Restaurant News

Sweet Republic's Jan Wichayanuparp Lands a Fellowship From the James Beard Foundation

The Toffee Banofi Sundae at Sweet Republic.
The Toffee Banofi Sundae at Sweet Republic. Jacob Tyler Dunn

The women behind Sweet Republic are one of Phoenix's longest running culinary teams.

Helen Yung handles the flavor profiles (we hear avocado is coming soon) and the chef side of things, while Jan Wichayanuparp takes care of business — everything from health codes to insurance to expansion (speaking of which, that's coming as well — with an additional 2,000 square feet landing soon at SR's flagship in Scottsdale and talk of another scoop shop).

Now Wichayanuparp's about to get busier. Soon, she'll begin a fellowship sponsored by the James Beard Foundation.

Designed for women culinary entrepreneurs, this fellowship gives recipients the chance to participate in a five-day slate of business-focused courses and mentorship programs at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Through the subsequent months, a string of webinars will follow. The goal of the Women’s Entrepreneurial Program is to increase the number and success of women working in food and beverage, and to help select women chef/owners take their businesses to the next level, whatever that level may be.

For Sweet Republic, that means expansion — which won't be easy.

“All our ice cream is from-scratch and labor-intensive,” Wichayanuparp explains. “That’s why we don’t have a kitchen in every location.”

Indeed, Sweet Republic churns out stellar ice cream because of how thoughtfully Wichayanuparp and Yung attack the details. They source mint from a farm that top restaurants use; they have an in-house confectioner who crafts all the candies and sauces that go into ice cream flavors. When you’re operating on this lapidary level, it becomes tricky to move beyond one primary kitchen.

“We have planned to expand,” Wichayanuparp says. “It’s fortuitous that this fellowship is happening now. But we’re not sure of our direction of growth. The fellowship will help.”

Wichayanuparp hopes to pull off the elusive trick of expanding while maintaining quality. She says she has seen too many places mushroom from a few locations to a few dozen, losing two steps and all the magic in the process. The owners also hope to expand in a way that will allow for the continued success of Sweet Republic employees (who now get IRA matching and other perks).

"What I hope to take away from my fellowship is to gain clarity on how to achieve growth and successful expansion of Sweet Republic without compromising our commitment to creating a superior unique ice cream for our customers and continuing to invest in our team members. I am also looking forward to this unique opportunity to spend time with highly talented female chefs and successful food business owners to get their perspective on how they deal with the same challenges," Wichayanuparp says.

"I think that having a more feminine approach to work that emphasize collaboration has been hugely beneficial for Sweet Republic. As women entrepreneurs, Helen and I are free from approaching the business with a stereotypical winner/loser dichotomy or a fiefdom mentality. We both admire and appreciate each other's drive, strong work ethics, and high proficiency."

And their ice cream tastes really, really good.

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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy