Interview with Sarah McIntosh of épicerie

I was lucky enough to sit down with Sarah McIntosh, the owner and chef of one of Austin’s newest restaurants, épicerie.

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Épicerie, which means grocery in French, is a neighborhood cafe and grocery nestled across the street from Fonda San Miguel in Austin. You’ll find a simple and delicious cafe menu that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not to mention Blue Bottle Coffee, and a host of local and imported select beers and wines. You can pick up fresh cuts of cheeses, meats and other speciality goods at épicerie.

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(Photo credit Steven Rudd)

She is effortlessly wonderful, and you can catch her smile shining across the room. Sarah left Louisiana State University to attend culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Austin. From there she completed an externship at Bouchon Bakery in Napa. Once back in Austin, Sarah worked at several restaurants, but was most notably a sous chef at the highly regarded Olivia. It was at Olivia that Sarah decided to open her own restaurant. After a lot of brainstorming and back and forth with mentors, épicerie was born.

Sarah’s story is quite inspiring, and she let me pick her brain with a few questions about her experiences.

When did you start cooking?

With my mom as a teenager. My grandparents on my mom’s side are cattle farmers, so I grew up eating things like cow tongue. I didn’t realize other people didn’t eat that!

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Why did you want to start your own restaurant?

While I was at Olivia, I realized that I was circling at the top of the game in Austin. If you don’t own your own restaurant then the best you can be is a chef at somebody else’s restaurant. So, I decided to do my own restaurant.

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What was the biggest obstacle to opening épicerie?

Finding the right space. It’s hard because you start to envision your dream in a certain space, but then you run into issues with the city or with the outdoor seating space. Sometimes those things you really want don’t work in a particular space.

The scariest part of having your own restaurant is being vulnerable and putting, essentially, your art out there. Putting your dish out there and hoping people will like it.

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What are your favorite Austin restaurants?

Uchi. Barley Swine, Contigo, Kome. I really like sushi. I like food that I really know nothing about. I’ve never worked in a sushi restaurant.

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What’s your favorite city?

New Orleans.

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What drew you to Austin?

I came for culinary school, but then I came back for my now husband. We were on and off, and I wasn’t involved in a lot around the city. It took a while, but now Austin feels like home. As you meet more people, your circle expands. I used to hear about the big wigs downtown opening a new restaurant. Now, I’m on a first name basis with those people, and they are eating in my restaurant.

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Will épicerie have a brother or a sister?

Yes. Probably a brother.

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If you weren’t doing épicerie, what would you be doing?

I don’t know– a housewife? Haha, no… I would probably be doing something in a creative field. I really had a lot of fun designing this space.

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What is the best thing about owning your own restaurant?

It’s nice to put your heart and soul into something and have people like it. There are always going to be people who won’t like it, but we have a lot of people that do. We have a lady who comes in about four times a week. To create something that people like and feel that comfortable coming back to feels really good.

Check out the menu and be sure to stop by épicerie soon!

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