Sunset Soulfood & Seafood

by Terry Watson | September 11th, 2013
Ralph Simmons (Photos by Whotshoya Photography)

Ralph Simmons (Photos by Whotshoya Photography)

Ralph Simmons believes that anything can be accomplished with hard work and dedication. Born in Baltimore, Maryland his parents decided to relocate to New York City because the employment opportunities were a lot better. He recalls his mother recognizing his business mind in him at the tender age of five. His mother decided to send him to a small town in South Carolina called Pineville to live with his grandparents during the school year. Simmons says his mother felt that he would have a better quality of life in the country settings of the south. He would return every summer to reunite with my siblings. There were five girls and he was the only boy. As time passed, Simmons decided to stay in the south for the summer to help his grandfather in the fields. He often told Simmons if he wanted to grow up and feed his family, he must work. His grandmother was a housewife and prepared three meals a day. She was a no nonsense woman who knew her way around the kitchen. Simmons says the lessons she taught him, along with those of his mother, and his grandfather’s work ethic helped to propel him into the person he is today.

He would eventually return to New York, but his mother insisted on him staying in South Carolina because most of his friends were being arrested and getting involved with drugs. He did and graduated from high school. After doing so, Simmons enlisted into the United States military where he spent three years before returning back to New York. He got a job as a parking attendant at a garage. Soon his life would change drastically. One day he learned that his grandfather had died. When his mother learned of his death, she was so overwhelmed that she had a massive heart attack and died also. Simmons says he didn’t know what direction his life was heading to. He took a part-time job at a catering company to keep his mind occupied. He was laid off from his job at the garage and decided to open his own restaurant in February of 1998. He called it RS Seafood Shack.

This is where the trials and errors occurred. All of his seasonings were made from scratch, using different spices. The restaurant seemed to take off within three years, but in just seven years Simmons says he was burnt out. He decided to leave New York and the restaurant business and relocated to Charlotte, NC in 2006. The first thing he did was obtaining a real estate license and become a real estate broker. Simmons says the real estate market was at an all-time high in Charlotte then.

Unfortunately, the market crashed and Simmons found himself in a tight situation. He was in a town where he had few friends. He had to think fast and reached back to his roots. He decided to use his grandmother’s soul food recipes and combine them with his soul food dishes. Soon after, Sunset Soulfood & Seafood was born.

Sunset only uses the freshest and finest ingredients, serving only the choicest meats, seafood, and vegetables. Their menu includes collard greens, grilled salmon, salads, scallops, grilled shrimp, crab cakes, and a vegetarian platter. There is croaker, perch, flounder, oysters, tilapia, catfish, and whiting. They also offer turkey necks, barbeque turkey ribs, ox tails, chitterlings, meatloaf, and much more. Simmons says the first year took a lot of prayers and hard work to survive. He says that statistics show that 50% of businesses fail within their first year, and the rate is higher for restaurants at 70%. “If my business was going to succeed, I would have to get very creative and think out side the box,” he says.

Simmons says what he loves most about owning a restaurant is the freedom to do whatever whenever he wants. “I like getting up in the morning and coming to the restaurant to create new dishes and watch the costumers eat every grain or ask for a carry out container to take home what’s left. I like meeting all the different people and faithful costumers who come week after week knowing I will try my best to give them excellent service,” he says. He is inspired by his success and knowing the margin for error was very slim while doing so. He is encouraged by having his granddaughter from New York visit each summer and choose to work in the restaurant along side him. Simmons has four daughters.

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