Today we’d like to introduce you to Tanya Walker.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I have two business partners – Renee Eliah and Chin Kuo. My partners and I met while working at an internship when we were still in college. I went to Northeastern and my partners went to Boston University. The company we were interning for hired us all after graduation but the 2008 recession hit and we were all quickly ousted.
We actually came up with the idea for our restaurant while we still intern. It was our long running joke that we would start our own french fry restaurant. Over the months/years, we fleshed out our idea and by the time we got laid off, we had a pretty solid idea of what we wanted to do. All it took was Renee suggesting we all get restaurant jobs to get some actual restaurant experience rather than heading back onto our “career paths.” Which is exactly what we did.
We knew since it was our first business and we had zero experience, we wanted to keep it simple. Our menu was hand-cut french fries and a large selection of scratch-made dipping sauces. We threw tasting parties with our fries to decide which dipping sauces would make it onto our menu. At our friend’s insistence, we added poutine to our menu (fries topped with cheese curds and gravy) and a dessert item: sugar waffles with homemade sweet sauces (our version of Nutella, caramel, etc.)
We opened our doors in 2011. We had a lot of success, mostly because we listened to what our customers were asking for on our menu to learn how to grow. They wanted sandwiches- we added our first sandwich. They wanted more chicken and vegetarian options- we added four more sandwiches. We kept growing our menu like that- in small increments and based on what we were hearing people wanted. We made parameters for anything added to the menu – had to have a twist (what’s new and interesting about our chicken sandwich?), had to include one of our scratch-made sauces, had to be photogenic (this was in the height of Instagram). Eventually, we also added the rule that everything had to be completely made from scratch. All components. And if we didn’t make it, someone else local did. We added ice cream to the menu by a local micro-creamery (it’s since been removed from our menu), and we don’t bake our own bread – a local bakery does. But that’s about it – we make it all.
Has it been a smooth road?
It has not always been smooth. Keeping our menu relevant and keeping people coming back are two difficult pieces. Staffing can be a struggle.
My advice for young women is to get as much experience as you can before starting on your own. There are so many decisions we had to make without being equipped to know how to know we were making the right decisions. When your business is hinging on your decisions – it’s a lot of pressure. A lot of times, we made mistakes and a lot of them were costly. We could have worked longer in management in restaurants to understand payroll, cost of goods sold, what margins should look like, etc.
Do your research and understand the business. It took a lot of grinding to get through the first few years.
So, as you know, we’re impressed with Saus – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
For Saus, I used to run the day to day in the restaurant. The staff, the food quality, the atmosphere- that was overseen by me. I’ve since moved to a lot more behind the scenes. My specialties are that I do the marketing and social media. I also coordinate all the catering.
I’m really proud of how far Saus has come. We started so small and grew in a very structured way that catered to what our customers wanted from us.
Do you think there are structural or other barriers impeding the emergence of more female leaders?
The restaurant industry specifically can be such a boys club. It’s the history of the uber-masculine chefs with burns on their arms and war stories of grease and ovens. That mentality still hovers over the profession. Down to when we want to include a hard to come by beer on our beer menu and we’re told it’s not available in our area but then find it on a beer menu at a restaurant we know our beer rep is chummy with the male beer manager. Over the years, we’ve been open, I’ve seen a small shift. I think two things have happened: barriers to females are starting to come down as more females dominate the industry, and we at Saus have proven ourselves in the industry and we’re more accepted. Also, to be fair, we have a new beer rep who is awesome.
There are times when it’s very tempting to send my male business partner into a situation for me when I know it’ll be easier for him to get what he wants for us than for me to do it. Those are the times I grit my teeth and go for it. Any time we need to negotiate a new contract is a specific example. Not only am I female, I still look like I’m in my twenties (and the casual restaurant attire that’s my work uniform doesn’t exactly age me). It’s very easy to enter into a situation and get sized up as an easy target.
- Address: 33 Union Street
Saus Boston, MA 02108
- Website: www.sausboston.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: @saus_boston
- Facebook: sausboston
- Twitter: @saus_boston