Shipping-container restaurant proposed for training chefs of color

By Published: April 28, 2019 12:59 PM CT

A nonprofit organization proposes a Soulsville restaurant made of metal shipping containers and motivated by goals far bigger than just selling meals.

The new 275 Food Project nonprofit wants to use a walk-up restaurant proposed for 939 Walker to teach African-American and Latino chefs a higher level of culinary and business skills that lead to professional advancement, better pay, and even ownership of their own businesses.

The restaurant also would provide the Soulsville neighborhood – culturally rich but economically distressed – healthy, locally sourced food that is often unavailable in impoverished areas. The pricing will be tiered to make the food more accessible to people of all incomes.

“There is a desperate shortage of higher quality chefs and food professionals of color in Memphis today,” states the organization’s letter of intent filed with the Board of Adjustment.

The board is to consider 275 Food Project’s request for a special-use permit to build the container restaurant and to allow zoning variances for parking requirements and setbacks. The Office of Planning & Development staff recommends approval, with some conditions.

The board meets at 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 24, at City Hall.

The site, now used by food trucks for special events, occupies the southwest corner of Walker and College. The lot comprises a concrete slab foundation on the south end and the Grizzlies Garden pocket park on the north end.

 The location is bordered to the north by Elmwood Cemetery and to the east by Chandler Park. Stax Museum of American Soul Music is three blocks south, and the Boys and Girls Club and LeMoyne-Owen College are a few blocks to the west.

The 275 Food Project proposes a yearlong fellowship for trainees that includes training, mentors and externships.

“Not a single workforce development program or education institution targeting people of color focuses on teaching the local farm-to-fork culinary techniques or sustainable restaurant practices common to 21st century kitchens,” the letter of intent states.

“… There is no formal program turning out restaurant workers with clear pathways into higher skilled, higher wage positions historically reserved for white employees,’’ the letter states.

 The one-year fellowship will provide young food professionals access to tools, training and mentoring. It includes:

  • A culinary externship in the restaurant of “a notable fusion taco chef/owner (somewhere) in the United States. The externship will offer training in all parts of the restaurant business.
  • Training in the sourcing of local foods. The experience will include spending time on local farms to explore “unique seasonal foods with our local chef network led by Chef Dave Krog,” the letter states. Krog has been a chef at several fine-dining restaurants and plans to open his own in East Memphis this fall.
  • And advanced levels of instruction and support on the business of operating a restaurant.

The organization will support graduating fellows in moving to brick-and-mortar restaurants while receiving the “next wave of trainees.”

The restaurant and training program are supported by 275 Food, the Memphis City Council, and the Memphis Grizzlies, the application states.

The letter identifies Diane Terrell, former executive director of the Grizzlies Foundation, as a co-founder of 275 Food. Heather Jamerson has represented the 275 Food Project at events.

 Susan Golden, a principal of the architecture firm brg3s, is the application’s representative to the Board of Adjustment. Brg3s also designed the container restaurant.

The restaurant would serve 10:30 a.m. to dusk, the application states.


Commercial Real Estate Soulsville Restaurants
Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey covers business news for The Daily Memphian. A Tupelo, Mississippi, native, he graduated from Mississippi State University. He's worked in journalism for 40 years and has lived in Midtown for 36 years.

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