Success Story: Joe Saenz
Joe Saenz is a chef by trade. Born and raised in San Antonio, he attended culinary school in both San Antonio and New York. After school, he worked as a line cook but found the restaurant industry intense and exploitative of workers. He moved to retail, working at Marlow & Daughters as a cheese wrapper until someone left and he moved up to butcher.
“It was like a fish to water,” he says. As a butcher, Joe got to teach people what meat to choose to cook for a party or to impress a date or just to make ends meet. For him, being able to interact with and help people was fulfilling in a way that reading an order off of a ticket just wasn’t. He moved onward and upward, from cheese shops to butcher to salumi maker to, eventually, the General Manager of the Meat Hook.
And then, in 2016, Joe realized something was missing. He “thought [he’d] made it. [He] thought [he] had the best job in New York, and it was awful. Square peg, round hole.” He’d been away from home for eight years at that point. He decided it was time to move back to San Antonio, only knowing he wanted to start a butcher’s shop. A friend of a friend encouraged Joe to join LaunchSA’s Break Fast & Launch (BFL).
BFL is the nation’s first culinary business accelerator. The program is mentorship driven and aims to help food entrepreneurs at any level get the insight necessary to sustainably operate their business. BFL is ten weeks long and meets Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 12 pm to 2 pm.
The program required Joe to explain his business to a new instructor every class period. It was a lot of work, but it helped him practice. Through BFL, he developed a close relationship with the staff of LaunchSA, who helped him consistently as new problems arose. “They really just gave a shit,” he says. “They just need to know that when they’re going to take a step, you’re going to take a step.” LaunchSA also helped him get a loan to move into the space that is now Swine House Bodega. A staff member introduced him to people within Liftfund and Joe credits his personal connections for their patience with him.
When he looks back on it now, what Joe Saenz really got from his experiences with LaunchSA is a community. He still talks to half of his “cohort,” the other entrepreneurs in his year of BFL, who all went through the same things together and helped each other grow. Now, he misses the structure of the program and getting to see his friends in the program every day. On finding his community through BFL, Joe says, “I mean, any time you’re going through something difficult, one of the most reassuring feelings is finding out you aren’t alone.”