Classic Dining: Breakfast at The Arcade

Classic Dining: Breakfast at The Arcade

Most people think of breakfast when they think of The arcade restaurant.

It’s their most popular item, says Jeffrey Zepatos, one of the owners and great-grandson of founder Speros Zepatos. “Bacon or sausage, eggs any way you want, hash browns or oatmeal, biscuits and gravy or toast. It’s a pretty big meal. I think it’s a much larger meal than you would normally get from most places that serve breakfast, really.

He adds: “French toast is without a doubt our bestseller. Yesterday we made 260 pieces. You get three pieces per order.

Breakfast accounts for 50% of their sales during the week and 60-70% on weekends, he says.

It all started over a century ago, when Jeffrey’s great-grandfather, who emigrated from Kefalonia, Greece, to America, joined the Navy during World War I. He wanted to see the fight, but he volunteered to be the ship’s cook. And his food was a hit. “Everyone loved it,” says Jeffrey. “Admirals, Captains and Generals.”

After the war, Speros “traveled and ended up in Memphis. He saw Memphis as a rising city.

The Arcade restaurant will also be a part of young Harry’s life, says Jeffrey. “He doesn’t have to work there, but he can get work experience.”

The Arcade Restaurant, which Jeffrey says is the oldest restaurant in Memphis operated by the same family in the same location, opened in 1919 in a wooden structure at the current location. “In 1921 we finally built a real building – the brick building that is the restaurant today.”

The restaurant was part of an “arcade” that included multiple businesses within the same structure, Jeffrey explains. The building could accommodate up to 10 tenants. His great-grandfather, says Jeffrey, “had big dreams like any immigrant.”

Speros also owned the nearby and now demolished Arcade Hotel, where Jim Jarmusch’s 1989 film, Mystery Trainwas filmed.

The neon sign on the side of the building is the restaurant’s original sign, Jeffrey explains. The rest of the neon outside, including the front door overhang, was added after a fire in the early 1950s.

“The interior changed a bit in the 1950s after the fire,” he says. “That’s what you see today. The whole interior is from the 50s. That’s why it feels like a 50s restaurant.”

His grandfather, Harry Spero Zepatos bought the restaurant in the 1960s and continued to run it into the 1990s. “My grandfather ran the restaurant during a really tough time,” says Jeffrey. “This was one of only three restaurants open downtown.”

Jeffrey’s parents, Karan and Harry Spero Zepatos II, took over in 2001. His father ran the restaurant until downtown started to come alive again, he says. “He really cared about the neighborhood and the people around him.”

Jeffrey and his brother, Michael, have worked at The Arcade since they were teenagers. Jeffrey and his wife, Kelcie, became involved with the restaurant after returning to Memphis from Chicago in 2014.

Kelcie was the driving force behind the restaurant’s expansion in 2017. “We just wanted to expand and build a liquor bar,” says Jeffrey.

Her dad “just wanted to knock down a wall,” but Kelcie asked if she could call some architects because “we wanted quality people” for the expansion.

Even the Covid pandemic didn’t slow The Arcade for long. The restaurant closed for two months in 2020, but by May the staff were back and the restaurant was doing good business with delivery and takeout orders.

Jeffrey’s philosophy? “I think we can always do better. I will never be satisfied. As the city grows, I expect us to grow too. Not necessarily in size, but in overall business. Never be complacent.

And, he says, “I’m excited for the fifth generation.” On January 20, 2022, Jeffrey and Kelcie became the parents of Harry Speros Zepatos III.

The Arcade restaurant will also be a part of young Harry’s life, says Jeffrey. “He doesn’t have to work there, but he can get work experience.”

The arcade restaurant is at 540 South Mayn Street.