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
Lia Morris has been working in the Memphis restaurant industry since high school.
She’s been a dishwasher, server and hostess and now works as a bartender at Hog & Hominy. She’s a college history major who loves making music, late nights out with her friends and great Yelp reviews from happy customers. She works hard, parties hard and sets high standards for herself and others in the restaurant industry. Her eyes are locked in on the prize of owning her own restaurant one day, and at the rate she’s going, we think she might just get there.
Edible Memphis: Tell us about how you grew up.
Lia Morris: I grew up in Memphis and went to Campus School, which was freakin’ awesome; it’s the best school ever. I went to Overton High School. Now I’m leisurely working my way through college at Christian Brothers. I’m trying not to stress myself out too much. I do work full-time. Balancing that is really hard.
How did you get into the restaurant industry?
My first job was at Sekisui Midtown. Then I went to Tsunami; I worked in the kitchen as a dishwasher. I worked a lot, and I was going to high school. Then I worked at a beauty supply store; I loved that job so much. But my dad passed away when I was a freshman in college, and I needed a change. I was in The Cove and asked the owner, Mary [Tanner], if she was hiring. I ended up working there for a year and a half. It was awesome, and it set my expectations really high. I worked with David Parks [who now is bartender at Restaurant Iris], who is the best of the best. He taught me everything I know about bartending. Then I was at Alchemy as a barback, and then I went across the street to Young Avenue Deli. The deli was insanity. Your job is not just to be server; your job is to be a personality.
So how did you end up at Hog & Hominy?
I had always wanted to work for the Andrew Michael restaurant group. A friend who worked at Andrew Michael set up an interview at Hog & Hominy for me. I was not prepared for how hard it was gonna be; I probably would have quit if all my friends hadn’t vouched for me. I was going into it with just the very basic wine knowledge. But you have to know all of the wines by the glass and by the bottle—the bouquet, the vineyards they came from, the aroma. Before you’re allowed to serve, you have to pass different tests—steps of service, red wine, white wine and sparkling and rose, by the glass and by the bottle. And then food tests—the basic build of the plate and any allergies. You have to learn how to give a realistic description of food, so you’re giving a full view of the flavor profile. It’s really important that you know the terms and know how to present it. After food tests you have to do wine service, decanting wine if it’s red, and opening the bottle.
What are your coworkers like?
Everyone in the group is kind of bougie and we’re not rich. Our table service is superb, and when we go out, we get kind of wild but we tip fat. Everybody’s kind of fancy and we all drink really good wine. Everyone wants to become a sommelier.
How do you approach your work?
In a restaurant, it’s like your servers are the pawns; the bartender is rook, bishop or knight. The head chef and manager are king and queen. So as bartender you have the potential to become one of those key players. If I want to own a restaurant, I have to manage someone else’s first.
And I study daily. It, A, makes my job easier and, B, keeps me from looking super dumb in front of a table. If you don’t consistently know your stuff, you’re losing money for yourself and for the company.
What’s cool about your current job?
When you’re serving and super busy, people are pissed when you don’t get to them in time. But when you’re bartending, people can see what you’re doing and see that you’re busy and respect it more. It’s kind of like running a race—it’s fast paced and you get all this adrenaline. It’s just really cool to see the way it all works and runs.
You’ve said you’d like to open your own restaurant. What would it be like?
It would totally have a humongous bar, and the back of the bar would be one big, long, pristine mirror. It would have a metallic-colored wall and a black marble bar top. There would be silver holders every two seats where you could put your keys. Super elegant. The food would be Italian style but influenced by the fact that America’s a weird blend of everything. So it would be eclectic and a mixture of different things you wouldn’t expect to be on the same menu. And we’d have brunch, of course.
You go out a lot. What’s a place or dish should we try?
Bar wise, I’m gonna go wine, because I’m a big wine snob, and say Knifebird. I go there a lot because they have happy hour from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. It’s awesome.
As far as food, if people haven’t tried the oysters at The Gray Canary, they’re literally the best in the city, maybe in the region. The head chef over there drives to the airport twice a week to get these oysters that are flown in overnight. They’re always super fresh and awesome. And, of course, The Gray Canary has a great wine selection.
What’s a typical meal for you at home?
I’ve been cooking with fruit a lot lately. I have this one cast iron skillet that I use for everything. I took a red pear and cut it super thin. Then I diced up a bunch of bacon. I put the pear in the skillet and sprinkled the bacon on top. Put it in the oven on 400 degrees for 10 or 15 minutes. Then I sprinkled sugar on it and put chicken on it with salt, pepper and fresh basil leaf. I cooked it again and flipped it about halfway through. When I took it out, I still didn’t know what to expect, but when I tasted it, I was like, “I’ve outdone myself.” I paired it with South African sauvignon blanc, which was fudging amazing. The best call ever.
What do you do with a day off work?
I sit around and play piano or guitar. If I’m trying to be a good girl, I clean, cook, read. But sometimes I wake up and think, “I’m gonna party today.” I’ve been doing the “Lia Morris Cocktail Tour,” where I go to a bunch of bars and try cocktails.
I’ve been trying to curb my going out, and trying not to drink. But working in the service industry, it just comes with it. It’s hard to convince people, when you’re on a week when you’re not drinking, that you really don’t want to go out. And it’s never just one drink. There’s this weird camaraderie of drinking and getting sick together and waking up and working and still making tons of money. These people are my best friends, and we’re like a family. But we never hang out sober together, which is weird. It’s kind of like a fraternity.
What are you reading, watching or listening to right now?
I weirdly listen to a lot of classical music. Dmitri Shostakovich has this Waltz No. 2 that has this haunted, merry-go-round, abandoned carnival vibe. Also, have you ever heard of [the musician called] Lights? She’s the soundtrack of my life; she’s awesome.
I’m reading this book called The Lemon Tree right now. It’s about conflicts in the Middle East and the resolution of World War II and what that did to that part of the world. It’s a lot that, growing up, I never really knew.
I listen to a lot of NPR too. I think everybody does.
Have you ever been to Graceland?
God, no. I’m from Memphis. We don’t go to Graceland.
I try to but I usually sleep through them. When I wake up early enough, I’m elated. When I lived in Cooper-Young, I went to the one over there every Saturday.
Ridden a Bird?
Oh, yes. I love Bird scooters. I’m really into Bird Graveyard on Instagram. I took a video of myself kicking over a Bird scooter; they posted it, and it got 90,000 views.
Favorite thing about Memphis?
Everything. I love it. I like knowing where everything is. It’s like a small town that’s huge. Everybody knows everybody so it feels safe. It’s cozy. I can go out by myself, and by the end of the night I have a whole posse.
Tell us more about your music background.
My first instrument is bass. But if I want to write a song, it’s on piano or guitar because it’s a better accompaniment for voice. I was in orchestra through middle and high school, and I went to a performing arts high school. When I got out of school, I started playing way more on my own. I guess I’m glad I didn’t major in music. I’m probably not as technically skilled as I would be if I’d majored in music, but I think I enjoy it more.
Personal style philosophy?
I don’t ever leave the house looking like trash. Even going to the grocery store, I try to look pretty nice. I think, “If I run into a wealthy business person who is going to give me a job, is this how I want to look?” I like button downs, nice fabrics. You will never catch me in public in a T-shirt. I only use T-shirts to dry my hair.
Who’s your mentor?
The first person that comes to mind is David Parks. When I got my job serving at The Cove, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I learned how to serve better there and started to learn ingredients in drinks. And that was where the basis of learning to bartend came in. David was really on top of teaching me things. A lot of people aren’t that lucky to have a bar mentor. For him it’s like a craft, an art form. I want to get there, but I’m not there yet.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully not exactly where I am right now. Honestly, I think I’ll be managing a restaurant somewhere and maybe starting to finance my own restaurant.
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