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Sandra’s Next Generation, a soul food restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut, is #56 on Yelp’s 2023 Top 100 Places to Eat in the U.S. It’s been a local staple for 34 years, with owner Sandra Pittman cooking in the same kitchen since 1989.
Sandra and her husband Miguel have perfected their working dynamic, playing to their own strengths and supporting one another to keep the restaurant running after all these years.
“The reason why we are where we are today is because we really divide and conquer. He has his role. I have my role. And we respect each other’s role,” Sandra said.
“When you speak about the restaurant business, the reason why it’s so challenging and it’s forever changing is because it has so many moving parts. And all the parts have to work together as a unit. And I guess that’s part of our success of being in business for 34 years,” Miguel added.
While solidarity seems to be the secret sauce at Sandra’s, the owners are well aware that their customers expect exceptional food, atmosphere, and service when they visit.
“You are only as good as your last meal because the people, they’re gonna remember the last meal. So as a business owner, you have to be on the top of your game,” Miguel said.
According to Yelp reviewer and community manager Alex T., the Pittmans are hitting the nail on the head: “It’s pretty amazing. The second you walk in, you can just feel the vibe and the energy of Sandra’s Next Generation. You are gonna smell so many delicious scents and flavors.”
Those welcoming aromas are all thanks to Sandra’s 84-year-old mother, who passed down her recipes. However, like many family recipes, there was a history and meaning behind them that Sandra had to discover before she could fully appreciate the legacy she was preserving.
“As a little girl, I used to always hear my mom’s stories about how hard she worked on a farm growing up, working from sunup to sundown, and how she would raise her own sweet potatoes. She talked about all these stories, but they didn’t really connect to me because I never had an opportunity to really see it until I actually went to the South when I was 16 years old and saw the cotton fields and saw how they grew their vegetables. It connected with me then—just to be able to share her recipes and keep her inspiration going and just keep her fight going. Let her know that everything that she did wasn’t in vain.”
That fight and inspiration from her mother’s history translates into everything Sandra wants to provide for her customers.
“When people come, I want them to feel the vibes. I want them to be inspired. I want them to know that any dreams that you have, it doesn’t matter how big it is, you have to believe that you could do it. You have to fight. You have to get up every single day with a mindset. The mindset is everything, no matter what, because there’s gonna be many failures in your life. Where we are today is because of our failures. You can’t quit. You gotta get up. You just gotta keep on going.”
Restaurants and businesses in any industry can learn more from Sandra’s story, including:
- Being authentic while also mixing it up. Providing a traditional experience or genuine recipes doesn’t mean you can’t get creative. Explore the trends in your industry that you can incorporate to wow current customers and attract new ones.
- Becoming a force for good in your community. “Be the change you want to see” can apply to a nation or a neighborhood. Your local business serves a community, so uplifting that community and being a positive influence can be a boon to revenue and everyone around you.
- Intentionally hiring and supporting your staff. Motivating your team and leading with honesty and empathy highlights the humanity of your business. Everyone has bad days, but if they work in an understanding environment, they’ll be more likely to show up for you and give you their best.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Sandra, Miguel, and Alex, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.