by Bianca Phillips
”Success is the best revenge.”
Those are words to live by if you’re Ceil Walker, the charismatic CEO of Walker & Associates, a locally owned advertising, public relations, and marketing firm that represents clients as large as McDonald’s and NASA, and as homegrown as the Memphis Art Park and the Racine + Southern Dance Exchange.
“My mom has little plaques and coasters around the house that say, ‘Success is the best revenge.’ She’s always taught me to gracefully let things go and work as hard as you can to be successful, and the rest won’t matter someday,” says Cecilia Walker, Ceil’s daughter and the senior vice president of business development for the firm.
Ceil has followed her own advice and led the company to its 51st year in business. Walker & Associates also has the distinction of being the largest local ad firm run by a woman and the only such firm in Memphis that’s never merged with another firm or been acquired by a larger one.
But there was a time when Ceil had some doubters. Her husband Deloss Walker, who founded the company in 1965, passed away from a stroke in 1996, and Ceil, who was serving as president of the company at the time, took over as CEO.
by Katherine Barnett Jones
Summer showers held off as the Mighty Souls Brass Band wove their sound through a long line of patrons in Memphis Park, united through a simple bond — cold beer on a hot summer night.
The first Fourth Bluff Friday in a series that began in September and will continue on the second Friday of October brings together local beer, music, food, and families for a night on the Mississippi. It is the culmination of hours of meetings and phone calls with city officials and insurance companies, a partnership with the Downtown Memphis Commission, and one small business fueled by local brews and a few Memphis millennials with a passion project for their city.
When a friend with family in the restaurant industry drove a mobile refrigerator box with some home-installed beer taps to a backyard party, at first the idea was just a fun alternative to a keg, but local attorney McCauley Williams and a few of his friends had a vision for the device. A few months and a lot of research later, the mobile beer garden they named The TapBox was born. With Curb Market manager Justin Brooks and Birmingham-transplant bond salesman J.R. Kingsley, the three formed a partnership that led them down roads even their varied careers had never crossed, from insurance to liquor laws to technical maintenance of a refrigeration system.
Less like a food truck than a portable refrigerator, the idea isn’t to stand inside The TapBox (a common misconception). At a constant 36 degrees, the “box” itself serves solely as the vehicle to keep beer cold. When The TapBox travels to different locations, a makeshift bar is set up outside for licensed bartenders to provide service.
As local brews become more and more appealing to Memphians and brewery taprooms fill to capacity, the entrepreneurs behind The TapBox see this endeavor as an opportunity to bring beer-on-tap to places people couldn’t previously have it — concert venues, backyard parties, outdoor events.
“The people who have the most beer to sell aren’t in the market of traveling to sell it on a weekly basis,” says Brooks. “We’re bringing brewery-level tap equipment anywhere we want outside.”
Achieving this level of quality meant no shortcuts for these self-described rookies. Down to the smallest metal bearings, each element of construction was thoughtfully considered and finalized in order to preserve the integrity of the beer. After a fresh coat of black paint and a modern logo, The TapBox launched in May 2016. Since then, they have become the vendor for concerts at the Levitt Shell and a presence at many public and private outdoor venues around the city, working to prove that their device is such a well-oiled machine, they can sell more beer faster and colder than anyone else and increase revenue for the locations they visit.
As the goals for their initial rental business model were quickly exceeded, The TapBox founders’ vision began to evolve.
“It started out from the development of the device for a rental model, then we realized we could actually go out and vend with this thing at the Shell and concert venues,” says Williams. “Now we’re thinking, ‘How can we harness the power to do something bigger, not only to go into already established venues but starting to create our own?’”
Memphis got a peek at a similar concept with Untapped, the popular revitalization of the old Tennessee Brewery into a temporary hotspot in 2014. Untapped has been followed by similar venues around the city, but the entrepreneurs behind The TapBox envision something even bigger.
More than a thousand miles away, a series of pop-up beer gardens developed over the last few years have become a full-fledged movement in Philadelphia. Some permanent and some seasonal, these social oases are creating community from vacant lots, industrial spaces, and parks. The new abundance of outdoor drinking spaces, often combined with live music, games, and local food trucks, provides a thriving environment for millennials, families, locals, and visitors of all backgrounds. As a city with similar demographics to Memphis, seeing the success of this concept in Philadelphia has made The TapBox founders look at abandoned spaces in their own city with fresh eyes.
“I kept reading stories about neighborhoods in Philadelphia where they started these pop-up beer gardens and all of a sudden the whole neighborhood became transformed,” Brooks says. “It brings people into different parts of the city that they would never normally travel, but then they’re enjoying this beautiful place they never knew about and never had seen in their own city.”
Beyond just utilizing parts of town that are already well-known, The TapBox founders see their business as a way to bring life to spaces that are either underutilized or totally vacant, strengthening the city’s urban core while drawing attention to the potential that already exists — like the unbeatable sunset view of the Mississippi from the Fourth Bluff.
“Part of the mission is to show that, hey, this is a beautiful park,” Williams says. “We hope that not only will people think that it’s cool for pop-up beer and food trucks and music, but that if you’re hosting your office event you’ll consider your parks and outdoor spaces as a viable option and not just traditional venue halls.”
As the business evolves, the vision for The TapBox is an ambitious one that goes beyond one truck. Fourth Bluff Fridays are just the beginning of many more plans in the works for The TapBox as support is gathered from local officials, businesses, and organizations to make their long-term vision a reality.
“You could move to any big city and have a great job and succeed in your goals, but you may not actually be able to do something for the city that would make it a better place as a whole,” Brooks says. “I think Memphis is unique that you’ll be able to do some small things and it could have a city-wide impact.
To everyone taking in the sounds of Mighty Souls and the Mississippi sunset on a Friday night at the Fourth Bluff, it’s a beer truck painted black, a piece of a memory filled with food, family, and music. But to the entrepreneurs behind The TapBox, it’s the answer to getting millennials out and involved in their city, a vehicle for change, and a tangible expression of the possibilities Memphis can provide for anyone with the desire to make a change for the better.
With a vision like this, the passion is contagious. As a hot delta summer gives into the perfect outdoor weather, the time may be just right for Memphians to come together like never before over that simple bond of a cold beer — and The TapBox will be right there waiting.
For more on The TapBox, visit facebook.com/thetapbox.
Food trucks have become a staple throughout the city, and across the culinary and business landscapes
by Chalise Macklin
Chuck wagons and other forms of mobile kitchens, including food trucks, have existed for decades, but are more popular now than ever. Now that summer is in full swing, you’ve certainly seen them circulating throughout the Bluff City.
“Food trucks are pulling people out of the office building,” says Leslie Gower, vice president of Marketing and Communications for the Downtown Memphis Commission.
Since 2008, there has been a boom in food truck operations across the country. Right now, the revenue for the industry sits at well over $800 million nationally. According to the National League of Cities, the growth will continue to climb over the next five years.
“Food trucks can be a lucrative opportunity,” says Dr. Tyler Zerwekh, REHS Administrator Bureau of Environmental Health (Shelby County Health Department), adding that the application for permits “comes and goes in rushes. It is usually event-based driven.”
Americans’ need for instant gratification, their busy schedules, and craving for unique foods at affordable prices are all reasons for the uptick in sales and have created a profitable path for the food truck industry. Relatively low startup costs are also contributing to the increase in food trucks nationwide. National Geographic indicates that the average food truck’s startup cost is about $75,000 compared to about $250,000 to get a brick-and-mortar restaurant off the ground.
Voner Vanderhall, West Memphis resident and owner of The Vanderhall’s sandwich truck, started his business on less than half the estimated beginning price. He spent roughly $28,000 on his newly opened food truck. “I did most of the labor myself to reduce costs,” he says. “I was so excited after I received a 98 out of 100 inspection rating. I am off to a good start.”
The president of the Memphis Food Truck Alliance, Keith Paul, says, “For most food trucks, the overhead is low, it can give a person right out of cooking school the chance to hone their skills, and independence to the owner. If you don’t brand yourself well, if your truck breaks down regularly or for an extended period of time, or if your menu isn’t unique enough, someone will go out of business quick.”
New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas are three major cities known for a strong food truck presence. It’s a factor that helps drive tourism in those areas, and the cities are now seeing additional competition as more food trucks emerge across the country.
The movement caught on in the Bluff City in the fall of 2009. The DMC worked with then-City Councilman Jim Strickland to help shape the legislation for food trucks. “Food trucks have a downtown vibe,” says Gower. “We wanted to be progressive like other cities and add to the character and animation [of downtown Memphis].” The idea of adding food trucks in Memphis did not come without some reservations. Says Gower, “At first, we were a little apprehensive because we were worried about how it would affect our restaurants.”
Apprehensions eased after the city council approved legislation requiring that trucks remain 50 feet from the front door of any restaurant, and 1,000 feet from Beale Street, AutoZone Park, and any major festivals.
In fact, the addition of food trucks has added life to downtown Memphis and exceeded expectations. “Food trucks add a niche and vibrancy that is wanted by downtown workers,” Gower says. “We had no idea how well it would take off.”
Every Thursday, about 25 vendors participate in the Court Square Food Truck Rodeo. Gower confirms the rodeo draws anywhere from 500 to 1,000 people each week, many of which are the young professionals working downtown.
But the eclectic options are not contained to the downtown area only. Food trucks are also operating in the Medical District, Midtown, and parts of East Memphis, and are expanding into other areas. There are over 100 trucks operating in Memphis right now. At its peak, about 300 total were permitted to operate.
Food trucks are not legally able to operate without state and local permits. The health department will inspect food trucks twice a year, but can come out anytime for a surprise inspection; especially if there is reason to believe a truck is high-risk or if patrons submit complaints.
“Ideally [a prospective food truck owner], would pick up a packet from the health department before getting started,” says Zerwekh. “You must realize this isn’t a full-scale restaurant. You may have to scale down your operation.”
There are some things people should know before getting started. Much like a brick-and-mortar restaurant, a food truck owner must do research and be business savvy.
“It is a challenge,” says Ermyias Shiberou, owner of Stickem food truck as well as the brick-and-mortar Blue Nile Ethiopian Kitchen in Midtown. “It is not easy, but for someone who wants to make it happen, the access is there. [A turnkey] truck will cost you $30,000 - $40,000, but if you are handy and can do it yourself it could cost $15,000 - $20,000. I recommend [potential food truck operators] get the list of requirements from the health department and talk to the people there. They are helpful.”
“Running a food truck is like running any other business,” Paul adds, “and if you are not business-savvy you are going to run of money fast.”
Many owners of brick-and-mortar restaurants are purchasing food trucks as an extension of their operations. Restaurant owners feel it is another way to reach loyal customers, gain new ones, and compete with food truck owners.
One of the biggest concerns brick-and-mortar restaurants may have is that food trucks are going to steal their business, but experts indicate that they are likely replacing fast food meals. The traveling business could also send customers their way. Most people have around 30 minutes for lunch. If a food truck line is too long or runs out food, people may choose to go to the nearest restaurant to buy lunch.
“In many ways,” says Gower, “food trucks are growing brick-and-mortar restaurants’ business as well because of the overflow.”
by Richard J. Alley
Marriage, like soccer, is a team sport, and Natalie and Alfredo Cerpa — owners of Greenfield Arena — appear to have the fancy footwork for both.
Avid soccer players, the Cerpas met in 2010 as their leagues and worlds overlapped. The Cordova facility where they both played indoor soccer was busy, yet poorly run, and Natalie knew it could be done better. With a background in her family’s longtime, Memphis-based business, Hill Services, she drew up a plan and began talking with people in the business community who, as she says, “were committed to the city.”
At the same time, Alfredo was organizing and running a variety of soccer leagues around town. Originally from Chile, he’d been a member of that country’s national gymnastics team before switching over to soccer and playing in a second-tier division with a professional organization. An injury sidelined his career, and he came to the University of Memphis in 2001 to learn the English language, staying for work as an IT consultant and, eventually, his new family.
They looked into building a new facility but quickly realized that wasn’t economically feasible. The search for an existing structure — one with enough wide-open space for a regulation field (pitch, as it’s called in soccer), viewing section, bathrooms, concession stand, office, etc., but with no obstructing columns — led them to a compound of pre-fab buildings housing a tennis facility and former soccer and field hockey field in Midtown, nestled beside a railroad overpass on South Willett Street just off of Central Avenue.
The team signed a two-year lease (optioned twice again since), and put a six-figure sum into clean-up and renovation. “When we walked in, it was full of antiques, [the landlord] used it as storage,” Natalie says. “Basically the shell was here and we had to get everything out. Everything you see on the inside, we did.”
Greenfield was opened for business in 2011. Natalie and Alfredo were married a year later.
They kicked off with four leagues playing two seasons. Where adult soccer was the focus in the beginning, now the kids’ leagues and skills training programs have become part of the mix.
“We felt like the kids would only come inside in the winter, but the business has changed and we’ve been able to establish a brand, and now I think people see that this is a soccer place and want their kids to learn, and want them to come here,” Natalie says. She adds with a laugh, “And it’s kind of nice to sit inside as a parent.”
The leagues are the mainstay, the meat of the business, and the gaps are filled with open play, skills training, and the like. But the key to success is in filling up an entire day with play at Greenfield, so another aspect to their business is late-night leagues accommodating the second-shift workforce and restaurant employees just clocking out. These are matches that can go until one or two in the morning.
The soccer community has grown over the years. Natalie grew up playing in competitive leagues, with her church, at the Hutchison School, and in college. Now there are more and more local leagues and clubs every season, with heavy growth in the youth arena. The Cerpas have tapped into that community and at the end of 2014 (the same week their son, Alexander, was born), the couple opened Greenfield East off of Sycamore View near Summer Avenue.
Today, there are about 10 recreational leagues that run the gamut — men’s and women’s over 35 (years old), laid back, co-ed pick-up, etc. — at each location. Leagues vary in size for each of two seasons with 50 to 70 teams in the spring, and up to 100 teams for the winter. That puts anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 players on the pitch during a given season.
With two full-time employees, and one part-time between the two locations — and their own hands full with family and careers — Alfredo works overseeing the facilities and developing new leagues to broaden the reach and continuing to fill in the gaps.
“I’m always looking to see, ‘What is the market?’” he says. “All these people who played high school soccer, but they’re not as skilled and didn’t make college, but they want to play, what is out there for them? For these people who want to come and run, get some exercise, safe and not get injured; that’s where our focus has been.”
For more on Greenfield Arena and indoor soccer, visit greenfieldarena.com.
by Katherine Barnett Jones
“The Mississippi River towns are comely, clean, well built, and pleasing to the eye, and cheering to the spirit. The Mississippi Valley is as reposeful as a dreamland, nothing worldly about it . . . nothing to hang a fret or a worry upon.” — Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi
With a prime spot on Mark Twain’s mighty river and an arm’s reach to the hills of the Ozarks and the Smoky Mountains, Memphians have an ever-growing number of opportunities to get their fill of climbing, cycling, camping, and boating within driving distance. Whether choosing to take a drive or stay closer to home, one store has led the way to equip the Bluff City for adventure since 1974.
“We sell carbon-fiber kayaks, we sell titanium, carbon-fiber bicycles . . . for 41 years, we’ve been offering a really premium product, and Memphians have responded,” says Joe Royer, president and co-founder of Outdoors Inc. “I really think our best business trait is not underestimating the city and believing in the people.”
A West Tennessee native, Royer graduated from the University of Memphis (then Memphis State) with a degree in civil engineering. When he left his New York engineering firm after a promotion to vice president in his early twenties to go into outdoor recreation, his boss thought he was crazy. Outdoors Inc., though, has become an essential element of the Memphis recreation community.
Today’s Outdoors Inc. was founded as “The Great Outdoors” when Royer and co-founder Lawrence Migliara, both avid canoe and kayak racers, combined their performance equipment stores. Over time, they added camping and climbing equipment, ski gear, bikes, and more.
Today, customers at any of the company’s four locations — Midtown, East Memphis, Cordova, and Jackson, Tennessee — can seek high-quality equipment and information on nearly any outdoor sport, in addition to in-demand brands like Chaco, Patagonia, and Yeti.
Learning from the expertise offered by Outdoors Inc. employees is one of the best things about visiting the stores, says Midtown sales associate Eric Bleier.
“All of us do have a lot of expertise in these areas, whether it be boating, cycling, rock climbing, backpacking, spelunking,” Bleier says. “We know what we’re talking about. We’ve been to Rocky Mountain National Park or Yellowstone; Yosemite.”
Each of the three Memphis Outdoors Inc. locations offers a little of everything, plus its own unique niche. A rock climbing wall is part of the Cordova store, while the Midtown location holds extra storage for canoes and kayaks behind its Union Avenue building. In East Memphis, a full-service bike shop is part of the Poplar Avenue store, which also becomes the primary ski and snowboard location in the winter.
The canoes, bikes, and other equipment sold are used all over the world, from the Rockies to Mount Kilamanjaro. One of Royer’s biggest goals, though, is to help Memphians embrace the natural beauty right here in Shelby County.
“We’ve got this beautiful oak forest we live in, we’ve got the Mississippi, we’ve got this gently rolling flatter terrain; it’s perfect for a bicycle,” Royer says.
The cycling community in Memphis has known that for decades, but the expansion of the Shelby Farms Greenline and extra bike lanes throughout the city have led to huge growth in the sport in recent years. The Harahan Bridge Project is set to connect Tennessee pedestrians and cyclists to our Arkansas neighbors across the river in fall 2016, and the 4,500 acres of outdoor opportunity just miles from downtown at Shelby Farms Park is the largest example of the many parks and recreation areas thriving in Memphis today.
Outdoors Inc. sponsors events throughout the year to encourage Memphians to get out and enjoy the city, including paddling classes on the Mississippi and the Winter Off-Road Race Series for trail runners. The annual Cyclocross Race is the longest-running event of its kind in the United States, bringing world-class athletes to Memphis every fall, and summer brings the Canoe and Kayak Race on the Mississippi — an event close to Royer’s heart.
Still an avid paddler, Royer often starts his day with a 10K on the Mississippi. He tracks the weather upstream regularly and has learned the details of the river’s tides, eddys, currents, and frequent travelers, big and small. Royer’s view of the river isn’t fear, it’s respect — a view he’s made it his life’s mission to share.
“It is dangerous, but so is St. Moritz, so are the Rockies,” Royer says. “It doesn’t take a super athlete … you need skill and knowledge. You don’t need bravery. Bravery will get you killed — you don’t need to prove to anyone that you’re not scared of the Mississippi.”
With this expertise, it was Royer who recognized that the water in the Wolf River at the far north end of Mud Island might just make a stable starting point for a few hundred canoes and kayaks. He mapped out a 5K route for a race, ending at Mississippi River Park — and the rest is history. The Outdoors Inc. Canoe and Kayak Race will take place on the Mississippi for the 35th year this June, with more than 500 participants taking part in last year’s event.
Royer and his wife spend their vacations taking part in bike and canoe races all over the world. Being a part of the greater community gives Royer a voice to spread the word about the canoe race and other events in Memphis, bringing world-class athletes like Olympic gold medalist Greg Barton, Pan Am Champion Michael Herbert, and others to race on the Mississippi.
While it’s a great competition for these elite athletes, the majority of participants are locals with no canoe expertise who are just able to enjoy a beautiful day with a few more minutes to sit back and enjoy the river than those first few finishers.
“Some years, it’s easier to make the U.S. Olympic Team than to win the Outdoors Inc. race,” Royer says. “That’s how good the competition is. Most people just see it as fun, and that’s what I want it to be. I want it to be for the young couple that just wants something fun to do, to hear some music and go home.”
Coordination with Ghost River Outfitters allows participants who don’t own equipment to rent canoes and have them ready to go on race day. The fun continues with music, food, and vendors along Mud Island after the event, highlighting another part of the city that has developed into a major recreational outlet for Memphians since the race began more than three decades ago.
Most importantly, Royer has trekked to the Corps of Engineers office every January for 35 years to file a permit that holds barges along that part of the river during race day in order for the smaller boats to go by safely.
A lot has changed in Memphis since 1974, but Outdoors Inc. has been there along the way, “outfitting human-powered recreation,” as their motto states, and reminding Memphians of just how much they have to work with.
“Denver was a cowtown until they embraced the mountains and snow,” Royer says. “You can’t wish you had something else. We’ve had this long-term approach to embrace what we’ve got. You look out at this river, and it is just magnificent. What we’ve got is amazing.”
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