Memphis, Tennessee, is known for its blues, soul, rock-n-roll music, and unique nicknames that capture the town’s heritage and interesting identity. Through the years, Memphis has been called the Home of the Blues, the Birthplace of Elvis, and the Barbecue Capital of the World, to name a few.

Many people come to Memphis for the music, food, and history, but for Romona Watts, Memphis is more than that; Memphis is home, Memphis is family, and Memphis is where she wants to leave a legacy.

Romona moved to the Memphis area over thirty years ago and just stayed. She raised three sons there, developed friendships, and always knew that Memphis was where the next phase of her and her children’s future would start.

Although Romona had retired from the Internal Revenue Service three years prior, she had always had a business spirit within her. “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I always had too many things going on.” Romona shared.

Romona spent the last several years raising her sons, Terry, Jose, and Martavius, guiding them in the right direction to prepare for their future. Now that her boys are older, Romona wants to make sure they have something to be proud of as they continue through life’s journey.

When it came time to figure out what was next for her family, she wanted something that would leave a legacy for her children, something they could one day call their own. She and her children put their heads together and thought of different ideas for their business venture, and they all seemed to focus on one thing, food.

Romona shared that they all love to cook. Even when her children were younger, Romona remembers everyone being together at her house while she prepared meals for them and their friends. The idea of owning a restaurant catering to sports fans made them all happy.

It made perfect sense. Her boys had always been involved in sports; Martavius is a local high school standout and a Division 1 football player. He is well-known in the Memphis area. The family had a plan. Romona started researching small business loans. She reached out to around fifty banks, but door after door continued to close. Every time Romona thought she had a lead, she faced disappointment.

Romona Watts, owner of Empire Sports Bar and Grill, describes what her interaction with Communities Unlimited was like when applying for her small business loan.

Romona was determined not to get discouraged. As she dug deeper into her research, she came across Communities Unlimited (CU). She contacted CU and started working with Economic Development Loan Officer Chris Tillman. “Chris was so patient through the process and answered all my many questions,” Romona said.

“We had several challenges getting this business off the ground, but Romona’s persistence, determination, and positive attitude made the difference. She also utilized all available resources for new business owners, like the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and the Small Business Association (SBA) SCORE program.  With assistance from those sources, she made sure she accounted for every detail”, shared Chris Tillman.

“Once I finally received a yes, my boys and I cried tears of joy. We could move forward with our dream, thanks to CU.” Romona explained.

Romona continued to research everything she could about starting a new business. She stated that CU filled her head with tons of knowledge. Romona has worked with William Richardson, the Associate Director of Tennessee SBDC at Southwest Tennessee Community College. She meets monthly with her SCORE mentor/friend, and advisor, Ms. Pollard. Ms. Pollard owns Pollard BBQ and is the mother of Tony Pollard, Running Back for the Dallas Cowboys. Tony is also a friend and former teammate of Martavius. Ms. Pollard is assisting Romona with the licensing and permits for her food.

“CU gave me the push I needed to continue building the legacy to make my business an Empire for my children’s future.”

 Romona Watts, Owner, Empire Sports Bar & Grill

Once construction is complete, Empire Sports Bar and Grill, LLC. will open at 1934 South Third Street in downtown Memphis and be owned by Romona and her son Terry. Many businesses closed during the pandemic, so Romona hopes to give the area positive attention. Once the restaurant is fully open, Romona and her boys will have specific roles in the business to keep up with the daily tasks of running a restaurant.

Empire Sports Bar and Grill will serve various foods and offer several options, including wings, burgers, quesadillas, and a build-your-own pizza bar. Romona has many plans for her new business, including eventually expanding into other parts of Tennessee.

The dream she envisioned for herself and her sons can now pass on for several generations while giving back to the community they call home.