A couple of days of relative anonymity. That was all Memphis’s newest dining option had before the Apothecafé burst onto the scene Thursday afternoon via a storm of social media sharing.
“Tuesday was our first official day,” said chef James McKee. “We didn’t advertise, as we were hoping to fine tune our system on the fly using the initial business as sort of a trial run.”
The McKee family got less than 48 hours before word spread through the community and the small sandwich shop and family work crew went through trial by fire so to speak.
“It was simply overwhelming,” said James’s mother and business partner Tina who was behind the counter for the onslaught of customers. “We appreciate everyone’s understanding and patience as it was a hectic day. We are learning and we know we are going to get better.”
For James, getting better means perfecting the system, from kitchen work and food preparation, to service and delivery. While he has several years of experience in the kitchen, this is his first go at managing a restaurant.
After graduating from Scotland County R-I, James attended Indians Hills Community College in Ottumwa, IA where he his focus was in the culinary department. He went on to serve an internship at the 234 restaurant in Quincy, IL. Later he worked at Jonkos before settling in as a chef at Angelini’s in Keokuk, IA.
“I’ve always enjoyed cooking and working in the kitchen,” said James. As far back as grade school, I discovered I liked to make things like cheesecake. I found it challenging to adapt and create.”
Now the challenge is adapting to a new aspect of the business.
“Always before, all I had to worry about was cooking,” he said. “The managing aspect of the business is a new challenge.”
Currently that process is focusing on mastering the flow of the workspace, and establishing preparation patterns that will maximize efficiencies in both food availability as well as timely delivery.
In less than a week, the family says the Apothecafé is already moving forward in all those areas.
“Just like anything, it is a learning process,” said James. “That’s why we didn’t advertise that were open. We wanted the opportunity to start slow and take small steps, learning and getting better.”
But the popularity of the new lunch counter at the Scotland County Pharmacy offered just a short trial run for James and Tina before Thursday’s huge run.
“Obviously it is a good problem to have,” said James. “We had been thinking about opening this up for a while. I wanted to offer something different to the community. And they responded.”
The Pharmacy previously had used the kitchen and service counter strictly for ice cream service. Eventually they added chicken salad sandwiches.
“We’re going to continue the ice cream as always,” said Matt McKee. “Nothing is going to change there. The only difference now is instead of one type of sandwich the menu has expanded greatly for lunch offerings.”
The Apothecafé will offer sandwiches such as the Philly Cheesesteak, Tuna Melt, Turkey Cran, Chicken Bacon Ranch and much more. They will also offer grilled cheese and even a PBJB, a twist on the traditional peanut butter and jelly that also features a sliced banana on a grilled chocolate chip brioche.
Another featured sandwich is the Reuben.
“Tina used to have a homemade Reuben she loved growing up,” said Matt. “James and her have been testing and retesting recipes for months to try and match it. She finally got the taste she wanted. Now She starts with a whole brisket and they brine it for 7 to 10 days and make all the corned beef from scratch. It’s not your typical shaved corned beef.”
The meals will also feature a fresh, homemade side of the day as well as a fresh homemade dessert of the day.
Those looking to eat a little healthier will enjoy a variety of salads as well as veggie sandwiches and wraps.
The menu itself is just another example of the family ties in the new business as it was designed and created by James’s little brother, Jackson.
“That is what has been so fun about this endeavor for me,” said Matt. “It has been great having my family together, working toward this goal.”
Matt praised the efforts of Beth Johnson, the former co-owner and operator of Sweat Treats.
“She has been great to help us get this off the ground and running,” said Matt. “Her consulting and expertise have been invaluable.”
With just a week under their belt, the family already has plans for future growth an expansion. That likely will start with delivery services but could ultimately lead to a larger facility.
“For right now we are simply going to focus on serving as many folks as we can from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday,” said James. “There is plenty of time to see what comes after that.”