Downtown Dining Week begins the first week of November. Downtown Memphis restaurant owners, Patrick and Deni Reilly, Bert Smythe, and Felicia Willett, explain the history of the week.

Memphis Commercial Appeal

The Memphis Restaurant Association (MRA) sent a letter to leaders of the Shelby County Health Department on Wednesday asking for better communication between the two organizations.

“We are partners with the Health Department,” said incoming Memphis Restaurant Association President Mike Miller. “We want to be partners, but we need to support and understand each other.”

The latest health directive issued by the Health Department on Nov. 20 caused the MRA to reach out.

“The outpouring of angst from our members required action,” said Miller, who stepped into his role temporarily over the weekend since current President Ernie Mellor was out of town when the directive was issued.

Health Directive 15 limits the hours and seating capacity of restaurants, plus states that only four adults, all of the same household, are allowed per table at a restaurant. Diners are also now required to wear masks at all times, except when drinking or eating.

As of 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, more than 150 restaurant owners had signed the letter. The group is a diverse assembly of restaurateurs from across the city, representing all types of Memphis restaurants.


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“We want to be part of the solution,” Miller said. “But we need the Health Department to communicate with us to do so.”

The letter states, “We implore you to please help us improve communication, clarity, and understanding and to address our concerns and questions specifically regarding Health Directive 15 and Face Mask Order No. 3 and any future directives which may be forthcoming. Our goal is to strengthen the partnership between our industry, our elected officials, and the Health Department.”

The Commercial Appeal has reached out to the Health Department for comment on the letter.

The MRA requests it be provided a single point of contact who can answer or get answers in a clear, consistent and prompt manner.  

A request of advance notification or better timing of a directive’s release has also been made. The Nov. 20 directive was issued at 5:24 p.m.

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“We respectfully submit that directives posted on a Friday evening with no opportunity to plan or clarify before the implementation the following Monday morning is inexcusable. We need to build a partnership in order for our industry and community to support our leadership and it is difficult to do so when these tactics are employed.”

The letter also asks the Health Department to share the underlying data being used to make decisions.

“We need to understand how decisions are being made,” Miller said. “If we understand, then everyone will be on board.”

The letter also raised the question of what data indicates restaurants are “high-risk settings.” Miller said he does not know of any COVID-19 outbreak associated with a Memphis restaurant.

“A partnership relies on both sides of the equation,” said Miller.

The full letter can be viewed at

Jennifer Chandler is the Food & Dining reporter at The Commercial Appeal. She can be reached at [email protected] and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @cookwjennifer. 

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