From the very first moment his taste buds beheld his girlfriend’s cooking, Israel Hopkins knew without a single doubt he had to marry Sharon Hopkins.

“When I first tried her cooking, I said, ‘I have got to marry her,’ ” he said. “They always say the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so she had me.”

Now you, too, can fall in love with Sharon Hopkins through her cooking, because 36 years later, Israel, Sharon and their son, Justin, have opened a restaurant with meals practically guaranteed to comfort the most roiled soul. At Soul Food Therapy and Cake Bar (yes, a cake bar!) on State Route 92, Justin and Sharon create the comfort food society needs today.

“When I’m preparing food for people, first of all I’m praying that it will be good, that everyone will love it, that it will blow their mind,” Sharon said. “When I see people eating the food that I prepare, and then they’re happy and there’s a smile on their face, then it makes me happy. When I prepare the food, I prepare it with love because I’m doing it so people can enjoy it ... I want whatever I fix, I’m trying to make sure that it tastes right. Even in presenting it, that it appears on their plate right, that it looks tempting and desirable. I want it to hit all the senses.”

“The name, Soul Food Therapy, we actually want the food to touch your soul,” Israel added.

When you enter Soul Food Therapy and Cake Bar, it’s like you are attending your best friend’s elegant gold and white wedding. Sharon designed the interior and created all the artwork. One of the spaces in the restaurant, a sort of cozy back room, is clearly meant for events, but until that happens, make sure you take a peek at it because it encourages intimate conversation and stolen kisses.

The Hopkinses are from Columbia, South Carolina. Sharon has a background in catering and learned to cook from her grandmother, Pernell Jeffcoat. She got the idea to open a soul food restaurant one Sunday, when the family was looking for somewhere to eat after church. Sharon could not find a place that served the type of food she was homesick for, dishes like jambalaya, or shrimp and grits, or fried chicken of the type she knew in South Carolina. She was inspired to think about creating her own place. Then she put Israel to work fixing up the space.

“I actually retired from Coca-Cola, 36 years of it. I was in management for most of it,” Israel said. “I thought I was going to be retired, and just sit back and relax but my wife and son had a different idea. I said, ‘Why not? Let’s go do it.’ ”

The menu features the kind of meals you think about when you think of Sunday dinner. Entrees such as Soul Southern Fried Chicken, Country Fried Pork Chop or Her Kitchen Meatloaf might seem like everyday fare, but Sharon said what she prepares for you is anything but ordinary.

“You can go get a pork chop and you can cook it, and you just have a pork chop,” she said. “But then you can get a pork chop that’s seasoned right, is battered right, everything about it is right, and it becomes more than a pork chop. That’s what we’re trying to do. Yes, it’s meatloaf; yes, it’s chicken; yes, it’s a pork chop. But with the taste we’re going beyond that normal pork chop taste, so when you bite into it, you’re like, ‘Wow!’ ”

The restaurant also offers several non-alcoholic beverages, including Soul Pineapple Lemonade; Church Party Punch, which they describe as a fruity upgrade from red Kool-Aid; and, of course, Classic Southern Sweet Tea. This is not the place to come if you hope to lose weight. This is especially true if you are eyeing up dessert at the cake bar, where Justin will send you to outer space with his cake creations. He cooks and will be working side by side with his mother, but what Justin specializes in is cake: moist, delicious, inventive cake. In fact, there is an entire other menu devoted to Justin’s cake, which are sold by the slice.

“The cakes that I create and design are not your usual cakes,” said the slender Justin. “I’m big on calories. If you’re going to eat calories ... it’s got to be working. The cakes, they need to look good and taste good ... Don’t give me anything dry.”

Justin learned to cook and bake from his grandmother but also worked in a friend’s bakery, where he learned his cake skills. After he came to Sierra Vista, however, he had to adapt to first, a convection oven, which requires a lower temperature; and second, the high altitude. That took a bit of practice, he said.

All Justin’s cakes are made from scratch; don’t look for box mixes in this kitchen. He also makes his own buttercream frosting. He frosts with American Buttercream Frosting, one of three or four types of buttercream frosting.

“I do real buttercream,” Justin said. “It’s not light. I use butter.”

Justin likes to make layer cakes with each layer a different flavor, so there could be a strawberry cake layer with a cocoa layer with a key lime layer. He wants you to taste lots of different deliciousness.

This weekend look for Pink Ice cake, a strawberry Funfetti flavor; CoCoa cake, a double chocolate chip; and Canary Diamonds, which Justin describes as luscious lemon. Those are only three of the seven flavors offered. He also makes brownies, bundt cakes and cupcakes.

What really drives Justin’s baking is high end.

“I’m big on luxury and top shelf, elite, elevated, high fashion,” Justin said. “Because I’m an artist, I want my cakes to reflect that. My family and my grandparents have always told me, ‘If you’re going to do something, be the best at it, so that’s my goal. I’m always educating myself and learning more about my craft and my skills, because when you get to the point that you think you’ve arrived, then you’re left behind.”

The Hopkinses are hoping you will find respite in their place.

“I want people to know, when they come to this restaurant, it’s very important that when they walk through the door that they feel the love and the atmosphere of calmness,” Sharon said. “Somebody might have a hard day at work; I want them to be able to walk through that door and feel lighter, a release. People are going through so much now, and I want them to be able to come in, and they can sit down and have a nice meal in a nice atmosphere with some nice music and just chill and let everything go ... I want (people) to experience a great loving, kind experience. That’s what we are focused on here.”

“I have a thing: Love above all,” Justin added. “Love conquers everything ... It’s the answer to everything.”

This is Soul Food Therapy and Cake Bar’s first week so it is open from 1 to 7:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday. Then it’s 1 to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 1 to 7 p.m. Sundays. It’s located at 5043 AZ-92. For information, call 520-378-2044. Entrée prices begin at about $22 a plate.

In case you were wondering, that first time Sharon cooked for Israel she made spaghetti with her own sauce. It is not yet on the menu, but Israel promises it soon will be.