The oldest restaurant in Memphis with the famous neon sign is about to have a new nightlife.
Starting early next year, The Arcade, located at South Main and G.E. Patterson, will be open at night and serving cocktails, says owner Harry Zepatos Jr., who recently initiated a fourth generation, his two sons and one son’s girlfriend, into the family business.
The menu will stay the same, offering breakfast all day, but behind the bar things will start to shake up. Mimosas and Bloody Marys are headed for the cocktail list, pending a recent application for a liquor license.
Harry’s son, Michael Zepatos, 29, is a financial adviser at Wells Fargo but has been a part-owner since 2007. He’s responsible for modernizing the diner’s operations system, replacing its old-school ticket window for faster and more efficient service.
But son Jeff Zepatos and his girlfriend Kelcie Beharelle, both 23, are the drive behind the enthusiasm to bring in nighttime business. The two recently moved to Memphis from Chicago, where they lived for a year after graduating from the University of Mississippi.
“I have always wanted to be a part of this family business,” Jeff says. “Didn’t know exactly when it would happen. It’s impossible to not be excited about being here, continuing the family legacy.”
He and Beharelle, who has a degree in hospitality management, will run the nighttime business. There’s talk of minor renovations, possibly putting a bar in the back dining room, and discussions about bringing in live music or trivia.
“We’ve been asking regulars their opinion, their advice, and see what they want to see us have,” Jeff says. “That’s important to us obviously. We want to see what the community wants, what they expect out of us and we want to meet their expectations.”
Harry Zepatos says both of his sons have urged him to open up at night for years. He saw the weekend business at bars in the vicinity, including Double J Smokehouse & Saloon, Max’s Sports Bar, Earnestine & Hazel’s, and The Blue Monkey.
“They are packed on the weekends. There’s a lot of foot traffic. I just didn’t want to do it,” Harry says.
Jeff is even more explicit about why The Arcade has continued to close at 3 p.m. “It’s because he wants to go home and be with my mom at the end of the day.”
The almost century-old restaurant was founded in 1919 by Speros Zepatos, Harry’s grandfather. His father, Harry Zepatos, sold the restaurant in 1995 when he retired because Harry Jr. didn't want to take over. The Arcade exchanged hands several times before Harry’s wife Karen convinced him to keep it in the family in 2002.
“She talked me into this,” Harry Jr. says. “Last thing she told me was you will never get it back. She was right. She did good.”
For many Memphis residents, The Arcade is more than a diner. It’s a Memphis landmark. In the 1920s, the restaurant, located across the street from the Central train station, prospered. After a fire, Speros developed the building that now houses the restaurant and adjacent shops. Harry Sr. took over in the ’50s, transforming The Arcade into the hip diner it still is today, complete with boomerang-covered tabletops.
The restaurant thrived throughout the ’50s and ’60s and was open 24/7. It even stayed open when South Main became a ghost town, after more limited train service and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the nearby Lorraine motel.
Over the years the Arcade’s personality and history have attracted filmmakers, photographers, and writers around the world. Scenes from Mystery Train, The Client, Walk the Line, 21 Grams and Great Balls of Fire were filmed inside The Arcade.
“When I was a kid coming down here at night they had steaks on the menu bigger than the plate,” Harry Jr. says. “I think what these guys are wanting to do is perfect.”