Octavia Young and her partner, Jeremiah Shields, weren’t supposed to be in Memphis originally.
The two, both classically trained chefs, met while working at Harrah’s Casino in Tunica. Little did they know that the casino would close in mid-2014, ending six years of employment for Young and just six months of employment for Shields. After coming together to plot their next professional move, they found an ad on Craigslist offering a little spot on the corner of Watkins and Overton Park.
“The space was offered as either management or purchase out right,” says Young. “We went with the management option. We just walked in and saw the location and felt like there was a lot of potential.”
That potential did not come without its share of setbacks, including eventually having to rip out the entire kitchen and start from scratch— when Craigslist entered the picture again.
“We had started with hamburgers and wings. Just standard fare, what everybody in the community said they wanted,” recalls Young. “We had been eyeing a pizza oven on Craigslist— again— and when they lowered the price, and we went and purchased it.”
It began what turned out to be Midtown Crossing’s signature dish: gourmet pizza. Due to both chefs’ backgrounds, they found this was the easiest way to straddle their fine dining roots with the type of fare you would expect at a neighborhood bar.
“It’s sometimes a struggle to combine those two worlds,” Young admits. “Sometimes we’ve failed and people don’t understand the food, but we keep trying to get better and better. We want to have what people want and still make it cost effective.”
Today, Midtown Crossing has become more than just a restaurant— it’s become a hub for a wide variety of community events. Groups such as the Evergreen Historic District Association and the Crosstown Neighborhood Association use Midtown Crossing as their meeting space. Local comedy troupes use the stage in the main dining area for sketch and stand-up showcases or to host touring comedians. And then there’s the hugely popular Ukulele Flash Mobs that congregate every Tuesday night to play every genre of music from Hawaiian and Jazz, to Pop, Rock, and Country— all on the ukulele, of course.
“The ukulele people are regulars and they come often,” says Young. “We’re grateful to have them. They just lift the entire place.”
Young says it was always her intention to grow Midtown Crossing into an integral part of the neighborhood. She hopes to keep adding regular events, as well as start targeted programming that appeals to seniors and also to the younger population of the area.
“I believe that if you’re a business and you’re in the community, you should reflect the community that you’re in,” Young explains. “You shouldn’t just take money and run off with it. At that point, you’re not really helping anybody. I’ve always had the idea of a community ran establishment that everyone would come to and hang out.”
Young says that when they moved into their space, Crosstown Concourse was not yet fully under construction; in fact, all she saw were trailers dotting the parking lot in front of the building. She says that, once the building opens, she and Butler don’t expect to change much about their current approach to doing business.
“I want to continue on the path that we’re on,” Young says. “The building opening doesn’t really change much for us except reorganizing so we can handle more volume. At that point, I’d like for a portion of our proceeds to go back into the community, so that this place truly is community owned.”
When asked if she has concerns about the rapid evolution of the neighborhood, Young answers candidly.
“Memphis is in a renaissance and the building is fantastic. My hope is that not just some people benefit, but all people benefit,” she says. “But that’s not Concourse’s responsibility— it’s all of ours.”