Photo courtesy of ShaDonna Sanchez

How ShaDonna Sanchez founded Palate Gourmet

Photo courtesy of ShaDonna Sanchez
Photo courtesy of ShaDonna Sanchez

The Founder Series is a column by and about Utah founders and how they got to where they are today. Click here to read past articles in the series.

My culinary voyage traces back to the Deep South, where every dish tells a story and carries the essence of tradition. As a military veteran and spouse, the kitchen became my sanctuary—a place where I could find solace and create moments of joy, even in the most challenging times. It was my grandmother who ignited this passion within me. Her kitchen was a canvas where the magic of Southern cuisine unfolded.

In those precious hours spent stirring pots of okra soup and absorbing the secrets of flavor, I discovered more than just recipes. My grandmother’s teachings instilled in me a deep appreciation for the cultural significance of Southern cuisine—a celebration of history, community and the indelible bond between food and family. These were more than mere cooking lessons; they were lessons in preserving heritage through the sizzle of a skillet and the aroma of simmering spices.

My grandmother, a culinary matriarch with hands that could transform humble ingredients into symphonies of taste, was my guiding light. She was more than a teacher; she was a storyteller, weaving narratives with each pinch of spice and stir of the pot. Her kitchen was a haven where traditions were passed down like cherished family heirlooms, and the crackling warmth of the stove mirrored the love that went into every dish.

As we sifted through baskets of fresh produce or measured spices with a practiced eye, she shared tales of our family’s culinary legacy. The okra soup we stirred together was a vessel carrying the essence of countless family gatherings, whispered conversations and laughter that echoed through generations.

The call of love and duty

As I grew older, a calling to a greater purpose deepened within me. It was right about the time I met my husband, José. My husband was a military man who was actively serving at the time. His dedication to service created a yearning for me to learn more about him and the military, and my journey into the military began as a fateful intersection of love and duty. As we navigated the challenges of military life together while raising children, a shared commitment to service deepened our bond.

The disciplined yet dynamic world of the armed forces resonated with me, offering a sense of purpose and camaraderie that became intrinsic to my identity. The military wasn’t just a career but a lifestyle I embraced wholeheartedly. Our shared passion for service led us through deployments and relocations, marking the chapters of our unique journey.

Living in Germany and Hawaii became pivotal moments in our military adventure. Germany provided a tapestry of memories that influenced our perspectives and connected us with people from around the world. Hawaii—with its laid-back charm and breathtaking scenery—became a unique backdrop to our military life. We embraced the Aloha spirit and immersed ourselves in the local culture.

For me, the military was more than a profession; it was a source of fulfillment and a canvas for personal growth. The adaptability and resilience fostered in the military would later become instrumental in my entrepreneurial venture, Palate Gourmet.

Amid the demands of military service, my husband and I found solace in exploring new cuisines and flavors. The diverse landscapes and cultures we encountered during our assignments enriched our lives, laying the foundation for the culinary journey that would unfold with Palate Gourmet.

Photo courtesy of ShaDonna Sanchez
Photo courtesy of ShaDonna Sanchez

After years of dedicated service in the military, I transitioned into a new chapter, one that marked my retirement from active duty while my husband continued to serve. We faced the decision of where to call home next, and after careful consideration, we decided to move from Colorado to Utah.

In Utah, I noticed a unique opportunity. The culinary landscape seemed to lack the vibrancy and depth of flavors I had come to appreciate during my childhood and military travels. It struck me that there was a genuine need for more flavorful foods to elevate everyday dining experiences.

Embracing the entrepreneurial spirit that had been simmering within me, I saw an opportunity to fill this gap. Inspired by my culinary journey with my grandmother, the rich tapestry of flavors we encountered during military assignments and my passion for creating memorable dishes, the idea for Palate Gourmet began to take shape. I set out to create a brand that would bring a taste of global culinary experiences to Utah and make gourmet cooking accessible to everyone.

The move from military life to the civilian world was a significant transition, but it also marked the beginning of a new adventure—one where I could channel my love for flavors into something tangible. Palate Gourmet became my way of sharing the joy and richness of diverse cuisines with the local community.

Gaining traction

With an understanding of what was next for me through Palate Gourmet, my husband and I began to source the best artisanal ingredients for our new products. After we sourced and had gotten the products to perfection to be distributed, we thought about how to get the products into the hands of the customers. The Ogden Farmers Market was where the magic of Palate Gourmet truly took off. Our artisanal spices, sauces and infused oils resonated with the local community, and the positive response led to an exciting opportunity—a feature on the Good Things Utah cooking segment. Sharing the Palate Gourmet story on a broader platform like Good Things Utah expanded our reach and fueled a growing interest in the distinctive flavors we brought to the culinary scene.

“Palate Gourmet aims to be a passport to a culinary adventure, allowing you to explore diverse flavors without leaving the comfort of your home.”

The buzz around our products grew swiftly, surpassing our expectations. The success we experienced prompted the idea of taking Palate Gourmet beyond the farmers market. This is where my husband, who had witnessed the entire journey, saw the potential for something greater. The idea of opening a physical location gained traction, and Station Park in Farmington emerged as the ideal spot.

Our physical store at Station Park has become a culinary destination where customers engage with the rich narratives behind each flavor. Tastings, cooking classes and interactive experiences made the store a hub for those looking to embark on their own flavorful journeys.

Pleasing your palate

Creating Palate Gourmet wasn’t just a business venture; it was a way to translate the passion for cooking instilled in me by my grandmother into a tangible, shareable experience. I wanted to make gourmet cooking accessible to everyone, just as she made it accessible to me. As you explore Palate Gourmet’s offerings, you’re taking a step into my grandmother’s kitchen—feeling the warmth of Southern hospitality and embarking on a journey that spans generations. It’s a celebration of tradition and a tribute to the love and flavors that shaped my culinary narrative.

Our curated selection of artisanal spices, sauces, infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars is a bridge that connects kitchens around the world to the soulful traditions of Southern cooking. From the smoky notes of barbecue rubs to the subtle kick of Cajun seasoning, each product is a homage to the South—an invitation to savor the authentic tastes that have graced Southern tables for generations. Palate Gourmet aims to be a passport to a culinary adventure, allowing you to explore diverse flavors without leaving the comfort of your home.

Photo courtesy of ShaDonna Sanchez
Photo courtesy of ShaDonna Sanchez

ShaDonna Sanchez embarked on her culinary journey in Savannah, Georgia, where her fascination with cooking took root in her grandma's kitchen. Despite diverse career paths—from dental assistant to Army soldier and philanthropist—she earned a degree in social and criminal justice and founded the Angel Hands Foundation to address poverty and homelessness. ShaDonna's love for culinary arts persisted throughout her endeavors, leading her to establish The Perfect Bite 719, a small events catering service. Realizing that her passion for the culinary world was more than a hobby, she embraced it as her life's purpose. This revelation inspired the creation of Palate Gourmet, a brand offering high-quality gourmet coffee, sauces, artisanal spice blends, infused balsamic, olive oils and more. ShaDonna's mission is clear: to spread joy and smiles worldwide through her culinary creations.