It’s no secret that the Memphis food scene has a rich legacy, built on passed-down recipes and doused in soul. Pillars of that legacy are three world-renowned restaurants with leading women, now second-, third-, and fourth-generation owners. Each of them is balancing the act of highlighting their restaurants’ histories while enhancing things for the next generation. It’s not easy, but they each are doing their part to keep Memphis on the foodie map in their own fresh way. 

Meet 3 Women Running Legendary Memphis Restaurants

Patrice Bates Thompson, Second-Generation Owner of The Four Way

Why did you decide to be a part of a legacy restaurant?

To be honest, it was never a dream of mine to do this; however, in the five years that I’ve been doing it, I’ve learned to embrace it, and I actually enjoy it. It was something my father started for our family and for his neighborhood. He wanted to be a beacon of light in that community and to leave a legacy for me and for my two children. LeMoyne Gardens was his stomping ground, and it was important to him to give back to the neighborhood.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I have a very dependable, awesome kitchen manager who goes in at 7 a.m., sometimes earlier, to get things going. I go in around 9 a.m. to make sure there’s nothing I need to run and get, then I do paperwork. After that, you will see me at the register, serving plates, greeting customers, bagging orders, taking photos with customers … pretty much everywhere.

Patrice Bates Thompson, second-generation owner of The Four Way

Patrice never thought she would follow in her father’s footsteps running The Four Way, but now that she is, she’s enjoying herself and carrying on his legacy of soul food and giving back. Image: Lauren Crew

Would you say your customers are local, or do they come from beyond the Memphis area?

In December, Google contacted us about running a commercial on The Four Way. That commercial aired internationally and has been an amazing blessing for us. This past Saturday, for instance, we had 25 to 30 groups of people come from Birmingham, Mobile, Chicago, Shreveport, Lake Charles, Alaska, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Missouri, Ohio — all over the place! Most of them saw the commercial and were road-tripping for the weekend. My family jokes with me that they want my autograph now because people want to have their picture taken with “the lady on TV!” We have really reaped the benefits of that. Memphis Black Restaurant Week has helped us a lot too.

RELATED: The 4 Best Soul Food Restaurants in Memphis

What are your future goals, and how do you balance those with the rich history your restaurant holds?

We are working hard on that right now, and I’m keeping some of those under my hat until they are finalized. For now, I can say two dreams I would like to see happen before I totally hand the restaurant over to my two children are outdoor seating and adding a nonprofit to our business. I really believe in community building and giving back. I love helping others and being a blessing to others, so I want to do that any way I can.

Cooks in kitchen at The Four Way, a legendary Memphis restaurant

The Four Way is cooking up great things for the future. Stay tuned! Image: Lauren Crew

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

When I think of the best advice I have been given, both my parents come to mind. My mother always told us, “Remember who you are and whose you are.” My father’s advice that he quoted regularly was, “Good, better, best, never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best!”

Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?

I cannot live without integrity, peace and love! Love is what drives us to do what we do, be who we are and give our best! Our faith and beliefs combined with love reassure us that someone cares for us and brings us peace and happiness. Love is also a driving force to dedication and integrity.

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Anna Vergos Blair, Third-Generation Owner at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous

Where do you fit into the Rendezvous family tree, and what was your path to joining the business?

Charlie Vergos was my grandfather, and [his son] John is my dad. After a stint in politics, law school, clerking for a federal judge, and spending some time at Burch, Porter, & Johnson, I came back to the restaurant in 2015. I’m the oldest of the third generation of Rendezvous family.

What made you want to come back?

I grew up at the Rendezvous. I started hostessing when I was 15, worked in the shipping kitchen on Christmas breaks, bartended in law school, and the Rendezvous was what we talked about at night. It is my family’s legacy, and it was always in the back of my mind that I would like to be a part [of it]. The Rendezvous is fun and exciting; it’s family and it’s tough. My dad is an attorney, so he paved the path for me, because having a law degree really helps with the business side of things.

Anna Vergos Blair, Third-generation Owner at The Rendezvous

Charlie Vergos’ granddaughter Anna has grown up at the Rendezvous, which she now runs with his legacy and the future in mind. Image: Justin Fox Burks

How do you even set forward-thinking goals for a place that is famous because of its past?

It’s a hard balance to stick to what it was (and is famous for) while at the same time moving into the future. But there are always ways to make subtle changes to improve things. For instance, a few years back, we kept the three large dumpsters right next to the front door in the alley. That may have worked for decades, but in an era of people wanting to take pictures, that just doesn’t work anymore. So we made arrangements to move the dumpsters to another alley. We also teamed up with Brandon Marshall, a muralist, and asked him to make the white garage wall across from the entrance feel like the Rendezvous outside — he nailed it. Other ways we have subtly tried to stay the same while moving forward involved cleaning up the alley and adding lighting, adding vegetarian options and introducing local beers to the menu, and of course offering curbside service. I know what our values are: our employees, Memphis, putting out a good product, and making sure people have a good time. Maintaining those while always looking for ways to improve is my burden as a third-generation member of the Rendezvous family.

What does it mean to you to be part of a legacy business?

I’ve grown up at the Rendezvous and I don’t know any different. I’m really proud of it, and yet, like anything, at times it can be frustrating. Even still, I love that it’s not just the Rendezvous legacy that we are working on, but it’s part of Memphis history. When I came back to the restaurant several years ago, I humbly walked into the business. It wasn’t me who built this legacy, but it was the people who have spent decades working here who made it — like Bobby, who recently passed away after working here for 52 years — they built it. Overall, I think we make people happy, and I think what we do is good.

Team at The Rendezvous, a legendary Memphis restaurant

Anna credits the people who have spent decades working to make the Rendezvous the success it is today. Image: Justin Fox Burks

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I think my best advice received is simple: Be kind.

Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?

  1. Eating great food
  2. Getting outside
  3. Having a dog (or two) around

Kelcie Zepatos, Fourth-Generation Owner by Marriage at The Arcade

What ideas have you brought with you to freshen things up at The Arcade?

When I joined the team, I started by getting a liquor license and opening the restaurant at night. In addition, I decided if we were going to have bloody marys, they were going to be the best bloody marys in town. We use Old Dominic vodka, organic bloody mary mix, Memphis-made Sonny Salt on the rim, salami, Swiss cheese, olives, celery, and a lemon wedge. We serve it in a milkshake glass to give it that diner vibe. We expanded and I’m really proud of what we have come up with.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I work every day, and it’s a lifestyle. I walk into the restaurant every day and feel the energy first. We have lots of regulars who come daily or sometimes twice a day. I always talk to them and see how they are doing. South Main is a culture with so many stories to tell.

Kelcie Zepatos, fourth-generation by marriage at The Arcade

Kelcie handled first things first when she joined the team at The Arcade: “I decided if we were going to have bloody marys, they were going to be the best bloody marys in town.” Image: Keegan Eyler

You have a background in event planning. How have you been able to use that at The Arcade?

We have hosted photoshoots, recordings for TV, music videos, and film, as well as families with kids who just wanted to read books together. Shelby County Schools wanted to host an event right before COVID hit. One of our biggest moments was when Attorney General Jeff Sessions brought in the Secret Service. Steve Cohen has been in too. Justin Timberlake and Norah Jones have both played our piano in the back. Duke Deuce and Lil Jon made a popular rap video in our restaurant, and that was pretty amazing! It’s just interesting to see all the different types of events that come our way and to learn how to keep adjusting and adapting to each change.

RELATED: Eating Old School: Memphis’ Long-Standing Restaurant Favorites

What does it mean to you to be part of a legacy restaurant?

Because The Arcade is across the street from the train station, I’ve talked to women who said goodbye to their husbands here as they sent them off to war. Speros Zepatos [The Arcade founder] himself fought in World War I and was eventually assigned the job of being a cook for the commanders on a ship. So, during World War II, his goal was to give soldiers the best meal he could before they got on the train across the street. He was given flour, sugar, and other ingredients from the government to serve the soldiers back then.

We are trying to carry on that tradition by taking care of our police and firefighters by giving them half-off. We always have our military discount, and we take care of the trolley drivers too. We try to serve our community well, and that’s something that has always been a part of The Arcade.

Kelcie posing with Harry Zepatos Jr., the former owner of The Arcade, a legendary Memphis restaurant

Kelcie with former owner Harry Zepatos Jr. Image: Frank Chin

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Be playful. Know everything is going to be alright no matter what. Have as much fun as you can. Be as easy as you can.

Aside from faith, family, and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?

  1. Yoga
  2. Reggae music
  3. Hot sauce

Thank you, Patrice, Anna and Kelcie!

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