Berger: Lost my jobs and income, then I went for a run

By , Guest Columnist Updated: March 25, 2020 9:48 AM CT | Published: March 25, 2020 4:00 AM CT
Taylor Berger
Guest Columnist

Taylor Berger

Taylor Berger is the founder of Two Broke Bartenders and several Memphis restaurants, as well as an affiliate commercial real estate broker with Trotz Real Estate Services.

Editor’s note: Due to the serious public health implications associated with COVID-19, The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed.

Last Wednesday was the worst day of my life. I now consider it the first day of the rest of my life though, so in a sense it was also the best day of my life.

On Wednesday, March 18, we decided to cease operations across my restaurant group, keeping a small staff on at Loflin Yard and Bounty on Broad to facilitate a life-support takeout menu.

We closed Railgarten, Rec Room and Highland Axe & Rec completely. We laid off a hundred people, including myself. Also on Wednesday I received two other phone calls, one informing me my last real estate deal had been terminated and another that my consulting gig would conclude at the end of the month.

<strong>Taylor Berger</strong>

Taylor Berger

After effectively losing all my jobs and income in the course of three hours on that Wednesday afternoon, I decided to go for a run on the Wolf River Trail near my house. Because what else was there to do? All the things I did the day before were over; any illusion of control over my life shattered. One foot in front of the other, through the greening trees alongside the muddy river I ran.

Anxiety crept over me, as I felt the weight of responsibility my partners and staff had placed on me in the good times as we spent years building these places of gathering and fun, now effectively outlawed by the rules of social distancing. The virus feeds on the very thing that makes Memphis and all cities special, and upon which we’d built our business.

The idea that we can go outside with friends and experience things together, alongside strangers, without fear was now under attack. It felt like a sick joke that I’d focused my entire professional life around the idea. I thought about the first time I’d understood the beauty of spontaneous gathering at the Tennessee Brewery six years ago next month. Would that kind of thing even be possible again? Would people ever return to the old ways?

The easy times are over. Welcome to the hard times, I told myself. Taking stock of remaining assets and trying to mesh that with the new upside-down world, I realized maybe there was a silver lining. The people shut in their homes, our customers, still need stuff. They need supplies, food and services the same as they always have, only now they can’t come to us. I’ve got a bunch of unemployed staff with a variety of skills and superpowers. I’ve got a truck, tools, supplies and food. Putting those things together revealed a new business idea: Two Broke Bartenders and a Truck.

Calkins: Taylor Berger shutters Railgarten and Rec Room — and already misses Memphis spring

Within 24 hours we launched a website complete with a phone number and a jingle by Mark Edgar Stuart. On Saturday we’d completed our first few jobs. A delivery of Trader Joe’s, some yard work, painting, a lumber pick up, and hauling off some junk. Not exactly mixing cocktails, but still done with a smile and the essence of service, connecting to other people, helping each other.

So now between filling out federal disaster relief applications, teaching school to my three young children and trying to be there for my nurse practitioner wife, I’m launching a new services business. Yesterday I scraped up someone’s leaky trash bags from the side of the road and threw them into the back of a truck to haul off. It’s hard to believe just two weeks ago I was planning parties, booking bands and editing menus.

Things change fast, but a dollar’s still a dollar, and I’m still here. I’m no longer a restaurant operator, but I am still a builder. I love people and feel driven to help connect them with each other. Even when almost everything feels uncertain, I know that’s true. Let’s build on that.


Taylor Berger Loflin Yard Railgarten Rec Room Two Broke Bartenders and a Truck


Want to comment on our stories or respond to others? Join the conversation by subscribing now. Only paid subscribers can add their thoughts or upvote/downvote comments. Our commenting policy can be viewed here