Chad Foreman and Kirk Cotham met while in grad school. They worked together at FedEx and later at Accredo Health Group. Foreman was in accounting, while Cotham worked in marketing. After being offered a buy-out from Accredo, they had to figure out what to do next. They wanted something practical, something that is used everyday. One of the things they considered was woodworking, specifically cabinetry. But then they settled — against the many warnings from their friends and family — on the restaurant industry.
One thing they liked about getting in the restaurant game was that, in Memphis, when it comes to restaurants, the little guy almost always beats the big guy. That is, nobody's messing with KFC when we've got Gus's. Why have Pizza Hut when Memphis Pizza Cafe is so much better?
They knew they wanted fast casual and they wanted multiple locations to make it work. As Cotham remembers it, "We were bringing something new to Memphis."
The first Pyro's, a build-your-own pizza restaurant, opened in East Memphis in 2013. There are now four locations in Memphis, with one in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, opening soon.
And now they've expanded beyond pizza with Wolf River Brisket and Levee Creamery and Highland Creamery (coming soon).
How the newest concepts came about ... Well, Cotham and Foreman are both opportunists. Though that word makes them cringe, they admit it's true. So, there was a TCBY near Foreman's home. It was neither good nor bad, he says. "It was not an enjoyable experience," he says. Then he heard that the TCBY was looking to sell. Foreman had always felt like a coffee place would work there — an alternative to Starbucks (the little guy always beats the big guy, remember). They noticed how close schools were to the location. They had a vision of moms dropping off their kids and picking up coffee, people meeting up, after-dinner treats for the kids. There, they opened Levee Creamery.
It was a case of the real estate dictating the direction of the restaurant. And that is certainly true for the two Wolf River Brisket locations. A space opened in the same shopping center as Levee Creamery. For the second location, they found a spot in an old Mellow Mushroom in Olive Branch.
One thing that's flummoxed them about Pyro's is the impression that Pyro's is a chain. "We don't want to be viewed as carpetbaggers," says Foreman. They think the issue may be that the spaces are clean, the service and food is uniform. "If you're nice or stylish, you can't be from Memphis," ventures Cotham.
This is perhaps why the names for their ice cream spots focus on the site: Levee Creamery for Houston Levee and Highland Creamery for the street.
The creameries serve up hand-churned ice cream and French Truck coffees. They offer cake batter gelato, cookie doughs, waffle cones, and milkshakes. The Electric Fence Shake comes with two shots of espresso. There's also a cold espresso bar.
At Wolf River Brisket, they serve Texas-style brisket cooked in a Memphis manner — low and slow. They also serve burned ends. To those uninitiated, the burned ends are the fatty ends of the brisket that are cubed and smoked. At Wolf River, they cover it in sauce and smoke it again so it creates a caramelized bark. "It's the best of Texas and Kansas City," says Cotham.
Cotham and Foreman say they have a list of ideas, places they've encountered while traveling that they think would translate well in Memphis. But they aren't divulging what's in store.
Cotham spells out their business approach, "It's good for us; it's good for Memphis."