story and photos by Tricia Dewey
When she heard this Focus issue was themed “Sheroes,” Martha Hample said, in typical understated fashion, “I’m not sure entrepreneurs are sheroes.” But in 2020 and beyond we’ve seen the need for social interactions, and supporting vitality and fun in Memphis is shero work in our book. Hample has clearly been part of that vision.
Like many entrepreneurs before her, being at the right place at the right time plays into Martha Hample’s story, but there is also a sense of making your own right place and right time.
Hample’s opportunities arose through her life experience and expertise and through her connections and skills at Archer Malmo, where she is currently a senior vice president and director of operations.
Martha Hample was born just outside of New York City and moved to Memphis when she was 13 as her mother came to St. Jude to conduct cancer research. She graduated from Ridgeway High School and even though she applied to colleges around the country she ended up at Rhodes College. Hample says moving from East Memphis to Midtown was practically like going out of state. Attending Rhodes is one reason that she’s still here and considers herself a Memphian. “I can really in part attribute my love of Memphis and the reason that I stayed here to Rhodes, and that it was such a good experience for me.”
After graduating in 1985 with a degree in art history and studio art she started out in a graphics job, pasting up magazines for now defunct Marcol Graphics. Eventually she landed a job at Archer Malmo in 1998 as production manager after an interlude completing a degree at the New England Culinary Institute in Burlington, Vermont. Experience in the food industry has turned out to be useful.
What drew her to Archer Malmo was the obvious fit with her skill set. What has kept her at Archer Malmo for 22 years is the people. “The people are interesting, curious, intellectual, all the things about people that would make me want to be there working with them.” Hample finds the work exciting and challenging “and it was because of the connections that I made there that I pivoted into the entrepreneurial part of my life, which is sort of my side gig. None of that would have happened had it not been for that job.”
Some years ago, a fortuitous conversation with her boss in the kitchen at work about his visit to a video arcade/bar combination venue led to his asking if she would be interested in partnering in something like that in Midtown. She agreed immediately. Later, another conversation with Taylor Berger at the Brewery Untapped revealed that Berger was thinking about a similar idea, and that’s how the Rec Room concept came together. Opened in 2015, Rec Room is a video and sports bar on Broad with a large patio, fun menu, and concepts like living rooms to rent.
Shortly after that the group opened Loflin Yard, the former downtown carriage house, in 2016, and Railgarten, originally an icehouse, in 2017. These were the next ventures of this investor group in a business model that, as Hample says, worked “to find property that is in disrepair, blighted, or underutilized, or in an unusual neighborhood. And then generate something interesting, cost-effective…where we can do something different.” Hample helped to develop this model of an existing space that incorporates outdoor areas for more activity than just drinking and eating, although much thought and work goes into the menu too. “We need a place where there are things to do besides sit and drink right?… It is not lost on us that in spite of the difficult times for all of the restaurant and bar community that having these big open spaces has essentially kept Railgarten and Loflin Yard alive.”
Because of her marketing experience, Hample led the creative team that did the branding and advertising work for the restaurants. And then ultimately she bought into the management company.
A connecting theme of the group’s investments has been, as Hample describes it, “a place where people from all walks of the city can come and feel comfortable. That’s most apparent at a place like Railgarten where you might have a hip hop show one night and a bluegrass show the next night and something for the kids on a Saturday afternoon, and a volleyball court, with college kids, and older people, everybody can come, kids are welcome, dogs, and anybody who needs to get outside and have a good time…We want it to reflect the city.”
The group hopes to open its newest venture, Hampline Brewery, along the Hampline bike line, as soon as the end of the year. While brewing was not in their original repertoire, Hample says that the idea of having built-in buyers for their product made it seem like an obvious choice. “While there are a lot of breweries, Memphis is for sure behind in terms of number of breweries per capita.” Then brewmaster Wes Osier was looking to relocate back to Memphis, which brought the deal together. Hampline Brewery has a small taproom, but Memphis weather is pretty habitable outdoors for eight to 10 months of the year and the brewery can utilize a garage door opening, patio area, and potential for outdoor block party events. Two of the brewery offerings “Dunk Tank” (a German dunkel) and “Memphis Natch” (light lager) have passed this writer’s taste test and are almost ready to go. Cans of Hampline brews will be available in the taproom beginning in 2021.
Asked about her advice to other entrepreneurs, Hample says, “I think it’s about taking a risk. Finding the thing that you love so much that you’ll spend all your time doing it…You have to believe in it.” Also the timing for some new ventures may be right: “I think now more than ever there’s opportunity. As sad as it is that places are closing, it leaves opportunity for other people to come in and do something new. Some real estate is going to be pretty cheap in Memphis in general and due to the pandemic it’s even cheaper. Now is a really good singular time in history that someone could make that move.”