VOL. 126 | NO. 236 | Monday, December 5, 2011
A story from The Memphis News
On newsstands throughout the city
Stone Soup Cafe Brings Home Cooking to C-Y
FREDRIC KOEPPEL | Special to The Memphis News
A restaurant people still mourn for is Buns on the Run, which had an 11½ year run in an old frame house on Elzey, just east of South Cooper, before closing in November 2008. In that cozy establishment, Pam Hardin and Sharron Johnson served the most comforting of comfort food, along with sublime baked goods and a sunny, welcoming attitude. Buns on the Run put the “home” in home cooking.
Emily Bishop, left, and Sharron Johnson recently opened Stone Soup Café & Market at 993 S. Cooper. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch. (Photo: Lance Murphey)
Close to three years later and pretty much in the same neighborhood, just south a few blocks on Cooper, Johnson, with partner Emily Bishop, has opened Stone Soup Café. Any resemblance to Buns on the Runs is not coincidental.
Stone Soup Café, named for the classic children’s book by Marcia Brown, published in 1947, occupies an old wood frame house at 993 S. Cooper St., across from First Congregational Church. It is decorated in simple, homey fashion, with plain tables and chairs and local folk-inspired art. Like Buns on the Run, Stone Soup is open for breakfast and lunch with menus that feature all the standards and favorites of American diners, from omelets and pancakes and French toast and biscuits and gravy to plate lunches, entrees and sandwiches, everything made on the premises. There’s also a market that sells the restaurant’s baked goods and other local products.
I sat down with Bishop, 49, and Johnson, 47, one afternoon to chat about the new establishment.
Q: Emily, how did you get involved with the Stone Soup project? Do you have restaurant experience?
Bishop: No, I don’t have the least restaurant experience. I was a fan of Buns on the Run, and I just had a conversation with Sharron after she left Trolley Stop, and we talked about how great it would be to open her own place. So when this property came available, it all came together.
Johnson: Though we looked at a couple of other places too. This one seemed right.
Q: So you two are business partners?
Bishop: That’s right. I’m a flight attendant. I’ve worked for American Airlines for 25 years, and I understand the customer service side of things. Sharron and I met through volunteering in the neighborhood and reconnected at Peabody School.
Johnson: I met my former partner through Peabody School too. This is basically a Cooper-Young story. I’ve lived here since the days when there was nothing here except for Indochina, there on the corner where Cortona is now. People driving down to Cooper-Young thought they were coming to a different world. It was practically deserted in those days.
Q: You’re talking about 20 or 30 years ago.
Johnson: Yes. And Emily has been in the neighborhood about that long too.
Q: Sharron, did you grow up in the restaurant business?
Johnson: No, not really, except that my mother was a waitress and still is. She’s 74 and still works as a waitress at Blue Plate Café. She worked at the old George and David, Downtown, and Wah Yen’s. I started cooking at age 10 because I had younger siblings and my mother often had to work at night. I would do dinner, and then I would bake things for the kids to take in their lunches to school.
Q: Basically learning how to cook what you’ve been cooking for years as a professional.
Johnson: Yes. It’s like home-cooking comfort food but with a slight edge. One night I did Hungarian goulash. And another night spannakopita.
Bishop: It’s home cooking with an extra twist.
Q: Where does Stone Soup fit into the array of restaurants that line the streets of Cooper and Young now?
Bishop: We needed a good breakfast place in the neighborhood, so we brought that back. And the restaurants in Cooper-Young are getting more sophisticated. We’re bringing back home cooking and more simplicity, which people like. It’s comfortable.
Q: Has anything changed in the three years since Buns on the Run closed?
Johnson: It’s funny. The bread we make in-house is vegan. It’s the same bread we made at Buns on the Run, nothing’s changed, but we never marketed it as such. Now it’s different, people are interested in these things, so we’ll let them know. And I don’t use meat in the vegetables, but we’re obviously not a vegan or vegetarian restaurant.
Bishop: We have special orders all the time. We try to accommodate everybody’s dietary needs.
Johnson: We try to be about local products and ingredients, but it’s hard because people are used to eating out of season. They want what they want when they want it.
Q: Emily, what’s your role in the restaurant?
Bishop: I do the books. I help out in the front of the house where I’m needed. I still fly once a month, on the longest flight American has, from Chicago to New Delhi. That’s about 14 hours. It gives you an interesting perspective on things at home.
Q: Sharron, now that you’re back in a restaurant six days a week, what’s the most difficult part of it all?
Johnson: Well, I know this sounds crazy, but I love it. I’m happy to get here at six in the morning. And when I leave in the afternoon, I go home and plan what I’m going to cook for dinner. This is what my life is.