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By Weston Phippen
This ravenous raven has been wing-deep in tears since it learned that its all-time favorite eatery Stacy's, at 1153 East Jefferson Street was being forced to leave its home of seven years, de-nested on far too short notice. Owned and operated by chef Stacy Phipps and family, the venerable soul-food establishment spent its last day in business this past Friday, July 21.
Many are the days this cee-gar-chompin' beak-bearer would partake of plates of fried catfish, collard greens, black-eyed peas, fried okra, cornbread, rib tips, and though it might technically be cannibalism for this feathered scribe fried chicken, fried clucker gizzards, fricasseed poultry livers, and "smothered" fried chicken covered in brown gravy. Sure, Stacy's was but a stone's throw away from The Bird's nest at the New Times building. But true connoisseurs of soul food know Stacy's served the best Southern-style vittles in town.
The proof's in the pudding, and not just the banana puddin'. Stacy's has won multiple awards for Best Soul Food from both New Times and the Arizona Republic. Business was always steady, and the prices very reasonable. So what's the reason for Stacy's untimely departure? Seems George Greathouse, owner and proprietor of the legendary Esquire Barber Shop, which sits right across from Stacy's in the same structure, decided to sell the building. The new landlords almost immediately served Stacy's with a 30-day notice to vacate.
"Stacy's is moving because the new owners are going to take over the restaurant," said Greathouse, whose barbershop has been in the same location for 43 years, servicing such famous clientele as Sugar Ray Leonard, Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens, and former Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon. "That's what they really wanted. Why they gave him only 30 days, I don't know."
Greathouse, a roly-poly man with a generous laugh, turns 70 this year, though he doesn't look a day over 60. The Great Man's business, the Esquire with its colorful characters like stylist Henry "Doc" Weaver, Greathouse's wife Velma running the ladies' beauty salon, and The Bird's own barber, whom he knows only as "Cedric the Entertainer" will remain in its current location as long as Greathouse remains vigorous. That was part of the deal with the property's new owners, former Suns coach "Fourth Quarter Frank" Johnson, and James "BB" Fontenet, CEO of Complete Skycap Services at Sky Harbor.
"I like Stacy's, too, I eat there pretty much every day," said Greathouse. "But after I sold the building, I had no other involvement."
The 30-day notice came as a shock to Stacy Phipps, who was in Chicago at the time visiting a sick aunt days before she passed away. Phipps said Greathouse told him earlier that week someone had made an offer on the building, but the notice to vacate was still unexpected. According to Phipps, he had been going month-to-month on the space for several years.
"While I was in Chicago, I got a call from my mother saying the sheriff had served her with the notice," Phipps said. "Boom, just like that. I spoke to Greathouse, and he said if it were up to him, it wouldn't have gone down that way."
The new owners didn't waste time starting renovation on the brown stucco building, beginning way before Stacy's last day. The Bird wanted to know why they were in such a rush to oust Stacy's, so it rang BB Fontenet, who gave this inquiring kingfisher an earful. Fontenet said his new restaurant would open in September, and that it would involve a mix of soul food and "health-conscious" food, catering to workers in the surrounding area.
"You ever see Sweet Tomatoes where they have the salad sittin' out there?" asked Fontenet. "That kind of stuff, but there will also be soul food involved in it as well."
Fontenet declined to state the name of his new venture. Nor did he want to say the amount he paid for the property. However, an Affidavit of Property Value filed at the County Recorder's Office listed the sale price of the property at $1 million.
Now, The Bird is all fine with property rights, and Fontenet can show Phipps the door if he wants. But why not give an award-winning restaurant time to move? Or even, if you're interested in doing soul food, talk to the man who does it better than anyone else in the Valley?
"Every time I go over to get my hair cut [at Esquire], somebody's saying, 'Give Stacy an opportunity,'" Fontenet said. "I would love to give Stacy an opportunity, but when it comes down to business, it's different."
The missed opportunity is Fontenet's, as far as this peckish peacock is concerned. Phipps is already eyeing a space a few blocks up the road on Washington Street, and hopes to reopen within three or four months. In the meantime, his phone's been ringing off the hook with offers, as well it should.
"I was mad at first, but not anymore," Phipps told this cat-averse canary. "When things happen, they happen for a reason. It don't bother me, one way or the other."
Once upon a time, there was a clinical psychologist named Godwin O. Igein. He lived in a far-away place, Washington state. One day, good ol' Godwin had what is known as "sexual contact" with a patient. In fact, according to a statement he signed off on in 2001, Godwin had a sexual relationship with the patient that lasted for months.