The Commercial Appeal posted “Beale Street manager opens new Blue Note club” featuring Lew’s Blue Note Bar & Grill.
Beale Street’s night manager opened a club at 341-345 Beale on his day off Monday night.
The Blue Note Bar & Grill’s principal investor, Lewis Winston Jr., is Beale Street Management’s longtime assistant manager, who oversees private security and other matters on nights and weekends.
Winston, dayside manager Al James and other employees of John Elkington’s Performa Entertainment Real Estate became employees of the Downtown Memphis Commission Jan. 1. The commission is Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s interim overseer of the city-owned entertainment district.
Winston, 59, of Millington, a retired FedEx driver, has overseen the night security detail for about 10 years after starting on Beale Street 22 years ago as a door man for Alfred’s on Beale. He said he plans to have another active investor, but he declined to identify the individual.
Dual roles on Beale are nothing new. Elkington helped start Rum Boogie Cafe back in 1985 and left club ownership after it was up and running. Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau president Kevin Kane, whose agency promotes Beale using public money, is an owner of Blues City Cafe and Club 152.
Winston is anxious to help revive a block that has been marked by vacant storefronts in recent years. Blue Note’s opening follows recent news that St. Louis soul food restaurant Sweetie Pie’s has leased 349 Beale.
It’s movement toward restoring the block’s vibrancy while giving Beale two new black-owned restaurants, Downtown commission president Paul Morris said.
Winston is confident that his food, Mexican dishes augmented by hot wings, chicken tenders, steaks and burgers, along with live music and sports bar atmosphere, will bring crowds. Blue Note seats 99 and has a patio facing FedExForum.
Ursulla Debra Green, a daughter of singer Al Green, will front the house band Friday and Saturday nights, Winston said.
The ticklish situation regarding Winston’s dual roles prompted the Downtown commission to make the Blue Note off limits to Winston when he is on duty and wearing the management team’s Beale Street blue uniform.
Morris said Winston’s value as an experienced employee outweighed concern about a potential conflict.
The restriction means “during my hours of being on the clock with these people, I don’t hang out up here,” Winston said. If there’s a problem, he has police officers on speed dial.
Beale Street Merchants Association president Ty Agee said he agreed with Morris’ approach. “It makes us a better district if between Third and Fourth is thriving,” Agee said. “There’s nobody that I would rather have going into Memphis in May than Lew Winston. As long as Lew follows the rules and does what he’s been directed to do, we’re better with Lew than without him.”
Winston’s lease, which runs through 2034, was one of the last that Elkington negotiated before bowing out from Beale Street after 32 years. The lease is fairly standard for Beale Street, requiring Winston to pay 6 percent of revenues, plus common area property management fees, but no base rent.
It’s revenue the city doesn’t receive when the space is dark, Morris said.