Future uncertain for popular Downtown Memphis restaurant Alcenia’s

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It’s lunch hour at Alcenia’s and the hugs are flowing just like the cornbread and hot vegetables.

It’s what you expect when you come here and after more than two decades plenty of people have stopped through.

“I just love that she is so friendly. She comes out and greets us and makes us feel at home. Everything is fresh. She cooks everything fresh for us,” said Michele Thomas, a frequent customer from Cordova.

Owner B.J. Chester-Tamayo said just as important as the food is the love you feel when you walk through her door.

“Because I have love and I really care about the people that I cook for. I want them to feel like they are at home when they come to Alcenia’s,” Tamayo said.

It’s been her recipe for success, landing her in the spotlight from the Food Network to Oprah’s O Magazine..

“I think I heard about it on one of the food channels and I have been wanting to come ever since. I love to cook myself, but I really like to eat and I have heard this is the best,” says Larry Crawford of Bartlett. He was visiting the Alcenia’s for the first time with his wife.

Alcenia’s was named after B.J.Tamayo’s mother Alcenia Clark Chester, who turns 98 years old Sunday and taught B.J. to love food.

“Dressing. Chicken and dressing. That was my favorite food and collard greens,” Chester said.

Many of the dishes at the restaurant are Ms. Chester’s secret recipes. After a little coercing, we got her to tell us the secret to her soulful chicken and dressing.

“You got to put plenty ingredients in there, onions, bell pepper, celery,” Chester said.

The restaurant is also a tribute the son Tamayo lost in a motor accident in 1996.

But now there is uncertainty around the future of her business. She said the building’s owner plans to sell the property.

“My life is just in limbo right now when it comes to the restaurant,” Tamayo said.

She is relying on the same faith that her mother credits with her own longevity.

“God is is able to do everything but fail,” Chester said.

“It’s very scary on one hand and it’s exciting on the other. That’s kinda crazy, but I really don’t know what God is taking me to,” says Tamayo.

There is one thing the customers predict about Alcenia’s and its owner.

“From what I have seen and heard, she can do business just about anywhere she goes because people are gonna find her,” says Crawford.

“I don’t have a restaurant. I have a mission,” Tamayo said.

B.J. Tamayo said a lot of businesses like hers have been banking on the opening of Bass Pro at the Pyramid to pump more business into the pinch district.  But she says since it opened nearly four years ago, that has not really happened.
Tamayo’s lease is up in May.

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