Classic Memphis: Bob’s Barksdale Diner In Midtown
A midtown institution was taken out of commission for months when a Corvette careened through the front door in 2022. They came back better than ever, serving up diner-style breakfasts, plate lunches, and friendly service to Midtowners.
Bert McElroy should have been in harm’s way when it happened. In June 2022, a red Chevrolet Corvette came crashing through the front door of Bob’s Barksdale Restaurant, a Cooper-Young institution that McElroy has worked at for a decade.
A non-fatal crash into Bob's Barksdale restaurant caused a minor setback for a major comeback
“I should have been standing there,” said McElroy, “Normally I would be outside taking down the flags around that time.” Instead, McElroy was standing just inside the restaurant, speaking with some regular customers as the building’s front glass and door frame collapsed near closing time. “It was crazy,” he added. “The whole building shook.”
The non-fatal crash put Bob’s Barksdale out of commission for two months. In the interim, staff members utilized a GoFundMe to stay on top of bills.
This is the place for southern-style cuisine
Now, McElroy and fellow veteran servers Carol Austein and Debbie Miller are back in action and dishing out home cooked meals in Midtown that have become harder to find these days.
You won’t find $15 avocado toast at Bob’s Barksdale or an avant-garde take on chicken & waffles. But for about $10, the friendly folks here will serve up fresh-cooked omelets, sizzling country ham or one of several classic meat and three lunch specials that change daily.
Tuesdays are veal parmesan. Wednesdays are stuffed peppers. Thursdays are salmon croquets and so on. Sides like collard greens, new potatoes, buttered carrots and black eyed peas are the kind of ubiquitous southern faire that are regularly found at grandma’s kitchen table but less regularly found at popular restaurants these days.
McElroy and Austein tell me the joint was founded back in the 1940s a few blocks away near Barksdale and Union Avenue. When Walgreens purchased the land for what is now their flagship Midtown location in 1967, the business picked up and relocated to the place it’s been ever since.
The menu hasn’t changed much since I first waddled into the door as a pint-sized Snowden Greendog in 1998.
Bob's Barksdale remains a family-oriented atmosphere since the '40s
Back then, second generation owner Jerry Stampson, Jr. was still running the place (and handing out tickets to World Championship Wrestling events at the Mid-South Coliseum to elementary school kids like me). Stampson cultivated the kind of generous, family atmosphere that helped make the restaurant an institution in Midtown—the kind where staff members know your first name even if you haven’t plopped down in one of the diner-style booths for a while. And when Bob Henry took over the place in 2001, the culture remained much the same.
Henry passed away in 2014; but the simple menu that he oversaw never took a break from feeding its regulars. In fact, after his passing the restaurant remained open with his wife Beth at the helm. It was notable, then, when its doors were closed for two months.
“I was pretty scared at first,” said Austein, now in her 14th year behind the counter. “The restaurant is my main source of income. But one of our regulars told me to set up a GoFundMe page so people could donate, and doing that enabled me to pay the bills for a month. I was so darn grateful.”
When I walked back into Bob’s Barksdale in August, an air or relief washed over me. There was McElroy, swiftly moving between tables while somehow maintaining a conversation with patrons at every one. There were Austein and Miller, ready to welcome me back with open arms. At last, there was the stuffed pepper and overloaded plate of staple sides I’d been coping for a ten spot for more years than I’d like to count.
“Our customers are a lot like family,” noted Austein. “A lot of people talk about loving their customers, but we really do love our customers. And I think that makes a difference.”
This Midtown greasy spoon holds a special place in lots of Memphian's hearts
A throwback to family restaurants of yesteryear, Bob’s Barksdale is the kind of restaurant that you don’t think too much about until it’s gone. For most of my life, it’s been faithfully dishing out favorites from the 1940s without any fuss. When a traffic accident took them offline for a couple of months, I realized how special this Midtown greasy spoon really is.
They really don’t make ‘em like this anymore. Thankfully, after a few months out of commission, Bob’s Barksdale is back.
Where that is
Bob’s Barksdale Restaurant
237 Cooper Street
What to order
Omelets, plate breakfast or lunch specials