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BizCast 63: Creating “Savory Creations” with Shawn McManus

BizCast 63: Creating “Savory Creations” with Shawn McManus

Episode 63

Creating “Savory Creations” with Shawn McManus

About BizCast Greater La Crosse

We bring you news from the business community. From startups to experienced problem solvers, you’ll get in-depth insight on the challenges and opportunities of doing business in Greater La Crosse. Our show is a collaboration between and BizNews Greater La Crosse ( ).


He caters. He consults. He offers boutique cooking classes. And he joins the show this week. Shawn McManus, owner of Savory Creations. We talk about how Shawn’s love of family gatherings with food, prepared by his grandma and mother, sparked his culinary passion. Shawn’s dietary consulting brought him from California to Gundersen in La Crosse, where he made the connections to pursue the dream of owning a boutique cooking school. Listen to how his initial path has changed, how he got into consulting, and is now influencing menus throughout the Coulee Region.

Full Transcript [generated by AI]


[00:00:00] Shawn McManus: whenever I offer cooking classes, let’s say private in home, like a six person, it’s what would the group like to learn? Particular recipes, something you saw on TV or something the group wants to get more familiar with? Rather it be spices we’re adaptable in terms of what those groups want and need for that education.

[00:00:21] Vicki Markussen: to BizCast, Greater La Crosse, a weekly podcast from BizNews. We bring you news from the business community. I am your host and founder, Vicki Markussen. And joining me today is Sean McManus. He owns Savory Creations. And you’ve been around for a while.

[00:00:38] Shawn McManus: Quite a while, yes. Yes,

[00:00:40] Vicki Markussen: and so this podcast, the foodies are going to love because they’re going to get the inside scoop, if you will, on someone who loves food, loves to create.

[00:00:50] Vicki Markussen: Amazing food. First of all, explain Savory Creations.

[00:00:54] Shawn McManus: Savory Creations was the child of the idea of bringing farmers, fresh food, community, and education together. It actually started in California, LLC ed there, and then when I moved to Wisconsin, did some traveling through the La Crosse area, Sparta, Monroe County, and ended up in Madison, and then really Brought it to fruition in Madison through boutique cooking schools.

[00:01:21] Vicki Markussen: Oh, got it. Yeah. For people not familiar with boutique cooking schools, what does that entail?

[00:01:27] Shawn McManus: So boutique schools could be anywhere from like a retail portion to the boutique school. Boutique schools are usually like high impact learning. Usually two to two and a half hour classes, usually it’s a single subject, so you’re really getting that high impact education on that single subject, whether it be sushi rolls, homemade pastas Mexican tamales, whatever it may be.

[00:01:52] Shawn McManus: And Madison really opened my eyes to the boutique Vicki Markussen, BizCast, Greater La Crosse, La Crosse, Vicki, Markussen, Vicki, Markussen, Come in and get small groups and get that education. Learn those subjects, enjoy that evening, bring people together. And so that’s where it all sparked off. Hostinarian 1

[00:02:25] Vicki Markussen: So how did you, let’s step back even farther from that.

[00:02:29] Vicki Markussen: What sparked your passion for pursuing being a chef and cooking and teaching people? Markussen

[00:02:35] Shawn McManus: My grandmother it was It’s the holidays and it was time and I knew it every year that I’d be in there and the boys were coming from hunting all the families would come in from different areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin and I would learn the pies, learn the stand mixing or the hand mixers.

[00:02:53] Shawn McManus: The field dressing of the deer, all those memories, and that’s really where that interest was gained, just that family memories. And then wanting to learn more from Grandma, she wasn’t so much into teaching, so I had to stand over her shoulder, take notes, go through cards, and then it went with my mother as well, so the inspiration was family.

[00:03:12] Vicki Markussen: Fantastic. And where did you grow up?

[00:03:14] Shawn McManus: I was born and raised in California. I was born in Long Beach. But my grandparents owned a campground called Metal Ark in Sparta, Wisconsin. And so that was my mother sending me here, or getting rid of me for the summers, essentially. And I would come back and forth.

[00:03:32] Shawn McManus: And then I decided I wanted to stay and hang out with grandma and grandpa. I really enjoyed Wisconsin, so I did 6th through 8th grade here and then went back to California for high school and college.

[00:03:42] Vicki Markussen: Got it. And then Madison pulled you in and you saw these boutique experiences. What brought you to La Crosse?

[00:03:51] Shawn McManus: So La Crosse, I was in the health care field. I was a dietary manager, I worked at Gunnarson Lutheran Hospital, and I worked at some hospitals in California. you know, so doing dietary manager work. And so that’s what brought me to La Crosse, was working at Gunnarsson Lutheran, and after Madison, knowing that they had those boutique cooking schools, I was pursuing that dream and that idea to eventually have my own, and through working through the hospitals and working with local Cooley region chefs meeting and networking through them, it finally gave me the courage to finalize that business plan that I had going for two years in Madison and I took all those ideas and experiences of those different style boutique schools in Madison and created the business plan for La Crosse along with that support team.

[00:04:37] Shawn McManus: So if it wasn’t for the support team, I’d probably still be writing that business plan.

[00:04:41] Vicki Markussen: Yeah, that’s awesome. So it

[00:04:42] Shawn McManus: was great. Yeah.

[00:04:43] Vicki Markussen: And so you opened your doors.

[00:04:45] Shawn McManus: I did, yeah, I found a location on Caledonia Street, North Side of La Crosse District. Held onto that flagship location for eight years. But we found ourselves working with farms and schools.

[00:04:57] Shawn McManus: So I started working for Chefs Move to Schools programs, which was through Michelle Obama and the National Food Service Management Institute. And we were. In farms and in schools and all over the place doing cooking demonstrations, we really weren’t at our flagship location as much going into that third and fourth year.

[00:05:16] Shawn McManus: So it started to be more on a mobile education business and then it turned, everything migrated. I, it was like, okay, so we’ll get the cooking school going get some good options, network with local educators, with folks that have their own criterias of rather it be cooking, Cooking or just healthy eating and having a filtration system of these educators and then just started popping up.

[00:05:41] Shawn McManus: Do you do catering? Do you do consulting? We’re looking for a private chef, and I’m thinking, so I want what identity? Who are we now? Mm-Hmm. . Because all these doors just opened and I like the fact that. It’s all about education from the beginning with our core principles, and that’s what I still want it to be, so it was full education at that point.

[00:06:02] Shawn McManus: So in home private cooking classes, still working with the school systems local farms, and things like that, so we’re still doing the core principles.

[00:06:12] Vicki Markussen: Western Technical Colleges closed their culinary arts. And so where is that education happening that creates the next generation of chefs, is that happening or how is that happening?

[00:06:25] Shawn McManus: I noticed a lot more cooking class have sprung up, I know that people’s food Co op here in the cross offers some classes, I think some of those, some of the schools still have classes, not necessarily the I actually still teach for WWTC in some of their classes that we provide. It’s not for degrees or for credits, but they still offer some things but it was very unfortunate that that program.

[00:06:55] Shawn McManus: Did shut down.

[00:06:56] Vicki Markussen: Yeah.

[00:06:57] Shawn McManus: I don’t know the complete reasoning, but you’ll find a lot more activities with the farmer’s markets. I know there’s some classes that farmer’s markets offer as well, not only on site, but then in other businesses. And I’ve traveled through Eau Claire recently and found that they do cooking classes in breweries.

[00:07:16] Shawn McManus: Now you’re starting to see some really cool, smart, odd things happen That’s. Plant sales with cooking classes and herbs. So I’m liking this whole evolution of where the education in culinary is going. It’s been a beautiful thing.

[00:07:32] Vicki Markussen: This will be a surprise to anybody who works with the GROW program. But GROW out of Western that has the plants and is teaching, and I believe a lot of what they produce goes into the schools for food.

[00:07:44] Vicki Markussen: But that’s like the next level. And in fact, as you said, I’ll say that too, talking with some of the neighborhood resource officers. They have even said, we need to start teaching some of these young people how to cook because that’s an experience that they’re missing at home. So getting back to you and your pathway.

[00:08:01] Vicki Markussen: So it’s. Sounds like you opened your doors thinking it was going to be one thing and then all of a sudden a lot of opportunity came your way.

[00:08:09] Shawn McManus: That’s it. Yep, absolutely. And I needed a team. I don’t think any of us can do anything alone like that and that support team is really what I needed. And also for that push.

[00:08:20] Shawn McManus: And so how how we’re getting in new steps now. How do we go about this and getting the feedback from the community is always number one for me before we move forward on any of that. Because those are the customers, those are the ones. They’re going to give in the request. So whenever I offer cooking classes, let’s say private in home, like a six person, we do six person minimum.

[00:08:40] Shawn McManus: So it’s always groups. It’s what would you, what would the group like to learn? Is there anything particular recipes, perhaps something you saw on TV or something the group wants to get more familiar with? Rather it be spices or. So instead of saying it’s just pasta or sushi it’s we’re adaptable in terms of what those groups want and need for that education.

[00:09:03] Shawn McManus: And I think that’s sort of fun. It’s like custom designing.

[00:09:08] Vicki Markussen: Yeah.

[00:09:08] Shawn McManus: Education.

[00:09:09] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. And how is it that you learn new techniques or feel like you’re staying really current? What are you following? Where are you learning from?

[00:09:18] Shawn McManus: Social media in the past eight to 10 years has really boosted the education, I think, for cooks and chefs.

[00:09:25] Shawn McManus: And even on that residential end, a lot of the recipes that I’m finding through social media is pretty good. And that’s what I’m looking for. I’m also big into some of the large chef scholastic books like the Wiley and Sons and some of the studies of Hyde Park and CIA. Those are always like my Bibles that I go back to.

[00:09:46] Shawn McManus: But, and then there’s other books that are derivatives of those that are on that modern trend. So going to the bookstores I’ve been yelled at for being in there for four and a half hours, you know, just doing my thing. As

[00:09:58] Vicki Markussen: long as you buy something. Are you going to purchase at one point?

[00:10:02] Shawn McManus: Yes, I definitely will, perhaps two or three, but it’s a lot of fun there, but social media has really been a boost in keeping folks on the, on a modern trend. And I love just the communication. We’ve, I I guess in my opinion, we’ve lost some communication after the whole COVID thing where we’re not calling people as much.

[00:10:22] Shawn McManus: And I try to take time during the week to catch up with other chefs and ask them what are you doing? What’s going on in Madison? What’s going on in Eau Claire? Today we went to Shoeby’s for lunch and I got inspired from a chorizo sandwich that they had like a torso, but it was all their style and all these things.

[00:10:39] Shawn McManus: Things are just going into that back burner and archived for ideas. Speaking of the dish walls, well, it’s sitting in front of us. Yes. . Prepared a hickory and oak smoked rib and topped it with a tempura, so fried finger, ribs. Mm-Hmm. gonna be served with Korean barbecue sauce and sweet chili, and perhaps other sauces.

[00:11:04] Shawn McManus: I know. Yeah. There’s a variety of things that could go with it.

[00:11:07] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. It’s. So we’re definitely going to dig into that one. We’re done here.

[00:11:11] Shawn McManus: So

[00:11:11] Vicki Markussen: yeah. So where do you see your business going? Like, where is demand taking you?

[00:11:18] Shawn McManus: For us in particular, the private sectors. So planning these rather it be catering, rehearsal dinners, or on the education and a lot of in home options.

[00:11:30] Shawn McManus: So I’m getting. I have a group, we want to have a party or it’s a birthday. I taught a tamale cooking class yesterday here in La Crosse and it was a birthday present from the mother to her son and then her mother wanted to be there as well so it was just a big family gathering and we had a tamalata party so we all made homemade tamales and I think that’s it.

[00:11:52] Shawn McManus: That’s the future of where Savory Creations and myself in terms of cuisine is going on that private sector cooking classes and catering.

[00:12:03] Vicki Markussen: So interesting from where you started, where people were coming to you and now you’re going to people. And that’s the benefit of building that base and that reputation and that brand.

[00:12:12] Vicki Markussen: Yeah. One of the other things that we’ll be talking about is with a different guest is your consulting business. And so you’ve gained this body of knowledge, you. Obviously have a palate to go, Oh, that’s amazing. And like you describing that sandwich, I would have said it was a Chipotle sandwich or whatever it was.

[00:12:30] Vicki Markussen: And but you can pull out those different flavors and pretty much like it’s like a, I’m envisioning you as like this human calculator in your head going, Oh, it’s a little bit of this. A little bit of that just by tasting it. Is that how you experience food?

[00:12:44] Shawn McManus: Yeah, trial and error. I think that just like walking, you’re going to fall down.

[00:12:49] Shawn McManus: You’re going to get the strawberry burns and you’re going to remember those. And that’s how I look at flavor profiles. So making those mistakes is actually training yourself for the future. And in terms of consulting it’s always about the vision of, and I love to new businesses rise, especially in food service.

[00:13:09] Shawn McManus: Going back three, four years ago, things were very shaky and now it’s just like a new foundation starting to come up, and I’m seeing more of the mom and pop and single business owner businesses where some of these larger franchise business and things like that, they’re starting to fall off the map.

[00:13:27] Shawn McManus: So I think people are identifying food a little closer. . Mm-Hmm. and paying attention to what’s inside of their foods. I think they’re reading labels a lot more now, knowing with illnesses and self health and things like that. And it just, it intrigues me. I, it’s, it engulfs my life. So I love seeing new startups and half of the time I’m the guy who throws out a few ideas to help with the vision.

[00:13:53] Shawn McManus: Just where are we going with this? Yeah. Let’s create this vision together and, yeah.

[00:14:00] Vicki Markussen: And so just to explain that a little bit more. So a restaurant can call you up and say, Hey, we’re starting up or we just need a fresh approach to our menu and you come in and consult and what are you, what does that conversation look like?

[00:14:15] Shawn McManus: Yeah, it’s What are the goals? What are the goals and what are the visions? Perhaps it’s numbers, perhaps being a little more organized with recipe development and PAR levels. So you figure out where those opportunities are. And then, what’s that track? What do we need to do first to set that agenda?

[00:14:35] Shawn McManus: On what we need to do and get that checkoff list. What’s our timelines on the, on these sort of things? The financial end of it. The employee. There’s a lot of psychology that goes into it, especially on the employee end of things. And how can we make things more efficient and conducive to this vision that we have with what we’re working with, so that you put all that stuff into that brainstorm, circle cloud and pick it through to figure out what track you’re gonna go on.

[00:15:03] Shawn McManus: And I call that the agenda.

[00:15:05] Vicki Markussen: Because I would think walking into every restaurant, it’s very different, whether it’s the layout, size of the kitchen, what the kitchen is capable of doing, whether it’s equipment, or is that the case?

[00:15:16] Shawn McManus: Yes, absolutely. I’ve never seen two that were identical unless it was a franchise spot.

[00:15:21] Shawn McManus: It’s always a new opportunity. And getting the feedback from the employees and the customers of what they would like to see is really where the future goes, I think with that.

[00:15:33] Vicki Markussen: One of my comments that I heard from someone visiting was, they can’t believe how many locally owned businesses, restaurants, locally owned restaurants this area has.

[00:15:47] Vicki Markussen: Even if you just look at our downtown, there’s very few franchises.

[00:15:51] Shawn McManus: Yeah.

[00:15:52] Vicki Markussen: Why do you think that is? Would you call us like a foodie community?

[00:15:56] Shawn McManus: I would it’s definitely been growing over the past eight to ten years. I know there’s been some rocky points but I think, again, being familiar with the food, food’s memories.

[00:16:08] Shawn McManus: And La Crosse, for me, has always been a memory just because of the Mississippi being here and in the healthcare field, but I think the folks in surrounding areas, whether it be West Salem, Bangor, Sparta, Tomah I think when they come out to eat, they, they It’s a treat, and I think that’s how it should be, and that’s how it started, was gathering in hotels, and that’s where the first restaurants were ever created, and I think the memories through that has launched that boom of the single business owner, small business owner, supporting their local farms, supporting their local businesses, and La Crosse just blows me away with how much they’re really doing that and the impact on the community.

[00:16:50] Vicki Markussen: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s not hard for people to realize that if they think about it of, okay, if you have a local restaurant, they’re obviously going to be working with a lot more local suppliers, whether that’s food, whether that’s the plates and the supplies and the mats and the uniform cleaning or whatever, tablecloth cleaning versus a franchise.

[00:17:10] Vicki Markussen: They come in and they are shipping things from some warehouse and the accountant is, you know, It’s 2, 000 miles away. And so that ripple effect that our local restaurants have is amazing. And of course, everybody felt that during the pandemic of you have back then probably Reinhart food. I think it was still called going, oh my gosh, when the restaurant shut down, we supply them.

[00:17:31] Vicki Markussen: That’s our main, Customer base. So that, that buying local, I mean that people understand that and it gets back to your comment of like people looking at labels and the source of food and that ties in as well just to add another layer to it of how blessed we are to have Organic Valley, the areas like the country’s largest organic food supplier in our country.

[00:17:56] Vicki Markussen: people don’t even realize. So let me get to a question, which is, so is that really one of your core pieces as you are consulting with businesses is how much local sourcing can be done in their menu?

[00:18:12] Shawn McManus: Definitely a large portion. Yep. Again, supporting those local businesses around you. Everyone’s helping everyone.

[00:18:19] Shawn McManus: And that word gets out and I think that’s the true meaning of community.

[00:18:23] Vicki Markussen: Yeah.

[00:18:23] Shawn McManus: And bringing in the local and also identifying that on the menus that, hey our bacon’s coming from Jones or our beef cheeks are coming from Brock’s or whatever it may be. People read those things, they appreciate those things and they remember those things and that food and that memory.

[00:18:42] Shawn McManus: brings them back. Absolutely.

[00:18:43] Vicki Markussen: Yeah, and that’s in part why I do this podcast, is because the story behind the business is what is memorable for people going, Oh, because if you know the owner, you’re ten times more likely to think of that business, or to say, I really love the way that business is approaching things, or however.

[00:19:00] Vicki Markussen: That, that creates a different connection with that place. Before I give you my common closer question, how many recipes do you still make of your grandma’s or your mom’s?

[00:19:14] Shawn McManus: I love getting my mother involved. I have a funny story for you. So my grandmother would make peanut brittle pretty much for every holiday.

[00:19:23] Shawn McManus: And it was like just regular peanuts that were toasted. And then it was an oven. Brittle, so it was softer to the bite. It didn’t stick in your teeth. It was easier to eat even on soft diets. And I really loved it. I’d over consume it, and it had a lot of butter in it and it was not a 500 club menu item.

[00:19:46] Shawn McManus: However, I would call my mother when I would forget that recipe because she had it in a little card that my grandmother actually created in the little card. Cardex style. And then I memorized that recipe, but then I would still call my mother for that recipe to bring back all those memories

[00:20:07] Vicki Markussen: of

[00:20:07] Shawn McManus: that. And yeah.

[00:20:08] Shawn McManus: And then archiving all those recipes. And that’s what my mentors had told me through culinary school was archive these recipes. When you make things It could be one of the best things that you’ve ever tasted or wanted to share. So try and get those recipes. So it’s hard. It’s not easy to archive recipes.

[00:20:28] Shawn McManus: Sometimes when we’re hungry, we just throw a few things in. We’re having fun. And, but if there’s a chance that you’re going to spark magic, I would say, keep that archive. Those are those memories that you can pass down for the generations as well.

[00:20:41] Vicki Markussen: Nice. Okay. Common closer question. What makes you passionate about what you do?

[00:20:47] Shawn McManus: Oh, wow. Easy and hard question, I guess, to answer. I knew when I was young, when I was able to create some sort of food for a stranger or a customer, and then hear that they really enjoyed it. I created something from somebody that I was able to receive feedback, even if it was third party. It’s like a sense of accomplishment.

[00:21:13] Shawn McManus: That I can do something to make a reaction or make an action for this world. So it was an eye opener that I was able to be a part of this world somehow and get that feedback. And cooking just was fun. It was difficult. Ever changing, always learning. All different flavors.

[00:21:36] Shawn McManus: We’re always going to perhaps taste something that I’ve never had that flavor before. That all intrigues me. it’s all about the memories of bringing family and friends and community together. And that part has always been deep in my heart with the family and we all sit down to eat together.

[00:21:56] Vicki Markussen: You have been listening to Sean McManus, the owner of Savory Creations. I am your host, Vicki Markussen. We’ll catch you next week.


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