If your family comes from a country on the Balkan Peninsula, chances are you ate your fair share of baklava when growing up. Paula Pulido did.
Pulido, whose love for baklava was fostered by her Macedonian grandfather, will soon be offering up to everybody in Memphis their own fair share of this traditional Middle Eastern treat when she opens Sweet Desserterie in Cooper-Young this summer.
Pulido was working in pharmaceutical and medical sales before she decided to turn her passion into her profession. "This has been a dream of mine for a long time," Pulido says. "I felt that Memphis was ready for a dessert restaurant and that it was time for me to open my own place."
Sweet Desserterie will occupy part of the old flea-market space on Cooper next door to Burke's Book Store.
The restaurant industry is almost as much a part of Pulido's heritage as baklava. Her grandfather owned several restaurants in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and her father owned restaurants in Lansing and Detroit before working as a rocket scientist for NASA in Huntsville, Alabama. "My dad enjoyed the restaurant business, but he thought it was too much work. So not too long after he graduated from college, he took the job with NASA," Pulido says.
Pulido's kitchen skills are mostly self-taught and come from observing and working alongside family members and studying countless books. Two years ago, she tested the waters by starting the European Oven, a catering business. Around the same time, she took classes at the now-defunct Memphis Culinary Academy and had the chance to talk about her plans with Jose Gutierrez, chef and owner of Encore.
"Talking to Jose has had a great impact on me," Pulido says. "He never looked down on me, and he had a lot of great advice. I told him once that my baklava was famous around Memphis and that I wanted him to try it," she recalls. "He said that he had no use for phyllo [dough] in his kitchen. I made him some anyway, and he loved it."
Pulido describes Sweet Desserterie as a "dessert-centric" restaurant or a European-style dessert bistro. In addition to baklava, it will offer warm fudge truffle cake, brioche bread pudding, crepes with brandied fruit, and freshly baked popovers, plus there will be an espresso bar and desserts to-go. Pulido is also planning to include a "small bite" menu and a full bar with an extensive wine list and martini menu.
Sweet Desserterie, 938 S. Cooper (726-4300) www.sweetdesserterie.com
Dan Levin, a Boston native, moved to Memphis from Atlanta four years ago. The former software engineer liked Memphis so much he decided to start his second career here once he retired.
"I knew I wanted to have my own business and thought a coffee shop would be a great idea," Levin explains. Because he didn't want to compete with the established coffee shops in Midtown, Levin started looking west and settled on the space at 153 S. Main that was once occupied by Viking Culinary Institute. He plans to open Blues City Pastry in May.
While Levin has no experience in the restaurant business, his employees do. "I just put an ad in the paper and got lucky," he says. Teresa "Terry" Denton-Johns, Blues City's executive pastry chef, has 15 years of experience, working mostly in Las Vegas, including at the Stratosphere Hotel and Casino and the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. Also on board is Carol Whitemore, a returning Memphis native who most recently started her own gourmet chocolate business in Walkertown, North Carolina. Whitemore will be responsible for everything chocolate at the pastry shop, from truffles to miniature chocolate pyramids.
Plans for Blues City Pastry include a Memphis-themed menu — "Mississippi Mud Cake" and chocolate Elvises — and guests at the 50-seat coffee shop will be able to watch the pastry chef work behind a glass wall.
The coffee shop will open at 6:30 a.m. during the week, 9 a.m. on Saturdays, and noon on Sundays.
Blues City Pastry, 153 S. Main (576-0010) www.bluescitypastry.com
Together, Jon Sharman and Rodney Bryant have almost 20 years of restaurant experience. After several discussions about their dream restaurant, Sharman and Bryant began to take the idea more seriously last fall. They found a building in Cordova that matched their expectations and went to work. In March, they opened Assaggio, an upscale Italian restaurant at Germantown Parkway and Macon Station. The menu includes saltimbocca, chicken Marsala, Neapolitan pork steak, and a "create your own" pasta option. The wine list offers about 20 choices, and they'll take requests to stock more wines and liquors.
Assaggio is open for dinner Monday through Friday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 11 p.m.
Assaggio, 8100 Macon Station (752-0056) www.assaggioonline.com