'It's a mess’: How Memphis restaurants are dealing with city’s water ... - Commercial Appeal

‘It’s a mess’: How Memphis restaurants are dealing with city’s water … – Commercial Appeal


Water is an essential ingredient in the operation of a restaurant. From washing vegetables to boiling pasta to making tea and coffee to washing dishes, water is used in every step of preparing a meal.

The current boil water advisory has restaurateurs across Memphis scrambling to make sure customers are served safe-to-eat meals.

It’s the second time in two years that Memphis restaurants have had to deal with a dayslong boil water advisory. The last time was February 2021.

Here’s a look at how Memphis restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops and breweries are dealing with the city’s water issues.

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BYOW — bring your own (drinking) water

“The pandemic prepared us to do the best we can any any given situation,” Memphis chef Kelly English said. “And that looks different for every restaurant.”

English reopened his four Memphis restaurants (Restaurant Iris, The Second Line, Panta and Fino’s) on Tuesday, after being closed Monday due to the boil advisory.

“We are lucky we have a 40-gallon tilt skillet so we can boil 40 gallons of water a time,” he said.

That water is being used to make coffee and tea, cleaning produce and for cooking. No sodas will be served because the soda machine is plumbed into Memphis water.

English also has ordered ice from out of state and is offering guests who bring their own drinking water a $5 gift certificate to use at a later date.

‘An extra load on everyone’

City Silo Table + Pantry owner Scott Tashie said he is grateful Germantown is not under a boil water advisory.

“We have been bringing water from the Germantown restaurant to Sanderlin to wash produce,” he said. “We kept Sanderlin closed yesterday to get ready for opening today.”

City Silo is serving most of its regular menu, including smoothies and juices, but will not be offering anything with ice, drinking water or coffee bar drinks. “Nothing that uses a direct water source,” he said.

“This is an extra load on everyone. But luckily we have the best staff in the world,” Tashie said. “We need to be open. Actually, we all need to be open.”

Many Memphis coffeeshops still closed

Many coffee bars around Memphis remain closed due to the advisory.

Comeback Coffee owner Hayes McPherson closed his Downtown coffee shop on Monday and Tuesday and plans to reopen Wednesday, but with a modified menu that will be as close to the regular menu as possible.

“At Comeback, we have backup equipment that we can use with water we are getting from out of the Memphis area,” McPherson said. “It’ll be a strain on our staff and flow of the shop, though.

“We are having to bend over backwards to try to attempt to keep operations going and to provide a service and space for folks during a time that has been stressful and even scary for the Memphis area. It’s a fine line of us needing to be open but also ensuring that the product we send out is safe and that we are mindful of the lack of resources that day to day folks need here in Memphis.” 

Low water pressure impacts Memphis breweries

Memphis breweries are also impacted by the water main breaks, but for a different reason.

“The low water pressure is the real issue for us,” said Memphis Made Brewing Co. co-owner Drew Barton, explaining that boiling water is part of the beer-making process.

Barton said this week is thankfully historically a low production week for his brewery, and they have decided to put off the production that was scheduled until next week.

He does have concerns about opening his taproom for business this week. “We are 10 feet off the ground,” he said. “We have to have enough water pressure to flush toilets to open.”

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From burst pipes to Tiki Goes Tacky

Midtown bar Cameo has had a double-whammy from the winter weather. On Christmas Eve, the restaurant was flooded when the pipes to a sprinkler system in the upstairs apartment building burst. The bar was open for business Monday, boiling water to wash barware and dishes, until the water pressure dropped so low they could no longer fill pots or flush toilets.

Co-owner Paul Gilliam said despite the past few days, they would “not be throwing in the towel and giving up.” Water pressure was back up to normal on Tuesday afternoon, so plans for the bar’s weekly Tropical Tuesday night were moving forward.

“Tonight we are calling it Tiki Goes Tacky,” Gilliam said. “Since we can’t shake drinks to order, we are prebatching several tropical drinks and will be serving them in red SOLO cups. It’s all the same quality cocktails with garnishes, just everything served in plastic cups.” Gilliam said they have also purchased ice, rather than using their own ice makers.

‘Awful for all food businesses’

East Memphis Bakery Sweet Lala’s Bakery will remain closed until it has running water. The bakery’s water has been out for several days. 

“My team is bringing in water tomorrow to try and prep for orders placed, but we aren’t able to serve our coffee and espresso with water being piped in,” Sweet Lala’s owner Lauren Young said. “All customers have been notified by email they may have a delay in their order, or we ultimately may have to refund.

“This has to be awful for all food businesses,” she said. “It’s a mess for sure, and with no communication or clear path from MLGW, it is hard to know how to bring staff in properly.”

McPherson expressed similar concerns for the Memphis restaurant industry.

“Water is absolutely crucial for coffee but also just our industry in its entirety. Several places have had to close or adjust accordingly, which puts serious strains on our small businesses, ” he said. “We’ve been here before, which is frustrating to say at the least.

“The impact this winter weather has had on MLGW is quite apparent and shows that it’s time for an update to our systems — for the sake of small business and Memphians as a whole.”  

Jennifer Chandler is the Food & Dining reporter at The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at jennifer.chandler@commercialappeal.com and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @cookwjennifer. 


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December 27, 2022 at 02:27PM

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