Although Karen Carrier once said she has no interest in adding another restaurant to the four she currently owns (Automatic Slim's, Cielo, the Beauty Shop, DŌ), that doesn't mean she's going to sit back and relax. It's just not her style. So Carrier recently set out to reinvent Cielo, her fine-dining restaurant in downtown's Victorian Village.
"I'm not fine-dining," Carrier says. "I'm casual. I'm funky. I want my restaurants to reflect that. I don't want this place to be a special-occasion place. I want it to be a place where people can hang out, listen to live music, have a couple of drinks, and order a few small items from the menu without busting their wallets."
In true Carrier fashion, Cielo has been turned upside-down and inside-out, stripped, painted, and wallpapered to re-emerge as the Molly Fontaine Lounge, scheduled to open in about two weeks.
"I've been going to estate sales for seven months. I have looked at books of European lounges from all eras over and over again, and I have this picture in my head of social clubs in New York City years ago," Carrier says, describing the concept for the lounge.
"To me, making this home into a lounge is like taking it back," Carrier says. She's referring to the mood set a few decades back by a previous owner, a notorious ladies' man, and his friends. "It was a big party house with a different woman on every floor," she says.
The building that houses the soon-to-be lounge was built in 1886 as a wedding present for Molly Woodruff Fontaine and is one of the few homes of its type in Victorian Village that didn't get torn down during the 1960s. Carrier's late husband Bob bought the house in 1985.
Initially, the house was both home to the couple and an outlet for Carrier's newly established catering business, Another Roadside Attraction. A few years later, with a $35,000 loan from her dad, Carrier renovated the home's carriage house and moved her catering business there. Eventually, the couple started to look for a place that was better suited for a growing family. In fact, Carrier even tried to sell the main house.
"I knew I wanted to keep Roadside where it was, but nobody wanted to buy just the main house, so I decided to turn it into a restaurant," Carrier says. She started the rezoning process in 1994 and opened Cielo two years later.
More than 10 years have passed since opening day, and Carrier says it is time for a change.
"We are still going to be very accessible for everybody," she explains. "We can still accommodate private parties, because we can mold the space according to the event. One of my guys from the Beauty Shop custom-made the bars and put them on casters so they can be rearranged or moved out of the way if needed."
The Molly Fontaine Lounge will offer a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern-influenced small-plate menu and a happy hour with cool cocktails, as well as live music.
Molly Fontaine Lounge, 679 Adams
Encore chef/owner Jose Gutierrez will be offering Saturday cooking classes. The summer cooking series starts on July 14th with a class on crepes, followed by a class on brunch, Bloody Marys, and champagne cocktails on July 21st. On July 28th, students will forage for fresh produce at the Memphis Farmers Market to prepare a summer meal.
Classes are held on Saturdays at Encore from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. except for the Farmers Market class, which will meet at the market at 11 a.m. Classes are $50 per person plus tax, and registration is required.
Encore, 150 Peabody Place (528-1415)
Summer cooking classes are also available at Mantia's in East Memphis. This Saturday, July 7th, learn the differences between pure olive oil and extra virgin olive oil by participating in a blind tasting. On Thursday, July 12th, Marisa Baggett, former sushi chef at DŌ will share the secrets of making classic sushi rolls in your home kitchen. A "Picnic in Provence" is the theme on Thursday, July 19th, and a Spanish garden dinner is on the menu for Monday, July 30th.
The olive-oil tasting, which is $15, begins at 3:30 p.m. All other classes are at 6 p.m. and cost $35 per person.
Mantia's, 4856 Poplar (762-8560)