Butting Out 

Times are getting tough for diners who enjoy a cigarette after a nice restaurant meal.

The Tennessee Restaurant Association (TRA) board of directors decided earlier this year to support the Comprehensive Workplace Smoking Act and its "Non-Smoker Protection Act," which will go into effect on Monday, October 1st. While the TRA and the Memphis Restaurant Association (MRA) have maintained that the smoking issue should be decided by individual restaurant owners, both organizations support the law because it's an across-the-board ban and not a ruling that includes one restaurant but not the coffee shop down the street.

"We worked together with the Tennessee Restaurant Association to make it a broader law that would include all types of restaurant businesses but still leave room for individual decisions," says Jeffrey Dunham, president of the MRA. Dunham is chef and owner of the Grove Grill, which went non-smoking shortly after the bill passed in June.

Although the law states "smoking is prohibited in all enclosed public places within the state of Tennessee," restaurants can circumvent the ban by becoming an age-restricted venue. As such, a restaurant or bar has to restrict access to people who aren't at least 21 years old. Additionally, restaurants have to have a system in place to make sure that everyone who comes through the door "submits an acceptable form of identification for inspection." Also exempt from the new law are private clubs. However, a restaurant or bar can't become a private club just to avoid compliance with the law.

"The age restriction allows restaurant and bar owners to make a decision based on their type of business," Dunham says.

Customer response to the smoking ban at Grove Grill has been positive. "Even the smokers didn't have a problem," Dunham says. "They're used to going outside to smoke."

"One thing we would like to see happen are guidelines for uniform non-smoking signs and the places they should be displayed inside the restaurant," says Wight Boggs, executive director of the MRA. "Because there are no regulations in place for that yet, I could have a really nice sign made, while somebody else might just write it on a piece of paper and tape it to the wall."

Fines for non-compliance with the new law are $50 for a person who knowingly smokes in an area where smoking is prohibited and up to $500 for the owner or manager of any public place where smoking is prohibited.

To read the bill, visit http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/bills/currentga/Amend/HA0739.pdf.

Residents of the Poplar and Highland area will soon be able to add a new eatery to their list of neighborhood restaurants. Jason's Deli, a fast-casual, cafeteria-style deli, is scheduled to open on Poplar Avenue across from Poplar Plaza this month. There are currently two Jason's Delis in the Memphis area — one in Cordova and one at Park Place Mall.

When Joe Tortorice started the business in Beaumont, Texas, in 1976, the deli offered six sandwiches. Jason's Deli has since grown into a family corporation that is run by three of Tortorice's cousins and a brother-in-law and now offers soups, salads, a salad bar, and sandwiches in all possible varieties.

Although the deli's founders think of their business as a mom-and-pop, Jason's Deli has more than 100 locations. The business has added between 10 and 12 restaurants to its chain every year, 60 percent of which are still owned and operated by the family corporation. The rest are franchise locations.

One of the draws of Jason's Deli is that customers can build their sandwiches in an infinite number of ways — with meat cut half-an-inch thick or paper thin, with a double or even triple order of jalapeno pepper jack, and on bread that ranges from whole-grain wheat to butter croissant to onion buns.

Jason's Deli, 3472 Poplar (324-3181)

Einstein Bros. Bagels, which has a store at the Memphis International Airport as well as 54 locations on college campuses nationwide, will soon be part of the University of Memphis' new 24/7 Learning Commons in the Ned R. McWherter Library. The bagel, sandwich, and coffee shop will occupy the library's former ground-floor computer lab and will serve food from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Einstein Bros. will celebrate its grand opening on Wednesday, September 19th, from 2 to 4 p.m.

Einstein Bros. Bagels, Ned R. McWherter Library on the University of Memphis main campus

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