Karly Nielsen/Director EBBA, Heather Santi/ Owner Eggs in the City, Donna Reid/ Outgoing Principal Bonneville Elementary School at this month’s EBBA Breakfast
Last week Heather Santi, owner of Eggs in the City, and Donna Reid, outgoing Bonneville Elementary principal, spoke to the East Bench Business Association (EBBA) about their experiences as Yalecrest-community fixtures. Of course they didn’t use that term; both are far too humble to resort to pretense. But those are terms the rest of us use when we talk about them: fixtures, treasures, icons; all terms that denote, very aptly, their pivotal presence at the heart of our community.
Comfort Food and Community
Heather Santi will tell you that she had no idea what she was getting herself into when she opened Eggs in the City. She grew up in Price, Utah with her family owning and operating bars there and in Salt Lake (Murphy’s and Duffy’s). She had restauranteering in her bones, but no interest in staying in the bar industry. Her goal, her big idea was simple: sharing food that, “just made people feel good inside.”
The solution to Heather’s simple idea was an old fashioned your-mother-could-have-made-this breakfast and lunch joint. It would allow her to be off everyday at three for her son’s baseball games and give her the chance to serve some of her dad’s best comfort-food recipes. While she scoured over 200 breakfast menus from around the country composing the quintessential brunch carte du jour, her now ex-husband scouted potential locations.
“I have to admit, I did not see the potential,” Heather laughingly admits when she talks about his location selection on the northwest corner of 1700 E and 1300 S. The old garage turned coffee shop where Eggs has served from for over 15 years now, was not exactly what she had in mind. Nor did she think her business would last more than a few months. “After opening day I thought ‘that’s it, we are done.’ I was certain I had failed: we had 2,000 customers show up and I had to put my entire family to work; there were no systems, no training, all kinds of unsolicited advice and nothing going as planned.”
But time, quality employees (Jared and Cat have been with her for almost ten years) and loyal customers changed her perspective.
“Now our corner, along with Jolley’s Building and Harmon’s, is the center of the community. My marriage didn’t survive the business, but I fell in love with the neighborhood. The very best part of my job is getting to know the people who come into our restaurant. My father had the wisest advice: he said, ‘customers will follow you; if you have a loyal customer base you can go anywhere and they will go with you.’ We have built our business recognizing faces and getting to know people: we have been a part of families changing and growing up, seen babies and grandbabies born, experienced dear friends pass away. It’s much more than just food.”
Putting people first is something Heather says is the heart of her business and life philosophy. “I would tell anyone starting a business to try and meet someone new everyday. And go the extra mile: ask questions, get to know them. That’s what it’s all about.”
Another piece of advice to small businesses: spend less money on advertising, more money on giving, and more time listening to your neighbors. “I spend very little on advertising. I prefer to spend my resources raising money for charity and giving out gift certificates. Anything I can do to be part of a community.”
“Growing up in a small town I knew what it was like to live and work with your neighbors: you needed paint, you’d go to the small, specialized paint store; cookies, walk to baker down the street. It breaks my heart that my hometown has been overrun by national chains; it has changed how the community connects and cares for each other. That’s one of the reasons supporting other small businesses, supporting local restaurants is important to me. Our neighborhoods need us to put money into local spots to keep them vibrant.”
Brian Conley, Karen Cluff, Donna Reid, Deborah Dubek at Spring EBBA Breakfast
Right Place, Right Time and Hard Work
Donna Reid, this month’s Outstanding Neighbor recipient knew she wanted to be a teacher at a an early age. “The irony of it is, I didn’t really like going to school,” Donna jokes. But education was her passion and she soldiered through her bachelors degree. When it was time to get a full-time job, she decided to return to Utah to begin her career.
“I had a hard time getting my foot in the door. I began subbing around the valley and one day was sent to teach the 5th grade class at Farnsworth Elementary. It was the most challenging class I ever taught! I went home that night and thought, ‘I can’t let those kids get the best of me; I’ve got to go back.’ The next morning I called the school principal and told her that I wanted one more day with those kids. She said, ‘You’re in luck, the teacher just quit. You’ve got the job.’”
Donna spent eight years teaching in the classroom before she was encouraged to get a masters degree as an administrator. “I was really nervous about it,” Donna confides, “I took several non matriculated classes just to get the feel of things, and then I did it. My friends all teased that I did it just to get out of recess duty!”
In her 41-year career, Donna’s experience as teacher and administrator has spanned the gamut. She spent the majority of her years in the Granite School District: fourteen years as a teacher, seven years as principal at Woodstock Elementary, and nine years at Hillsdale Elementary, an at-risk elementary school on the westside where she was nominated as most distinguished Principal in Granite School District.
Donna was planning to retire at her 30-year mark with Granite School District when a chance conversation changed the course of her plans. Brian Conley, Salt Lake City School District’s Executive Director of Schools, just happened to sit next to Donna at a school administration conference. Bonneville Elementary was looking for a new principal; Brian thought Donna would be the perfect fit, and convinced her to apply. In Donna’s own words, “Sitting at the table with Brian changed my life.”
This conversation changed the lives of thousands of Bonneville Elementary students as well. Eleven years later, Bonneville Elementary has been ranked as the top school in the state (by test scores) for three of the last five years, and in the top 5 for the last five years. It is also widely recognized as a school with a distinguished faculty, strong parent involvement, robust Arts and Science support, and expansive extracurricular offerings. Families living in the Harvard/Yale area often cite Bonneville’s excellence as one of the reasons they moved into the area.
“Bonneville was the perfect place for me to end my career.” Donna surmises. “Being there has given me a real hope for our future as a country. I’ve always felt like I love my country by loving and teaching children. I love children, I care about education, I love my job; life is happy when your job is meaningful.”
EBBA director Karly Nielsen concluded, “In my experience, Donna handled every challenge with grace and intelligence. She is a careful and thoughtful listener; she is empathetic and pragmatic at the same time. Her solutions always take into account the needs of her students balanced with the needs of her teachers and her vision of excellence. She will be sorely missed; her work has made a mark on many of us, parents and students alike. She is leaving some very big shoes to fill in our community.”