A series of unfortunate events have nearly derailed Malika Murphy’s west Phoenix restaurant Sue’s Soul Food Heaven. But despite the setbacks, the first-time restaurant owner is preparing for a comeback.
After a water pipe burst and the ceiling collapsed on Sue’s Soul Food Heaven earlier this month, Murphy has been patiently planning a menu expansion in time for the restaurant’s reopening.
“This is my first restaurant,” Murphy said. “I worked in restaurants in the past, but nothing to this extent… I’m not going to be defeated.”
How tragedy inspired the soul food restaurant
Murphy described Sue’s Soul Food Heaven as a tribute to her sister Kenyatta “Sue” Lucas, who died suddenly from a brain aneurysm a few years ago. Lucas always craved home-cooked soul food and liked to sing along to Motown songs, Michael Jackson, “a lot of Patti and Aretha,” Murphy said.
After working for American Express for more than a decade, helping small business owners, Murphy decided it was time to start her own small, family business — Lucas had always wanted Murphy to pursue a project involving the family.
Sue’s Soul Food Heaven is a way to keep her sister’s name alive, Murphy said.
The restaurant’s logo features an illustration of Sue, dressed in chef’s whites. Murphy’s daughter drew a picture of Aretha Franklin on the wall, constructing the singer’s afro out of black records. Artists have also decorated the outside of the restaurant with colorful graffiti and music-themed graphics, such as a blue grinning drum set and a crescent moon playing the saxophone.
‘We don’t stop, we don’t give up’
Murphy’s restaurant has been open for less than six months, but has faced a somewhat tumultuous ride.
In 2020, the day before the county’s health inspectors would visit, a driver crashed their vehicle into a pole in front of the restaurant, taking out a couple posts along the way. The driver survived while Murphy and her colleagues remained unscathed inside, she said.
After that, operations went smoothly for a while following the restaurant’s grand opening on Jan. 3, 2021.
The restaurant has weekly discounts, including Senior and Veteran Thursdays. There’s also Small Business Saturdays, when Murphy lets a small business owner set up a booth inside or outside the restaurantto sell their products, anything from wigs to spices.
Murphy also donates leftover food at the end of the night to homeless people camped out on Indian School Road.
Overall, business was doing well and customers were already urging her to open a second location, Murphy said.
Then in April 2021, a water pipe burst and it was “raining” inside the restaurant, Murphy said. Shortly after repainting the walls, which had water damage, the ceiling collapsed.
The restaurant has to be closed for four weeks while the landlord gets the ceiling repaired, she said. She plans to reopen in time for Mother’s Day weekend in May.
“We don’t stop, we don’t give up. It’s gonna get better,” Murphy said. “It’s really hard on us, all money I invested in this restaurant and one thing after another happened. I’m just like, some days, I don’t know what else to do, but I don’t want to give up.”
To help tide the restaurant over, Murphy had started a GoFundMe called “Support Sue Soul Food Heaven to repair damages.” It has raised $385 as of April 26. The money will be used to make up for the loss of one month’s revenue and to purchase food for the reopening.
What’s on the Sue’s Soul Food Heaven menu?
Sue’s Soul Food Heaven signature style is smoking meat instead of frying, Murphy described. But otherwise, they’re the same recipes her family enjoyed around the dinner table in Detroit, where she’s from.
“They’re recipes from my mom, like her famous peach cobbler — everybody loves it, macaroni, collard greens. Things we grew up eating, our Sunday meals,” Murphy said.
Some of the menu items have included:
- Various smoked chicken meals with option of Caribbean jerk, lemon pepper or Louisiana Cajun flavor.
- Other smoked meats, such as ribs, rib tips and XL turkey leg.
- Meal combos, such as chitterlings, oxtail stew or fried catfish, served with corn muffin, sides and drinks.
- Sides such as collard greens, mac n’ cheese, potato salad, red beans and rice, and yams.
- Beverages such as sweet tea and sodas.
Murphy said she’s using the time while the ceiling’s getting repaired to to come up with new menu items, such as options for vegans and people who don’t eat red meat. She recently returned from a road trip to her hometown Detroit with Wigleys Corned Beef. She also wants to add wraps, smoked wings with Parmesan and buffalo dipping sauces, and Kool-Aid.
“All of these challenges we’ve weathered until now, we still got a positive mindset,” Murphy said. “We’re optimistic we’re going to come back with a more elevated menu… This time has given us time to reevaluate and come back even stronger.”
Sue’s Soul Food Heaven is scheduled to reopen the weekend of May 7.
Details: 4537 W. Indian School Road, Phoenix. 602-492-5554, suesoulfood.com.
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