We were standing in front of Le Relais de l’Entrecote in Paris, a restaurant known for its steak frites, excited to have gotten there before they opened. Reviews stated that yes, they are one of the best in the city and yes, if you don’t get there at least thirty minutes before the doors open you’ll be stuck waiting an hour or more to get in. So there we stood alongside the wall of the restaurant chatting away about our luck with being second in line when we heard voices with a familiar accent from the small family behind us state that we were very lucky indeed. This began our fun conversation with fellow American tourists who had visited Memphis some time ago, before the recent commercial and cultural boom. I was happy to share some good news in what little time I had before bolting through the doors for one of France’s most beloved dishes.
The family was visiting Paris from California and its patriarch- father and husband- had been to Memphis on a business trip to AutoZone’s headquarters. Other than being impressed with the company’s headquarters aptly positioned with gorgeous views of the Mississippi River, he commented that there was “really nothing else” downtown. This was followed by a comparison I’ve grown accustomed to hearing since moving to Memphis: “Nashville, on the other hand, was booming.”
“Guess what?!” I exclaimed, “Memphis is booming, too!” He appeared surprised but genuinely eager to learn more, so I proceeded to tell him what I’ve seen in just the past few years, even past few months, since I moved to the city.
I told him about the new ServiceMaster headquarters and the revitalization of downtown’s South End with its new apartment homes, South Main Arts District and social gathering spaces such as Loflin Yard. I talked about the projects just completed such as the Old Dominick Distillery and those currently in the works, such as the new movie theatre at Central Station. We talked about some of the places in Memphis with which he was familiar such as St. Jude and Graceland, discovering in the process he was quite unfamiliar with all of the incredible growth that has taken place at each of these. His eyes brightened when we discussed Beale Street Landing with its Free Movie Night series during the summer and the Fourth Bluff with its ice skating rink during the winter. I haven’t been yet so we both became animated at the prospect of visiting The Front Porch, the re-branded and recently opened restaurant at the aforementioned Beale Street Landing.
The more we talked, the more I heard myself saying out loud all of the positive developments going on in and around Memphis, the more I realized that my joy in sharing these things was genuine- and necessary. People don’t know what they don’t know. This businessman and his family knew only what they were exposed to on that trip years ago, which at the time was very little. Before we all left the restaurant that evening he assured me that he’d be visiting Memphis again and was looking forward to reaping the rewards of its recent boom. His sentiment reminded me of Maya Angelou’s famous quote: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” This gentleman now knows better about our city and I am glad to have played some small part in that.