By Marcy Siebert and Jim Walker
Main Street’s The Majestic Grille recently celebrated its 10th anniversary of operation with a red-carpet bash that included family and friends from around the world and around the corner. And while 10 years of successful operation anywhere is certainly something to celebrate, for the restaurant’s owners, Deni and Patrick Reilly, the evening was also an opportunity to commemorate a decade of consistency and attention to detail, of fun and friendships, and of Memphis community camaraderie – all of which comes under the mantra of “Keeping It Majestic.”
Over the years The Majestic Grille has won accolades in the regional and national press for its offerings, but just as important to the Reillys, it is deeply involved with the community, assisting several charities and endeavoring to promote the health and safety of local children.
“We are a part of the fabric of this community,” Deni said proudly.
The restaurant is also a gathering place for the arts, and for friends and “family.” Not least on the Reillys’ list of proud accomplishments is the longevity of their restaurant staff. Several members have been with them since the beginning, or nearly so, including Lisa Gradinger, the bar manager.
Met and Made in Memphis
Patrick Reilly is a classically trained chef, who first came to Memphis in 2001 to work for the Gibson Lounge. Deni Reilly had come to town to work for the Blues Foundation. They met at the lounge and the drive to open their own restaurant soon followed.
“It was a natural progression,” Patrick said. “I had always wanted to have my own place.” He added that they made a conscious decision to stay in Memphis, as their best shot. “A lot goes on here, and we have a lot of faith in Downtown.”
“We felt there was a gap in the market for an upscale, casual restaurant, a neighborhood spot,” Deni said.
The eventual location of The Majestic Grille began its life as the Majestic No. 1, a silent picture house. (In commemoration of that, classic movies are still shown on the huge screen at the back of the restaurant.) There were other incarnations after that, with the most recent being a Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant. After Gordon Biersch, the location, with restaurant infrastructure in place, was vacant for a while, and, for the Reillys, was too good to pass up.
“We took over Jan. 1, 2006,” Patrick said.
Their “first employee,” Lisa Gradinger, had actually met Patrick and Deni a couple years before that, while she was bartending at the Swig Martini Bar.
“One day Patrick approached me about being the bar manager at a new restaurant he was opening,” Gradinger said. “For me it was a way to find a new challenge in bartending. I would now get the chance to create new drink and wine lists and also get the chance to learn more about the management aspect of the job.”
And they were off.
‘Secret’ to Success
Now, 10 flourishing years later, the Reillys were asked what the secret to their success at The Majestic was. Both Patrick and Deni felt it was due to a variety of factors, with maybe a little luck thrown in.
“The Downtown really embraced us from the get-go,” Deni said. “And the restaurant community – we try to work together. The community is very good to us. It’s important to be good to the community.”
“I don’t know what the secret to success is. I wish we could bottle it,” Patrick said. “We just try and run a good operation, with some integrity.” And he added, “We are not a chef-driven restaurant. We wanted to create a consistently-good dining experience that was both simple and fresh.”
Deni added, “We make our own bread, butcher our own meat. We buy fish from Boston. We make our own soups, salads and dressings from scratch. It’s really good, simple food, rooted in his (Patrick’s) tradition.”
Friends and Families
The family atmosphere is as much a part of The Majestic Grille’s success as the menu. And here, again, “consistency” is key, such as the longtime staff members, including, among others, Gradinger, Luis Reyes, Rickie Jones, Shannon “Smitty” Smith, Michael Palmer and Michael Smiley. Trained to be experts on Downtown Memphis, staff members soon turned customers into friends.
“One of the biggest things that has kept me at The Majestic for so long is the sense of family and friendship that is always present,” Gradinger said. “Like any family, we all have our moments, but in the long run we are always there for each other.”
And she added, “Just like the staff is part of my extended group of family and friends, so are so many of the people that walk through our doors each day. Whether it be our five o'clock regulars that I talk sports with, our guests that travel to Memphis and always stop in for a bite to eat, our Grizzlies regulars, or our Sunday brunch crew, each of them are 'my favorites' for a different reason,” she added.
Oh, and there have been romances and marriages out of The Majestic mix as well.
“Guests meet here, get engaged here and even get divorced here,” Deni laughed. “Kids get their first dining outing here. Some of our ‘Majestic Kids’ take their first steps here. We’ve had nine ‘Majestic Babies’ from people who have met here.”
Of course the Reillys also have a son, Seamus (3), who is popular at the restaurant. “He’s our little dishwasher,” Deni laughed.
When asked what changes, if any, might be in store for The Majestic, Patrick said, “We make enhancements to the interior. We evolve, are constantly tweaking.”
“You can’t get complacent,” Deni said. “How do we make it better?”
But Patrick emphasized, “We are not a fad restaurant. We aren’t trendy. We aren’t going to do wholesale changes to the menu.”
And staying involved with the community is also important. “We’re in the Downtown Memphis business,” Deni finished.
The Majestic Grille is located at 145 South Main Street, Memphis, TN 38103. For more information visit http://majesticgrille.com or call (901) 522-8555.