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'Love is the rule' | Owner of Alcenia's soul food restaurant shares her story

Betty Joyce Chester Tamayo, also known as BJ Southern Girl, purchased the building for her soul food restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Not all chefs own both the restaurant they work in and the building itself, but the owner of Alcenia's soul food restaurant is not your average chef. 

As March is Women's History Month, Betty Joyce Chester-Tamayo, also known as BJ Southern Girl, has a story worth telling. 

"I am not only am owner, but I'm also a landlord now," Chester-Tamayo said. "I've been in business 25 but I purchased it after 23 and a half. December, 2 2020 — my father's birthday, and it was during COVID — can you believe that? I purchased a building during COVID."

Tamayo said that her parents and grandparents believe in owning, so she knew at some point she didn't want to just rent spaces.

"I believe in ownership because ownership is power to me, and being an African American woman, in any city — not only Memphis — any city in a downtown area, that's very, very rare," Chester-Tomayo said.

She said that an instructor from Lemoyne Owen's College told her about the building that would become Alcenia's home.

"I came down and I looked — it was like going from Rodeo Drive to Sugar Ditch," she said. "I looked in the window and said, 'no way', and I was standing out there by myself, and this is the truth, I heard a voice say, 'this is it,' and I looked up and I said, 'are you sure?' and I know that was God speaking to me, so I called the owner that day and said 'I'll take it.'"

Chester-Tomayo said that she has "the world's greatest and largest family." 

"I tell people 'You come in that door as a stranger, but you leave as part of the family,'" she said. "I want them to feel the love. I'm real passionate about it. It's really in my heart, and love is the rule."

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