Every day, on their way to work at their Memphis, TN-based coffee and gift shop, City & State, owners Lisa and Luis Toro would pass a charming building called The Liquor Store. The building operated as a woman-owned liquor store for decades. Once the former tenant had put her children through college, she closed the business and the building was vacant for years. “The small liquor building sat empty and unused just down the street from our existing business, and we felt as though it was such a unique and underutilized bit of space for this district,” Lisa shares. “Driving past every day led to ideating about what it could be, and what would benefit the area. We ultimately landed on a diner/bar. Given the uniqueness of the building and all the neon signage, we chose to retain The Liquor Store moniker and embrace the fun it offered in the way of branding and experience.” The couple worked on the concept for the space for a year before construction even began. While working on the right funding path in that first year, they decided to look into an all-female group of mentors to back the project. “Through conversations with mentors, we made the decision to forgo traditional investors and to focus solely on bringing female investors into the project, at small levels of capital, to further encourage neighborhood and community growth and diversity beyond just our project. The group came to be known as the Broad Angels, and The Liquor Store is working to serve as a model for future small business investments for women and minority-owned businesses,” Lisa adds.
When it came to the actual renovations, the Toros joined Natalie Lieberman of Collect + Curate Studio to create a fun take on Los Angeles-meets-Miami with the funk of Memphis. “With Luis’ Venezuelan heritage, we also wanted to infuse a South American vibe as well,” Lisa notes. “To accomplish this in such a small space, we leveraged materials such as rose-tinted mirror and custom patterned laminate, designed by Luis, to create the mood.” With asphalt surrounding the small building, the team used shipping containers as not only workspaces, but also barriers to aid in the creation of a welcoming and fun “patio” space. They then lined the area with astroturf to bring in some green. This option proved to be more cost-effective than ripping up asphalt and attempting to return the lot to a greener space through landscaping.
In the end, Luis and Lisa have brought to Memphis a restaurant that’s paying tribute to a former staple, while also creating a new way to start a business through the Broad Angels. Hopefully more and more women and minority-owned business owners can benefit from this type of funding, adding to the Binghampton neighborhood Broad Avenue Arts District, as places focus on improvements beyond the business district and into the surrounding neighborhoods. —Erin
Photography by Nathan Berry
Image above: It’s always a good time at The Liquor Store. With a tropical mix of clean, white walls and brass fixtures, the restaurant is as charming and fun and the food is delicious.