The Heights

Big Star, basketball stars, and five star eats: More fascinating facts from The Heights

High Ground’s On The Ground team is embedded from September through November in The Heights, a collection of neighborhoods roughly between Jackson and Summer avenues north-south and Graham Road and Tillman Street east-west. We kicked off our neighborhood coverage in September with Asylums, trolleys & forgotten soldiers: Five facts about The Heights you didn't know to highlight some of the neighborhood’s fascinating history, and we’re continuing our exploration with four more things readers should know about the neighborhood.

Hungry? Head to The Heights.

Bryant's Breakfast has been serving The Heights since 1968. (Cole Bradley)

It’s no secret Memphis is a food town. Tourists might think we’re all about barbeque, but Memphians know that no matter the taste you’re craving, you can have a world-class experience in the Bluff City and likely in the place you’d least expect it.

Memphis has several areas with large concentrations of great eats, but hotspots like Downtown, Overton Square, or Cooper-Young also come with parking woes, overcrowding, and a fast-paced feel that isn’t for everyone.

Luckily, Memphis has a sleeper smorgasbord with dozens of top-rated, low-key, mom-and-pop options within a few square miles and most won’t come near to breaking the bank.

The Heights is home to Memphis food powerhouses like La Michoacana, Bryant’s Breakfast, Top’s BBQ, and the Super Submarine Sandwich Shop, also known as the Chinese Sub Shop, all of which are consistently featured on Memphis ‘must-try’ lists. Also featured on one or more lists Caminos de Michoacan Panderia & Taqueria, Panda Garden, and Sweden Kream. Want a delicious gem that’s still somewhat hidden? Try Arepas Deliciosas or the “Superman” taco truck at Summer and Perkins Road.

But The Heights is just the beginning of this foodie’s paradise. Driving east on Summer Avenue, the neighborhood is the start of a five-mile feast that ends at the Malco Summer Drive-In, one of the last in the country with its cheap and classic concessions served since 1966 that include the usual popcorn and candy alongside burgers, fries and corndogs.

This eastern stretch bordering The Heights features more Memphis musts like Yang’s Deli, Elwood’s Shack, La Guadalupana, the
Pancake Shop, and a Central BBQ that is much larger and more family-friendly than the original location. For lesser-known eateries, try Asian Palace, Ryu Sushi Bar, Jerusalem Market and Restaurant, or Tacos Los Jarochos.

Go a mile or two off Summer Avenue in either direction and you can include well-known haunts like High Point Pizza, Cheffie’s and all of Broad Avenue’s offerings. For dessert there’s the world-famous Jerry’s Sno Cones, which recently added an indoor seating area with funky murals painted by local artist Eric Clausen.

Related: "Expansion plans snowballing for Jerry’s Sno Cones"

Not only are the options plentiful, they’re also multinational. According to the Summer Avenue Merchants Association, there are over 30 nationalities represented in their stretch of Summer from Highland Street to White Station Road. Expand to Tillman to include the rest of The Heights, and a foodie could eat their way around the world without ever leaving Memphis.

It’s where Penny learned to play

Anfernee 'Penny' Hardaway speaks at Treadwell Middle in 2016. His jersey, #25, has been retired. (Heights CDC)

Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway is an NBA legend. He was a first-round NBA draft pick in 1993 and played for four teams across 15 years with a career-best of 21.7 points per game and 7.1 assists in 1995-96. He also won Olympic gold in 1993.

But he got his start in The Heights. Hardaway graduated from Treadwell High School in 1990, where he averaged 36.6 points and 10.1 rebounds and earned Parade Magazine’s National High School Player of the Year.

He then went on to play for the Memphis Tigers. A two-time All-American and two-time Great Midwest Conference Player of the Year, he’s still the only player in franchise history to have two career triple-doubles (double-digit numbers in three of five possible categories in a single game, often points, rebounds, and assists).

Hardaway left the NBA in 2007 and has spent his retirement coaching. He took East High School to the state championships in 2016, 2017, and 2018, and it was announced in spring 2018 that he is returning to his alma mater to helm the University of Memphis men’s basketball program.

He recently returned to Treadwell, now a pre-K to eighth-grade school. Hardaway is well-known for his generosity, and in 2016, he teamed up with Heights CDC and two other basketball greats and Treadwell alum, Elliot Perry and Hank McDowell, on an IOBY campaign to rehab the school’s outdoor basketball court.

“Some of our identity and history around basketball kind of guided us into [it]…the basketball project was a fun one...,” said Jared Myers, Heights CDC’s executive director.

Big Star got high in The Heights

The original Ardent Recordings as seen from Sweden Kream.

Brian Eno said about New York's Velvet Underground that not many bought their records but those who did formed a rock band.

Music historians say the same about Big Star, the ensemble of Memphians Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel. From 1972 to 1975 the band released three albums all with great critical reviews but lackluster sales. Years later the music world finally began to appreciate the groundbreaking sound from the Memphis foursome.

In the summer of 1971, the still unnamed band was recording at Ardent Studio, which was then at 1457 National Street.

Across the street there was Sweden Kream, an ice cream shop, and just to the north sat a local supermarket Big Star. "Chris (Bell) and I were smoking a joint outside the studio trying to think of a name and he looked at that store and said 'Big Star' and I said, 'that's it!” recalled Alex Chilton in his biography "A Man Called Destruction”.

Three-fourths of the band have passed. Ardent moved out in November 1971 and that location is now the Na-Jack Market. In 1995 all Big Stars in Memphis became either Super-Lo or Piggly Wiggly supermarkets. The Big Star location that caught the rock group’s attention is now an Auto Service Center.

But the worldwide appreciation for Big Star's music remains, and the Sweden Kream ice cream shop still stands at 1472 National Street.

(Section reprinted from ‘Unmarked Memphis II: Big Star craves ice-cream and the Sex Pistols storm Union Avenue’ by Devin Greaney.)

It’s multinational and the future of Memphis.

Kindergartners dance to a song about cows in one of Treadwell Elementary's dual language classes. (Jim Weber/Daily Memphian)

In many ways, The Heights is a microcosm of race and ethnicity in Memphis. It’s gone from elite white enclave to a majority-minority neighborhood with a growing Latin American community that reflects the changing diversity of the city.

From the 1890s until the 1960s, it was almost exclusively white and a good example of the segregation pervasive in the South and the city. By the early 1970s, the Fair Housing Act, Civil Rights Act, mandatory busing, and other Civil Rights-era policies hit The Heights.

Related: “Rising to new Heights: The history and current climb of Memphis' streetcar suburb

A community report from 1975 and Commercial Appeal articles from 1974 show most white residents opposed integration and busing of Black students to area schools. There were at least two student protests at Treadwell High. Around that time, much of The Heights' white population moved east.

According to The U.S. Census, in 1970, 95 percent of the population was white. According to PolicyMap, by 2016 The Heights was roughly 41 percent white and 41 percent Black, while 23 percent of the area was Latin American.

Comparatively, Shelby County is
less than 6 percent Latino. Since 2000, The Heights’ white population has declined almost 36 percent and the Black population nearly 9 percent, but the Latino population has grown an astounding 112 percent and represents dozens of countries and cultures.

Related: “The state’s only dual-language program grows with Memphis’ Latino population

Community groups like Heights CDC expect the 2020 U.S. Census to show even more growth, though there is concern immigrant families won’t participate for fear of repercussions.

This diversity of cultures isn’t just the future of The Heights, it’s the future of Memphis. The city is majority-Black and still heavily segregated with a white majority in suburbs and surrounding counties, but there are currently more than 80,000 Latin Americans in Memphis, and that figure is growing.

A neighborhood with fairly equal numbers of white, Black, and Latino families gets an early start at learning how to work together and capitalize on the assets of each to the benefit of all.

“Memphis is a changing population,” said Jason Carr, principal of Treadwell Elementary. “We’re going to be truly, truly international here, so if we continue to let these barriers [like] language and lack of communication impede us, then we’re not going to grow the ways that we should socially, economically, and all the things that go with that.”

Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017.