Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:24 pm
Saz’s branches out
Steve Sazama successfully transferred the popularity of his Saz’s restaurant foods into catering operations. He’s the biggest food vendor at Summerfest and State Fair. He’s been at the Bradley Center for eight years. He’s at Miller Park. He’s at the nation’s only Navy training facility – the Great Lakes Naval Center just south of the border in Illinois. He’s at Elkhart Lake. He just took over the food service at the Pettit National Ice Center.
But his move into the grocery store business hasn’t been as smooth. “It’s proven to be the biggest challenge of my career,” Sazama said over a lunch interview at his State Street restaurant in Milwaukee.
Still, he’s tackling the business. And he’s succeeding.
“It helps that the industry is moving more toward ready-to-eat convenience foods,” says Kathy Koncel, sales and marketing director for Saz’s Barbecue Products.
Sazama entered the retail market in 1992 when he took his barbecue sauce to grocery store shelves. His “Original” sauce now outsells KC Masterpiece in the stores that both are in, Sazama says.
The retail products include additional varieties of sauce, natural cheese curds, mozzarella sticks, shredded pork and chicken in barbecue sauces, and barbecue ribs. He’s working on a way to bottle and sell his salad dressing.
Saz’s products sell in about 200 stores. Last year, about $1.2 million worth of grocery products sold. Overall, his businesses do about $5 million a year in sales.
Sazama uses Acosta Sales & Marketing in Waukesha to nationally broker sales of his sauces and frozen foods, and Food Marketing Services in Pewaukee to broker sales of barbecue pork and chicken, and ribs for sale in meat-section refrigerators and delicatessens.
Sazama has stepped up his marketing of the retail products, and can be seen on packaging of the items and in print advertising.
“We’re branding Saz,” says Koncel.
That print advertising has include Sunday coupon pages in co-promotions with Johnsonville sausages.
The package designs are the work of Creative Advertising Services of Mequon. Sazama had already been working with that company’s vice president, Julie Casper. Sazama likes what Creative Advertising Services came up with. “Now we have something we can grow with,” he says.
Saz’s State House restaurant, at 5539 W. State St. and founded in 1976, is still popular and, at times, hard to get into. But Sazama says the restaurant business is changing fast. “Are we a dinosaur? he asks, recalling that a few years ago he decided to make no “brick and mortar” expansions. Yet his party room addition since then has done well for the restaurant.
It is a changing world, however, and Sazama envisions the day when restaurants won’t be able to afford to be open seven days a week or as many hours as they now are, mainly due to labor and health-care costs.
Sazama has chosen to face that changing world head-on. And his business enterprises have grown because of that decision.
May 30, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee