Terry Martin was a teenager without a day of restaurant experience when she went looking for a job at Folk’s Folly, then a brand-new steakhouse and the first of its kind in Memphis. She was hired on the spot, and in the 40 years since, during which she’s only missed two days, both she and that Memphis original have become fixtures on the fine dining scene. She took over management of the in-house butcher shop shortly after its 1989 opening and soon transformed the retailer into a hub for homemade grab-and-go specialties in addition to Folk’s Folly’s hand-cut meats and gourmet sides. In an industry known for its turnover, Ms. Terry – as her colleagues and customers affectionately call her – is a rare example of lifelong loyalty. Meet this week’s beloved FACE of Memphis, Terry Martin!
Where were you born and what was your upbringing like?
I was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi. It was a close-knit family, church-going people. My uncle was a blues singer, everybody in Holly Springs knew him — David Kimbrough … nicknamed “Junior.” I had three brothers; I was the only girl and the baby. When I was 10, my mom and my dad separated, and we moved to Memphis. From there, we moved to Orange Mound in a little area called the Beltline, over by the Liberty Bowl. I went to elementary school there, and then we moved over by the airport area in ’72, and I went to Oakhaven High School.
How did you get started at Folk’s Folly?
I was going to college, at that time it was Shelby State, and I needed a job. One of my friends in the neighborhood, Patricia Wilson, was a cashier here. She said, “Do you know anything about a restaurant?” And I said, “No.” I came up here in December all dressed up and everything — had heels on. At that time there was a chef named Ed Ferrer, and he hired me. He said, “Go to work.” I said, “Now?” And he said yes.
How did the transition to managing Humphrey’s Prime Cut Shoppe happen?
I started in the kitchen making salads, and I did a little prep work. After that, they kept adding on to the restaurant. They added the area down where the butcher shop is, and they needed somebody to run the shop. We had a couple of people before me, but it seemed like it wasn’t going anywhere. We were just selling meats. One day Diane (Kauker) and another manager, Kelly Aur, asked me how would I feel about going down there and working in the shop. I just took off from there. It grew and grew, and I started adding different products. I was like, “We’ve got everything in the kitchen. Can we sell the sides, too?” So we started doing that. And then we started to make some things that I make at home — chicken salad, pimento cheese, stuff like that. One day, Mr. Folk called over here — his office was next door — and he asked me to make him some egg and olive salad. I said, “I don’t know a thing about that. Which one, the green or the black ones?” He said, “Both of them.” Ever since then, I’ve been making egg and olive salad.
You’ve been here for nearly all of Folk’s Folly’s 41-year history. How have you seen it change?
When I was first here, this [lounge area] was part of the street. When I came in, they were doing work up here. It was just a little bitty house. We actually had two private rooms upstairs, and the customers used to love to come through the kitchen, looking at us working, going upstairs and having a good time in the priority rooms.
Multiple Folk’s Folly’s employees have been here for decades. What is it about the restaurant that inspires such loyalty?
I just love the people. It’s like Folk’s Folly is my home, and this is my family. I just love everybody. And my customers, I love them to death. All of them are special, but some stick out more than others. Sometimes if they come in there, and I’m not there, they’ll turn around. A lot of them just want somebody to talk to, and I love to talk.
What is it like having your daughter Ashley be part of this family?
I don’t treat her any differently, because she’s an employee, too, but it makes me feel good that she is here with me.
How do you enjoy spending your free time?
I have a grandson, Colby. He’s in kindergarten now. Everybody at Folk’s Folly knows Colby. He’s my heart. I don’t have a lot of free time. I have a brother who had a stroke, and I help him a whole lot. Either I’m at his house or at Walmart or at Sam’s. I don’t do too much for myself, and I really need to start. Thursday nights we have Bible study, and every Sunday I’m at church. I’m an usher and in the outreach ministry. I love my church, Ascension Baptist Church.
What is your favorite thing on the Folk’s Folly menu?
Believe it or not, it’s the smoked pork chop. And I like the veggies — the spinach and sautéed mushrooms and the sweet potatoes. Of course, I love the steaks, but that’s my favorite.
What are your plans for the future?
I keep telling Diane and Lauren that I’m going to retire, and Diane says, “No, no, no, no.” I say, “Yes, yes, yes.” I’m 60 now, so one day I will. When I get maybe 62 or 63, I’ll probably work two or three days a week, and then I can spend more time at church, doing things at church. I think I’ll be here until I’m just ready to go. It’s been a long journey here. I love Folk’s Folly. I just feel like I’m part of the family. I know I am. I know everybody, and everybody knows me. I’d do anything for anybody.
What is your best advice?
Treat people as you want to be treated. You never know what’s going to happen from day to day. If somebody needs something, you need to help them. A lot of times you see something needs to be done and people might say, “That’s not my job.” Just do it and go on. It makes the day a better day when everybody’s getting along.
What are three things you can’t live without?
I can’t do without Folk’s Folly. Orange slices are my favorite candy and my grandson’s; I take a piece to church every Sunday and he comes, “You got my candy?” And I have to watch my soap when I get home, “The Young and the Restless.”
Thank you, Ms. Terry, for serving us well (in so many ways!), and thank you to Laura Armstrong of NLA Projects for these beautiful photos.
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