Is it an antique store? Is it a restaurant? Is it Snow White’s cottage?
These are the questions most residents unfamiliar with the English style building located on Highland Street might ask themselves as they motor down the strip.
While the building looks like it belongs in the Enchanted Forest, it does not house any Disney princesses. Wellford’s Antique Collection and The Elegant Farmer are the two establishments that reside in this whimsical edifice.
Owner Mac Edwards founded The Elegant Farmer in April of 2011. While it is still in its juvenile years, Edwards has worked in the food industry for his entire adult life with more than 35 years of experience.
Edwards owned McEwen’s on Monroe in Downtown Memphis from 1997 until he sold the restaurant in 2008. After three years of consulting work after the sale, Edwards decided to get back in the restaurant business. He started renting space from the Wellford’s building located at 262 South Highland St. and thus began The Elegant Farmer.
One of the pillars of the restaurant is fresh, local food. It is one of 49 Project Green Fork certified restaurants located in the Memphis area. For a restaurant to be eligible for the Project Green Fork certification, businesses must abide by six “green” steps.
Next, all restaurants have to recycle all items Project Green Fork merits recyclable.
Third, Project Green Fork aids restaurants in developing a composting process.
Fourth, toxic chemicals for cleaning must be avoided when possible.
Fifth, Project Green Fork will work with businesses to find ways to lower MLGW bills.
Finally, owners and staff have to ensure grease traps and kitchen hoods do not overflow or emit waste to the sewer and storm drains, and the space both in and outside the building must remain clean and trash free.
As a founding board member of the Memphis Farmers Market, Edwards said this is where he developed the idea to run his restaurant using locally grown produce.
“I’ve had a long-term relationship with a lot of these farmers,” Edwards said. "I did it at McEwen’s too, but not like I do here (The Elegant Farmer).”
Jennifer Giles, an Elegant Farmer regular who lives across the street from the restaurant, said she dines there about once every two weeks.
The atmosphere and proximity to her home as well as the relationship she and her family have developed with Edwards are three of the main reasons for her continued customer loyalty, Giles said. But the emphasis on using local ingredients is another main draw.
“The food is consistently good,” she said. “In fact, I have not had a bad experience here. I like that so much of it is purchased from the local Farmers Market. He (Edwards) always tries to find things that are local to Memphis.”
The restaurant has been successful in its few years of operation and has even been featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives program on the Food Network.
Edwards said there is no big secret to what they do at The Elegant Farmer; it is just Southern food that has been elevated to fancy home cooking.
“We aren’t reinventing the wheel,” he said. “There have only been a handful of new ideas since the Last Supper, so it’s pretty easy and it’s not that hard because I can do it.”
“We aren’t reinventing the wheel,” Edwards said. “There have only been a handful of new ideas since the Last Supper, so it’s pretty easy and it’s not that hard because I can do it.”
“I think people that are good at the restaurant business, they understand that service is not being subservient,” Edwards said. “When you look at it like you are entertaining people in your home and you come from that place, if you don’t get genuine satisfaction from making people happy then you are in the wrong business and you need to work in a cubicle somewhere and stare at a computer screen all day. That is not what I want to do. I’m too ADD for that.”
Liz Ferguson, who has worked at The Elegant Farmer since February, said she loves the job, which is a common trend amongst employees.
The emphasis on local food and the fact the employees genuinely enjoy what they do and love food are a few of the main reasons Ferguson said the restaurant has developed such a following.
“It’s a very friendly atmosphere no matter what you’re doing here,” she said. “Whether you’re having lunch, dinner, it’s easy going. You can wear jeans and flip-flops, but you can also have a five star dinning experience.”
With a menu full of fresh options, Edwards said trying to pick his favorite dish was like asking who his favorite child was. He said the sloppy Joe sandwich, shrimp and grits and the catfish were a few of his top picks, but added that everything was delicious.
“It’s a beautiful restaurant with great food and great service,” Edwards said. “What we do here has real value. The restaurant business is as simple as hot food hot, cold food cold, keep the restaurant clean and be nice. People try to over complicate it. And from that you can make money.”
The restaurant is open for lunch seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and for dinner service Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30p.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations are accepted.