A sign painted on a cooler at the newly reopened Green Beetle on South Main reads, "Have a beer here; your grandfather did." This holds special meaning for Josh Huckaby. Not only did Huckaby's grandfather, Frank Liberto, have a beer at the Green Beetle, he's the reason anyone ever had a beer at the Green Beetle.
Liberto opened the Green Beetle in 1939. Now, more than 80 years later, this Memphis institution is back in the family.
"Our goal is to take you back to that time," Huckaby says. "We're going to establish this place again."
Huckaby was working as general manager over seven restaurants at a West Virginia casino when he heard that the Green Beetle was up for sale. He jumped at the opportunity to rekindle a family tradition.
The Green Beetle has a history of being an after-hours bar, and the new owners want to maintain that late-night feel but ditch the hole-in-the-wall reputation. They've opened up the front with big windowed doors and decided to keep the place nonsmoking.
Where the bar along the north wall used to collect barflies now sits a row of neat tables with bar stools. The booths have been removed to open up the dining area. Yet, Huckaby has worked to retain an authentic feel. The leatherwork on the door between the dining room and the restrooms is intact. Original signs call up quaint memories and enviable prices: "2 Eggs Toast 35 cents"; "Tasty Sliced Breast of Chicken Sandwich 75 cents"; Bacon 2 Eggs 40 cents."
The menu, traditional Italian food with a Southern flair, will stay small for now. A few items Huckaby recommends: the 12-layer lasagna (a recipe passed down for four generations), the Big Frank Burger with two beef patties topped with bacon, and a slice of his sister Kristeanna's homemade cake.
The Green Beetle, 325 S. Main (527-7337)
Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken is open for business in a new East Memphis location. You'll find it on Mount Moriah just south of Poplar, but you could also follow the line of customers that has been out the door since the restaurant opened on July 9th.
Tripp Carter co-owns this new Gus's franchise with longtime pal Tom Mitchell. Carter was one of the founding owners of the first Gus's franchise on Front Street. He and his then wife Wendy are diehard fans of the original Gus's in Mason, Tennessee.
"We used to ride our motorcycles out there," Carter says. "It had kind of a cult following."
At some point, Gus's founders Vernon and Gertrude Bonner mentioned that they were interested in franchising, and Carter and his ex-wife quickly took them up on the offer. It wasn't long before their downtown franchise was joined by two more locations, in Collierville and Bartlett.
The key to quality control over the multiple franchises? The Bonner family makes all the frying batter, which they deliver to each of the restaurants.
"It's part of the franchise agreement," Carter says. "We don't have the recipe. The Bonner family holds that near and dear. We even prepare the chicken behind closed doors so employees don't know about recipes or even the process of preparation. It's that secret."
Business on Mt. Moriah has been good, to say the least. Things were so busy the two days after opening that Carter and Mitchell decided to lease a building across the street for extra storage, office space, and additional parking.
"It's been incredible," Carter says. "We continue ordering more chicken every day. We've added staff. We've leased new space. It's just been incredible."
Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken,
730 S. Mendenhall (767-2323)