By Scarlet Ponder, High Ground News
When you walk into Slice of Soul Pizza Lounge, don’t be surprised if one of the owners greets you. Come back a few times, they’re likely to greet you by name.
Co-owners Anthony Latiker Sr. and Howard Bell IV opened Slice of Soul in January 2018. Since then, business has steadily grown thanks to a combination of warm hospitality, tasty eats and live entertainment.
“We wanted to be the type of owners who are a permanent fixture of the restaurant,” said Latiker. “We want to make people feel happy when they come in.”
Located at 1299 Madison Avenue in the heart of Madison Heights, Slice of Soul is a cross between an artsy lounge and a pizza parlor. It’s the kind of place you can bring your family, plan a casual date or wind down with co-workers. Local artists’ work lines the walls, lending a cool and cozy vibe to the eclectic collection of furniture.
The menu features pizza, wings and craft cocktails, most named after Memphis neighborhoods and historic icons like the Al B. Green pizza, Frayser Fries, Mud Island Iced Tea or Wild Wild Westwood wings. All of the seasonings are made in-house.
Bringing the Soul
Latiker says he and Bell got some of their ideas from similar venues they saw when traveling with their high school marching band.
“We would go to different cities and see little spots like this in New Orleans and Atlanta, and we were like, mane, there’s nothing like this in Memphis, or if it is it’s not totally what we want,” said Latiker. “So we just wanted to give our interpretation of soul. This is what we felt is soul.”
Bell coordinates most of the entertainment and art displays, which includes famed local artists Lenny Cain, Mosal and Darius Moreno. They don’t charge artists to display their work and most pieces are available for purchase.
The second and fourth Tuesdays are Cultured Trivia, a trivia night centered around Black culture. Alternating Tuesdays often feature a throwback soul-themed movie. Wednesdays is karaoke. Friday nights feature DJ LO, and Saturday nights offer a DJ or band.
The Slice of Soul also hosts The Word, a weekly open mic for spoken word, music and comedy featuring local band Chinese Connection Dub Embassy. The Word is currently on hold following the death of beloved band member Omar Higgins on April 18.
“We are going to miss Omar, he was a soft spoken giant in the world, everyone loved him,” said Latiker. “Chinese Dub had been here with us since day one. They were a very big part of Slice of Soul and our inception getting started, so I want to pay homage to him for that.”
A Business of their Own
After college, Bell moved to Nashville for corporate work and Latiker stayed in Memphis as a commercial truck driver.
In May 2017, Bell came home for a weekend, and he and Latiker came up with the Slice of Soul concept as a place to highlight Memphis’ rich culture in a chill atmosphere.
“For the last eight years of trucking I hated it, I dreaded going to work,“ said Latiker. “I’ve always wanted to be a business owner of some sort.”
They chose the Madison location because of its affordable rent, ample parking and proximity to Midtown and Downtown. They began renovations in July 2017 when many other storefronts were still vacant.
“This was a blighted [area]. A lot of people didn’t want to come in and place businesses here. So we prayed about it and this is where we ended up at, and the community has embraced us,” said Latiker, “This is a prime area waiting to explode, I just feel like we got in at the right time.”
Since then several new businesses have opened up on block, including a Mexican restaurant and two barbershops. Latiker says the cost of rent in nearby buildings has nearly doubled.
In addition to serving great food in a welcoming atmosphere, Latiker and Bell feel a sense of responsibility to give back to the community.
Latiker said it’s common for people experiencing homelessness to come in asking for food or money for local shelters. For Latiker and Bell often offering a slice or leftovers. They regularly distribute baskets of food and hygiene supplies in partnership with Hope Church.
“They look out for us,” said Latiker of his patrons experiencing homelessness. “I’ve heard several of them say, ‘I’m watching you.’ That means a lot, when you come into a community not knowing anyone.”
The business now has numerous repeat customers and frequently host large parties of 20 to 40 people throughout the week. They host birthdays, school functions, wedding receptions, rehearsal dinners and graduation parties. Guests have even included local politicians and celebrities.
“I waited on Mayor Strickland and about 40 guests during Black Restaurant Week,” said Wanda Dalton, Latiker’s cousin who they hired to help launch the business and manage their ten-person staff. “It’s a laid back atmosphere, we have a lot of fun in here and a lot of repeat guests.”
When asked about future plans for the space, Latiker said they are building a back deck opening this summer and are planning to add frozen daiquiris to their menu.
If all goes well, in the next five years they might open second location. Until then, they will continue to focus on serving good food with a side of great hospitality.
“When people come in and they enjoy themselves in here and have fun, you pretty much remember them like they remember you. So that itself is just awesome,” said Dalton.