Six months ago, Dereck Allen came to Memphis from New Orleans to interview for a job with Gary Williams of DeJaVu. He got the job, but while still in Memphis, a horrific situation occurred, and Allen ended up losing his left arm. He returned to New Orleans to recuperate.
"[Williams] would call me every day," Allen says. "I thought I would probably never work again."
Williams eventually convinced Allen to return to Memphis to become general manager of Cafe La Roux by DeJaVu, which opened about six weeks ago in the United Way building on Tillman.
Stars aligned for this project. Williams had decided to turn the original DeJaVu on Florida into a catering kitchen. Then he bumped into Cassi Conyers of Pink Diva Cupcakery. She told him was looking for her own space, so he leased the Florida building to her. He heard from United Way a couple of weeks later.
The deal: Williams would run United Way's restaurant and provide their catering, and he would run DeJaVu's catering operation from the building's spacious, well-stocked kitchen. "I didn't have to buy a pot," Williams says.
Kenneth Robinson, president and CEO of the United Way of the Mid-South, says that when the organization moved into the building in April, he wanted a world-class restaurant on-site, one that would serve not only the 40 employees of United Way and other businesses in the building but also the general public. He wanted a chef with name recognition who could provide healthy options.
Cafe La Roux is a nonprofit, serving breakfast and lunch. Along with Allen, there are two employees, Elizabeth Boyd and Naomi Williams, getting folks fed. Williams describes Cafe Le Roux as sort of like Piccadilly, with diners picking what they want. "Turkey necks, shrimp étoufée, black-eyed peas, candied yams, meatloaf — you can't go wrong with this stuff," he says, listing that day's offerings.
Breakfast items include omelets, breakfast sandwiches, pancakes with sausage or bacon and eggs, and French toast with sausage or bacon and eggs. For lunch, in addition to the meat-and-two offerings, there's a salad bar, daily specials, soups, seafood gumbo, quesadillas, po'boys, and sandwiches. There are desserts as well. Prices top off at $9.50.
As for the name, Cafe La Roux, it's cool, and as Williams says, "The roux starts everything. It's the roots. It's the beginning. It's the glue, man."
Cafe La Roux by DeJaVu, 1005 Tillman, 207-0683
"I have the entrepreneurial spirit. He has the cooking talent," Lisa Dandridge says. "Together, we make the perfect couple." And together, Dandridge and her husband, J.C., opened The Choo in August.
The Choo is a play on "chew." ("You get that chew, that bite — hopefully, it will be marvelous," Dandridge explains.) The name is also a nod to the restaurant's location at Southern and Semmes — right next to the train tracks. Inside, there are clocks on the wall with times for New York, Los Angeles, Sante Fe, and Memphis, mimicking a train station. There are toy trains in the window, plus luggage. On the wall is a mural of a train, vibrant in red, blue, purple, and yellow.
The theme extends to the menu as well. Sandwiches include the Conductor (chargrilled or fried chicken breast), the Brakeman (red smoked or polish sausage); and the Engineer (po'boy with shrimp, chicken, or catfish). Tee's Engine Starter a choice of chicken wings in a number of flavors, including hot, lemon pepper, and honey gold. Chris' Caboose is a plate of chicken tenders served with fries. (Prices range from $3.95 to $11.95.)
There are salads, too, a daily chef's special, and meat-and-two plates. For dessert, butter cookies like you had in school and Suh's homemade pound cake. "Some people don't get home with it, if they take it to go," Dandridge says of the poundcake.
Dandridge says they chose the location because of the diverse neighborhood. There's the University of Memphis nearby, the Fairgrounds, the Country Club, and tons of homes. The train comes by about twice an hour, Dandridge says. When cars are stopped at the track, they go out and greet the drivers and hand them a menu.
The Choo is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Parking is available on the street.