Community: the secret ingredient at Stone Soup Café
By Karen B. Golightly
Sharron Johnson and Emily Bishop have started a new restaurant in Cooper-Young called Stone Soup Café. Located on the corner of Cooper and Felix, they offer made-from-scratch breakfast and lunch, six days a week, 7am-3pm. They describe their fare as “homemade food made with love.”
The concept of Stone Soup goes back to folktales and has spread through many cultures. A traveler approaches a poor village in search of food and lodging. Refused and rejected, he fills a soup pot with water, and adds a secret ingredient – a smooth stone. The villagers approach the man, and he begins a series of comments, “Stone soup is so much better with a bit of cabbage.” “A bit of salt beef would make this soup fine.” Each villager adds an ingredient to the pot: onions, carrots, mushrooms, potatoes, and seasoning. The result is that everyone leaves with a full stomach and a new friend.
It was this same concept that Sharron Johnson found in one of her own neighbors. For years, Meda resident Haynes Knight has been holding a weekly jam session for local musicians and their friends. Each person brings something to contribute: their signature dish, their favorite drink, or maybe a new song they’d recently learned. “Everybody brings something,” Sharron says, “and we all share our stories and memories, food and drink, and always, rain or shine, there’s music.”
Sharron loved the idea that people could get together, give a little, and get so much back from their neighbors, friends, and family. She asked Knight if she could borrow the name, and Stone Soup Café was born.
Sharron had been cooking for years and owned Buns on the Run with Pam Hardin which closed in 2008 when her partner tired of the business. “Buns on the Run worked, and we attracted people from all over Memphis, so I knew this kind of a restaurant could make it in Cooper-Young.”
Then Steve and Emily Bishop entered the picture. Sharron and Emily had known each other for years as active volunteers in the neighborhood. The Bishops had invested in several residential properties and considered expanding into commercial real estate. They knew it had to be the right property, though. The old Hooks building seemed to fit the bill. Emily says, “It was a house that had been a business, which mirrored what Sharron had done at Buns, but this space gave the opportunity for more growth.”
Together, Sharron, Steve, Emily, and many other neighbors have renovated the house with a commercial kitchen and cozy seating areas. “We needed a breakfast place that was comfortable and focused on the community. We wanted a place where neighbors and visitors would feel welcome,” Emily adds. A home away from home, if you will. With free wifi and homemade biscuits, omelets, and French toast that has been described as “crispy on the outside and custard-like inside,” Stone Soup Café makes a great home away from home for many of us.
Sharron’s cooking skills combined with Emily’s 25 years of customer service experience as a flight attendant for American Airlines, made for a well-suited match. “If you can make people feel safe, comfortable, and well cared for in an airplane for 14 hours, taking care of them for a meal seems attainable,” Emily adds with a laugh. So the two set off to look for a general manager and found Troy Norwood, who has worked in the Memphis restaurant industry for 20 years from “fine dining to slinging beers on Beale Street.” He adds that the three knew they were a good fit pretty quickly. “After working with Sharron for a short time, I can see why she has such a following. It’s not just about the food, but about her love of people.”
Sharron’s love of food and cooking talents are evident in her array of dishes, from homemade salsa, guacamole, and quesadillas to bacon, lettuce, and grilled green tomato sandwiches (“sammies” at Stone Soup), as well as a full breakfast menu with specialty dishes like the Big Rex Biscuit and peanut butter and banana crepes (Elvis style). She considers cooking both an art and an expression of love. “Food was always a link to family and comfort for me.”
Sharron describes Stone Soup Café’s lunch as “eclectic blue plate. Sure, we’ll have classics like chicken and dumplings and beef tips, but we’ll also be serving more edgy dishes, like spanikopita and grilled asparagus and zucchini.” The food will be different, and not just the specials. Sharron adds, “I’m not trying to be a Julia Child. I just want people to say, ‘Damn that was good.’ And then come back for more. I want people to come into my restaurant every single day and for it to be different – a melting pot of dishes and sides, like stone soup.”
Their motto: “At Stone Soup Café, we agree that the secret ingredient isn’t what goes into the pot, but the community around it. We offer wholesome cooking with fresh ingredients in Cooper-Young, neighbors supporting neighbors. It’s where we live; it’s where we work; it’s where we eat.”
Stone Soup is also available for private functions, including wedding receptions and business meetings. They hope to expand to dinner in the future. Check out stonesoupcafememphis.com or find them on Facebook for a full menu and other information.
Stone Soup Café
993 South Cooper
Hours: 7am-3pm, Tuesday-Sunday