The future location of Iowa Soul Food Co.’s planned restaurant in Penn Landing at 650 Pacha Parkway, North Liberty.
By Chase Castle
One might say the company that oversees the Sweetiepie’s Chicken and Fish fry brand is getting a little closer to its southern roots – but only a little.
The Iowa Soul Food Company, headed by Sweetiepie’s co-owner Chad Simmons, plans to open a new restaurant in North Liberty this summer. The decision to open a business in one of the Corridor’s fastest-growing communities follows the closure of two locations further north.
The flagship location at 624 12th Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids opened in March 2012, and a second location under the name Iowa Soul Food Market opened at the NewBo City Market later that year. In early 2014, the company stopped operating at the NewBo City Market, then closed the 12th Avenue restaurant the following year.
“The essence of the new redesign is the best of both worlds for the North Liberty location,” Mr. Simmons said, noting that cafeteria-style elements of the NewBo Market location will be incorporated into the sit-down restaurant.
Located at 650 Pacha Parkway, the new restaurant will occupy a corner spot at Penn Landing plaza next to Capanna Coffee & Gelato and Leash on Life Pet Supplies. Mr. Simmons said remodeling for the restaurant is half complete and a soft opening could happen as early as June.
The restaurant will be the company’s largest to date at roughly 2,500 square-feet, and will carry a new, yet to be disclosed name. That change is largely intended to avoid confusion with Sweetie Pie’s Mississippi Style Cookin’, which operates two restaurants in St. Louis, Missouri.
Derived from a nickname for his wife, Iowa Soul Food Company President and CEO Carol Cater-Simmons, Mr. Simmons lamented the need to change the name. However, he hopes it will help establish a brand not only in the Corridor, but throughout the state. Mr. Simmons said the Iowa Soul Food Company, which consists of multiple shareholders in and outside Iowa, aims to open 10 restaurant locations in the next five years, with Des Moines, Cedar Rapids the Quad Cities and Dubuque among their targeted markets.
“We did not really want to lose the name, but as we started to think about our growth and expansion, what we’re also realizing is people keep asking us this question if we were [connected to] Sweetie Pie’s in St. Louis,” Mr. Simmons said. “We respect and appreciate the work that they’ve done … but we didn’t want to have to constantly clarify that.”
Longtime fans of the franchise needn’t worry, however. Mr. Simmons said loyal patrons will see a clear connection between the new name and the old Sweetiepie’s brand.
Despite the other restaurants’ closures, Mr. Simmons views their runs as successes. He said a lack of space at the previous spots contributed to their short life in the infamously volatile restaurant industry. According to Perry Group International, most restaurants in the U.S. fail in their first year, and among the survivors, 70 percent close in the first three to five years.
“We thought the previous location turned out exactly the way that we wanted,” Mr. Simmons said. “We wanted to be in a place where we could learn.”
Part of that learning process was identifying the product proposition for the Iowa Soul Food Company. Mr. Simmons said that includes becoming the premiere purveyor of chicken and fried fish – a formidable challenge in a market saturated with fried options.
“We knew we had certain locations where we wanted to make sure we’re the premiere providers of fried chicken and fish,” he said.
Previous plans to open a Sweetiepie’s Express in the food court of the Armstrong Centre in downtown Cedar Rapids were disclosed prematurely in the local media last year. Reports of the restaurant’s planned presence at the commercial complex were issued before a lease was finalized. Mr. Simmons wouldn’t rule out the possibility of an opening at the center at a later date, however.
“We still may do an express version, so that’s still on the table, but we’ll see how that goes after we open up this new facility,” he said.