Courtesy The Liquor Store

The newest hotspot in Memphis is a liquor store-turned-diner space backed entirely by a group of women entrepreneurs.

Andy Meek
November 28, 2017

Memphis is the kind of town where you can go to the liquor store for breakfast.

No, not to some kind of weird booze joint that serves a buttery stack of flapjacks alongside Grey Goose and Captain Morgan. The Liquor Store is, in fact, a new old-fashioned diner concept peddling comfort food like all-day breakfast, burgers and cocktails. The husband-and-wife team behind it have just opened its doors on Broad Avenue, the main thoroughfare in a funky Memphis arts district packed with everything from a brewery to a bar arcade to small mom-and-pop shops.

And, now, add to that list a diner. A diner called The Liquor Store in a repurposed building that used to be—wait for it—a liquor store.

The restaurant’s provenance owes itself to creativity and a sense of humor. Owners Lisa and Luis Toro also own the nearby retail shop City & State—a kind of emporium for makers and artisans both local and from around the country—and they kept running into people who kept asking where they could grab a quick bite to eat nearby. This was a little more than a year ago now, and the district didn't really have much in the way of quick, casual dining joints. It was still a resurgent commercial district in the process of attracting new entrepreneurs.

Courtesy The Liquor Store

The Toros bought the old liquor store building and ultimately had a flash of culinary inspiration. Why don't we call it, well, that? How funny would those conversations be, the Toros imagined. “Where should we go for lunch today?” mom and dad might ask each other, Little Timmy in the backseat. “How about The Liquor Store?”

A sense of humor is apparently a prerequisite for these kinds of things. Which also led to an interest in developing a concept that’s about comfort and familiarity and approachability to go with the name. Plus great drinks, obviously.

“We felt like the district really needed something more to help draw people for longer periods of time—to get them to walk around and explore a bit more,” Lisa Toro explains about the new restaurant. “The food is a play on diner fare, so we’ll have club sandwiches and Cobb salads. We’re trying to keep it focused around offerings for any and all, including a couple vegan and vegetarian options on a daily basis as well. And then the cocktails are going to be pretty incredible. The bar program has to really shine, given that we’re called The Liquor Store.”

The aesthetic inside is classic diner-meets-South Beach flair. The interiors are white and modern with warm metal finishes and a pastel palm pattern on the tables and bar to give off that Miami vibe. Designer Natalie Lieberman, whose studio Collect + Curate designed the space, said the goal was a “pretty” setting that people would feel comfortable lingering in. “The diner had to imbue a familiarity for breakfast and coolness for drinks at night,” Lieberman said. “I think early on we were thinking white with pastels would be fresh in this space, and that made us think Miami. I had lived there, and Luis is from Venezuela originally.  We all liked the Latin influence and knew the fun we could have with the design.”

The Liquor Store is a diner, but also an attempt at speaking a specific design language. From the rattan white chairs to the laminate tabletops and bar tops to the glowing bulbs in a grid on the ceiling. A juxtaposition of modern with classic. And you’re greeted right out front with a bright vintage one-word sign that announces “Liquor” can be had herein.

The breakfast menu, meanwhile, includes staples like a pancake stack and biscuits and gravy. For lunch, you’ve got everybody’s beloved diner standbys: things like a Cuban, grilled cheese, burger, club sandwich, plus snacks like crab dip and loaded fries.

Another unique thing about the place is the route the Toros took to get here. Financing is always the tough nut to crack for a small-scale entrepreneur, so the Toros found a group of nine women—fellow entrepreneurs around the city—to buy into the vision and financially back the concept.

“These investors stepped up to the plate and had enough faith in us to put something in the game,” Toro said. “This idea of empowering women and minorities to activate spaces and communities, the support is severely lacking. I can’t even fathom what so many go through to try to open their doors. Luis and I have been more fortunate than most. I come from a business background and can speak the language of financing and with banks. And it’s daunting enough for me.”

The end result: a new diner where Lisa says the recipe is basically “a fun, positive environment with delicious food and fantastic drinks. We’ve brought together a lot of talented folks to let them create this experience for the customers.”

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