Open for Business 

If you haven't heard of Newk's Express Café, you will soon. Newk's is a fast-casual restaurant franchise that originated in Oxford, Mississippi, in 2003. Two years ago, it was one of Franchise Times magazine's "20 to watch." Today, there are a total of nine Newk's in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee (three in the Memphis area), and Texas, with eight more scheduled to open this year.

Newk's founders, Don Newcomb, Debra Bryson, and Chris Newcomb are no newcomers to the restaurant business. The team started McAlister's Deli in a converted gas station in Oxford almost 20 years ago and sold the concept in 1999, knowing that they would come back with something different when the time was right. Don Newcomb was in no hurry when he started McAlister's and took his time with Newk's too.

"I was in dentistry for 34 years," Newcomb says, "but we always had a passion for the restaurant industry and knew that that's what we eventually wanted to do."

This time around it didn't take 34 years of carefully watching the market, tracking winners and losers, and waiting for the right moment to enter the business. Newcomb and his partners took a four-year hiatus after selling McAlister's before starting all over again with Newk's, a nickname for Newcomb.

The restaurant woos customers with fresh ingredients in a stylish atmosphere that includes an open kitchen. The menu is simple and offers gourmet salads ("Newk's Favorite" comes with mixed greens, grilled chicken breast, gorgonzola-style cheese, pecans, dried cranberries, grapes, artichoke hearts, pecans, and croutons); California-style pizzas (veggie, spicy chicken, five-cheese, and Greek are a few of the choices); oven-baked sandwiches (grilled steak, smoked ham, chicken salad, and Italian are options); and homemade cakes for dessert.

Newk's Café, 3075 East Goodman in Southaven (662-536-4307); 3680 South Houston Levee in Collierville (861-1245); Cordova location on Germantown Parkway opening soon.

For those of you who dread the trip to the grocery store, or most any store for that matter, Halle and Derek Whitlock now offer a solution: The Shopping Bag, a locally owned and operated shopping and delivery service.

Living in East Memphis during the week and their downtown condominium on weekends, the Whitlocks soon discovered that buying groceries was an unwelcome task.

"We have two young children, so I know how hard a simple trip to the grocery can be," Halle explains. Inspired by shopping and delivery services in other cities, the couple felt it was time for something similar in Memphis.

"Groceries are what people need on a regular basis, but that's not all we do," Derek says. "We are a shopping service, and we also get office supplies, housewares, electronics, prescriptions, and even gifts."

Shopping Bag delivers to downtown, Midtown, and select areas of East Memphis. Customers place their order online or via phone or fax 24 hours before expected delivery time. Shopping Bag charges 15 percent of the total cost of the goods delivered, with a $20 minimum charge.

To simplify the process, sample grocery lists and special-request instructions are included on the company's Web site. Among the stores Shopping Bag uses are Wild Oats and Fresh Market. They're also planning to add prepared meals and menu ideas to their services soon.

The Shopping Bag (484-4054)

After 30 years in business, Memphis' bastion of French cuisine, La Tourelle, has closed its doors. It was no easy decision for owners Glenn and Martha Hayes, who had their hearts invested in the upscale neighborhood restaurant.

But not all is lost. The Hayeses, who also own Café 1912, have decided to shift the culinary focus of La Tourelle. In its place is Tuscany, an Italian restaurant with a traditional menu of antipasti, primo (a first course, which often consists of pasta), secondo (second course), fromaggio and frutta (cheese and fruit), and dolce (dessert). The atmosphere at Tuscany will be relaxed and casual, similar to Café 1912, with a "one price fits all," mostly Italian wine list.

Tuscany, 2146 Monroe (726-5771)

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