During our trip to Memphis late last summer, my wife and I decided to try a place for breakfast that came highly recommended by someone at our hotel. Brother Juniper's is a long-time favorite of locals around Memphis and is located just down the street from the University of Memphis. We had breakfast there one morning and here's what we experienced.
The concept for Brother Juniper's started in San Francisco during the hippie days of the late 60's. A handful of men started a Christian brotherhood group and founded the Raphael House in 1971 in the Tenderloin District in downtown San Francisco. The Raphael House was the first shelter for homeless families in the area. In 1979, the non-profit, non-government funded program started Brother Juniper's - named after Juniper, a follower of St. Francis of Assisi who made spectacular meals to give away to monks and sick people in the 13th century - as an in-house cafe that provided coffee for as little at 5 cents a cup and featured homemade breads. Brother Juniper's was built on four foundations: food, family, community and church.
The religious order grew during this time - estimates pegged the total number of members at around 1000 people at one point - and they began to branch out across the nation. Brother Juniper's opened in places such as Boston, Atlanta, Memphis, Portland and Indianapolis.
In the late 80's and early 90's, many of the religious order's members left to join the Eastern Orthodox Church leaving many of the Brother Juniper's to close. The original Brother Juniper's in San Francisco closed in 1999 due to the lack of funds for an updated kitchen and for needed space for an after-school tutorial program.
The Brother Juniper's in Memphis started in 1988 by Jonas Worsham who bought the place outright from the splintering religious sect in 1991. In 1999, Worsham decided to move to Alaska to do missionary work and in stepped Jonathan and Pauline Koplin. With nothing more than a handshake and the exchanging of money with Worsham, the Koplin's took over the Brother Juniper's College Inn running it with their two children, Sarah and Patrick.
Jonathon Koplin was no stranger to Brother Juniper's. He managed the San Francisco location in the late 80's and early 90's and the family moved to Memphis to take over what had become the last Brother Juniper's location in the nation. In 2001, the Koplin's started Juniper Bakery, a small bakery that taught at-risk youths the art of making artisan breads and also teaching them the value of hard work. They began a program in 2005 that sold Brother Juniper sauces, jams and jellies through local grocery stores where the profits were fed back into the community. Both programs are now defunct, but you get the idea of what the Koplin's are trying to accomplish with Brother Juniper's.
But the biggest change for the Koplin's happened in 2009 when they decided to go to breakfast only. They found that people who were coming in for lunch were still ordering breakfast. The restaurant began closing at 1 p.m. (12:30's on Saturday) six days a week. (They're closed on Monday.)
We found Brother Juniper's on Walker Ave. down the way from the University of Memphis. (see map) The small parking lot behind the building had room for just one more car when we pulled in around 9:30. As you walk into the place you'll encounter a combination art gallery/waiting area. Jonathan Koplin took over the space connected to Brother Juniper's in 2008 and partnered with the LongRiver Art Gallery to place a number of artwork by local artists. Since we were able to be seated right away, we wandered through the gallery after we finished our breakfast.
We were seated in the main dining, a quaint area that sort of reminded me of an old time cafe. There was a small counter with stools off to the side of the kitchen that looked like a throwback to the 1940's.
While we were looking though the menu, our server Sarah stopped by to greet us and to see if we wanted any coffee. I took a double espresso and Cindy got a regular cup of coffee.
The menu isn't overly extensive at Brother Juniper's. It consists mainly of egg dishes - omelets, primarily. They have a number of open-faced omelets, as well. Waffles, pancakes and French toast were also available.
I was leaning toward an omelet - one that I could build on my own. I ended up getting the cheddar cheese, sausage and portobello mushroom omelet. I almost got roasted red peppers with my omelet, but decided this would be enough. Since it's the South, I had my choice of grits or home fries. I took the grits, of course. I also had my choice of toast with a choice of Brother Juniper's housemade jam. I got whole wheat toast with the blueberry jam.
The omelet was thin, but folded full of sausage, cheese and chopped mushrooms. It was actually a pretty good mixture of flavor. However, the grits were outstanding. When we vacationed in Savannah, GA, a few years ago, our hotel there had the best grits I'd ever tasted. The grits at Brother Juniper's were as close to the grits I had experienced in Savannah. And another highlight was the blueberry jam. It's natural and sugar free giving the full taste of the blueberries with each bite. It was so good that we had to pick up a jar of the blueberry jam to take home.
Cindy got the Florentine open-faced omelet - one of the many open-faced omelets Brother Juniper's had on the menu. It had gyro meat, olives, chopped tomatoes and topped with shredded feta cheese. A small bowl of cheese grits came with the breakfast. She thought the open-faced omelet was very good.
Brother Juniper's isn't anything fancy, but the breakfast we had there was solid. It has long been a favorite of the people of Memphis and has won may "Best of" awards for their breakfast over the years. The service was fine, the place was clean and even though the background of the business is rooted in religion, we didn't get that "preachy" vibe at all. We'd wholeheartedly recommend Brother Juniper's for breakfast if you get to Memphis.