, fourth generation by marriage in The Arcade

Kelcie took care of the first things when she joined The Arcade team: “I decided we’d be the best Bloody Marys in town if we got Bloody Marys.” Pictured: Keegan Eyler

You have a background in event planning. How did you use that on The Arcade?

We have hosted photo shoots, recordings for TV, music videos and films, as well as families with children who just wanted to read books together. The Shelby County Schools wanted to host an event right before the COVID hit. One of our greatest moments was when Attorney General Jeff Sessions turned on the Secret Service. Steve Cohen was there too. Justin Timberlake and Norah Jones both played the piano in the back. Duke Deuce and Lil Jon did a popular rap video at our restaurant and it was pretty amazing! It’s just interesting to see all the different types of events that are coming our way and learn how to adapt and adapt to any change.

RELATED: Old School Food: Memphis’ Long Time Restaurant Favorites

What does it mean to you to be part of an old restaurant?

Because The Arcade is across from the train station, I spoke to women who said goodbye to their husbands here when they sent them to war. Speros Zepatos [The Arcade founder] himself fought in World War I and was finally given the job of being a cook for the commanders on a ship. During World War II, his goal was to give the soldiers the best possible food before they boarded the train across the street. He received flour, sugar and other ingredients from the government to serve the soldiers of the time.

We try to continue this tradition by taking care of our police and fire brigade by giving them half a discount. We always have our military discount and we also take care of the trolley drivers. We try to serve our community well and that has always been a part of The Arcade.

Kelcie poses with Harry Zepatos Jr., former owner of The Arcade, a legendary restaurant in Memphis

Kelcie with the former owner Harry Zepatos Jr. Image: Frank Chin

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Be playful. Know that everything will be fine no matter what. Have as much fun as you can. Be as simple as you can.

What are three things you cannot live without besides faith, family, and friends?

  1. yoga
  2. Reggae music
  3. Hot sauce

Thank you, Patrice, Anna and Kelcie!

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