Welcome to The Dean’s List! The Dean’s List will profile up-and-comers in Memphis who are certain to be the next group of leaders in the nonprofit, corporate, government, and faith communities. The Dean’s List is curated by Kevin Dean, the Executive Director of Literacy Mid-South.
Lisa Toro describes her life as being “a series of calculated risks and fortunate mistakes.” Her career has spanned across areas such as audit, finance, recruiting, digital marketing and most recently, coffee and retail. One of her biggest calculated risks, City & State, opened last year on Broad Ave. Both a coffee shop and a curated gift shop, City & State has a unique, hip atmosphere that blends nicely with the eclectic and upscale shops and restaurants on Broad. City & State has become a fixture for college students, hipsters, and anyone who likes their coffee more artisan and less fast food. You won’t see baristas pushing anything out of a pump, as the ingredients are all natural and yummy! (Editor’s note: The Lumberjack Latte is badass!)
Lisa was chosen for the Dean’s List because of her investment in Memphis and the potential for City & State to become a nationwide company. (We just hope the headquarters will stay here!)
Why do you choose Memphis over another city?
This city hasn’t failed me once, whether through its resiliency, its compassion, its authenticity or its energy.
Why’d you choose Broad Ave. as the location for your first City & State location?
Broad Ave exemplifies what I believe Memphis to be, which is a community full of diversity, that is ever-evolving and continuously improving. We have some businesses on Broad that have been here for decades, along with newer tenants infusing renewed energy into the district. I love looking across the street to see the semi-trucks coming and going from Hollywood Feed’s warehouse while also being able to walk down a few blocks for one of the cities best brunches at Bounty.
What are the three bestselling items in the store?
The Natalie Lieberman Memphis Neighborhood Tea Towel, the Anchored Threads Rugged Mug and the skin care line, Herbivore Botanicals.
Midtown Memphis has many thriving small businesses. Why did you choose to be a small business owner over working for a larger company?
I’ve done both and can, without hesitancy, say that when you work for a larger company you tend to loose touch with the community and city around you. It’s easy to become insulated within your industry and department, seeing only a part of the larger whole within the organization. As a small business, you’re able to test, learn and adapt quickly with an understanding of all elements being impacted by any changes made and opportunities taken. Your community becomes your customer and your success depends on your understanding of the city around you.
You serve only fair trade coffee. Why is it so important to buy from fair trade vendors?
The coffee industry, similar to the fashion industry, impacts people all over the world. It’s usually those furthest removed from the final product who are undervalued and whose role is so rarely celebrated or fairly compensated. We should always ask after any product we purchase and ensure that we’re building an industry that supports each and every person who plays a part.
City & State is located on Broad Ave, which is in the midst of a revitalization. What do you think it will take to revitalize other areas of Memphis?
It’s going to take passionate individuals with a belief in how this city can continue to grow and evolve, who are willing to take the risks necessary to bring about change. Rather than move away to an already hip city, be a part of creating Memphis’ future.
What’s the one part of Memphis that you couldn’t live without?
The mighty Mississippi River. We wouldn’t be who we are without it, and who we are is something to be celebrated.
What makes Memphis different from other cities?
Even with change, we’ve been able to hold on to our own unique identity. We may look to other cities for inspiration and ideas for change, but we bring it back and make it distinctly Memphis. We have no desire to be anything but ourselves, without pretense and false pride.
Name two people in Memphis that you think have the most potential to lead this city one day.
Amanda Hill and Nicole Heckman. Two brilliant and compassionate people with the ability to accomplish great things.
Where do you see City & State in ten years?
City & State as a network of shops in numerous cities, providing a platform to celebrate makers and aid them in building a sustainable business around their craft, while also providing transparency to customers about the products that they buy and use everyday.
What are the biggest challenges Memphis faces in moving forward?
We have to stop being our own worst critics, and instead embrace the messiness that inevitably comes with change, while holding true to a belief that we can make things better. We have to stop perpetuating bad press in the media and online, and instead focus on what is working and where we still have opportunity to improve. Only Memphians can change the conversation about our city.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Answering these questions got me even more excited for this city and the people who call it home.