From entrepreneurship to Cleveland, how a KSU alum opened his own restaurant

Customers sit at the bar at Sauce in the City.

From hustling to sell his “Vic Fries” that were created in Leebrick Hall, Kent State alumni Victor Searcy credits his entrepreneurship knowledge to the resources Kent State offered him as a student.

The self-taught chef, who worked in multiple restaurants before owning one, now has two Sauce the City locations in Cleveland, Ohio. One is located in the Ohio City Gallery on W. 25th St. and the other is in the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in downtown Cleveland. Customers order Victor’s D’ETE Signature Seasoning Sauce on their favorite dishes. Sauce the City’s most popular item is the hot chicken sandwich.

The famous sauce started with his Entrepreneurship 101 final project, a pitch to Denise Easterly where he created his “Vic Fries.” 

“I pitched that to the class for the final and got a good grade. When I was pitching, I saw some guys in suits in rafters in the class. I asked the teacher who are those guys. She said those are investors. They know Kent students have great ideas, but they don’t have money to fund those ideas. Once I found out that, I decided I’m going to do this on my own.”

When Searcy was a sophomore, he began to take on festivals and carnivals selling his “Vic Fries” with his signature sauce.

“Got a turkey fryer, loaded up my Ford Taurus and we went on to do the festivals and the sauce became a hit. Even though we had no idea what we were doing.”

Searcy used tools specifically from LaunchNET Kent State and his business courses to help him pursue his entrepreneurship dreams. 

LaunchNET Kent State is a member of NEOLaunchNET, powered by the Burton D. Morgan Foundation. LaunchNET Kent State is a co-curricular, cross-campus program that serves students, alumni, staff and faculty to promote entrepreneurial thinking and innovative mindsets. It also provides professional connections with Northeast Ohioans. 

Searcy said he was one of the first students involved in Blackstone Launchpad, which is now called LaunchNET Kent State. He recalled the essential things the organization taught him.

“They taught me how to pitch in front of people. They taught me how to present my company. They taught me how to put a profit and law statement together. Basically, all the essential things lenders look for, Kent State provided me the information to do it.”

Julie Messing, executive director of LaunchNet, focuses on connecting students with funding needs on a larger scale pertaining to their innovative ideas. 

Messing said she played a role in connecting Victor directly to his desired market and people outside of Kent State when it came to expanding his idea. Messing recalls connecting Victor to a global group of entrepreneurs, The Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO).

According to EO Cleveland website, The Entrepreneurs’ Organization is a global, peer-to-peer network of more than 14,000+ influential business owners with 193 chapters in 60 countries. 

The EO LaunchNET connection helped Victor meet co-president of Heinen’s Fine Foods, Tom Heinen.

“Working with EO, Victor was able to go to some of those workshops and programming with those entrepreneurs that are a couple stages ahead of him. It also opened the door to connect him to Tom Heinen. … That got Victor in front of somebody to be a potential distributor of his product.”

After graduation, Searcy had a distribution deal with Amazon and sold products in 12 stores. 

Messing said she believes one of their advisors also connected Victor with the Cleveland Culinary Kitchen where he continued to develop his product among people who developed commercial food products.

“That’s what we bring to the table. We want to work with you and coach you to the point where you’re ready to sit in front of them and make a really good impression.”

Searcy said the business school helped him with his entrepreneurship journey. This includes the entrepreneurship pitches for finals that got him in front of potential investors and Kent’s $3,000 Venture Growth Grant that helped him support his business.

Denise Easterly, Kent State faculty member in the Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship, taught Victor as an undergraduate student. She said she was not surprised to hear Victor Searcy is successful entrepreneur owning Cleveland restaurant Sauce the City. She described Victor as a creative go-getter and true entrepreneur.

“Every time I saw him he had moved forward. He wasn’t one of those people that showed up like ‘hey I got an idea’ and ‘oh gee, I haven’t really done anything.”

Easterly loves Victor’s courage to go out and do. She said it’s a fairly unique personality trait in entrepreneurship.

“Yeah, I remember him because he’s going places. He’s one of those. We are all going to be saying, ‘hey, I know him. I knew him.’”

Easterly said Victor’s enthusiasm and personality is infectious.

“Everyone remembers him because of who he is. It doesn’t really have anything to do with entrepreneurship, he’s just a quality human.”

Contact Celetre Jones at [email protected].