Suzanne Taylor hadn’t necessarily intended to become the “Pancake Queen of Phoenicia”, or to even own a restaurant. But a little ways into creating Sweet Sue’s, the beloved breakfast and brunch spot that’s been winning raves from both locals and tourists for decades now, she realized the project had taken on a life of its own for her whole family.
“Back in 1982, I was living with my fiancé, who was an attorney, and baking was our mutual true love,” she recalls. “Mom and I were going to do wholesale out of her basement. I stopped in on Main Street in Phoenicia and found that the older Iranian couple who owned the place were retiring for medical reasons. They said ‘Suzy, Suzy, why don’t you buy this place?’
Somehow I barely had to think about it. Nana financed
me-who knew she had a stash-and my mom, my dad,
my siblings Cathy and John all jumped up to help me get started. My family, including my children Sam and Max, pitched in through the years.
We do seasonal omelettes with things like fresh corn, caramelized onions, sautéed orange peppers, and fresh mozzarella with a cilantro cream sauce. Fall is roasted squash with some fresh rosemary and cheddar or parmesan. I go with what’s in season.
“I don’t feel like I picked the location. It picked me. I remember saying to my fiancé that I felt like I had no idea what to do, and he said, ‘Just do the first thing, and the next thing will present itself.’ He was the one who came up with the name Sweet Sue’s.”
From the very beginning, it’s been an adventure. “We opened on April 1, 1984—April Fools Day, yep—and the night before, we worked into the wee hours. When we got up, someone had stolen my fiancé’s car. The police found the car and found the guy in the A&P trying to cash one of my fiancé’s checks. I wish I’d kept journals. I could write a book.”
A Catskills native, Suzanne grew up in Woodstock, Olivebridge, and Glenford. She did some wandering, living in California and Florida, crossing the country on a motorcycle—but always came back to the Cats. “I’m big on outdoor activities,” she says, “rock climbing, ice climbing, mountain biking, hiking... anything that gets me outdoors makes me happy, and all of it is available right here. I love the changes I’ve seen over the last few years. We have so many little entrepreneurs popping up, selling ginger, honey, soap, all kinds of good things.”
Skiers, fisherfolks, locals, and explorers alike have all discovered Sweet Sue’s and made it their morning happy place. “We get locals, people up from Kingston, a lot of weekenders and second homers, older folks, young couples with kids, motorcycle clubs and Porsche clubs—it’s a very eclectic mix. Brilliant loggers, local writers; somehow everyone just blends and it’s such an interesting bunch. We just do our best, and they usually
come back.” Through tough times—a fire, back-to-back hurricanes in 2010 and 2011, septic failure—Suzanne also kept on coming back, growing both the menu and the loyal circle of customers. Her gift for pancakes has brought her some high-profile attention, being one of two experts quoted in Real Simple magazine. “Tyler Florence filmed a show on pancakes from around the world and tried to get me to give up my recipe. Nope.”
I love my employees, and we all love that moment when someone takes a bite and their eyes roll back in their head with pleasure. We have a lot of fun together.
She will admit it’s all from scratch and involves real buttermilk and fresh eggs. “The pancakes just kind of evolved. They’re my favorite food, and I just played with recipes, and people love them,” she says. “Now we do eight to ten varieties a day. We have seasonal specials like our Fall Sundae, which is pumpkin pancakes topped with vanilla yogurt, applesauce made from local apples, and a homemade cardamom sauce. We serve corn cakes in the summer. Gluten-free pancakes are a big hit—they were tough to get perfect, but my son was my guinea pig and he’s a picky eater. And we do seasonal omelettes with things like fresh corn, caramelized onions, sautéed orange peppers, and fresh mozzarella with cilantro cream sauce. Fall is roasted squash with some fresh rosemary and cheddar or parmesan. I go with what’s in season.” An organic eater herself, Suzanne is always looking to increase local ingredient sourcing. She’s a hands-on leader who relishes both the decision-making power and the responsibility that come with being her own boss. “I do anything and everything: cook, manage, do dishes, bus tables, train new help. I’m not a total control freak, but I like to make sure it’s done right, with a lot of concern and passion. People sense that there’s a lot of care and love in the food.” “I look for kind, hard-working people
“I almost gave it up, but I missed it too much. It’s part of me. I’m tough stuff. I love a challenge, and restaurant equals challenge. I look forward to coming to work every day.”
with good attitudes and great senses of humor. In a restaurant, there are going to be stressful moments, and at the end of the day you’ve got to be able to clear the air. I love my employees, and we all love that moment when someone takes a bite and their eyes roll back in their head with pleasure. We have a lot of fun together.”
Suzanne credits her late father with instilling the work ethic that’s helped Sweet Sue’s survive and thrive. “And on challenging days, I remind Mom it’s all her fault. She gave me that Suzy Homemaker oven as a kid.” Relax, Mom. Suzanne’s a happy woman in pancake mode. “I almost gave it up, but I missed it too much. It’s part of me. I’m tough stuff. I love a challenge, and restaurant equals challenge. I look forward to coming to work every day.”
Sweet Sue’s is open for breakfast and lunch, 8am till 1pm, Fridays through Mondays. Find them on Facebook or at sweetsuesrestaurant.com, where you can get a glimpse of the pancakes that helped put Phoenicia on the map.
49 Main Street, Phoenicia