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STREETSEEN  |  Tim Bednarski 

Photo by Steve Roberts

Tim Bednarski: Owner of Elwood’s Shack and Elwood’s Shells

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Having worked almost every conceivable position in the restaurant industry, it was really just a matter of time before Tim Bednarski decided to open up his own place. And now his ambition has brought not one, but two, eateries to the local culinary scene; Elwood’s Shack in East Memphis and Elwood’s Shells in Cooper-Young.

Bednarski says it all started when he was growing up on the south side of Houston. “I grew up eating gulf seafood,” said Bednarski. “And I spent a lot of time during my teenage years visiting family in Louisiana’s Acadia Parish. That experience exposed me to and developed my love for cajun and creole cuisine.”

Bednarski said he came upstream to Memphis through a job with Landry’s Seafood.

“I was in Design & Development at Landry’s and helped acquire different restaurants and converted them into Landry’s,” explained Bednarski. “During my tenure, I saw their chain grow from 2 to 117 restaurants. But after a while I tired of all the travel and asked to be grounded in one place — that turned out to be Memphis.” Initially with Landry’s, then Captain Bilbo’s, overlooking the river, Bednarski ended up making his way around town with a variety of restaurants. There was a stint as the chef for Paulette’s when that venerable establishment was in Overton Square. He also served as general manager for Darden’s Restaurants, first at Bahama Breeze at Wolfchase, and later at Longhorn Steakhouse. Each stop was building his understanding of the food industry and the skill set he would need to launch out on his own. When he left Longhorn, seven years ago, he opened up what is inarguably one of the most distinctive locations for an eatery in Memphis — Elwood’s Shack, set up in the parking lot of Lowe’s at Summer and Perkins.

“I had an uncle named Elwood, so that’s how the place got its name,” explained Bednarski. “I didn’t want it to be known as a great barbecue restaurant, but rather as a great restaurant that served barbecue — as well as pastrami, corned beef, smoked turkey, brisket and more.”

After his successful seven-year run in East Memphis, Bednarski decided to “take the plunge” and open a second restaurant. But he wanted the new place to have a totally separate identity. This was a chance to bring those beloved flavors and foods of his childhood to Memphis by way of seafood. “I’d had the idea for Elwood’s Shells in the back of my mind for decades,” said Bednarski. “Originally, I was looking at a downtown location, but then Midtown found me. I fell in love with the Cooper Street location before I even got out of my car.”

After a few months of renovating the building that formerly housed Jasmine Thai & Vegetarian Restaurant, Bednarksi began serving up dishes made with fresh seafood from the coast. Local bakery D & R delivers fresh bread daily and everything is made from scratch, including their signature desserts like Key lime pie and creme brûlée.

Bednarski’s entrepreneurial endeavors have been joined by Devin Wood and Mandy Edwards, who are now co-owners of both Elwood’s Shack and Elwood’s Shells. Bednarski runs the back of the house, the kitchen, Wood runs the front of the house and Edwards is General Manager.

With marketing only by social media and word of mouth, Bednarski’s restaurants are proof of the saying, “If we build it, they will come.” Both the Shack and Shells serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to the tune of approximately 4,500 customers a week, combined. The atmosphere at the Shack is reminiscent of going to your grandfather’s house, with curated collections of old signs, what-nots, and other cool stuff. At Shells one gets the feeling that you’re walking into a coastal fish house. Custom artwork by local artist Lamar Sorrento adorns the walls, giving a nod to the colorful Cooper-Young area.  


STREETSEEN  |  Will Sexton

Photo by Steve Roberts

Will Sexton: Musician, Songwriter and Producer

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

My brother, Charlie, and I grew up in the 1970s in Austin,” said Will Sexton. “Although it was a small college town, it was a big music city that was very influential for a lot of people.”

Will continued, “I started playing bass guitar when I was 7 years old. Then I began playing a six-string, electric guitar, which is what I play mostly now. For a while we lived with Speedy Sparks, the bass player in the Texas Tornadoes, Doug Sahm’s band. Doug was a record collector so we were able to just soak up vinyl of various genres. They were all beautiful classics. Seldom was anything newer than 1971. And to this day, that is still the music I draw from as a musician.”

Another memorable childhood moment occurred when Will was 9 years old. His stepfather, Vance Hobbs, won a night of poker playing against the owner of The Continental Club in Austin and bought Will and Charlie their first Fender guitars with part of his winnings. 

“They were very fancy Fenders, too,” added Will.

By the time Will was 16, he was following in the footsteps of his older brother Charlie. Will started playing with “a bunch of high-profile Austin musicians.” Charlie had been signed to MCA Records when he was 16. Will followed the same path two years later.

“I was at a point when I wasn’t ready to make a record — I could have used a development deal,” said Will. “But, I pushed to do a record.”

Will began performing with big-time talent such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Vaughan, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Lou Ann Barton, and “Godfather of Austin Blues” W. C. Clark. For the next few years, Will lived in New York City, and Los Angeles where his label and publishing company were located, and Nashville, where his touring band was based. At age 20, Will returned to Austin. He recorded and toured for a while, When he became a father, he quit touring and became a staff songwriter for Almo/Irving & Rondor and A&M Records (the publishing company of Herb Albert and Jerry Moss). In a few years, Will started his own publishing company, which meant he could own his own songs.

“It was a time of growth for me as an entrepreneur,” said Will. “I started a band with my brother on the A&M label and then slowly worked my way to writing and performing, as well as producing records for a variety of companies. I also started a band with David Baerwald called The New Folk Underground. That evolved into working with David in a studio called The Palindrome in Venice Beach, CA. I spent several years co-writing and producing projects with him.”

About nine years ago Will had a stroke. It took a toll on his songwriting, but fortunately, he was still able to play the guitar. 

“I started touring the country again as a side guitarist for several artists,” explained Will, “And that’s how I met my wife, Memphis singer-songwriter and upright bass player Amy LaVere. That was five years ago while working on a tour together.”

Since then, Will and Amy have married and made a home in Memphis. He has been able to work on “a bunch of records here with brilliant Memphis producers.” Touring for months on end, then coming home to make records is a lifestyle that Will says suits him.

“The most exciting element of my career is that I’ve been able to work in many aspects of music,” said Will. “For me, it doesn’t get tiring when you switch it up. I just started a new record. I haven’t made one by myself in about 10 years. It will be finished in the next couple of months, then I’ll see what cycle it fits best in terms of the timing of its release.