Synonymous with Alcenia’s, Betty Joyce “B.J.” Chester-Tamayo has reopened the Downtown diner following a 390-day hiatus forced by the pandemic.
The doors to the remodeled soul food sanctuary swung open for customers last Thursday (April 14).
Dressed with bright new colors that accent a fun decor, the restaurant that Chester-Tamayo has run for 20-plus years is serving up the same delicious food and love that her customers have come to expect.
“Sometimes I just come in here and sit and look around and realize how good God is,” said Chester-Tamayo.
Less than two years ago, losing Alcenia’s seemed like a disturbingly real possibility.
“I didn’t even know if I was gonna have this place … because the owner was trying to sell it,” said Chester-Tamayo. “Then I was in a battle with the city because part of the street in front of the restaurant was closed for construction, and then the pandemic came and everything shut down.”
Still, she kept believing.
As the pandemic raged, Chester-Tamayo kept her dining room closed and relied on takeout and mail-order business.
On the receiving end of what she calls “God grace,” Chester-Tamayo obtained grants from the Memphis Medical District Collaborative, the Downtown Memphis Commission, River City Capital and the Epicenter. In December 2020, she used the funds to buy the 317 N. Main building that long has housed Alcenia’s.
In March 2021 she closed down for a complete renovation.
“So, it’s just unreal. It’s unimaginable. I don’t take it lightly,” said Chester-Tamayo. “Alcenia’s has the world’s greatest customers and the world’s largest family and I am so thankful!”
Many in the family of customers came together for the grand reopening and to check out the makeover.
The kitchen is much larger and equipped with new appliances. The dining room is now painted white, with a huge window allowing a view of The Pyramid, which houses a Bass Pro superstore.
A black wall in the back showcases a colorful Alcenia’s sign in the center.
While newness is apparent from the roof to the floors, the revamped Alcenia’s retains an air of familiarity courtesy of the many plaques, news articles, and awards that tell the story of Chester-Tamayo’s ongoing commitment to success.
Chester-Tamayo opened Alcenia’s in 1997 to “heal her heart after the untimely death of her son,” according to an entry on the restaurant’s website. “She wasn’t a cook and had never worked in a restaurant. She used her mother’s recipes and called her mom in Mississippi often to make sure preparations were right.”
Alcenia Chester-Clark died in 2019. She, along with Chester-Tamayo’s granddaughter, Alcenia Tamayo, is the restaurant’s namesake and “constant inspiration.”
(Alcenia’s is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.)