"Just for Lunch came before Just Catering, but people who haven't been in Memphis for the past 27 years might not know that," says Ann Barnes, the force and soul behind both businesses.
Barnes, originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, "stole" the concept for the down-home lunch spot, which opened at 4730 Poplar in 1981, from her sister Susan.
"My sister owned the Very Special Tea Room in Little Rock, and when I was looking for something to do when my son was 9-years-old, I thought I can do something like that. It seemed like a lot of fun," Barnes remembers.
Looking back, Barnes laughs about her naïveté.
"When I got married I didn't know how to boil a pot of water because I had never really cooked before," Barnes acknowledges. "Three of my wedding presents were cookbooks: one by Craig Claiborne, a Neiman Marcus cookbook, and, of course The Good Housekeeping Cookbook. I started by cooking recipes out of those books, and I loved it."
Still, the first years weren't easy, and Barnes recalls being on the phone with her sister a lot, asking questions and getting tips on how to run a restaurant.
"When we first started I was a little bit like the newlywed who calls her mom on Thanksgiving to find out how to cook a turkey," Barnes laughs. Only I was calling my sister to find out how to run a restaurant."
In 1986, Just for Lunch moved into the Audubon shopping center next to the Williams Sonoma outlet store and remained there until 1997, when Barnes decided to focus only on Just Catering.
"Our customers were really sad when we closed Just for Lunch, and not a day has gone by when people didnt ask me to reopen," Barnes says. "So when my landlord told me about this opportunity, I didn't hesitate."
Just for Lunch is a comfortable neighborhood lunch spot. The walls and tablecloths are salmon-colored, chairs are cafeteria-style, and artwork from the neighboring galleries is on display throughout the restaurant. The upstairs dining room can be booked for rehearsal dinners and special events.
The menu is straightforward lunch fare, reminiscent of tearooms and Junior League gatherings. Classics include chicken salad, albacore tuna salad, pimento cheese, egg-and-olive, and ham salad served on homemade wheat bread. The salad selection is substantial and includes Southern chopped salad, Mediterranean salad, pasta salad with Brie, and the Just for Lunch club salad, among others. Sandwiches, soups, and desserts are also available.
Just for Lunch is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Just Catering is available for events of all sizes.
Just For Lunch, 3092 Poplar, Suite 11, (323-3287)
by Simone Wilson