The Best Bite in Bartlett: Sweetpeas Southern Cookin’ Wins Restaurant of the Year
Because of its quaint nature, Sweetpeas feels as old as Bartlett itself.
In the words of co-owner Gary LaCroix, the restaurant is similar to an old diner; a place where everyone knows each other.
The Bartlett staple, in reality, isn’t much older than many of the children that attend some of the nearby schools.
Despite that, in just ten short years, Sweetpeas has been through a lot, including a tumultuous renovation process and of course, a global pandemic.
It’s also accomplished a lot, making it through both of those things as well as winning several awards for the food it serves.
First “Best Catfish”, then “Best Homestyle Cooking”, the small, hometown joint just off of Stage Rd. has now been crowned “Best Restaurant” for this year’s Bartlett Express Reader’s Choice competition.
The restaurant, which was previously owned by close friends of the LaCroix’s, isn’t the only one of its kind.
Those friends originally owned the Bartlett location as well as one in Olive Branch, Mississippi.
After around two years in Bartlett, however, they decided to focus their efforts on the Olive Bartlett location, offering to pass the torch to Gary and his wife, Johnette.
They had no restaurant experience, yet they agreed to take over, nonetheless.
Because of all that the Sweetpeas has been through, becoming “Restaurant of the Year” was no easy feat.
Its troubles began roughly six years ago, before the pandemic to come was even a thought in anyone’s mind.
Gary said that the building that houses Sweetpeas, as well as the other businesses connected to it, are housed in a very old building.
When it was originally built, he said that the building was home to several different shops, each with a unique look and feel to their store fronts.
The design of those shops is precisely what caused trouble for Sweetpeas.
In 2014, the restaurant was renovated to remove some of the features from the previous businesses that were there.
The biggest change that was made was to the roof which was flattened out during the process.
At first, it only caused leaks.
Eventually, however, a portion of the ceiling near the front entrance completely collapsed.
Sweetpeas managed to stay open, but the repairs took months.
They were forced to board up the front entrance which caused many people to think that they were closed down.
Johnette said that the only customers that they saw during that time were their regulars that knew to use the back entrance.
“If not for our regular customers, we wouldn’t have made it,” she said.
Six years later, it was those same customers that the LaCroix’s had to rely on when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the restaurant industry to come to a screeching halt.
Sweetpeas, like most restaurants during its height, was forced to stop serving customers inside to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Fortunately, that’s when their curbside service exploded, Gary said.
Besides catering to its customers outside of its dining room, they even created their own tv dinners for sale.
“Peapods”, according to Johnette, were frozen versions of classic, Sweetpeas menu items that customers could buy and take home to heat up later.
All that food couldn’t have made it to their customers, however, if it wasn’t for the Sweetpeas staff.
Gary said that when the pandemic hit and things got tough, the staff got tougher.
He said that the staff, several of whom have been there almost since the LaCroix’s took over, was adamant about sticking around, even offering to take a pay cut if it would help Sweetpeas stay afloat.
Gary took them up on that offer for some time, eventually restoring their pay after things settled down.
Because of the current surge in COVID-19 cases in Memphis, the LaCroix’s said that they’ve seen a little dip in their customer base.
They don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon, however.
After testing the waters with a second location in Oakland, TN shortly before the pandemic, they switched and decided that Bartlett was their one and only home.
They said that they love the community because of the people and the friendships they’ve made.
“We have customers we view as family,” Gary said.