Sazón has become a popular restaurant in the Brodhead Center, serving around 700 customers per day. But despite the initial popularity, the eatery is still looking for ways to improve.
Thursday’s Duke University Student Dining Advisory Committee meeting focused on Sazón and its plans to improve. Kyle Rosch, director of operations for both Sazón and neighboring restaurant Il Forno, announced several new products on Sazón’s docket.
“Our goal with Sazón was to bridge the gap between familiarity and authenticity,” Rosch said. “We wanted to make sure that everybody can enjoy our food, but we also wanted to be able to highlight various spices and flavors from different regions because they differ so much.”
The most prominent of these ideas was that the eatery will soon introduce regional specialties—items that are specifically made to represent one country or region in Latin America.
When the regional specialty foods hit the counter at Sazón, Rosch said he hopes that they will move Sazón even closer to this goal.
Among the planned specialty foods are chicken empanadas and horchata—a drink that typically contains rice, milk, vanilla and cinnamon—which DUSDAC members sampled on Thursday. Soon, Rosch added he plans to have one of these specials available every week. These items will cost less than Sazón’s regular menu items, he said, contrary to the usual custom for specials.
“We want people to be able to justify eating at Sazón once a day, or however often they want,” Rosch said. “It may be that not many people are eating these specials every day, but it’s an important aspect of promoting the culture of Sazón.”
Rosch has been working with Aris Marton, assistant director of retail operations for Duke Dining, to create channels of communication between Sazón and the student body so that students can request specials for the coming weeks. The best way to do this is by email, Rosch mentioned.
Rosch and Marton said they plan to open an email account specifically for students to request specialty food items and send general suggestions to Sazón. When this opens, it will be reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The restaurant has been adapting to requests from students since it opened at the beginning of the semester. Rosch said he noticed a demand for brown rice a few weeks ago, so Sazón recently started offering it alongside their white rice. The brown rice has been popular since its introduction and will become a mainstay at Sazón, he added.
Many students, including members of Mi Gente—Duke's official Latinx student organization—were also dissatisfied by Sazón’s lack of a spicy salsa. Sazón responded by creating its own habanero red sauce, which is available now.
“I didn’t want to make it so spicy that it would mask all the flavors of the food,” Rosch said. “However, we had a lot of people who would ask for the spiciest sauce we had. I wanted to solve that issue.”
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Sazón isn’t just serving arepa bowls and quesadillas. Rosch said the restaurant is also serving an important niche as the first Latin American restaurant that addresses Latinx students’ desires for authentic food, which were unfulfilled at this time last year.
“It was a need that had to be filled on campus,” Rosch said. “We have long lines and we’re getting better at moving them quickly.”
“Long lines” may be an understatement. Sazón is serving about 700 customers every day, according to Rosch. The restaurant processes an average of 1 order every 42 seconds.
Sazón makes all their food by hand, so their employees arrive as early as 5:30 a.m. to begin prep work. Cutting tomatoes for their pico de gallo every day takes about 4.5 hours per day, and they go through 120 pounds of the salsa each day, along with 30 pounds of flour for their arepas. Sazón’s barbacoa and carnitas have to be slow-cooked for 13 hours every night, and their guacamole is made in-house.
Running such a large-scale operation has taken lots of manual labor over the last four weeks, but Rosch said he’s happy with how the restaurant is settling in.
After a chorus of glowing testimonials from many DUSDAC members, Rosch ended the meeting by saying that all the work that he and his staff have put in is worth it.
“Knowing that it’s so well-received and people are appreciating what we’re putting out, all our chefs are in very good spirits,” he said.