Claudia Cogswell is bringing Mexico to Memphis with her new restaurant in the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s food court.
Memphis Tacos is now open in the Madison Plaza Food Court, offering an authentic taste of Mexico to students, faculty, staff, and the rest of the Medical District community.
It is one of three locally owned restaurants in the food court, located in the area behind national favorites Chick-fil-A and Starbucks Coffee. Deli Midtown opened earlier this year with a menu consisting of classic deli fare like sandwiches, soups, and salads. Soi No. 9, which joined the food court in 2019, offers authentic Thai street food from recipes shared across multiple generations.
On the menu at Memphis Tacos are some of the staples of Mexican cuisine—tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and bowls—with steak, chicken, chorizo (spicy sausage), rice, beans, salsas, and toppings. Cogswell prides herself on the authenticity of her restaurant’s recipes, saying she’s filling a gap in Memphis.
“When I came here to Memphis, I couldn’t find a good Mexican place,” she says. “Everything here is Mexican; it’s what I grew up on.”
Cogswell lived in Chihuahua and Juarez, Mexico, until she was 5, when her family moved to Southern California and worked as field laborers. After finishing her education, Cogswell attended the police academy and served as a sheriff’s deputy in California for over a decade. She moved to Memphis 13 years ago, and in her first year, she began a cleaning company called MemphisClean with her business partner, George Cogswell.
MemphisClean has become successful, and it was through the company’s work that Cogswell had the idea to open Memphis Tacos. The company was cleaning the kitchens in the food court, and she noticed some of the restaurants were empty; the previous occupants closed due to the COVID pandemic. So, Cogswell started looking into filling one of the vacancies with her own new business.
“I thought, you know, this would be a good opportunity to get my foot in the door and get some good, authentic Mexican food here,” she says. “I have that personality of ‘let’s try it and see where it goes.’”
Cogswell says she is grateful for the opportunity UTHSC has given her to start her second minority woman-owned business and to share her good fortune with other women. According to Cogswell, of her cleaning company’s approximately 80 employees and her restaurant’s five workers, the vast majority are mothers. Several family members, including Cogswell’s son and daughter-in-law, are also on-hand to help the business.
Since opening in May, Cogswell says the restaurant has been well-received. “It’s going well. The hours are great; we’re open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. And the people here are nice, so it’s been good,” she says. In return, Cogswell is dedicated to making sure the customers are satisfied and will try to fulfill any request they have. “We’re all about customer service and just making people happy, so come on out.”