DRAPER, Utah — No one ever said opening a restaurant was easy. It requires hard work, a lot of startup money, and of course, good food. For one Utah man, the road that led to his own restaurant was a long one, full of lessons he’s serving up on every plate.
Julius Thompson always dreamed of opening his own restaurant. He traced its origins back to his childhood.
“My grandmother was always about family get-togethers,” he said. “Christmas and Thanksgivings, if we were able to get there, we’d go there and we’d eat ourselves stupid.”
Thompson is a man who’s ruled by the past. History hangs over every moment.
“Our happy moments were family gatherings with big meals,” he said.
It’s not just his own past that looms large, but that of his ancestors.
“Some people call it southern, some people call it ‘soul food,’” Thompson said. “Food that was given to the slaves — discarded pieces of meat and discarded vegetables — that the slaves had to turn into something palatable, so they could keep working so they could survive.”
That soul food made its way through the generations until it reached Thompson, but that’s not the only part of his past that influences him today.
“When we first moved here, we had to live in the homeless shelter,” he said.
Thompson’s mom was addicted to drugs. He went back and forth between Utah and Chicago, bouncing in and out of foster care.
“Whenever she would get arrested or she was unable to take care of us, either another family member would try to take us in, or we were left to fend for ourselves and left to the system,” he said.
Those years led him down a road that’s tough for him to talk about.
“I sold drugs at the age of 12,” said Thompson. “The same drugs that were destroying my family, unfortunately.”
Growing up in an area near downtown Salt Lake, Thompson and his brother were approached by someone they knew.
“It was a man in the neighborhood who was selling drugs to my mother and my aunt,” he said. “He invited us out to Pizza Hut one day, telling us you know, ‘Look at my watch, look at my car, look at my clothes. I get all this from selling drugs.’”
He offered them a deal that seemed too good to be true.
“You guys knows this place like the back of your hand. You can work for me, and I’ll give you a portion of whatever you sell,” said Thompson.
It nearly ended in disaster. When his brother came up short on a payment and faced a deadly threat, Thompson decided to get out.
“That was enough to bring us true fear and the consequences of our mess-ups,” he said.
His new path led him towards becoming a pharmacist.
“I was always around drugs, and for the most part, that’s all I knew,” said Thompson. “So I might as well do it, but in a good way that made me money.”
He soon decided what he really needed was to reconnect with the positive memories of his childhood — holidays with his grandmother.
“I realized I was only doing it for the money and I should do something which I love to do, which is cooking,” said Thompson.
He bet everything on it, literally.
“Put our house on the line and obtained a food truck,” said Thompson.
That truck turned into a full-blown restaurant called “Sauce Boss Southern Kitchen.”
“The essence of soul food is something that came from pain and sacrifice and is turned into something beautiful and delicious,” said Thompson.
And when he said those words, he was really talking about himself: feeding others while letting his past feed his own future.
“Exactly,” Thompson said. “Something that came from pain, trying to turn it around into something good.”