When asked if the soon to re-open Rizzo’s Diner is the restaurant Chef Michael Patrick’s always dreamed of owning, he got a little emotional.
He calls it “the next evolution of Rizzo’s Diner.” The new space at 492 South Main, and new partnership with the building’s owner Tyrone Burroughs, is Patrick’s first opportunity to run a restaurant his way, a dream almost every chef has. The partnership is a 60/40 percent ownership deal in Patrick’s favor.
The space is two blocks from Rizzo’s previous location on G.E. Patterson, which closed Oct. 31st. Hopefully, Patrick says, the restaurant's soft opening will be Jan. 5, slightly pushed back from the opening he anticipated for New Years Eve.
The new location has a larger kitchen, dining room, and a bar. It also has a very cool and sophisticated vibe, one that Patrick plans to reflect in the menu. He intends to keep some items the same (like the chorizo meatloaf), but for dinner, kick it up a notch for a more refined, fine dining experience. The bar too will serve classic cocktails and a signature “South Main Martini.”
He’s expanding his focus on working with local vendors, sourcing meat and produce from True Vine Farms, Pure Prairie Farms, Whitton Farms, and Lazy Dog Farms. The bar will carry Crazy Bloody Mary Mix by local Jim O’Brien. And he’s got his eyes set on an acre of land an hour north of Memphis to grow his own garden, planting firmer roots in local sustainability and farm-to-table food.
Inside the previous late-night jazz joint Soul Café, Patrick removed the stage that anchored the space and repurposed 80 percent of the wood to build a window banquette and lounge area. He’s divided the dining room from the bar, all in seamless elegant dark wood. Pops of modern green and eclectic lighting give the place a hip air, where otherwise its architectural bones could lean towards a traditional, but classy, steak house.
He hopes the South Main spot will create a stronger lunchtime business and more of a local presence. Valet parking will give patrons easier access to pre- and post-event dinner and drinks.
The new Rizzo’s is all-inclusive, welcoming kids and the LGBT community with a third — unisex — bathroom.
Like many great chefs, Patrick got his culinary start washing dishes as a 15-year-old at a fish fry joint in his hometown of Painesville, Ohio. He worked his way up to prep cook, fry cook, and line cook for three years, and then worked as a cook for a hotel. A stint of adolescent trouble landed a younger Patrick in vocational school, one with a culinary arts program. There he competed in culinary competitions with the American Culinary Federation. He won a few, placed highly in many, and was pushed to enter culinary school.
After graduating from the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts Le Cordon Bleu in Pittsburgh, Patrick worked for Paragon Foods, a corporation that owned about 130 restaurants in the U.S. He opened three restaurants for the company, and one of them — Elvis Presley’s Restaurant — brought Patrick to Memphis in 1997.
At 27, he moved on to work for McEwen’s on Monroe, where he stayed for seven years.
“It taught me a lot about southern cuisine, and Mac Edwards is definitely a very big mentor in my life,” he says. He attributes Chef Johnny Kirk — who left McEwen’s to open Stella, taking Patrick with him — for reaffirming his love to cook. He was 30, a little jaded, and recalls thinking to himself, “Maybe I can go do something else in this life, if all I’m ever going to be is a line cook and make chefs look really good.”
Over the years he cooked for Erling Jensen, EP’s, Automatic Slim’s, and Itta Bena — a short-lived job that didn’t work out. He took a trip back home and made a decision. “I just said to myself, I’m going back to Memphis, and I’m either going to open a restaurant, or I’m going to get the heck out of Dodge.”
He opened Rizzo’s Diner at 106 G.E. Patterson in late 2011 and built quite the following in Memphis, even national recognition, landing a feature on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. But he lacked dining space, storage, parking, and full control in decision-making.
“I just thought, hey, I need to get a bigger place,” Patrick says. “There’s other options out there with a bar and a bigger kitchen. And having my own office, having my own ability to come in here and change things, that wasn’t an option before.”
Rizzo’s Diner, 492 S. Main Street (901-304-6985)