The Arcade has the honor of being Memphis’ oldest restaurant. Speros Zepatos founded the diner in 1919 after immigrating from Cephalonia, Greece. Situated at the corner of South Main Street and G.E. Patterson, the original building was a small, one story, wood framed building. Food was actualy cooked on potbelly stoves!
In 1925, Speros tore down the wood structure and built the Arcade Building in a Greek revival style, complete with retail stores to signify the “Arcade” name.
His son, Harry Zepatos, took the Arcade to a new level in the 1950’s. He made the cafe into the hip, fifties diner you see today. The boomerang table top designs, now faded and worn around the edges due to thousands of coffee cups, plates, and elbows rubbed across the surface, the spectacular neon signage, and original storefronts have all stood the test of time.
Downtown Memphis was thriving through the mid 1960’s. The intersection was among Memphis’ busiest. Train passengers, soldiers, and Memphians crowded these wide sidewalks twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The intersection was so busy that policeman directed traffic twenty-four hours a day.
Then, in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, with the decline of the railroad, the exodus of downtown businesses, along with the assasination of Martin Luther King, Jr., this area became a ghost town. Buildings were boarded up and abandoned. The people headed to the suburbs.
The rebirth of downtown Memphis began in the late 1980’s. Through it all, the Arcade Restaurant survived! The marker that lists the Arcade Restaurant is an historic landmark, and is located right outside of the front door.
As you look around this old re-discovered part of Memphis, it still has the same look and feel that it did many years ago. The buildings have been refurbished, yet the old-time charm still exists. Once again, the area is thriving; the South Main Farmer’s Market, the Friday Night Art Trolley Tours, world class art galleries, new businesses, the Civil Rights Museum, and the local residents have brought this “new” neighborhood to life!
Sitting right in the middle of this historic area is the Arcade Restaurant. It’s like a trip back in time! It is this nostalgic feeling that has attracted photographers, artists, writers, and movie makers from around the world. Scenes from Mystery Train, Great Balls of Fire, The Client, The Firm, 21 Grams, Elizabethtown, Walk the Line, and My Blueberry Nights, just to name a few, have all been filmed in the restaurant. A second historical marker was erected by the Memphis Film Commission titled “Modern Movie Making in Memphis.” It is located on the sidewalk outside. National magazines such as Southern Living, Esquire, Travel, and Sports Illistrated have featured the Arcade in their publications. The Food Network and The Travel Channel have even done specials on southern breakfast at the Arcade Restaurant. Many of the celebrities from these movies have eaten the same foods you will eat today. At one time, even Elvis was a regular. All of this exposure has helped boost business. The Arcade has even become a tourist destination.
As we move into the next one hundred years, third generation owners Harry and Karan Zepatos have handed over the keys to the fourth generation! Jeff, Kelcie, and Michael can be found running the day to day operations of the Arcade, and have reintroduced evening service and new drinks and menu items to the restaurant! There have been many changes over the years, but great care has been taken to preserve the old-time charm. So while the glowing neon signs and the 1920’s architecture may transport you to the past, the pesto, feta, and walnut pizza will bring your taste buds to the present.
The South Main Historic District, the whistle of the trolley, and the Arcade Restaurant… it doesn’t get any more Memphis than this!
540 South Main Street
Memphis, TN 38103