Lisa Toro isn’t a native Memphian, but after 20 years, we will absolutely claim her. Her career has spanned audit, finance, recruiting and digital marketing, and she’s logged time at some of the city’s biggest corporate powerhouses, including Hilton Worldwide, Medtronic and International Paper. But the entrepreneurial bug has always been Lisa’s constant companion, and after a year of planning, she left her job as the senior director of Digital Brand Marketing at Hilton in 2014 to open a coffee shop and craft/brand boutique, City & State on Broad Avenue. Lisa and her husband, Luis, who was born and grew up in Venezuela, “have a too-tall 13-year-old son and a determined 10-year-old daughter,” she says. “As with any family, we’re always going in a million directions and working to balance it all. It keeps us on our toes.” Today, we’re thrilled to introduce you to Lisa as our FACE of Memphis!
How did you decide to go from the corporate world to owning your own store/coffee shop?
I’ve done both and can, without hesitancy, say that when you work for a larger company you tend to lose touch with the community and city around you. It’s easy to become insulated within your industry and department, seeing only a part of the larger whole within the organization. As a small business, you’re able to test, learn and adapt quickly with an understanding of all elements being impacted by any changes made and opportunities taken. Your community becomes your customer, and your success depends on your understanding of the city around you.
How would you describe City & State?
City & State is a space and a brand that celebrates craft in all its forms. With the combination of craft coffee with a retail space of curated goods, it creates an inspiring space meant to spark conversation and community. We source goods from all over the country as a part of our mission to makers and brands to bring them to a new market and introduce Memphis to products and goods being created around the country. In the same way, we feature coffee roasters from around the country and a seasonal menu of both coffee and teas.
What was so attractive to you and your husband about opening on Broad Avenue?
Broad Avenue exemplifies what I believe Memphis to be, which is a community full of diversity that is ever evolving and continuously improving. We have some businesses on Broad that have been here for decades, along with newer tenants infusing renewed energy into the district. I love looking across the street to see the semi trucks coming and going from Hollywood Feed’s warehouse while also being able to walk down a few blocks for one of the city’s best brunches at Bounty.
Tell us about your coffee.
Our primary partner is Intelligentsia, which is based in Chicago and has been a specialty roaster for over 20 years. They were one of the first to establish the direct trade practice in the coffee industry. In addition to Intelligentsia, we feature a rotation of smaller roasters from around the country who we feel exemplify the best of the best.
And where do you get your breakfast goodies and food?
Our pastries and sandwiches are delivered daily from Porcellino’s. In the same way we source makers and coffee, we also appreciate being able to work with talented chefs who are passionate about food and Memphis.
What’s been the most difficult thing about this jump to owning your own business?
Owning your own business is very personal. It’s personal in that the business is an extension and a reflection of you. Because of that, I’ve had to grow a thicker skin and learn when to listen and when to turn off the naysayers and critics. Our shop isn’t traditional, our coffee is complex and our staff is some of the best at what they do. But we’re not for everyone, and we have to be okay with that.
How do you like being your own boss?
I much prefer being my own boss. The most difficult thing about it is also the most fulfilling. All decisions, successes and failures rest on you. There’s no one to blame but you, and there’s no one to default to when a decision is difficult to make. That responsibility also means that you can feel good when those decisions work and be proud of the wins along the way.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself since opening the store?
For myself, I’ve learned that I thrive when I can continuously learn and wear many hats. It keeps me on my toes. It also confirmed what I already knew about myself, which is, I adore people. I believe that the people we meet along the way are what make life interesting. People shape our experiences and our own growth. Having this business allows me to meet new people each and every day, and to work with talented people who have only just begun to realize their potential.
What are your hobbies, and how do you unwind?
My hobby may sound stereotypical, but is also so very true. I absolutely adore traveling, experiencing new cities and cultures, and eating and drinking everything along the way. To unwind, it’s cooking dinner at home for the family, relaxing with a glass of wine and most likely watching a Marvel movie of some kind with my kids and husband.
Where’s the first place you take an out-of-towner when they come to visit you in Memphis?
First stop would absolutely be Hog & Hominy
What’s your favorite Memphis attraction, and why?
The Mississippi River. I love walking the river early in the morning or at sunset. I find it peaceful and settling.
Finish this sentence: If I had a superpower, it would be …
… to fly. That way I could avoid all the hassles that come with traveling.
What one word describes you?
What inspires you?
What’s your best piece of advice for others?
Embrace the possibility of failure. There is no shame in failing, because it means you have tried something worthwhile that many only dream of.
What are three lighthearted things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
Coffee, good food and Google
Thank you, Lisa, for sharing a look at your life. And thanks to Micki Martin for the lovely photographs of Lisa!
Find even more to love about Memphis in our SB App. Click here to download it. It’s free!