Photography by Marie Constantin
Hometown: Opelousas, Louisiana
Family: Fiancée, Billy Bryan, and son, John Jewell
Years with company: 4
The driving force behind the many locally made food products popping up in grocery stores and markets around Baton Rouge has been Gaye Sandoz and the LSU AgCenter Food Incubator.
It’s nothing new for Sandoz, director of the incubator, who has been in the food business for as long as she can remember. From her former job at Cajun Injector as research and development director and QVC account manager to creating her own business, Clever Kitchen, Sandoz has the experience and know-how to guide other Louisiana entrepreneurs in bringing their edible ideas to market.
“Even though we’re a food business state, it’s very difficult to start a food business here,” Sandoz says. “There are so many regulations and so much you need to know to get product off the shelf. My biggest accomplishment has been assisting the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Business and Technology Center in creating the Food Incubator. Louisiana food companies needed a resource center.”
Since its launch in 2013, the Food Incubator has taken on 35 tenants to help develop and market their products. Sandoz says some of its proudest success stories include Hanley’s Foods all-natural salad dressings and Hydra-Guard all-natural sports drinks.
Sandoz was hired in 2012 to help create the incubator with Charlie D’Agostino, executive director of the LBTC. She says she saw the need for it when she worked at Cajun Injector in research and development, but didn’t have any resource center to tap into to make a label or bottle a product. When the incubator started out, it had 10 tenants, a $75,000 budget and it had to use a repurposed building and equipment on LSU’s campus.
“It was challenging but also very rewarding,” Sandoz says. “Creating a new program is like starting a business. If it’s going to be successful, you have to have a business model.”
After working for Cajun Injector, Sandoz began her own business, Sandoz Marketing Specialist LLC, to offer food product development and consulting services. Later, she began a company called Clever Kitchen, which debuted her own food product invention, the Microwave BBQ Chicken Roaster, that sold on QVC in 2014.
“Starting a company on QVC was on my bucket list of things I wanted to accomplish,” she says.
While Sandoz always wanted to work in the food industry, it took time to discover what type of work she really wanted to do. At a young age, she hoped to become a chef and own a restaurant, but as she got older, she realized her talent lies in development and consulting.
The most challenging part of her career came when Sandoz was in her 40s and trying to establish her business after going through a divorce. She had to juggle work, her business and being a single mom. It took time, she says, but she was determined to do it.
“I see it all the time with young single moms trying to juggle tasks without the guilt,” Sandoz says. “You have to find balance and learn how to be self-sufficient.”
One of her proudest accomplishments is balancing a happy professional life and personal life with her son, John Jewell, who makes her very proud and is attending George Washington State’s physician assistant program. And the biggest influence in her life for the past 17 years has been her fiancé, Billy Bryan, who encouraged her to reach her dreams and start her own business.
While it’s important to have support along the way, Sandoz says achieving success and happiness in life is ultimately up to you. Her advice is to find a field you are passionate about and make plans to pursue it.
“Success is different for everyone,” she says. “You can be successful and happy, but this power comes from within oneself. No one can achieve this for you.”
HARDEST LESSON | I realized that time management would be a major priority in order to work full time as a single mother having to earn a living. It is a challenge to be a single parent.
ONE THING SHE’D CHANGE ABOUT BATON ROUGE | I think Baton Rouge is doing a great job of embracing our cultural experiences by developing the downtown area, and expanding our festivals and events. This in turn will improve Baton Rouge’s attraction and retention rate of our talented college graduates to stay local as they begin their job careers.
ADVICE TO YOUNG WOMEN WHO ASPIRE TO BE INFLUENTIAL | You have the power within yourself to be whatever you would like to become. Don’t let others allow you to doubt yourself. Be passionate in your goals and always motivate others around you to become successful as well.
1980 • Graduates from Southeastern Louisiana University with a dietetics degree
1981 • Works as a home economist for Goudchaux’s before taking a job at Baton Rouge General Medical Center as a dietetic technician
1983 • Begins working for the East Baton Rouge School System, where she’ll stay through 1995
1998 • Becomes research and development director, and QVC account manager for Cajun Injector, whom she’ll work for through 2003
2000 • Launches Sandoz Marketing Specialists LLC
2009 • Releases her Simply Big Cookies cookbook. Serves as a food product consultant for QVC vendors, and moves to China temporarily to work for a Chinese food company before returning to Louisiana to launch the Edible Enterprises Food Incubator in Norco
2012 • Hired by LSU AgCenter Food Incubator to assist in creating the incubator, and also begins working for Tony Chachere’s as a TV media chef, a role she also still serves in today
2013 • Invents the Clever Kitchen Microwave BBQ Chicken Roaster and appears on QVC. She sells out the product on the network a year later and signs a contract with a company that brings the product to the retail market