Since 2006, the Majestic Grille has been a mainstay in downtown dining, offering Chef/owner Patrick Reilly’s award-winning comfort food in a beautifully restored Main Street building that was built in 1913 as a silent picture house. Reilly is one of just six local chefs who will travel to New York in April for the “Made in Memphis” dinner at the prestigious James Beard House. But, as we’ve seen before, behind every great man there’s a talented, smart, savvy woman who loves him, and the story of the Reillys is no different. Today we are delighted to introduce you to Deni Reilly, Patrick’s better half and the Magestic Grill’s front-of-the-house tour de force.
Originally from Pennington, New Jersey, Deni moved to Memphis from Philadelphia in 1998 to work in national sales for a hotel chain, and at 23 she never thought she’d settle in Memphis for good. While working for the Blues Foundation at a book signing for former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, a chance encounter with blues guitarist Sean Costello would lead her to a show later at the Gibson Lounge where she was introduced to the dashing Patrick Reilly. Patrick had recently moved to Memphis to run the food operations there, as well as at the Gibson headquarters in Nashville. She admits to being pretty smitten from the start. “Who could resist that Irish charm?” she says. And by Irish charm, it’s the real deal, accent and all— he literally just became a U.S. citizen.
A self-proclaimed snob when it comes to Italian food, Deni says that she knew their love would last when Patrick nailed one of her favorite dishes: Vodka Rigatoni. Next came a whirlwind year — The couple married in September of 2005, in a castle in Ireland no less, then opened The Majestic Grille in its downtown locale six months later in 2006.
“There is such a camaraderie between the restaurants and other businesses downtown,” Deni describes. “There are no giant parking lots that separate you from your neighbor. When you step outside to take a break, you actually run into your neighbors. It fosters better community between the business owners as well as our customers.” Their affinity for downtown goes beyond owning a business; they are also South Main residents who find little need for a car most days. Of course a baby and all the gear that comes with him necessitates wheels at times. “Until we had Seamus, we only had one car and one of us would walk to work and the other take the car. Even now, I walk the baby in his stroller to the restaurant. Nothing beats walking home down the river bluff after a busy day,” says Deni.
At age one, little Seamus, like his parents, is adjusting well to life in Memphis both in and out of restaurants, so their lifestyle hasn’t changed too dramatically with his arrival. “Seamus is so at home in the middle of all the noise, clanging dishes and yummy smells of a restaurant. What doesn’t happen much any more is popping into a bar for a cocktail on a whim. And I’m OK with that,” she says.
When asked how they have blended their unique family traditions both in and out of the kitchen, the conversation initially centered on potatoes: “It may sound like a stereotype, but the Irish really do love their potatoes. We always joke that there must be a minimum of two types of potatoes at holiday meals. Last year there where three,” says Deni. Then talk of tradition turns quickly to their son who will no doubt grow up knowing he is loved in all languages. Friends (and noted Chef) Jose Gutierrez and Colleen DePeete gifted Seamus an interactive teddy bear that they use to teach him the Irish language.
Like most successful couples, Deni and Patrick have more in common than their two babies (Seamus, and the restaurant of course). They are both avid golfers and plan to set aside one morning a week to play together. “It’s a nice way for us to connect as a couple and one of the few places we can actually talk work without being interrupted!” They also enjoy the KROC Center and look forward to taking it all in as a family, especially the pool. “Once we figure out how to schlep the baby and all our gear and get ready in under 45 minutes, I’m sure that we’ll enjoy that too!”
Since neither’s families live in Memphis, travel also tops their list of hobbies. In fact, young Seamus has already been on 18 flights to a variety of places, including Italy and Ireland with plans for Scotland, England and Portugal this year. As for Deni’s favorite destinations, she most loves visiting their families: hers in laid-back Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, and Patrick’s in Ireland. “I’m pretty lucky to be able to visit Ireland every year. There is something magical about getting to know a foreign country in such depth,” she says. “But I often wish there was a secret door that I could just pop through that opens in Jerez, Spain, for a spontaneous afternoon of fino and grilled clams.”
Philanthropy through the restaurant is also a shared passion for Deni and Patrick. Especially close to their hearts are The Blues Foundation, ArtsMemphis, The Orpheum and the Street Dog Foundation. Serving as a Memphis City Beautiful Commissioner, Deni has truly embraced her city, and our landscape is certainly better for it in more ways than one. “Memphis is a lot like Dublin. It’s got a lot of rich history, some of it pretty turbulent. But in spite of, or maybe because of all that, it’s got more grit, soul and passion than most cities twice its size,” she says.
Thank you to Christen Jones Photography for these lovely images of a majestic Memphian, taken inside the beautiful Majestic Grille.