University District

Memphis sandwich legend Bonnie Harris finally has her own shop

Ms. B’s Sub Shop at 1256 Getwell Road is less than a year old, but already its walls are covered with dozens upon dozens of photographs of smiling customers taken with the shop's namesake, Bonnie Harris.

The photographs are just a small portion of the loyal following Harris has developed over the last four-plus decades serving Memphis residents.

Harris was the secret behind the sandwiches at Super Submarine Sandwich Shop, better knows as Chinese Sub Shop, and spent the last three decades making the store a legend among Memphis eateries. 

Chinese Sub Shop was Harris’ first job after graduating high school in 1976. Although she left to work on and off for other businesses, she made sandwiches for the restaurant without interruption from 1990 until Ms. B’s opened its doors in January 2019.

Many long-time customers don't know her name, they simply call her "The Sandwich Lady," but that's okay with Harris. In fact, she put "The Sandwich Lady" on Ms. B's Sub Shop's new shirts to ensure there's no confusion that she's one in the same. 

“I’m 52 and I’ve been eating her subs ever since I was about 26 years old,” said Eddie Parker, who was paying his third visit to the restaurant in the span of a week.

“I live all the way over in Bartlett, but this is where I come.”

Harris co-owns and operates Ms. B's with her daughter, Stacy Bizzard.

Both Bizzard and Parker say that running her own shop was long overdue for Harris.

“The only reason that people came to eat the subs [at Chinese Sub Shop] was because she was making them, so it really was only fair she had her own shop,” Parker said.

A customer inspects the menu at Ms. B's Sub Shop at 1256 Getwell Road in the University District. (Ziggy Mack)

“My mom has been making sandwiches my whole life,” said Bizzard. "I’ve always told her if we ever get a little windfall, I’d get her own sandwich shop where she can make sandwiches for herself. [This restaurant] was like a dream that became a reality.”

The mother-daughter duo signed the lease for their building in August 2018. They then spent several months purchasing equipment and making necessary renovations to convert the office space into a restaurant.

“We had to put a lot of money into it to get the kitchen and the sinks in,” Harris said. “We had to dig under to get the plumbing in, so we had to invest a lot into it.”

Harris and Bizzard did not seek outside funding for Ms. B's and met every cost themselves.

“It was a little hard. We didn’t really know what we were doing at first, but we made it all work," said Bizzard. "We’ve got happy customers now so that’s all that matters."

“At least we don’t owe nobody,” Harris said.

The restaurant is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Ms. B’s serves cold cut sub sandwiches, salads and desserts prepared by Harris. Desserts include strawberry cake, cream cheese pound cake, and ooey-gooey bars. 

The restaurant also serves pre-ordered party platters and joined Bitesquad on September 23 to facilitate delivery services.  

The business has seen steady growth over the year as loyal Harris customers found out about the restaurant and began to stream in for the sandwiches they’ve enjoyed for years.

Bizzard said that with their location at the edge of the University District, they hope to serve more students from the University of Memphis. They've already seen visits by coaches from the athletics department and other facility members. They too are Harris fans from the days when Chinese Sub Shop was located on Highland Street in the University District. It's since moved to Summer Avenue in The Heights.

Stacy Bizzard (L) and Bonnie Harris prepare salads and sandwiches for hungry customers at Ms. B's Sub Shop. (Ziggy Mack)

The restaurant has also seen a recent spike in new visitors who have discovered Ms. B’s through social media.

Harris and Bizzard attribute much of the social media buzz to the Memphis Sandwich Clique, a Facebook group with over nine thousand members in which users share photos of and discuss their favorite local sandwiches and sandwich spots.

“I’m really not sure there are enough good words to say about Ms. B’s,” said Ryan Hopgood, founder of the Memphis Sandwich Clique. “[They have] the best cold cut in town, hands down.”

Hopgood says that the love Harris puts into her sandwiches is what makes her deserving of the designation of best in Memphis.

“I’m just going to keep saying it, it’s excellent,” said Parker. “Once they come here, people won’t go back to other sub places, I’m pretty sure of that.”

According to Harris, seeing her customers happy and hearing them say they will be back for more is the best part of running her shop.

“As long as you have repeat business, you will have a business,” Harris said.

At 62 years old, she got a late start at entrepreneurship, but she hopes to still see lasting success. She'd like to see other locations and Ms. B's continue as a family business for generations to come.

“I’m a late starter at trying to start a business," said Harris. "I know it’s time to retire, sit down and enjoy life now, but I started all over."

“I have eleven grandkids, one great-grandkid and another great on the way. It’ll be something they can build on and carry on. I hope I live to see all of that.”

Read more articles by Baris Gursakal.

Baris Gursakal is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He is an Istanbul native who grew up in Memphis, and has an interest in public policy and social justice issues.
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