Monsieur Demarcus French Crêperie is now open in the space that was previously Neely's Bar-B-Que, bringing more international flair to Victorian Village, a neighborhood already featuring Jamaican and South American restaurants.
Before his restaurant opened, chef/owner Demarcus Woodard put a great deal of work into refurbishing the site. A bright dining room has been carved out of the old space, and the size of the kitchen has been reduced.
Woodard has plans for further work, but now his focus is on the menu, which revolves around traditional sweet and savory crêpe dishes as well as his own inspirations.
"One night, I was downtown, and I saw Orion's Belt over the Pyramid. I thought, Wow. I should do something with that." He did do something with that. Taking the letters from "belt," Woodard created a crêpe with bacon, egg, lettuce, and tomato.
"For the kids, we may do cheeseburger crêpes. We're also going to have crêpes-adillas — basically your average quesadilla, but we'll keep it French with the cheeses," Woodard adds.
Along with the crêpes, the restaurant offers salads and soups. In the future, more fare will be added, such as New Orleans-style beignets with chicory coffee, beef bourguignon, coq au vin, and other French classics.
Woodard says that French cuisine wasn't in his original plans, but this native Memphian did have an early start in food.
"My first job was McDonald's. I didn't look at McDonald's the way other people do, as a minimum-wage job. I paid attention to the processes. I paid attention to their marketing and advertising. I had an artistic eye, and I learned from how the big guys did things," he says.
Working in fast food may have developed his business skills, but it was home that inspired his start as a chef.
"I watched my aunts and uncles and grandma cooking food. One day, I was playing around, and I made some collard greens and a sweet potato pie. And someone said, 'Can you make me one of those?' That kind of boosted my ego, and when I got more and more people saying it tasted good, I thought I might be onto something," Woodard says.
In 2007, Woodard left Memphis for West Palm Beach, Florida. He spent two years there before a trip to New York made him realize that was the place to be. Even in New York, he was a true Southerner.
"I was doing soul food catering in Harlem. A friend who owned a restaurant invited me to come try crêpes. I asked, 'What's a crêpe?' I went there to try it and I liked it. He asked me if I wanted to try making them. What I didn't know was that he was trying to get me to help him because he needed a lot of help," Woodard says.
Agreeing to help his friend was to change Woodard's path and bring him full-circle back to Memphis.
"I ended up putting the catering service on the back burner and helping him run his restaurant. Once we got fully staffed and my bills were getting higher and higher in New York, I decided to come back home to bring a little taste of France ... not too fancy, a casual place where you get the atmosphere without the high prices," he says.
Monsieur Demarcus French Crêperie will be one of the restaurants participating in the Edge of the Village Dine Around on Friday, October 11th, from 5 to 9 p.m.
Long known as a center of beautiful and historic architecture, Victorian Village will turn the spotlight on another part of the neighborhood: its restaurants. The Dine Around event will offer an evening of special small-plate tastes at five eateries.
"While we normally do lots of events like home tours, we wanted to shift attention to these businesses," says Nora Tucker, administrator of the Victorian Village Community Development Corporation.
The Dine Around restaurants include Monsieur Demarcus; the Jamaican restaurant Evelyn & Olive; Arepa & Salsa, which serves Venezuelan cuisine; and the Trolley Stop, which specializes in dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.
The restaurants will also be taking things beyond the plate with entertainment for the evening.
"Evelyn & Olive co-owner Vicki Newsum is the vocalist in the Prime Cuts Band. They'll be performing. Arepa & Salsa will feature a Latin jazz combo and salsa dancing lessons. Trolley Stop's regular Friday entertainer, table magician Tim Friday, will be there too," Tucker says.
The event will also include an after-party at Mollie Fontaine Lounge.
This is a party with a purpose. A portion of the proceeds from each restaurant will go to support the Victorian Village CDC. Diners will also have a chance to learn more about the organization.
"We'll have reps at each restaurant to talk about what we do. We have helped preserve the historic properties here, and we're working to get more residential opportunities in the neighborhood," Tucker says.
Edge of the Village Dine Around in Victorian Village is Friday, October 11th, 5 to 9 p.m. For more information, visit www.victorianvillageinc.org.