Restaurant reinvention in a storied Texas joint

Restaurant reinvention in a storied Texas joint

From a humble, even checkered past, to reinvention as one of the finer southern-fare restaurants in Beaumont, Texas, Suga’s Deep South Cuisine & Jazz Bar lights up the downtown with old-fashioned cream sauces and crawfish, and the cool strains of live jazz.

For the past 11 years, the fine-dining restaurant has paid homage to its past – Suga’s website in fact lays out the history of the 1914 red brick building it inhabits, from days as a 1940s barbershop to its evenings as a 1960s gambling and entertainment establishment in the Red Light district—all the while offering the comforts and joys of rib-sticking southern fare.

“Suga’s was opened 11 years ago by Dr. Hervy Hiner because he just wanted a place that served really good, high-end southern food,” says Suga’s General Manager Joshua B. Dean. “Up until he opened, he couldn’t find any place that had the fine-dining atmosphere, the good food, and the jazz.”

In this week’s Q & A with Boxerbrand Recipe for Success, Dean discusses the niche and menu of a restaurant that has charmed and enticed its patrons for over a decade.

Boxerbrand: What’s your niche and how do you stay relevant?

Our niche is really good, high-end southern food. People’s palates change, and we can’t get by on what was popular 20 years ago. So we’re always rolling out new menu items with the focus on freshness, and not everything is in a heavy cream sauce. We offer more health-conscious choices, and keep up with the trends—we had tuna ceviche with fresh greens on the menu the other day for a twist. But we also keep true to our roots, and we have some items that are always on the menu. One way we stay relevant is by joining Waitr, it’s an App like Uber, and it’s another way we’ve been able to get our name out there.

We’ve also diversified. Our catering side of the business has grown over the years, and we also have had success renting out an upstairs space for private parties and weddings.

Boxerbrand: What are Suga’s claim to fame menu items?

Our shrimp and grits are very popular. We sauté the shrimp with bacon, tomato, onions and put them in a cream sauce over grits. We serve a lot of pork-based items, and of course fried chicken! Our chicken has a little something extra because we brine it in sweet tea, which adds a little something different.

We offer a lot of shrimp, crab, and one of our most popular brunch items is a softshell crab eggs benedict.

The chef also does a creative interpretation of the eggroll. Instead of cabbage we use braised mustard greens, which are really popular in the south. And we put Tasso smoked ham in it. We actually smoke our own ham.

We also offer fried green tomatoes, and offer a lot of different fresh seafood, which we get every week from the Gulf coast.

Boxerbrand: And what’s this I hear about ice cream?

Suga’s has always made its own ice cream. Dr. Hiner went to Italy and learned how to make it from scratch. While he was over there, he bought a professional freezer and shipped it back here.  It’s another thing we do that helps us differentiate ourselves.

Boxerbrand: How do you face challenges with creativity?

We really see this on the business side, especially in the kitchen. Food costs are higher because we’re using finer ingredients, specialty items, and many organic produce. When you’re using those types of ingredients, there’s less room for waste. So, sometimes we get creative to turn ingredients into a special dish so we won’t lose that product.

Boxerbrand: The Coale Building you’re in has its own spice as well.

Oh yes! The building we’re in had a very spicy past.

According to Suga’s website: “It was built and owned by former Beaumont mayor Ray A. Coale. In the 1940s it was home to Joe’s Barbershop, and was part of the red light district during the 1950s. It was home to the Bowie or Domino Club, an illegal gambling venue, and was raided on Dec. 3, 1961 as part of the Investigative Committee of the 57th Legislature of the State of Texas crackdown on gambling, prostitution, and other illegal activities in downtown Beaumont.”

The website notes that soon after the raid, the Coale building housed a variety of businesses, including an insurance agency and dancehall. And in December 2005, Suga’s took up residency.

Boxerbrand: Now the Coale Building is an architectural gem.

Suga’s used a tasteful décor reflecting the owner’s love of art and food. And we tried to stay true to its older history in the architectural details Our ceiling fans, for example, were reconstructed to mirror what woud have been here in the early 1900s. They’re primitive, two-bladed fans that operate on a pulley system that lend a charm and old-fashioned ambience to our room.

Boxerbrand: What advice would you give someone who wants to go into the restaurant business?

Take your time. Do your homework. And know that you’re going to need to make an investment to make sure it’s worth opening a restaurant. If you just jump in without doing your research, it’s easily to fail: 9 out 10 don’t make it. Take your time, do it right, do not rush it. — Suga’s uses Slenders for its Boxerbrand menu presentation.

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