Known for its pancakes as well as its creative lunch menu, Sweet Sue’s was the heartbeat of Phoenicia for many years, attracting tourists, locals, and area residents from miles away. Through a series of crises — a fire, septic overflow, and staffing challenges — the restaurant has been in abeyance several times but always rose up like a phoenix after a few months, until the past year, when owner Suzanne Taylor shut down in January. Phoenicians were giving up hope that she would reopen, and the business was up for sale.
“I had medical issues going on that were affecting me physically,” explained Taylor this week. “I was exhausted, so I gave myself some time. Hopefully it’s over. I’ve missed work and my customers, and now I’ve made my decision.” She’s planning a renovation, looking for a chef, and getting ready to reopen in May 2016.
There will be some changes made. “I’ve been there 30 years,” said Taylor. “I need a change as well. I’m changing up the seating arrangement. It will look different, but I’ll still have booths.” Most of the vast variety of pancake options will also stay, and other menu alterations will be subject to feedback from customers. Anything she takes off the regular menu will probably be offered as specials from time to time.
Taylor’s cousin, a Culinary-trained chef in New York City, is considering joining her. “He’s extremely confident, very talented, and a lot of fun,” she said. “I’m hoping we can agree on terms. He’s given me some basic needs and I’m willing to meet those. That’s the toughest aspect of the business — finding qualified help. The last couple of years I’ve struggled with finding good help. They’d work a week and then not show up, which makes it very difficult.”
Another change will be more emphasis on locally sourced produce and eggs. “I’m already researching that and contacting people to see what I can come up with,” said Taylor. “It’s important to support local agriculture and businesses.”
She’s had the restaurant since 1984, when the building was owned by an older Iranian couple who were selling their business and equipment. “My mother and grandmother were really good cooks and bakers, and my initial love was baking,” she recalled. “I went to look at the bakery equipment up for sale, and on the spur of the moment, I ended up buying the business.”
Before long, the customers were flocking, and the weekend brunch lines extended down the block. Phoenicia resident Alan Fliegel, having heard of Taylor’s plans to reopen, remarked, “She had the best place worthy of the wait. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Across the street at Morne Imports, the camping, fishing, and hardware store now renamed Phoenicia Supply, proprietor Marietta Hofmeister used to say business had been down ever since Sue’s closed. Since Hofmeister’s death in September, her granddaughter, Cara Molnar, is running the store. “The town’s a little empty-looking,” said Molnar, who is already missing Mama’s Boy Café, closed since the end of November, right in the center of town. She’s hopeful that the opening of Sue’s will help her business, and “even if it doesn’t, it makes the town look nicer. I’m excited for it.”
At the Phoenicia Library, library assistant Molly Kilb’s response to news of the opening was simply, “Hurray!”
Said Taylor, “It warms my heart to hear people are excited about it.”