Hamida Mandani graduated with a master's degree in business in 2009, right about the time the Great Recession kicked into high gear.
Luckily for her, she already had a business plan in hand, thanks to school.
The business plan took into account her trips to New York and Chicago and her husband's experience as a convenience store owner — a deli concept that also worked as an urban market, particularly focusing on healthier options, including organic offerings.
- Hamida and Sunny Mandani in the 901 Grille
At the same time, the Downtown Memphis Commission was offering forgivable loans and facade grants to start-up businesses to fill in vacant storefronts and keep the local economy alive.
Mandani and her husband, Sunny, had noticed one of the busiest intersections in Memphis was largely vacant — that of Union and Main.
"The DMC loved the idea of a market and deli," Hamida says. "It was a niche. There was nothing like it downtown."
On December 10, 2010, the Mandanis put Hamida's plan into action, as City Market, located at 66 S. Main (the corner of Main and Union), and the couple have had a devoted following ever since.
"Everyone involved, the DMC, the landlord, and the community made me feel very comfortable," Hamida says. "I've had regulars since the day we opened."
So much so that the regulars who lived in Midtown and worked downtown started putting a bug in her ear that they sure would like to have something similar in Midtown once they get home from work.
That led the Mandanis to the shuttered Midtown Market on Cooper, and they made some phone calls.
By July 2015, the couple had their second City Market, located at 836 Cooper.
"Midtowners love it," Hamida says. "It has been very successful."
Their business model was so successful, in fact, that they began fielding calls from landlords and property owners, who had become customers and friends, about other properties available.
"Adam Slovis told us there was a corner downtown that needed something exciting and asked if we knew something that could go in it, if we had a business plan, and what did we think," Hamida says.
This was around the time that grocery stores had been given the legal green light to add wine to their offerings, and the Mandanis had been trying to figure out how they could squeeze wine on the shelves of the already limited space of their City Markets.
And Quench was born, the couple's first wine store, at 99 S. Second.
And like a couple who thinks they're done with having children, then comes the love child/surprise baby — 901 Grille and Market.
After the city mourned the loss of its beloved Kwik Shop Grill at the corner of E. Parkway and Central, the Mandanis decided to revive the 20-plus-year institution and add their own twist.
They premiered their incarnation of the greasy burger and gyro joint on November 9th, and like their other popular spots, the response has been a positive one.
"We have a good lunch and a good dinner crowd," Hamida says.
They decided not to go with the same model as their City Market shops, intentionally keeping what had already proved successful in the form of the grill menu, while also offering some local convenience items, craft beer, and other ethnic food.
"You can get salads and smoothies at City Market," Hamida says. "This is comfort food, food for the soul."
They intend to keep the prices affordable for the college crowd and are looking forward to Loeb's plans for sprucing up the exterior and getting a snazzy sign.
Hamida is especially excited to employ some of the former Kwik Shop Grill workers.
"I think it was meant to happen," she says.