photogrpah by Justin Fox Burks
“I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called “Mother and Child Reunion.” It’s chicken and eggs. And I said (to myself), I gotta use that one.” — Paul Simon
So that’s where Paul Simon got the title for his 1972 hit single, and best-selling album of the same name. You never know what a restaurant will inspire.
How many number-one hit songs were first scribbled on the back of a bev nap? How many soul mates met for the first time while sipping martinis at a bar? How many million-dollar deals have been sealed over a handshake and a couple of rare steaks? How many Fortune 500 companies were dreamed up at coffee-shop counters?
I may be little biased here — just a little — but restaurants certainly seem to be little engines of esprit de corps.
When you share a meal with friends or family at a restaurant, you’re also in the company of a group of strangers. And you are participating in more than just supper; you’re building community. By breaking bread in the company of complete strangers, barriers are broken down. You’re happily tucking into the same dish as the person at the next table. Your kids and theirs are both trying to hide their uneaten veggies. You overhear that they eat here once a week, just like your family.
You may not even notice these things, like those of us in the business do, but the fact that you and that stranger are both at that particular restaurant, eating wonderfully prepared meals, enjoying the company of family or friends in a beautiful atmosphere, knowing that neither of you have to clean up or do the dishes, puts you both at ease, allowing for a shared experience with that complete stranger next to you.
Special moments happen every day at every restaurant in Memphis.
We choose to carry out so many of our lives’ milestones at restaurants. First dates. Engagements. Weddings. Graduation celebrations. New jobs. New babies. Birthdays. Reunions. Not all of these special moments are happy ones. Going-away parties are not uncommon. Divorce papers are sometimes signed, over coffee rather than champagne.
But all these events happen at restaurants. With complete strangers in witness. Whatever the circumstances, these are shared experiences in comfortable environments, with familiar food and a whole crew of friendly people looking out for your welfare.
Happily, the good times tend to outnumber the bad. And when people are relaxed and full of good food and drink, amazing things can happen. Complete strangers become new best friends. Colleagues brainstorm. And songwriters get inspiration for that next big hit.
Those of us who are privileged enough to work in this crazy business take a big burden upon our shoulders to make those moments special, even the everyday ones. But those moments collectively make up a big part of what any community becomes. Memphis has come a long way this past decade because of how its restaurant community has blossomed. My wife, Deni, and I are thrilled to have been part of that whole process.
And I for one am honored to be entrusted with these special moments.
A native of Dublin, Patrick Reilly apprenticed at the executive dining room of the Guinness Brewery, before embarking upon a culinary career that has taken him to London, New York, Boston, and finally to Memphis, where he and his wife opened The Majestic Grille in 2006. Patrick is currently president of the Memphis Restaurant Association (MRA).