We sat down with Diane Sheya, co-owner of Salt Lake Culinary Center (SLICE). SLICE is hosting our Recipe for Success Kick Off event.
WHY DON’T WE START WITH AN INTRODUCTION?
My name is Diane Sheya. In 2013, my husband and I became co-owners of the Salt Lake Culinary Center. About twenty years ago, my husband and I were involved in a gourmet cooking club with some friends. Every month we would get together and cook a meal, if you were hosting you would decide the menu. We would rely on menus from Gourmet magazine back in the ‘80s, and we started to see a trend in cooking: from using dried herbs, to “hey, I’ve got parsley growing in the garden, why am I not using it?” We decided that we were going to start cooking classes in our home using fresh herbs. We’d come up with menus every month and it was really fun doing the research. That’s what drives me, finding a new ingredient, or finding a new technique, or a new cuisine I’m not familiar with.
Then, in 2009, the Viking Cooking School (VCS) opened and I started day one of the VCS as a chef instructor, and became culinary director in 2011. Viking Range Corporation was acquired in 2012 and the school was going to close. That left the door open for us to acquire the school. We didn’t want to keep the VCS because it was a franchise. We were able to acquire the space and turn it into our own.
DID YOU HAVE ANY EXPERIENCE BEFORE OPENING SLICE? DID YOU GO TO CULINARY SCHOOL?
I did not. I did eight and half years cooking live on Fox 13 Live at 11 as well as taught classes at Sur La Table, Orson Gygi, Macey’s Grocery as well as private classes. You get a lot of experience there. But no…no formal training.
It is something that I thought about through the years because as I continued in this food realm, I wondered if I needed to go through culinary school. And at that time there weren’t any short programs–it was two years, and there was nothing in Salt Lake (Salt Lake Community College wasn’t going at the time). I would’ve had to move out of state and I had small kids, so it just wasn’t an option.
WHEN YOU ACQUIRED THIS BUSINESS, WAS THERE ALREADY A LOT IN PLACE OR DID YOU HAVE TO BUILD FROM THE GROUND UP AFTER VCS LEFT? HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO TURN THIS INTO SALT LAKE CULINARY CENTER?
For the first little while we used a very similar model to VCS, but we really did have to build from the ground up. Before the VCS was acquired, the school was doing really well. We thought that once we acquired it that we would just continue and that the phone would continue to ring and people would walk through the door and sign up for classes. But as soon as that acquisition was complete, and the distributor that shipped products from here was gone, it was like someone cut the phone cord. It was awful. The first month at SLICE we brought in $850. It has been a hard but incredibly rewarding journey.
WHAT ARE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY RESPONSIBILITIES?
I wear many hats. First and foremost, I love to be in the kitchen. I love to be creating, and cooking food for people. It is a way for me to say I love you, I appreciate you, I want to be your friend. But as an administrator running the company I am not always able to do that, so now I have chefs who do. But, on the administrative side I love to brainstorm with the chef instructors so that keeps my creative finger in the pie, so to speak. I do end up in the kitchen every now and again, and that is rewarding for me because my main goal has always been to put that joy of cooking in to someone that says “I hate to cook.”
So, I would like to see that passion get turned on in people to say this isn’t so hard after all. I can put dinner on the table and I can feed my kids nutritional meals without a whole lot of effort.
WITH YOUR ROLE AT SLICE, YOU ARE VERY INVOLVED IN YOUR LOCAL COMMUNITY. YOU HOST CHARITABLE EVENTS, SUPPORT LOCAL ART, AND OFTEN INVITE LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT TO PARTICIPATE IN YOUR EVENTS. WHAT ROLE DOES SLICE PLAY IN THE COMMUNITY? WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO SUPPORT LOCAL ART?
I would love to give more than I do. We do support the Police Athletics League (PAL). Every Tuesday before Thanksgiving we partner with PAL, help cook in our kitchen with the officers and student volunteers, and have a turkey in every oven…and we have fourteen ovens. We have cardboard boxes lined up wall to wall in our kitchens. We fill them up with a Thanksgiving meal. This year PAL filled up fifty-eight boxes. The turkeys that we cook go to the kids who are part of the PAL organization who help. The children get to learn how to cook, and those skills they can carry with them forever. For example, they learn how to make mashed potatoes from real potatoes!
On Wednesdays we develop two recipes during what we call “Chef’s Table.” We open the event up to the public for $10 and we invite the South Salt Lake law enforcement. It’s a great way to get to know our law enforcement, nudge them on the shoulder, and make a few jokes.
When we acquired the business, the Viking Cooking School took down the displays from the walls. This place has great big walls that looked bare. I wanted to do something with them. I have an employee who used to curate art for her art gallery and I asked her to find art for our walls. So, she goes out into the community and finds local artists to showcase. Every 6 weeks we have a new artist display. It’s a great way for artists to have an outlet and receive exposure. During our private events, we have people walk around and look at the art as though they were in an art gallery.
WHO DO YOU LOOK TO FOR GUIDANCE AND MENTORSHIP IN THE BUSINESS? WHERE DO YOU FIND SUPPORT? IS IT FROM OTHER WOMEN BUSINESS OWNERS, PARTNERS, OR FRIENDS?
It took a little while for me to figure out that I can’t do this on my own. At the beginning, my husband owned another business. While my husband ran the other business, I solely ran this one. Now he is more involved and we each have strengths that balance each other out. Something that I took part in was the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. There, I developed a business network of mentors and business people. I received support from wonderful organizations like the Women’s Business Center of Utah, SBDC, SCORE and Utah Women’s Networking Group. I would highly suggest getting plugged into resources and organizations wherever you can.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS FOR THE ORGANIZATION?
We are in day five in the second semester of our twelve week professional certification course. Our certification program is different than anything across the country. Our students can take the test to be certified by American Culinary Federation which is important because people who are going into the culinary realm of restaurants can show they have been trained in a certain way. The program is based on culinary fundamentals. So, when someone takes the course and gets a job, they can be confident knowing they have received a sure foundation. We are currently focusing on that right now, and will be offering a night course as well as the daytime class.
We are currently developing fun community classes, such as date night on Valentine’s Day where not only will couples learn how to cook, but there will be dancing as well, to create an experience. Aside from that, we are adding onto the private events we offer with new menus and competitions.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE WHO WANTS TO FOLLOW YOUR FOOTSTEPS?
Get employed with that company, and find out as much as you can about that sector. Have an open mind and find out not only about the business, but focus on having a well-rounded education that will assist you in opening a food business.
YOU’RE SCHEDULED FOR THE ELECTRIC CHAIR. WHAT’S YOUR LAST MEAL?
I wouldn’t want to be served. I would want to help cook my last meal. I would have a thick rib-eye steak on the grill…simple, nothing processed…made from scratch, and tomatoes picked from a garden. And a great bottle of red wine!