Stephanie Boone and Jam Sanitchat took different paths to success, but they shared one common characteristic: belief in their products.
By Anastasia Vastakis, Stephanie Boone photos by Tracey Brooks, Jam Sanitchat photos by Jody Horton
Every story has a hero, and every hero has a journey. In most cases, that hero’s journey begins simply. She leads a normal life that leads to a call to action. That call to action leads her on a path to change the world. It’s a story as old as time, yet we now see different versions of it. Two women, Stephanie Boone and Jam Sanitchat, both felt a calling to teach their community. Stephanie Boone, mother, partner and property tax consultant, felt the need to educate her community on the dangers of pet pesticides. She created a safe alternative: Wondercide. Jam Sanitchat has also always felt a yearning to teach and share her knowledge. She did this through her two cookbooks, cooking classes and two restaurants—Thai Fresh and Gati Vegan Ice Cream.
Boone worked full-time as a property tax consultant, then did research after work, all while raising kids and caring for her ailing dog. But she wouldn’t have to maintain the juggling act for long. “After six months, I told my boss, ‘I can’t keep doing my job. I’m going to go focus on this other thing. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I know that I have to work on this.’” It wasn’t easy. She paid for all of the research out of pocket. “I lived off my savings and started the company with a $6,000 credit card that I still use today,” Boone says. “I didn’t pay myself for the first three and a half years, so times were definitely lean.”
Boone spent months playing with different home remedies. Finally, after having met nothing but disappointment, she started to think outside of the box. “The reason I used cedar was because my grandmother passed away and left me her cedar chest,” Boone reveals. “It was months after Luna got sick. I was sitting on the chest and watching Luna have a seizure, and I just had this aha moment. Cedar has been used for centuries to protect things that are valuable.” Thus, the birth of Wondercide. She slowly began marketing her product to small farmers markets in Austin and sold out at the very first one. That’s when she knew Wondercide was something special.
Then, in 2016, Boone was invited to pitch Wondercide on Shark Tank. Shark Lori Greiner offered her $500,000. While Boone accepted the offer on air, she declined it almost immediately after. “On air, you have only a few moments to think about the offer and make a decision. It just wasn’t sitting right with me. After the show, in the moments I had to reflect and think about how I wanted to manage the business, I realized we had to walk away.” Turning down that offer, however, didn’t slow down their progress. In fact, it boosted it exponentially. “Shark Tank…was a turning point,” Boone says. “The next day after the episode aired was our biggest sales day up to that point, and each time the episode airs it continues to introduce us to new Wondercide customers.”
Wondercide was never created to be a cash cow. Rather Boone conceived Wondercide to educate people on the harmful chemicals within the medications we give our pets and the pesticides we use that can harm our pets. “I founded this company to help other families live longer, healthier and happier lives together,” Boone says. “For me, the biggest milestone is the almost million families we’ve helped so far. I can’t wait until we can help tens of millions keep their packs safe.”
For Jam Sanitchat, what started off as a side gig of teaching and sharing her knowledge of food turned into not one, but two full-fledged businesses. While Sanitchat was pursing her master’s at UT, she would cook meals for her roommates using the knowledge she gained from watching her family cook as a child. Small dinners slowly became larger as people began to invite their friends to enjoy her food. “I was using food to connect with people,” she says. After graduating from UT, she says she had a fairy-tale moment. “I was sleeping, and I was like, ‘I think I should teach cooking classes.’ Just like that. I always had that urge to share and to teach. That’s what drove me.”
At this point, everything was smooth sailing financially. She had no debt coming out of college and used the money she made waiting tables and from her cooking classes to sustain herself. Teaching classes at home soon became a bigger project. She moved onto farmers markets.
Like Boone, Sanitchat’s first farmers market—Sunset Valley Farmers Market—was a hit. She sold out. Though expanding at that time might have seemed problematic financially, Sanitchat had no problem at all. With the lack of employees and overhead, all she had to do was buy the ingredients and occasionally rent out a kitchen to prep the food.
Selling at farmers markets quickly evolved to opening up her first restaurant, Thai Fresh, in 2008. For about the first four or five years, Sanitchat’s financial advisors told her Thai Fresh might not make it. They were concerned because the numbers weren’t where they needed to be. However, Sanitchat believed in her food. “I believed in my product, my ideas and my philosophy,” she says. After the fifth year, the numbers finally started adding up. Things were running smoothly, but she wanted more. “We switched to no-tip and table service and paid everyone a living wage,” Sanitchat says. “We paid into that insurance policy, giving paid time off. When I was able to do that, I knew I was successful financially and in society because I was able to bring this change to the company and the industry.”
While she was on this journey with Thai Fresh, she released two cookbooks: The Everything Thai Cookbook in 2013 and Thai Fresh: Beloved Recipes from a South Austin Icon, in September 2020. She also opened a new restaurant, Gati Vegan Ice Cream, in October. She defeated the odds of opening a business during a pandemic, despite the many obstacles that popped up along the way.
While these two women have two different areas of expertise, both have a couple of things in common. They are strong women who know the worth of their product, and they refused to give up, even when the odds were stacked against them. Both women offer this advice. Believe in your product and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Starting a business is never easy. But the first step to success is believing in yourself and your product. Everything else will fall into place with hard work and patience.