Chef Kelly English on Overton Square’s ‘Charming Neighborhood’

Thursday’s paper explored the revitalization of Overton Square from the existing tenant’s perspective, including that of Kelly English, chef-owner of Restaurant Iris.

While it’s clear that he’s “fired up” about the anticipated uptick in traffic, perhaps taking a step back and explaining how he got started in the space at 2146 Monroe Ave. will shed new light on his excitement.

English and his wife (a native Memphian) were living in New Orleans, not too far away from his hometown of Baton Rouge. During a weekend visit to Memphis, English was enjoying brunch with his father-in-law at Café 1912.

That’s when owner Glenn Hays heard English talking about what he did for a living.

“He asked me if I knew anybody that was interested in looking at a restaurant that he had,” English said. “I was really happy working where I was, but of course I wanted to take a look. We walked over to La Tourelle, and being a New Orleans boy, the first thing I saw was the stained glass fleur-de-lis. I said, ‘oh my goodness, we’re in big trouble.’”

After touring the space, English then walked out front to find a rainbow over what is now Playhouse on the Square.

“I turned to my wife and said, ‘a unicorn is going to jump out of the bushes,’” he said. “It was just too many things telling us to be there. It was the right place at the right time. It’s a very charming neighborhood, it’s a very charming building. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than at that address cooking today.”