Our #FamiliarFaces are people in the food scene whose faces you might recognize but whose stories you probably don’t know. They are good at what they do, fun to talk to and just seem interesting—people we all want to know more about. So we’re starting the conversation for you!
Photography by Kim Thomas
Hailing from small-town Mississippi, Chris Fuse is taking full advantage of city life in Memphis. He transitioned from retail management in 2018 to work at Broad Avenue’s City & State, which includes a separate coffee shop and retail space. Now he’s managing City & State’s new Germantown pop-up location—in conjunction with Raw Girls—where retail and coffee occupy the same space.
Edible Memphis: Tell us about how you grew up, and how you ended up in Memphis.
Chris Fuse: I grew up in Amory, Mississippi, and went to Mississippi State. After I graduated, I worked in Tupelo and then transferred to Memphis in 2015. I was blown away by how much there was in a city.
How did you get to City & State?
I was doing retail work at Journeys and then Urban Outfitters. A guy I worked with told me about City & State. I visited a couple of times and was enamored with the retail and coffee aspect. It’s everything that I like. I went a ton of times and then met with Katie Wells, who’s our director of operations, and Lisa [Toro, who owns City & State]. They’d seen me enough times to know who I was. I just finished my first year working here.
What are your responsibilities at City & State?
I think of it as being like a teacher. A lot of our baristas have worked in coffee but not to the specialty level that we try to do. As manager, I’m making sure everyone has everything they need and is growing.
What has the transition to manager been like?
It’s been a lot of looking at self and making sure that during each shift I’m giving everyone everything they need. When I was on Broad, I was one of the most senior baristas, so I was doing that with a lot of the new people there, but now as the manager I have that total responsibility. It’s been fun.
What do you love about your job?
What is stands for—the quality across the board. You’re expected to deliver quality, but you’re also given quality ingredients to make it happen. Whenever I sell someone something, I know they’re going to enjoy it. It also helps that it’s a smaller-scale business and there’s really good involvement on every level; you don’t have deaf ears at any level in the company. When you’re held accountable for things, you know you’ve been given what you need. I thrive on a little pressure of delivering and asking myself: How do I keep getting better with all the things I’ve been given?
What’s your vision for this new space in Germantown?
We hope to enable a new community to discover who we are. Our retail goods and coffee are different from what you might normally see out this way—specialty coffee hasn’t really made it this far out. And we like having a community feel with all of the employees at Saddle Creek. We’re really just building the same kind of camaraderie we have on Broad, but letting it fit this community.
Does anything in particular stress you out at work?
I’m always wanting to do more. If I have a really good day, I want to have a better day. If I sell this amount, I wish I would have sold X amount more. I’m always trying to correct myself.
We loved seeing you at the Cold Brew Throwdown. What was winning second place like for you
That was interesting. That probably semi stressed me out because I wanted to get it perfect. I try to hide my competitive side in a lot of things because I can be too competitive. But I had a great team behind me; having those people really engaged in what I was doing was the greatest part about it.
Edible Memphis has had some conversations with Maurice Henderson, founder of Cxffeeblack. Tell us how you’re involved with that movement.
We’re working to get a good representation of “minorities” in coffee in the city, though minorities aren’t actually the minority in Memphis. We’re helping kids understand they can be a barista by letting them see people who look like them who have gone further. Memphis has a good coffee scene and great baristas, but we’re making sure everyone feels comfortable.
Within the Cxffeeblack group, it’s like a family.
We have an Instagram shared space where we bounce around ideas. Specialty coffee is a lot smaller than we think it is, and then being the minority feels a lot smaller. With Cxffeeblack, we’re getting more involved with events, coffee classes and other things in the community. It’s a steady process, but it’s not forced and is super organic.
Do you have a side hustle?
I’m in school to get my MBA, and I’m working on releasing a small brand, but before I release it, I want it to be perfect. It’s menswear, cut-and-sewn goods and high-quality accessories. Somewhere in the middle of streetwear and high-end.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I was just watching this YouTube video of this lady who lives a super minimal life. I’d like to live a super minimal life centered around coffee and my brand—becoming a better barista, becoming better at design. City-wise, I would like to be a nomad or living in Memphis. If I could get really good and become a guest barista at different shops around the country…
Is that a thing?
I don’t know. I haven’t seen anyone doing that.
What appeals to you about it?
Experiencing the different coffee cultures within different parts of the country and different cities. In the South we’re growing our coffee culture, but it isn’t the same as the Northeast. City & State was the first in Memphis in 2015, but specialty coffee has been in Seattle since the ’80s. I might even like to go international with it, maybe Mexico or London.
So is that your dream job?
My dream job would be to be the men’s accessory designer for Saint Laurent.
That’s been my dream job since my freshman year of college, with their branding and rocker-meets-very-high-quality-material design.
What really matters to you?
The one thing that matters to me most in life is that existence is really small, so within that time it’s always best to take action in the moment.
Whether saving the environment or doing what you can for people in need or taking action to make things better as an African American in the South, don’t prolong things that are really important. You can be the king of the country, but if you have people that are suffering and poor while you’re eating and wasting, what’s the point?
Tell us something no one else knows about you.
I once fake swallowed a goldfish.
What are you reading, watching or listening to right now?
Reading: The Black Panthers Speak, edited by Philip Foner. The Champion’s Mind by Jim Afremow.
Watching: Brooklyn Nine-Nine. TED-Ed on YouTube.
Music: Frank Ocean. The new Kanye album.
Have you ever been to Graceland?
The international farmers market in Cordova. I lived out there, and they have really good, fresh seafood.
Ridden a Bird?
No, but I’ve downloaded the app.
What’s your favorite thing about Memphis?
How large but small it is.
It’s a love-hate sometimes, but in reality it’s a love.
We don’t have to sit in rush hour traffic, but we still have third wave coffee and malls and good local places to eat. And the civil rights history that lives in Memphis, even outside of the civil rights museum, like the great migration from Mississippi to Memphis to Chicago.
When a friend visits Memphis, where do you take them?
It’s cliché, but City & State, organically, even before I worked there. Barbecue nachos from Rendezvous. And to an event, like 901FC or the Grizzlies or even the Tigers now.
What do you do for fun?
This is kind of boring—I read a lot of online fashion websites, like Highsnobiety, Hypebeast and GQ. And then a lot of YouTube stuff. Vogue’s youtube channel is one of my favorites. My favorite thing to do eating-wise is to go to Pasta di Strada in Puck Hall. And going around the city trying to find new stuff at places like Oak Hall and stopping at every coffee shop in between.
You clearly care about style. What’s your personal style philosophy?
It’s typically rooted in things I can wear every day. My Vans are dirty because I wear them every day at work. I typically wear just two pairs of pants, one if I’m working, one if I’m not. I do Japanese minimal style; that’s my root base. The quality they shoot for is unmatched. American style is pretty cheesy.
Tell us more about what Japanese minimal means to you.
A lot of high-quality, thoughtful pieces. If you have a denim jacket, you have just one and it’s the highest quality piece you can reasonably afford. I try not to contribute to fashion waste. But I do have a lot of graphic tees; I really like graphics.
Who’s your mentor?
I don’t have a direct mentor, but I do look up to Lisa and Luis [Toro, owners of City & State] a lot.
People don’t understand how hard it is to think of something and make it happen and then make it run, through ups and downs. Because Lisa is a woman and Luis is a person of color, not from the U.S., there are obstacles they may have encountered, and they still put out a high-quality product regardless.
If you could have lunch with any Memphian, who would it be? Where would you go?
Daniel Masters [whose businesses include Silly Goose, Pontotoc Lounge, Pasta di Strada and Bar 409].
I would go anywhere he wants to go because he knows everywhere to go.
Manda Gibson is copy editor at Edible Memphis. Most days you can find her running on the streets of Memphis, cooking “real food” meals for her family and silently judging the grammar of everyone she meets.
Kim Thomas is a lifestyle blogger and photographer based in Memphis. Launched in September 2010, her blog KP Fusion provides of-the-moment fashion, style and beauty tips and trends with a little Memphis flavor thrown in. @kpfusion