Clutch MOV is proud to sponsor this year’s Mid-Ohio Valley Entrepreneur of the Year. We envision a community where citizens can take risks on the promise that success would uplift the residents of our valley. Artists, creators, makers, and small business owners strive to build something anew, something worth putting their stamp on – to promote and share with each other – and entrepreneurs are on the edge, finding ways to build in a way that hasn’t been done before. This year we received dozens of nominations for innovative, forward-thinking, community-building entrepreneurs from the Mid-Ohio Valley. The panel believed six individuals stood out for the impact they are making through their work. We are sharing their stories in this series.

Sara Sauls and her husband Eric had always dreamed of opening a diner and in 2014 their dream came true through the creation of Joe Momma’s Kitchen. Although neither had traditional culinary training or experience running a restaurant, they knew they had what it takes to make it happen.

At the time, Sara was beginning to feel burnt out in her career as a nurse and was looking for a new opportunity to use her skills for good. “As a nurse by trade, I knew I wanted a job that would allow me to bring comfort and happiness to others,” she said. “Good food usually accomplishes that for me!” The couple was presented with an opportunity to open at Oak Grove Christian School, allowing Sarah and Eric to dip their toes in the water and start with take-out and delivery while maintaining their full-time jobs. The response from the community was so great, that when space opened up in the Frontier Shopping Center in Marietta, Ohio, they felt confident enough to go all in.

The concept for Joe Momma’s Kitchen is based on the comforts of home-cooking and community. “We really wanted to provide families who live the fast-paced life with a good, home-cooked meal,” said Sara. “It’s so hard with children that are in sports and have extra-curricular activities to nail down a dinner time and meal that works.”

We’ve been able to bring groups together to reach a common goal and ultimately that makes the place we call home just a little brighter.

Sara said they wanted Joe Momma’s to be a place where the community could come together for a common goal, where community building could take place. So, they decided to give 100% of their tips to local charities, choosing a different charity each month. “Customers can’t wait to hear who tips will go to each month,” she said, “our tip board lets everyone learn about a new group and what that group or organization does for our community.”

Sara handing a tip check to CARE (Compassionate Animal Resources for the Elderly), a local 501c3 nonprofit serving Washington County, OH and Wood County, WV.

It was an easy decision for Sara, Eric, and their staff to make. “We donate 100% of our tips because we both have lived and loved this community for most of our lives. We were both raised to understand the importance of giving back and we both have a pretty deep love for this awesome place we get to call home,” said Sara. Their staff is behind the decision 100% and actively participate in deciding which charity to benefit each month. In their first year, their team was able to donate over $17,000 to 11 different local charities. “We’ve been able to bring groups together to reach a common goal and ultimately that makes the place we call home just a little brighter.”

For Sara, this is the most rewarding part of owning her own business. “I love handing the tip checks over every month and seeing the impact we’ve been able to have on our community.” In addition to donating their tips, Joe Momma’s Kitchen recently became a Partner in Education with Marietta Middle School, began hosting mental health aid classes and used their space to host an art show that helped spread awareness for suicide prevention.

Joe Momma’s Kitchen handing a tip check to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Sara also loves working with her husband and children every day, as Joe Momma’s really is a family-run business. This can also be a challenge, though she said the biggest challenge is working day in and day out without much of a break. “Even on closed days, we have shopping, catering, menu planning, scheduling – the list goes on. This is definitely the hardest part for me. There are no paid vacation days or sick time and sometimes that is difficult to face.”

It is incredibly humbling to have someone stand beside you and believe in your dream.

Although Joe Momma’s Kitchen is the brainchild of Sara and Eric, the business has a special place in the heart of the community. When making the leap from Oak Grove to full restaurant, Sara said she could not say enough good things about the kindness shared with her and her family. “Joe Momma’s is the result of an entire community coming together. If you walk through our restaurant, you see the community mural, the custom hand-built seating, the community photos, the beautiful granite countertops, the quirky signs, and our cute, cozy window seat. Every one of those things was something I worried about when we were trying to open. They are all things I wasn’t sure how we would accomplish or pay for, and they are all things that were gifted or donated to us by community members, family, and friends who believed in our dream. It is incredibly humbling to have someone stand beside you and believe in your dream.” Sara said she will never forget them or their kindness.

She encourages those looking to start their own business to make sure they truly love whatever it is they’re about to take on. “Most likely the level of commitment and work required will test you. I think you’ll only succeed if you love what you’re doing.”