Sharon Byrd is owner of The Byrd Nest
Sharon Byrd opened The Byrd Nest catering company in Frayser in 2011. She hopes to turn the side business into a restaurant that can better serve Frayser, a community lacking in local restaurant options.
Sharon Byrd has called Frayser home since 1997. She’s operated The Byrd Nest catering business out of her home since 2011, and hopes to eventually grow to a full-fledged restaurant that can serve the community while providing jobs for Frayser.
Opening a restaurant “sounds really hard and of course any business is hard work but if you find something you love you’ll never work a day in your life,” Byrd said. “I enjoy seeing people and watching them enjoy a really good meal. I think it’s necessary, especially in the Frayser area. … If you want a good meal we’re limited. It’s something that’s needed. We deserve a place to get a really good meal as opposed to fast food.”
Byrd started the catering-focused business in August 2011 after leaving a job with Memphis City Schools. She was looking for her next opportunity and realized her love of cooking might be it.
So she got a business license and began cooking at lunchtime out of her house. She posted a daily menu and business took off. But it was too much to handle, so her children pitched in with her son delivering meals.
“People called from all over the city for lunches every day,” she said.
Byrd built the lunchtime business thanks to email and old-fashioned phone calls; she didn’t have a website or social media presence. A brother who worked at Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division also passed along the menu to coworkers.
Teachers and school administrators also placed orders. The menu typically consisted of an entrée and a couple of vegetables, ranging from catfish on Fridays to meatloaf or barbecue chicken on other days.
“My older brother thought I was crazy,” she said. “He said how do you know people will buy? I said you have to take a chance. It worked. You just have to have faith and step out.”
Byrd eventually took a full-time job, pushing The Byrd Nest to a side catering business. Byrd does events of all kinds, including weddings, birthday parties, bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. Byrd typically caters an event that is housed in someone else’s venue. She does do some work out of her kitchen for specialty events, and is able to employ others from time to time.
“That makes me feel good for the people I know who don’t have steady jobs or are retired and they supplement their income,” she said. “I’m able to share, and when I do things I volunteer for fundraisers in our community. I’ll volunteer to donate a meal or dessert for various churches, meetings like the Frayser Exchange Club. I try to give back.”
Byrd lives in Frayser and wants to make the business work there, but she said finding an affordable location has proved difficult.
“I love my neighborhood,” she said. “I’ve been in Frayser for 15 years. I haven’t had any problems in Frayser. There is a lot that goes on in our ZIP code but I think it’s a great neighborhood. I’d like to expand the business, have a building where we could have special events and have a kitchen.”
The restaurant scene in Frayser is lacking, to be sure. Yes, there are some national chains and a couple of Memphis-centric eateries. But there aren’t many local spots.
“Here’s the thing: It’s possible, a restaurant every day,” Byrd said. “Even if it’s just for lunch, 11 to 2. That’s real possible and that would be OK, I think, to do that providing I can get the manpower to do it for those few hours.”
Byrd still doesn’t do much marketing; she admitted needing website help. For now, word of mouth will do.
“I did a wedding in May and I always have business cards. People always ask for business cards,” she said. “From that wedding somebody is doing a house blessing. Even if people don’t know me they come up to me and ask for a card.”
Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler.