What's the founder of a local frozen yogurt empire to do with his spare time? He might start by opening a restaurant; then work on corralling food trucks into the Memphis Food Truck Alliance; add in a microgreens business and buy a restaurant furniture company, all the while working to foster a local foods ecosystem. Sound dizzying? We sat down with Taylor Berger to find out how he has established himself in Memphis' changing food scene and what magic we can only assume he uses to unlock an extra 24 hours in each day.
Let's start with your microgreens project, Green Girl Produce.
Taylor Berger: I met Emma Self through Ryan Trimm of Sweet Grass, and she was growing stuff for him. We started talking about microgreens, a type of greens that chefs like but aren't readily available, so we shifted gears into that. [The microgreens farm] will be on Broad Avenue where a liquor store used to be. It's a 1,200-square-foot building, so it's small, but it will have seven vertical shelves of microgreens with lights above each one, so your grow space is actually 2,500 square feet. We love the idea of creating a local ecosystem of food where we're growing it all around.
Meanwhile, we're meeting in an office space you're using to launch yet another project.
Yeah, we got this office space [at EmergeMemphis] for an idea called Guild Local, an online platform that connects expert teachers in the community with students. We think that the culinary classes will be some of the most popular classes. The first people I talked to were Andrew Ticer and Michael Hudman [of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen] and asked if they wanted to teach a butchery class. They'd already been thinking about teaching one of those, so [Guild Local] would be a great tool to handle the logistics. Of course, I'd love to have Kat [Gordon, of Muddy's Bake Shop] teach a class on cupcakes, and I could teach a class on gelato. There are a lot of ideas.
What's the news on Chiwawa in Overton Square? When and what can we expect?
Right now, they say it will be open in December, but I think it will probably be January. People can expect it to be a really fun place with a really tasty, unpretentious menu. It's going to have a kind of urban shack feel with a mixture of Southern American-style Mexican food. Crash from Revival Food Truck put together the menu for us with things like "Juan-tons," an Asian wonton but with chicken and cheese inside, and the "Chiwawa," which is a bacon-wrapped deep-fried hot dog with pineapple salsa. It's mostly à la carte stuff, and we're going for simple, so I'm including tax in all the prices. If you get a taco for $3, it's $3.
It's going to be a fun, casual place — which is often shorthand for beer and big screens to watch sports. But you've decided not to put a television in Chiwawa. Why?
Because it's better for the energy. When I go to other cities and look at other restaurants, the ones where people were the most engaged with each other and with the food did not have televisions. And I don't think that's a coincidence. I want it to be all about the food and the people you're with.
You recently purchased Memphis Contract Furniture, a hospitality and restaurant furniture company. You're becoming more of a businessman than anything else, but all of your ventures center around food.
It's certainly not because I'm a good chef. When you start down a path, other little paths diverge. It's just the world that I'm in. It's the people I meet, and it's what I think about. All these ventures ... the key is getting the right people together. And it's worked well. Now instead of paying someone $40,000 to put all the booths in Chiwawa, I get to spend it buying from myself. And when I start buying microgreens, I can buy them from myself.