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by Jorie Jacobi
Published April 23, 2013

Jorie Jacobi is a twentysomething writer, artist, blogger and St. Louis native. Endlessly fascinated by people, she writes and tells stories as a knee-jerk reaction to being alive. She constantly finds herself in awe of St. Louis and the people here who make it such a beautiful, inspiring place.

Homemade Sauce: A Candid Interview with Allyson Mace

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
— Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher

 

“In this business, you have to be tough. You have to be confident. And I think you’ll find that most successful women are that way,” says Allyson Mace. As the owner and founder of Sauce Magazine, she would know. We’re at Niche in Clayton, which is usually posh and overflowing with elegantly dressed waiters and chefs clad in white smocks, hands dripping with beaten eggs, breadcrumbs, or the juice of fresh meat. It looks entirely different at nine a.m., as morning light rolls over camera equipment and neatly set tabletops. Mace arrives, somehow coolly detached, yet kind and engaging at the same time. She wears all black, and gracefully sips coffee from a teacup and saucer. Bright-eyed and lively, she looks like she’s been awake and working since sunrise.

Asking Mace intelligent questions proves to be an anxiety-inducing task. How I can best hide my nerves? The sweating palms, the stuttering, the general panicked disposition. Maybe she doesn’t notice. She nonchalantly looks over at me and says, “It’s just a conversation.” Crap.

But suddenly, a miracle occurs. Mace’s phone starts making some sort of hilarious, robot-esque noise. “It’s R2-D2!” she says excitedly. “Also, my phone message is the little girl from Despicable Me where she goes crazy about the unicorn and says, ‘It’s so fluffy!’ I’m a big believer in laughing before I answer the phone,” she says.

The knot in my stomach softens. The mastermind behind St. Louis’ premiere culinary publication likes Star Wars and kid’s movies? This is unprecedented awesomeness. As we talk, it becomes clear that Mace has many disparate qualities that somehow all manage to coexist in one human body. She can be funny, serious, friendly, straightforward, relentlessly hardworking, vulnerable, confident, and humble, albeit in different ratios at times, but all at once.

“I’ve always been kind of a tough kid. Kind of a loner. I always took the path that was the hardest. I’m always the person going down the wrong way. I do things backwards.” Her journey taught her “a lot about confidence,” especially while working in restaurants, which she did for fifteen years. “In the restaurant business, when I first started, I didn’t talk. I hadn’t learned to socialize.”

Mace, a native New Yorker, grew up surrounded by storytelling. Her father owned and operated the primary newspaper in Jefferson County, which he later sold, and purchased the Ste. Genevieve Herald. But Mace wanted to pursue something different. Upon graduating from high school, she originally wound up in St. Louis to attend UMSL on a basketball scholarship, where she studied business, art history, and the vast array of people she met while waiting tables.

“Everyone should wait tables. I think it really teaches you a lot about people, about compassion, about communicating. It’s humbling, it’s tough, and it teaches you work ethic.” Mace was consistently struck by the surprise of her customers when they’d discover the unique deliciousness and sophistication of St. Louis cuisine, a place she’d long considered home. She had to investigate what lay underneath that assumption. Why, with the wealth of talent, fresh-grown produce, and top-notch restaurants, was the St. Louis culinary scene not getting the attention it deserved? It didn’t match up.

During the initial stages of Sauce, she did everything out of her apartment in South City, and delivered the first batch of magazines around town herself. “It’s really important, as an owner and entrepreneur, to be able to do everything in your business,” she says. Mace treats everyone that interacts with her, especially her employees, with the utmost respect. For her, it is imperative that “when you’re asking someone that works for you to go do something, they understand you’ve already done it, and you understand what they’re about to go experience.”

Mace’s journey is peppered with bold choices. Before Sauce, one of her first forays into entrepreneurship was her own web development company and a comprehensive restaurant guide. She thought it would live only online, but as she began to include stories and develop relationships with local restaurants, Mace took the leap of faith into print, and Sauce was born. At that point, she couldn’t have known how much it would come to mean to St. Louis.

When Mace first launched the publication thirteen years ago, the food scene was nothing close to what it is today. “There wasn’t a very collaborative environment,” she says in a short film about Sauce. “There were a handful of really great chefs here. And now, we’ve watched people really take some risks, move into this market, and do some amazing things.”

Out-of-towners, transplants, and natives alike began to take interest in local food, and the city began to receive attention for culinary excellence. Visitors returned to their hometowns and gushed about the dishes they tried. World-class chefs, who could work anywhere, relocated to St. Louis and taught new sous-chefs cutting-edge techniques and trends. “Eyes around the country have shifted to our city,” said Mace in the January 2013 issue of Sauce.

Sauce is one of the keys to our restaurant community here,” says Gerard Craft of Niche. “I moved here from out of town, and coming from out of town, the first thing I saw about St. Louis was that they had a food magazine. And a very good food magazine, at that. They’re one of the key elements to the future of St. Louis dining.”

Now, St. Louis boasts one of the finest culinary communities in the country, and Sauce has undoubtedly been vital to its growth. The publication not only keeps a pulse on local cuisine, but has morphed into a platform for chefs and their work to stand on, where they can truly be seen.

Sauce also set a highly unique tone for the community. Unbeknownst to many, St. Louis’ culinary scene runs on mutual respect, rather than cutthroat competition. In a competitive industry with an extremely high turnover rate, this is quite rare. “Everybody kind of bonded together. You look around at the other communities in the country…we have something that’s really unique,” says Mace. “It’s a little more laid back here, but it’s serious. You still have to bring it.”

Rather than attempt to poach each other’s clientele, it is not uncommon to see St. Louis-area chefs frequent each others’ restaurants, and even befriend one another. “Everyone is pushing everyone up. I’ve never seen that before,” says Mace. “An example is the food truck trend. All of the food trucks are so supportive of each other. From Pi to 35 trucks now, that’s a trend that exploded in St. Louis. It all stems from passion and having a love of what they do, and wanting to see the city succeed.”

That culture of collaboration has radiated outwards, even further than chefs, restaurant owners, and foodies. St. Louis’ culinary excellence has paved the way for partnerships and relationships with arts organizations, cultural events, (like Taste of St. Louis), and more. “It’s almost like calling your neighbor next door. Like, ‘Hey I need some sugar.’ ‘Come on over I have it for you!’ We’re all that supportive of each other. Knowing that you can turn to somebody and ask them, ‘Hey, I need help with this event, or can you please promote this, or hey I have this really important person coming into town, can you help me out with this…they’re all for one and one for all,” says Mace. As the city continues to solidify its post-industrial identity, a distinguishing characteristic of its personality is this type of culture, propelled by how the food community has chosen to structure itself.

While her publication has been instrumental in ripening that mentality, Mace consistently deflects her accomplishments, attributing them to the talent of those around her. According to C.S. Lewis, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” Mace embodies this mantra. Of her staff, she says, “they all have ownership in it. It’s like their magazine. You have to have people like that working for you. They want to fight the fight, and they go to the end to do it. I’m so lucky to have such good talent. It’s critical.”

Throughout the whole crazy ride, I ask if she was ever scared. “It was never an issue for me, because I had nothing to lose. Every penny I had I put back into the magazine, and I still waited tables for the first year that the magazine started. The only thing I really had to lose was my pride.” As “the second-most likely business to fail,” only behind restaurants, the magazine industry is also extremely tough. The chips were definitely stacked against her.

But having nothing to lose actually seemed to work in Mace’s favor. In fact, it gave her an outlet to channel her fierce resolve. “When you have nothing to lose and you’re young, and you’re ambitious and you’re fearless, it doesn’t really affect you,” she says. “I believed strongly in what I was doing.”

Bit by bit, Mace began to make a name for herself as a highly respected woman in the St. Louis entrepreneurship world. In a 2011 profile of her in the St. Louis Business Journal, Stephen Hale, chief brewer at the St. Louis Brewery Tap Room, called her “’a harbinger of change. There was nothing like Sauce before her, and most cities still have nothing like it.’” Mace put all the building blocks in place: she developed the foundation, wrote content, highlighted passionate chefs, brokered partnerships, hired talented people, and then watched as the magazine absolutely exploded. It is the leading food magazine in the city, the first of its kind here, has garnered a litany of awards, and has grown from 16,000 magazines in circulation to over 70,000 citywide.

I ask her how she did it. “It’s like watching a child grow,” says Mace. “I don’t really know how to answer that question completely. It’s a day-to-day thing. You have to get up everyday, you have to feed it, educate it, groom it. There are so many things you don’t think about, you never know, you have to react quickly, being an entrepreneur. That’s what you have to do.”

With uncommon humility, Mace shifts the praise of Sauce off of herself, and towards the chefs. “These chefs are hardcore. This is art for them.” It hasn’t gone unnoticed. Legions of local chefs have pledged their allegiance to Sauce. Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe calls Sauce “the voice of our community.” Dan Kopman, CEO and co-founder of Schlafly says, “Every issue basically says, ‘What we’re doing here is as good or better than anywhere else on the planet.’ I think that’s really important.”

For all of this to occur, about a million different things had to go correctly. And for them to go correctly, the brains behind the operation also has to be able to wear about a million different hats. For magazine publishers, that means being able to create events, brand new concepts, manage content, find talented people, negotiate effective relationships with chefs and restaurants, sell advertising space, work all day, work all night, then work some more. And as an entrepreneur, Mace works in a highly male-dominated realm. Even though this is the twenty-first century, it wasn’t always easy. “It’s tough,” she says. “But it’s not as hard as it is in the chef world. I’d love to see more females there.” It taught her how to always bring her best to the table, how to react quickly, and stay on her toes. “My personal nature is to be a confident person, I’m a strong woman, I shoot straight, I have integrity. So, I’ve never really had a problem with it. I think it’s an advantage, as a matter of fact.”

According to Mace, change is on the horizon. Interestingly, many of St. Louis’ heavy-hitting local publications, including ALIVE, Town & Style, Ladue News, St. Louis Magazine, and Sauce all have female publishers at the helm. “It is unusual, for sure,” she says.

Although Mace grew up in  a newspaper family, she never saw herself breaking into the field. “I absolutely did not want to do it,” she says emphatically, fully aware of the irony. She takes us back to her childhood, where she grew up immersed in the newspaper world. “I remember, as a kid, going into the press room and the massive press was running and it smelled like engine and ink. It was stimulating and exciting, and I just loved it. They say you have ink in your blood. That’s kind of what happened to me.”

During the summers, she’d work there alongside her father, surrounded by whirring machines and ink rollers, the pungent aroma of the inked letters spreading across fresh pages of newsprint, and the exciting bustle of work at a newspaper. She watched how her father ran the operation, and how he treated his employees. She spent time in all of the different departments, but her favorites were photography and layout. Everything unfolded from start to finish around her. She remembers how employees would cut out photographs, put them on a sheet, turn them into a plate and send it through the press in the days before newspapers did everything digitally. “The old school way,” says Mace.

“My dad tried to get me into the business. I told him I wanted to be a biologist.” She blinks and looks away for a moment. She doesn’t blink often. “I think I broke his heart,” she says. “But I wanted to be something else. I didn’t want to be my dad. You know, the protégé.”

That was essentially where Mace earned her credentials in journalism. She absorbed everything about the industry from an early age, which was a top-tier education. Although she didn’t know it then, the shift to journalism “was just innate. When I started doing this, I didn’t really think about do I have any experience for this, or did I go to school for this. It was just natural.”

Her path led her back to where she began. The restaurant guide was gaining more and more traction, and it was clear St. Louis needed a print publication dedicated entirely to its burgeoning culinary community. When Mace told her father, “He kind of looked at me, and I was like, ‘I know I know, I’m sorry!’” she says. “It didn’t really hit me until the magazine actually came out in print that I was truly following in his footsteps. I never thought I wanted a magazine.”

But Mace’s father never saw what became of his daughter’s publication. He passed away before the magazine launched. “He never really had a chance to see where Sauce came from. I told him the original concept, and then he was gone before I actually had a chance to get the magazine off the ground.” She opens a part of herself, a vulnerable part that she doesn’t always reveal. This is where Mace’s strength surfaces in another iteration. Vulnerability is rarely comfortable, but sometimes we are at our strongest when we feel exposed.

In a different world, she wonders what he would say to her. “I’d be really interested to hear what he’d say right now. I think he’d be really proud.” Both of her parents instilled a hunger in her to change the world, and the ability to see that it’s possible. They let her know that she could follow her dream, and that sometimes it takes time to discover what that dream actually is, or what form it needs to take, whether it’s an online guide or a thriving print publication.“It was truly something I was meant to do. I never really knew it until I was doing it. I can’t explain how it feels to be following in my father’s footsteps, but it feels extremely natural to me.” Since then, Sauce has intertwined itself with St. Louis’ identity.

I attempt to gather my thoughts and ask my last question. My aim is to ask about her favorite piece of advice, but it comes out strange and convoluted.
“I’m sorry, I’ve asked you a lot of two-part questions.”
“You don’t make it easy on me, do you?” She says with a wink.
The best advice Mace ever received came from her father.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Allyson, keep it simple.” There’s a twinkle of nostalgia in her eyes. “Keep things simple and focused, keep the passion in line, keep your ego in line, and work really hard. But really, keeping things simple is probably one of the best things I’ve ever been told.”

For more information about Allyson Mace and Sauce Magazine, visit www.saucemagazine.com

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They say you have ink in your blood. That’s kind of what happened to me. ”

– Allyson Mace

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