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Women in Foodservice
Meet Sugarfire Smokehouse's women in charge.

How Sugarfire Smokehouse is leading the way with a team of women

This Midwestern barbecue restaurant has a lot to offer

Sugarfire Smokehouse, a 14-unit barbecue restaurant chain based in St. Louis, has a lot to say. Led by a team of empowered women behind the scenes, this emerging chain is ready for whatever comes its way.

The chef-crafted barbecue food is key to the business’ success, as is the kitchen staff’s creativity.

“There are no limits to anything that we will smoke,” said corporate chef Kat Wallace.

The brand even has shirts that say as much.

Chefs have a level of creativity at Sugarfire Smokehouse that isn’t common among most restaurants. There are daily specials and sides that are chosen by the chefs themselves.

“We really try to encourage our chefs to put their personality and their love into the foods that they make,” said Wallace.

But it’s the hospitality, led by director of hospitality Veronica Schuster, that seals the deal.

“If you walk into any of our stores, and you’re there more than once, [your name will be remembered], and I think that’s a big reason why we’ve been successful,” said Wallace.

It’s engrained in the staff as well. Retention is high, with both Wallace and Schuster having worked at Sugarfire for about seven years.

“We make an effort to make everyone feel like they are part of a family,” said Schuster.

The chain’s owners come into the stores and tell the staff, “well done,” and know many of the staff members, another reason retention is so high, according to Wallace.

But what really shines through at Sugarfire is the way women are both treated and promoted. Wallace is the corporate chef for the entire chain, and Schuster is director of hospitality for the chain. It’s not just the two of them, however; empowering women is a company-wide mission.

There’s one store in Olivette, Mo., that has all five positions in leadership filled with women, something Wallace and Schuster take pride in.

“Watching them be successful really helps us in what we do as well, because we have been working really hard to make it to where it’s equal opportunity. They kick butt and we love that, and love being able to be in that position where we can do that,” said Wallace.

Part of why the company is successful here is because the team at Sugarfire fosters careers for its employees, allowing them to move up in the organization or, if necessary, find another job. The corporate team and location-based teams are always there for employees in whatever capacity they need to be, according to Schuster.

What drew both Wallace and Schuster to the company was a better life and happiness. Wallace had previously worked for the founders of Sugarfire, but at a different previous job, she wasn’t able to pump for her baby at all. So, she reached out to her old bosses, and they brought her on at Sugarfire as a line cook, and allowed her to do whatever she needed to do for her new baby. Wallace quickly ascended the ranks to corporate chef and still says the quality of life here is better than any previous job.

Schuster has a similar story; she was looking for a better quality of life.

“When you give that to somebody, they’re going to work even harder for you,” Schuster said.

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