Uptown & The Pinch

When is home cooking better than home? When it’s Roxie’s.

Walking in for the first time, you might be a little confused as to why a convenience store has hundreds of reviews across half a dozen online platforms hailing it the best burger joint in the city.

But don’t let its unassuming facade fool you.

Named for founder Roxie Miller, Roxie’s Grocery opened in October of 1986 and has spent nearly the past three decades building a reputation for great food and an even greater commitment to its community.

As a family-run, Black-owned business that sustained in a disinvested area, as well as bouncing back from its own devastating fire, Roxie’s is a success story worth celebrating and one that shows no signs of stopping.

Roxie’s is more than just a restaurant. It’s a home away from home, a destination for tourists from around the globe, and a support system for the community it loves to nourish.
 

Related: Uptown & The Pinch: How Memphis’ oldest subdivision became its newest boom town
 

Along one wall of the location at 520 North Third Street, well-used coolers stock cold drinks, packs of cold cuts, and dairy products. Along the other wall, the large check-out counter is typically manned by Red Miller, Roxie’s husband of 52 years and business partner, or one of their six sons. Narrow rows of treats and basic staples line the center of the room. At the back of the store, a gleaming display case marks the start of a small open kitchen abuzz with activity.
Red and Roxie Miller have owned and operated Roxie's Grocery for almost 32 years. (Roxie's Grocery)
This is where the magic happens.

The cooked-to-order burgers sizzle on the small flat-top while their accompanying french fries cook in the single fryer. The daily meat and vegetable options are on display in the case, but they sell out by mid-afternoon.

The staff move effortlessly between prepping, cooking, and boxing up heaping plates of mac-n-cheese, meatloaf, fried fish, greens, beans, and burgers combos. Short on seating, everything at Roxie’s is served to-go.

Customers order at the counters then mill about as they wait. They catch up with friends, discuss the news on the big screen TV, and joke with the staff. There is no signage to explain the process and no tidy lines. Just like at home, if you need help with something, you just have to ask.

“It’s like you’re with your family. Everybody’s gathered around, you’re eating, you’re having a good time, and it’s the best meal you’ve ever had. When you’re here at Roxie’s, it still feels like home,” said Keisha Edwards, the Millers’ daughter-in-law who is also one of their skilled cooks and Roxie’s official media liaison.

But perhaps unlike home, this kitchen is fully stocked with only fresh ingredients. It’s ready to serve from 6:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m., and you can order whatever you’d like whenever you’d like it.

On your way to work and want a fiery Uptown burger topped with its grilled peppers, onions, and jalapenos? No problem. Want breakfast for dinner?  Try the special two large pancakes, three pieces of sausage, eggs, toast, and a 20-ounce orange juice for just $8.

Roxie's soul food is a must-try, but get there early. It sells out daily. (Cole Bradley)

Edwards says the customers appreciate the prices and variety but also the consistency. Despite its longevity, the quality and flavors have remained true to Roxie Miller’s original recipes. It’s a fact made more impressive considering the business started out serving its signature dishes from a single hotplate. 

The care for detail shows in their hundreds of regular customers.

One woman drives every Saturday from Jackson, Tenn. and another couple from St. Louis makes the trek every two months. Tonya Yancey and her friend Zakiya Hodge come from Cordova to Roxie’s at least twice a month.

“The service is wonderful. They’re very friendly, and they keep you laughing,” said Yancey, who’s been a customer for ten years.

“The food is very good. It’s always fresh, and it’s always cooked to perfection,” added Hodge.

While people are willing to commute, the majority of the customers live or work in Uptown and The Pinch. This makes Roxie’s especially important. The Uptown area is a food desert, an area will severely limited access to grocery stores and fresh, healthful foods. It also struggles with high rates of poverty and limited transportation for many residents, further complicating food security.

Cook Cedric Johnson seasons Roxie's world-famous burgers to perfection. (Cole Bradley)
 

For 32 years, Roxie’s has been one of the neighborhood’s only consistent sources of hot food and fresh vegetables. Prices are set so that community members can afford to eat, but if they can’t, they still won’t leave empty-handed.

“People will tell you, ‘Roxie’s feeds us when we’re hungry, it helps the children when they don’t have enough money or they might not be getting fed at home.’ We’re going to feed them,” said Edwards.

Dan Reisman, a youth mentor and resident of Uptown, said Roxie’s isn’t just feeding bodies. The Millers are pillars of the community, and two generations of kids have now grown up under their watchful eyes.

“Those young kids, as they grow, they grow up going to Roxie’s. [Red Miller is] going to say something to them if they’re not acting right or say something about what he sees on television. He’s an influencer,” said Reisman. 

Beyond Uptown, Roxie’s draws a remarkable number of international guests.

Recently, they had a couple from England and another from the Netherlands in a single week. Another international guest said they conducted their own nation-wide research, and Roxie’s came out on top in Memphis and number two overall for best burger.

“You know how many people there are? How many restaurants there are? That’s awesome,” said Edwards.

The Uptown Burger features two beef patties, cheese, onions, peppers, and jalapenos grilled to perfection. (Cole Bradley)
 

So how does a knock-about place like Roxie’s get so famous? Consistent food and kind service are key, but it also helps to be social media savvy.

“We take a lot of what we do to social media,” said Edwards.

She regularly posts photos to Yelp, Facebook, and Twitter and encourages guests to do the same. The Miller’s son Floyd is also a wiz on both social media and the grill. When he cooks, all it takes are a few quick posts, and in no time there’s a line to the door.

Floyd Miller is the family showman. Edwards swears he can work 50 burgers at once and still make time to greet everyone. His nickname is Mr. Good Burger, a title he earned inventing his signature menu item. The Mr. Good Burger features two thick beef patties, four stripes of bacon, three kinds of cheese, and all the topping you want.

In May of 2015, Roxie’s experienced a devastating fire that could have meant the end. After 11 months of renovations, the store reopened in April 2016 to the biggest numbers they’d ever seen.

“I worked 16 hours opening day ... I know we saw at least 600 to 700 people. It was mind-blowing,” said Edwards.

For two months straight, they ran out of every available item and had close early each day.

Since then, business has continued to boom. This world-renowned restaurant masquerading as a convenience store still serves hundreds each day. It’s continuing to offer new and exciting options next to its famous staples. And it continues to serve its food with the service its customers expect.

For Edwards and the rest of the Roxie’s family, it’s an exciting time to be in business.

“I get to meet a lot of people. I get to meet people from all over town. I get to see a lot of smiling people that come in looking for good food. It’s exciting for me to get to serve them. For every customer I’m able to serve, that means the business is growing," she said.

Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and applied anthropologist. Since 2011, Cole has worked as a researcher, strategist, and community engagement specialist across the city's private, public, and non-profit sectors. Passionate about storytelling, they began contributing to High Ground News in 2017.
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