The Downtown Memphis Deli that Could
Memphis doesn't have the typical metropolitan downtown experience. For a large city, Memphis’ downtown is almost entirely walkable, versus larger downtown areas that are dozens of numbered blocks deep. While there are bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues akin to any downtown area, many of Memphis’ options are locally owned compared to bigger cities who’ve brought in chain operations to fill up the space.
A trolley ride down Main Street will offer fantastic shopping, delicious food choices, and fun adventures. With all the beautiful hotels along the street, visitors and "staycationers" have everything they need.
But there’s one little space just off North Main Street that Memphians and visitors alike should come to know. The sign out front is hard to see on their recessed entryway, but once you’ve found the brilliant little River Time Market and Deli, you won’t forget it.
Whether you’re looking for baked goodies, deli sandwiches, hearty soups, meat-and-three-veg combos, or buttery breakfast biscuits, you’re in luck. It’s all here under one roof. Owned by the sweetest couple, Bill and Pam Edmondson, The River Time Market and Deli offers a wide variety of delicious, homemade breakfast and lunch options six days a week (closed Sundays). Meals are made-to-order, so please allow 15-20 minutes to perfect your request. If you're in a hurry and especially if you're in need of a larger order, you can call ahead, and they’ll have your food items ready when you show up.
When you go inside, peek around the shelves and coolers for some ready-made goodness as well. Mrs. Pam will be happy to slice you up some strawberry cobbler or pack you a to-go container of mouthwatering chicken or tuna salad. Once you’ve got your order, you can either sit at the little tables outside on the covered sidewalk or cross the quiet avenue to Court Square Park and enjoy a picnic table under a canopy of shady trees. (As of publication, indoor dining was unavailable due to COVID-19 social distancing protocols.)
Known to the downtown community as Mrs. Pam and Mr. Bill, the Edmondsons are as much a hidden gem as their little restaurant. As the only two employees, they work hard to connect with everyone who comes through their door. It’s not unusual to swap stories about life while they’re putting your order together.
Adorably, Mrs. Pam explains that “the people…[who] actually become one large family” are the second reason she loves doing what she does. Getting to work alongside her husband, “even if [they] have disagreements and fuss at one another” is her greatest joy, as Mr. Bill is “[her] life and whole heart.” And everything that leaves their kitchen tastes of the love these two share for each other, for life, and for serving others.
Life changing breakfast biscuits. I haven't had a biscuit this good since I was a kid growing up in rural Virginia. Do yourself a favor and order your breakfast from here." ~ Gerald B.
Their work flow comes so naturally that you’d think they’d been doing this for decades, but the River Time Market and Deli is actually a young business, having opened as a brick and mortar in November 2018. Previously, the couple worked weekend breakfast and lunch shifts out of a food truck that Mr. Bill fitted for the purpose.
Before the restaurant, the Edmondsons found themselves quite removed from the kitchen. Mrs. Pam was in the corporate world, working in administrative and financial reporting for 25 years. They also owned an automotive repair business until 2010, when Mr. Bill suffered a massive heart attack and couldn’t continue to do such intensive manual labor. Shortly thereafter, they sold everything and moved downtown.
From the outside looking in, it's hard to imagine the Edmondsons doing anything else, but when asked if she’d always wanted to open her own restaurant, Mrs. Pam said she actually dreamed of becoming a veterinarian and came close when she worked at a vet clinic for three years in between finance positions. She also talked about her love of art, “dabbling” in drawing and painting, and how she has a special place in her heart for photography, because “photos tell a story.” At the end of the day, she simply loves “to create things” and Mr. Bill is her champion.
She reminisced about being “in a kitchen for as long as [she’s] been able to stand up to a stove” and how she feels like “cooking is the best way to share [her] creations.” With as much passion as she has about creating and connecting, it makes sense that downtown Memphis -- with its innate appreciate for diversity, creativity, and connection -- would offer her the perfect space to breathe life into her art.
And Memphis did just that. Mrs. Pam described a moment from shortly after the couple moved downtown that led to the unexpected-but-perfectly-timed birth of River Time Market and Deli: “We were out walking when we came up on this little space. I was worried about my current job. Once again, I was facing layoffs with another corporate job. I wasn't getting any younger. Bill said, ‘Let's do it. I can build you a little kitchen just like the food truck.’ I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing?’ But I jumped in with both feet.”
That willingness to try something new and adapt on the fly not only made the Edmondsons’ dream a reality, it also saved them from losing everything during the pandemic shutdowns of 2020. The strength the Edmondsons find in one another led them to continue to nurture this passion for food and family, despite the extreme circumstances the community found itself in.
When local businesses like River Time Market and Deli started to take financial hits, “the family” stepped in to help. In return, Mrs. Pam and Mr. Bill listened to the needs of the community and answered the call. Together, everyone made it through and continues to rebuild.
In the next few months, the Edmondsons hope to move into the adjacent space and expand. They’re working with their landlord and his leasing partners on the details currently, as they all push to recoup from the damage the pandemic brought to both the service industry and daily life. Until the move sorts, however, they plan to rework their current space to accommodate their needs as best as possible because they love their downtown home and want to stay.
In looking to the future, Mrs. Pam delightfully shared that she’s got “many dessert creations floating in [her] head,” in addition to bringing in a soft-serve machine. And “Oh! ...I am working on canning,” she exclaims. “It will take me a little while to build up some inventory, but you will see my own jellies/jams/pickles/relishes/peppers” soon.
While it’s been a rollercoaster ride these last few years, the Edmondsons will tell you they have no regrets. They’ll lovingly gush that they’re grateful for their amazing customers and the relationships they’ve been able to build over time. Mrs. Pam is most proud “that [they’ve] met a whole new family,” which is important to her and is “much needed” in her downtown life. She loves that it’s “kind of like the Cheers jingle - where everybody knows your name.”
River Time Market and Deli is an awesome little spot with awesome owners. The food is made with love and always delicious. They offer lots of healthy options and the prices are reasonable. Ms. Pam is always coming up with new delicious recipes. The cornbread is especially delicious. Give them a try for lunch. You won't regret it." ~ Robin F.
So whether you’re looking for a breakfast that will fuel your day or a lunch that’ll get you over the afternoon slump, you’re going to find a meal and an experience that will make your heart happy at the River Time Market and Deli, one of many hidden gems in downtown Memphis.
River Time Market and Deli is located at 111 S Court Avenue, Memphis, TN 38103. Call in your orders ahead of time at (901) 482-0460. Owned and operated by Bill and Pam Edmondson.