AMERICAN FORK – Fortunately, Sarah Epperson is a big fan of the blues, because she’s had more than her fair share lately.
In July, shortly after the Blues Street BBQ Co. restaurant she started in 2015 celebrated its three-year anniversary, someone in the kitchen got lighter fluid too close to the smoker. The fire melted the insides of the $25,000 unit, totaling it completely. There are a lot of losses a barbecue place can sustain and keep on going. Losing the smoker isn’t one of them.
Blues Street closed for more than a month waiting on a replacement smoker to arrive from Tennessee.
It wasn’t the first taste of adversity for Epperson, who has done her best to prove everyone right who told her running a restaurant is a tough business. In three years she’s battled a lawsuit, a divorce and now the fire, and she’s only 31.
But she’s still standing, and so is her joint.
It was always her dream to own and run her own restaurant. Her very first job was as a dishwasher at a Mexican restaurant when she was 15 years old and a sophomore at Lone Peak High School. Every job since has been in the food business. Even when she went to Snow College to get her associate degree in science, she worked at a Chinese restaurant in Ephraim.
Her sensible plan after college was to be a nurse. But that didn’t look nearly as appealing as food.
When Epperson was married, she lived off and on in Memphis, the celebrated home of two things: barbecue and the blues.
A woman born in Minnesota and raised mostly in Utah knew as much about either one as she knew about quantum physics.
Before she got to Memphis, “you couldn’t have dragged me to a barbecue restaurant,” she confesses.
But she proved to be a fast learner. She got to know Beale Street — the 2-mile thoroughfare in downtown Memphis packed with barbecue and live blues music — like the back of her hand. She ate at Corky’s and Rendezvous and other fabled barbecue palaces. Memphis intoxicated her — the food, the music, the culture.
“There’s really nothing like it,” Epperson says.
When she rebounded back to Utah and discovered a failing barbecue restaurant in a shopping center in American Fork was on the selling block, she bought it.
The restaurant she built is as unique as she is. A one of a kind. Every sign on the wall, every item on the menu (including the hog heaven fries and the deep-fried pecan pie), every chair and booth and fixture, the name out front: All her idea.
The barbecue, of course, is Memphis-style: dry-rubbed and heavy on the pork. But with concessions to the West with plenty of brisket and chicken.
In an attempt to replicate Beale Street in Utah County (there’s a sentence you don’t read every day), Blues Street BBQ Co. offers live music Friday and Saturday nights, performed on an inlaid wood stage personally laid out by hand by Epperson and her boyfriend, Colt Kratzer.
You can’t have a proper blues joint without somebody singing the blues, Epperson contends.
She finds the music oddly soothing — uplifting even; it lets you know you’re not alone, that whatever you’re dealing with, rest assured you’re in good company.
Besides, it makes the food taste better.
For three straight years — ever since she opened the doors — Epperson’s place has been awarded best barbecue in Utah County by the local newspaper, the Daily Herald.
“We’re proud of that,” she says. “We consistently get great ratings on Yelp, Google and Facebook. Everybody doesn’t like us, but a lot of people do.”
When the smoker melted in July, the thought didn’t cross her mind for even a nanosecond that maybe this was a sign she should go into a less-stressful line of work.
“I knew it wasn’t going to shut us down,” she says. “And you know what? The new smoker is even better. Look at it; it’s brand new, shiny, just beautiful. We just had to be patient.”
The restaurant reopened last Tuesday.
The blues and barbecue, American Fork-style, is back in business.