Since founding Soulshine Pizza Factory in February 2001 in the Castlewoods community in Rankin County, Chris Sartin has proven he is willing to go where other restaurateurs can’t, or won’t. Sporting shoulder-length hair and an abundant goatee, the self-proclaimed “non-corporate type” has created a most unique environment at Soulshine — the Summer of Love inside a pizzeria — with a menu offering of such items as The Bob Marley and The Rainbow Warrior, and walls bearing hand-painted murals of sunflowers, mushrooms, Sartin’s pet bulldog and more.
Now, Sartin is preparing to break new ground again, as Soulshine is coming to the Township at Colony Parkway, becoming the mixed-use development’s first restaurant. Sartin feels that in the Township, he has not only finally found a site offering the visibility and accessibility he’s long wanted, it also provides a great venue for his let-your-hair-down, love-one-another style that he has incorporated both into his life and his business.
“I was looking at a site in Madison. It just wasn’t working out, and I got discouraged,” Sartin said. “One day, I decided to ride out to Highland Colony. I hadn’t been out there in a while. Then I saw the location.”
Sartin described his new eatery, slated to open in April, as “very, very rural and very, very Southern.” Indeed, the interior will forego the 60’s retro look and take on the character of a rustic country place. It will feature a tin “roof” over the bar, giving the patrons the feel of being on a front porch during days long passed, and beer will be served in frozen mason jars.
Keeping with those things Southern, the new restaurant, which will encompass 3,000 square feet not including an outside patio and will be able to accommodate up to 150 patrons, will be designed for families. Smoking will be restricted to the patio, and big screen TVs are expected to pull in the sports enthusiasts and their families. Some weekends will also offer live musical entertainment.
“We don’t care about what color people are. We don’t care about their politics. This will be a place where people can come and share the food — and the love,” Sartin said.
Kerioth Corporation of Jackson, the developer of the Township, said Soulshine does not just add to the Township, it furthers the vision the developer has for the complex of residential and commercial properties.
“We are thrilled to have Soulshine coming to the Township. We were the first to bring retail to Highland Colony Parkway. Now, Soulshine will be the first restaurant,” said Clint Herring Jr., president of Kerioth. “Chris and Soulshine will add to the fabric of the community we are trying to develop at the Township at Colony Parkway. They are a perfect fit.”
Sartin is enthusiastic about the number of residences, businesses and schools that are close to the new location. He feels that, coupled with the new I-55 interchange at Highland Colony, will add significantly to Soulshine’s customer base.
Location has been a challenge for Sartin. Located less than a block off bustling Lakeland Drive, the flagship store is still not visible from the thoroughfare. Sartin expressed plans to stay in the Castlewoods area, but open a more visible store sometime in the future.
Soulshine’s second restaurant at Hal & Mal’s Restaurant and Brewery in downtown Jackson has since closed. Sartin thanked Hal & Mal’s for the opportunity, saying that the exposure had a definite positive effect on its number served. But he just could not make a go of it.
“I did not have a license to serve alcohol, and without that, it’s tough making a profit in downtown Jackson. People want to drink when they eat,” Sartin said.
However, Sartin was quick to add that Soulshine plans to re-enter Jackson. Sartin is eyeing the Fondren area in mid-Jackson for a new eatery, with plans to open “in a couple of years or so.”
While Sartin’s looks and philosophy may seem out of step with the average restaurateur, he has already logged an impressive track record in the industry. Born in Jackson, he attended the University of Alabama, then earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Delta State University. But he began working in restaurants at the age of 14, and instead of college opening the door to other careers, it brought him full circle back to what he knows best.
“I’ve done it all in restaurants, from the kitchen to being up front,” Sartin said. “Soulshine is my art, my bio, my soul. I’ve had a lot of people come through Soulshine, and I’ve taken pieces from them to build this business. But it is mostly my creation.” With a pause he added flatly, “The crust is all me. I created it. That’s mine.”
Soulshine has caught the fancy of more than just Sartin. The restaurant sees some patrons come in as many as four times a week. And it has been voted as having the best pizza in the metro Jackson area for three years running by the Jackson Free Press.
“I’m afraid if Soulshine grows too much larger that it will loose that family business feel,” Sartin said of future plans. “I’m not interested in making a lot of money. I’m really not. I just want to be able to pay my bills and see my customers happy and satisfied.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.