Creator Spotlight: Sarah Weitz and Sam Barron of Smashed Radish
POLITAN ROW CHICAGO, CHICAGO, IL — On a sunny, humid afternoon in New Orleans, I called up Sarah Weitz in equally sunny but not nearly as humid Chicago. As a mom of three and a business owner of five locations, she is a master of multitasking, and while we were chatting on the phone, she was driving around the city and running errands. Still, she didn’t skip a beat as we talked about her and her husband Sam’s adventures in the food and beverage world, first with Fat Shallot and now Smashed Radish.
In the past six years, Sam and Sarah have raised a food truck, two food hall stalls, two brick-and-mortars, and three boys. Suffice to say, they’ve learned a lot, so I was excited to hear what Sarah had to share. We warmed up with some rapid-fire questions, then got to business.
Hometown: Highland Park, Illinois
Current residence: Evanston
Childhood nickname: My whole family called me Bubba Baby
Favorite childhood meal: French fries. Plus, anything with ketchup
Favorite sandwich: A reuben, specifically a reuben made by my husband
Favorite drink: The gin & tonic slushie we have at the Fat Shallot in Lincoln Park
How do you take your coffee/tea? Coffee with a splash of cream, tea black
Preferred mode of transport?: Uh… private jet!
So you have this great concept, Fat Shallot, with multiple locations already. Tell me the story of how Smashed Radish came about.
Sam and I started Fat Shallot six years ago and got married around the same time. Sam has always been a chef and working in restaurants, and I went to culinary school and was a registered dietician, making cookbooks for corporations. When I met Sam, he was working at a French-Alsatian restaurant, so it was always butter and cream. To him, it’s natural to add butter to everything. While I love both butter and cream and they’re delicious, with my background as a dietician, I’ve always pushed for more salads and healthy sides to get on the Fat Shallot menu. I never really won.
When we were approached by Kirstin [Politan Row’s Culinary Director], we thought about doing Fat Shallot at Politan Row, but Kirstin mentioned that they were looking for a healthier, vegetable-forward concept, and I thought it was the perfect time to do it. Sam and I always had plans to do a concept like Smashed Radish because people are eating healthier these days, and we’re not focusing on what not to eat. We’re just trying to get people to eat their veggies by making them as delicious as anything else.
Seems like we caught you guys with perfect timing!
Yeah, and Sam is the kind of guy who wants a challenge every day. Sometimes, a chef gets burned out making the same kinds of things, so the opportunity to do something different and try something new with Politan made sense.
What was your motivation to become an entrepreneur? How did you guys come to the decision of starting your own business together?
I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 12, which was when I was able to babysit all the time. I remember loaning cash to my parents and making them pay interest. I started a jewelry business in college at the University of Madison, since no restaurants would hire me because I had no serving experience. I had a stand at the Madison Farmers’ Market, and I sold jewelry all summer for two years.
When Sam and I decided we wanted to start a family, we knew that we had completely opposite schedules: he was working from noon until midnight. Then, right after we got married, Chicago passed the law that said you could cook on board food trucks, and we decided to go for it. Fat Shallot was one of the first cook-on-board food trucks in the city.
How did that conversation between you and Sam go, starting your own food truck right after you got married?
Sam always knew he wanted to be a chef since he was little. If you ask anyone from his first grade class, he was always baking cakes with his mom and grandmother and bringing them to school. While he didn’t necessarily think to be an entrepreneur, he’s always had this real passion for food, and being creative has always been a huge part for him. And, like I said before, he loves a challenge.
Once, we went backpacking for six months, and over those six months, we were separated for a total of about four hours. After that, we knew that owning a business together wouldn’t be hard. We have challenges, of course, but any business with co-owners would.
Who’s someone that you’re grateful to have worked with or learned from? You can’t say Sam!
Oh man, there’s so many people. Let’s see… I’d have to say Tracy Romer. She now owns a workout chain in Chicago and has sold 80 franchises nationally and internationally, and she was my first boss at my first job out of college as a dietician at a huge national fitness chain. She was in charge of the Nutrition Department nationally for all 400 clubs, but she wore all hats.
From her, I learned so much about how to manage people, how to be a good employee, how to be a good friend. I learned about all the important things of how to run a business through her, but most importantly, how to be a good boss. We worked together for three years, and in that time, she was just having children herself and how to be a mom, a boss, and a wife at the same time. Now, as all three of those people, too, I’ve realized that I’ve learned even more than I thought I did, since I watched her do this from afar all those years ago.
What’s something you’re passionate about outside of your business?
Being a mom! At this point, the only thing I have time for is my children and my business. I don’t think it’s a sad thing. I became a mom four years ago in late March, and in the past four years, I’ve had three boys. Being a mom with three boys has been incredible, and it’s the biggest change in your life that you could ever imagine, but all for the better. It’s always a challenge, but when they smile at you and say “I love you,” your heart just melts.
What’s your favorite thing to do with your kids?
They love the zoo. They’re obsessed with animals, and so we do outings where we go to the zoo and then grab lunch at The Fat Shallot location in Lincoln Park.
What’s one of your professional goals? Long or short term.
Retire and move to New Orleans! It’s one of the reasons we wanted to be a part of Politan Row, since the company is based there… Sam went to Tulane, and we’ve always loved the city.
In the short term, we’re currently managing what we have and focusing on making our team. We’re at five locations now. Sometimes you grow, sometimes you maintain. We’re maintaining and keeping our eyes peeled for any opportunity that makes sense for us.