MEMFix in the News

Memphis Daily News: Neighborhood Vitality

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The history at the Four-Way Restaurant is as rich and soulful as the food.

The walls of the South Memphis institution are decorated with photographs of politicians, athletes, entertainers, business leaders and civil rights icons – including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – who made the famous restaurant at Mississippi Boulevard and Walker Avenue a “home away from home.”

“We try to make people happy,” said owner Willie Earl Bates. “It’s all about what you put into it, and we put in long hours, blood, sweat and tears.”

The South Memphis community where the Four-Way Restaurant is located is part of Bates’ DNA.

His mother, whose picture occupies a prominent wall in the restaurant, raised Bates and his three sisters in the former LeMoyne Gardens public housing complex. He lived in the neighborhood as he pursued a 38-year career in the insurance business and he has a burial plot at nearby Elmwood Cemetery.

After the Four-Way Restaurant closed in the mid-1990s following the death of longtime owner Irene Cleaves, Bates and a partner acquired the real estate where the restaurant sits and a few adjacent parcels, and Bates reopened the restaurant in 2002.

“I took it on because of the deep appreciation of the heritage of this great community and what it has done for this city and will continue to do for this city,” Bates said. “When you really get involved and appreciate the value of a venture, it just becomes a part of you, and that is what happened to me.”