In the middle of a global pandemic, Dana Dumas, chef-owner of SugarJam The Southern Kitchen, took a leap of faith and moved her existing restaurant into a bigger space in the Scottsdale Airpark. The new 5,000-square-foot spot houses all aspects of her growing business: a full-service brunch restaurant, bar and bakery. The move proved to be a good one. “I‘m doing numbers that I had only dreamt about in my other location,” she says.
As the restaurant’s name suggests, Dumas puts out Southern cuisine from fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits to salmon croquettes and grits. Dumas also makes pies, including sweet potato and bourbon pecan, as well as assorted hand-made cookies and cupcakes.
We recently dished with Dumas. Here’s what she had to say:
How did you become interested in cooking?
When I was growing up, my grandmother, my mom’s mom, was a fantastic cook. l always loved watching her cook and eating her cooking. My dad is also an awesome cook. He would always talk through what he was cooking and I guess subconsciously I was listening and internalizing it. My dad always taught me to taste my food. ‘Don’t eat to eat, eat to taste.’ The first book my dad gave me was the Joy of Cooking and I watched cooking shows before they became reality shows.
Have you ever thought about competing on a Food Network show?
No, but a few years ago the Food Network contacted me for a spring baking championship show. I’m a traditional baker. My stuff is classic American baking. I don’t spin sugar, I don’t do wild designs. I know what my bandwidth is and if you asked me to bake the best pie, that’s a show I would be on. I would do that in a heartbeat.
What’s your favorite item to cook?
I enjoy making grits because there’s a real technique to doing grits. When I eat them in a restaurant, they’re either underdone or not smooth enough. Grits have a beautiful taste and a fluffiness. I love making roux and that’s part of the creole shrimp and grits I make here. I also love cooking shrimp in different ways. If I make a pan-seared salmon I can put some honey-glazed shrimp on top. I can make shrimp Italian or Caribbean in flavor. I can just do so many things with it.
What are you most proud of regarding your business?
I started as the girl at the farmers market selling cookies and here I am 10 years later with a 5,000-square-foot restaurant and I employ 26 people. I look at that and take a step back for a minute and I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m affecting these people’s lives.’ I’m so happy when one of them tells me they bought a new car or somebody else was able to buy their first house. And then they tell me ‘I couldn’t have done it without you. This place is like my second home and I’m so happy to not just have a job, but you’re also creating a career for me.’
Who inspires you?
Bea Smith. She was an African American woman model who went on to become a restaurateur in New York. She was an author and also had her own line of home goods that were sold in Kmart and other east coast retailers. She was awe-inspiring to me for her fortitude. This was back in the ’70s. It was such a different time to be a leader and I was very much inspired by her.
What else would you like people to know?
I’m also a mom of twin boys – Braden and Brody are 12 and they’re one year older than the inception of my business. People don’t realize that there’s a huge balancing act, more so for women in business. I’m a mom, a wife and a business owner and I have staff on top of that. Everyone wants a part of you. Sometimes you have to make your own time and step away for a little bit. I love what I do and I’m very passionate about it. I have so many things on my mind – sometimes I just have to slow down and be in the moment.