Burger Up! Local Restaurant Becomes 12S Staple
In 2004, a funky little coffee shop with an equally funky name popped up on 12th Avenue South. The street was still in its early stages of transforming into the hip neighborhood that now hosts many thriving independent businesses and seemingly recession-proof homes filled with young families. A determined, spirited woman named Miranda Whitomb Pontes opened the doors to Frothy Monkey, and since then, both she and the coffee shop have become landmark fixtures of the 12th South neighborhood.
Miranda admits that at the time, Frothy Monkey was a moving vehicle carrying her on the path of an identity quest. “It could have been a paperclip shop, widget shop, an anything shop. I wanted to do something, anything that would help me feel more valuable,” she explains. “As Frothy Monkey became a reality, the vision was all about community and how relationships would hopefully form there. I knew very little about coffee. Coffee was merely a vehicle for people to get together.”
As Frothy Monkey’s business grew, Miranda contemplated another endeavor. She envisioned another community-centered business, one that served great burgers and salads — fresh, simple food, grown and raised as close to the neighborhood as possible. Burger Up opened its doors in 2010, just down the street from Frothy Monkey. Most of the wood in the restaurant was salvaged from her grandfather’s farm. “He was my father figure. He helped mold me into the person I am today. I spent a significant part of my youth at his farm, playing in and around that barn. He taught me not to see color in people; he modeled kindness and compassion, generosity and respect for nature.”
This compassion has moved Miranda outside the realm of her own businesses. She became involved with local nonprofit Thistle Farms, which rehabilitates women from prostitution and addiction and employs them to make bath and beauty products that sustain the mission. Miranda says when she heard Thistle Farms founder Becca Stevens speak, “I wanted to be a part of what she was doing. Also on a more personal note, I could relate to all the women in the program; there are no prejudices in the world of addiction. They all had lived through tremendous pain and were on their way out by way of someone loving them. I want to make money so I can give it away. I love the line in the Prayer of St. Francis, ‘It is in giving that we receive.’”
Shortly after Burger Up was on its feet, Miranda opened a market called LB’s, serving up gourmet sandwiches and pre-made dinners as well as stocking select household goods. Unfortunately, didn’t last long. “LB’s will always hold a sweet spot in my heart,” Miranda admits. “I had a vision and executed that vision, but was not prepared for what it would take to sustain that vision. It was a necessary financial decision to close.”
However, Miranda’s vision has legs. “Someone with similar philosophy on food is opening a special place in that spot soon,” she reveals. Miranda also recently made the “bittersweet” decision to focus solely on Burger Up, selling Frothy Monkey to Ryan Pruitt, her longtime manager. Pruitt, who helped keep it afloat for seven years, and now maintains the same vision and service that Miranda always had.
Burger Up has been featured in many periodicals, ranging from USA Today to Us Weekly, because of the superb quality and celebrity clientele. Miranda admits she “was a total dork when Kevin Costner came in. Al Roker also got me good — I mean I see him, like, every day on TV! I love that the Black Keys live near and come around, same for Jack White, Buddy Miller and Kings of Leon. Having just seen The Help, I’m pretty giddy over Mary Steenburgen.”
Everyone at Burger Up gets the special treatment, regardless of whether they’re a boldface name. “All in all, every person who visits Burger Up is special to me — seriously — it’s an opportunity for me to share my belief in community and thoughtful eating. The more folks, the better.”
In true Miranda form, she is once again expanding, and will soon be opening a Burger Up in Cool Springs, near P.F. Chang’s and McDougal’s Chicken. “It will be very similar in look and feel of the one here on 12th South, but a bit bigger and with the addition of some booth seating. There will still be community tables, built with the remaining wood from my grandfather’s farm.”
A one-word description of anything Miranda undertakes would simply be this: community. It’s a business and life model that seems to be serving her, and us, quite well.
Photo by Eric England