This year, as Folk's Folly celebrates its silver anniversary, one must wonder how it all began. The restaurant's story is not a saga, however, but the simple tale of one man in search of a decent porterhouse.
In 1977, Humphrey Folk Jr., the restaurant's founder, was a prominent member of the construction industry who saw both the demand for and possibilities of a good steakhouse in his own hometown. "All we had up here in Memphis at that time was the Vapors Club," says Folk with a smirk as he describes what was Memphis' finest. "It was over on Brooks Road and was sort of a dance hall and hangout for the girls and the men. But they did have the best steak in Memphis back then, I guess because the owner raised cattle down there in Mississippi, so maybe he was using his own cows."
The Vapors Club, however, paled in comparison to the steaks Folk encountered on his travels to New Orleans. "I was born and raised in the construction business -- in it all my life -- and we did lots of work in New Orleans," says Folk. "And New Orleans had some of the finest steakhouses back in those days. They had Chris's Steakhouse, which is now Ruth's Chris, one called Charlie's Steakhouse, and then one called the Crescent City Steakhouse. And all three of them used to have the best steaks."
Folk took it upon himself to provide the Bluff City with the same quality of steak, and so the idea for Folk's Folly was born. As the name indicates, family and friends didn't have much faith in Folk's decision to branch out from the construction business into the restaurant industry. This lack of confidence was probably deserved, however, as Folk had virtually no restaurant experience. "I think I worked one summer [on] a short-order-cook building," says Folk. "That was the only experience I had in the restaurant business, besides liking good food." That, plus a knack for pinpointing what works for other businesses and incorporating it into his own endeavors.
After buying the house that became the restaurant at 551 S. Mendenhall, Folk began doing his best to imitate the steakhouses of New Orleans. "I knew where they got their meat from in New Orleans, that prime meat, and we made arrangements to get our meat from the same place," says Folk. "And we did our vegetables the same way they did down there, which was very easy and nothing real complicated -- so really just steak and potatoes and a few side orders."
As with most restaurants, the first years were difficult. "I tell people the construction company sort of kept the restaurant in business," says Folk, "because we sure weren't making any money those first few years." After several additions to the original house, increased seating led to increased profit. "The restaurant really started doing good when we got over 200 seats, and we had a good following and a good customer base. And we pretty much kept the same menu."
In recent years, the menu has expanded, offering choices ranging from Alaskan king crab legs to Australian rack of lamb, but steak is still the specialty. Like the menu, the number of Folk's Folly customers has grown exponentially since the opening, but many have remained loyal for almost as long as the restaurant has been around. Some, like Joseph Cervetti, a retired county government worker, started going on special occasions, only to make the restaurant a favorite weekend stop. "My first time at Folk's Folly was probably 10 or 15 years ago," says Cervetti, "but my wife Tommie and I started going regularly in the early '90s." The piano bar is one of the main attractions for the Cervettis, as is the staff. "They really make you feel at home," says Cervetti.
Chuck Roberts, president and CEO of Chuck Roberts Real Estate in Southaven, has been a customer for 20 years. "For me," says Roberts, "it's always been a place where you went and you got the best food and the best service. That's never changed." Roberts has celebrated at least 17 of his last 20 birthdays at Folk's Folly, brought his wife to the restaurant for their first date, his proposal, their rehearsal dinner, and all of their anniversaries.
As for the future of the steakhouse, Folk doesn't have anything too big in mind. "It's been a long time," says Folk, "and we plan on going for another 25. As far as expanding to other places, we pretty much just want to stick to one restaurant. It's getting to be fun now."