While many consider today’s restaurant an institution, the Woman’s Exchange lies just far enough off the beaten path that we want to make sure our readers know about this Memphis treasure. Founded in 1885 on the premise of “Helping people help themselves,” the Exchange continues to thrive today, as it provides a venue for artisan consignors to sell their unique creations, in addition to offering a delicious lunch service fully staffed by volunteers. A 3rd-generation devotee, I was initiated to the Tea Room’s lunch before I could really appreciate the simple goodness of the streamlined menu and the fact that the only beverage choice you have to make is whether or not you want lemon with your tea. Now it has a special spot in my rotation when it comes time to celebrate with friends and family.
Recently my mom and I initiated a 4th-generation Woman’s Exchange lunch buddy and enjoyed the vegetable plate, the Southern entrée of the day which was BBQ chicken, with a side of spaghetti and the strawberry shortcake. (The cake was gone before I could snap a picture!)
The atmosphere is warm and inviting, cultivated by volunteers wearing sweet smiles and red aprons. In the kitchen is Chef “Rev” Bailey; he is kind of a big deal. For the last few decades he has been lovingly crafting the lunch menu every Monday through Friday. In a world full of decisions, you’ll appreciate the simplicity of the menu board as you select the Southern entrée, the veggie plate, the soup, the salad or the sandwich, and add dessert of course. The tables all sport a seasonal flourish, and your glass of tea will never be empty. You’ll dine alongside women of all ages celebrating birthdays, holidays and friendship. You’ll also see some very smart men, too. Thursdays are beef tenderloin day. Expect a line. The popularity of the no-frills fare has resulted in the publication of three cookbooks since 1964. The latest edition even offers some healthy substitutions, which in some cases are hard to taste, although they do offer this disclaimer: “The original recipes are more popular.”
Invigorated by the rush of nostalgia and lots of tea, no visit to the Woman’s Exchange would be complete without some post-luncheon shopping. Known for their beautifully hand-crafted children’s clothing of exceptional heirloom quality, you’ll be sure to find a very special gift for a baby shower or any little loved one in your life! Items on consignment include handmade stuffed animals, wooden toys, blankets, knitted sweaters, hats, books, pottery, exquisite day gowns, aprons, christening gowns and more. The sewing room, a treasure trove of some of the finest lace and fabrics from around the world which is kept under lock and key, deserves a post all its own. The seamstresses are truly artists, and appointments are made months in advance to secure special occasion splendor.
So make a day of it and make it a tradition! Eat your veggies and shop for some truly special one-of-a-kind items. Lunch is served Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., and they are open for shopping Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., as well as the first Saturday of each month. Their constantly updated Facebook page has even garnered the attention of some overseas shoppers!