On the day I met Sarah Zubiate, she was decked out in a cowboy hat as white and wide as her smile. The hat wasn’t just a fashion statement—Zubiate was coming inside from her fields at ZUBI Farms, where she grows the ingredients for ZUBI’S, her line of plant-based, sustainably sourced Latin fare: fresh salsa, dairy-free queso and dairy-free crema. “I have potential investors from Dubai coming today,” she shared, “and they’ll be here soon to tour our operation.”
It’s another exciting development for ZUBI’S (which you can buy at Whole Foods, Central Market and Sprouts, or online at eatzubi.com), but Zubiate is just as passionate about her other job: raising her children alongside her husband, whom she married at the beginning of the pandemic. Zubiate opens up about learning she was adopted, creating healthy foods people love, and why she believes her divorce made her the best mom and entrepreneur she can be.
ABOUT ZUBI’S CEO AND FOUNDER
Lives in Highland Park and Athens, Texas (where her family ranch and ZUBI Farms are located)
Hails from El Paso
Alma mater St. Edward’s University; BBA, finance and marketing
Significant other Husband Monty Bennett, chairman of the Ashford Group of Companies; CEO of Ashford Inc., a hospitality real estate and operations company; and publisher of Dallas Express
Children Twins Louis and Liliana, 9, and stepsons Jack, 9, and Luke, 6
Where to connect @sarahezubiate and @eatzubi on Instagram
ONE-ON-ONE WITH SARAH ZUBIATE
DFWChild: You found out at age 17 that you were adopted. What was that like?
Sarah Zubiate: Earth-shattering and also a relief. I was raised as the only child of George and Gloria Zubiate, but I’d always felt a little out of place. Then I was told, “Your birth mother was a housekeeper for your aunt, and she had to give you up because she could not afford to keep you.” Thankfully, they knew her well enough that they could tell me about her and share beautiful aspects of her personality. She’s a tough woman.
DFWChild: Is your biological mother part of your life now?
SZ: Yes, and my siblings—I have an older sister and brother and also a younger brother. My older sister found my family in the phone book when I was in college, and that’s how we first connected. But my biological mother always planned to know me. She moved back to Mexico after I was born, but she said, “I will meet my little girl, and I’m going to bring my kids to the U.S.” And she did. It’s been incredible. At the time we met, none of my siblings had gone to college. And now everyone has at least a bachelor’s degree. My brother actually now runs one of my husband’s companies. My birth mother is so proud.
DFWChild: How did you get into the food business?
SZ: When I was in high school, I worked at Bennigan’s. There was something about it—I saw how food brings people together. I didn’t want to run a restaurant; those hours aren’t for me. But I did want to bring people together. I worked in finance first. I was a fixed-income trader, then did asset management consulting within the investment space, then was a vice president of investments.
DFWChild: What inspired you to make the jump to running your own food company?
SZ: Before I had my twins, I told my company that I wasn’t coming back and that I was going to start my business. It was something I felt called to do. And it was still scientifically driven and oriented, so I could use my analytical abilities. I didn’t really have an experience in the industry though. I thought, I’ve studied; I have so many documents and analytics I’ve created to make sure I’m going to be successful. Oh gosh, no. You have to live it in order to really understand it. That’s what I preach now: If you want to do something in an industry, especially something so specific, have some experience.
DFWChild: Your business is all about sustainability and plant-based products. Why are those things important to you?
SZ: My grandparents owned a grocery store and farmed a lot of the groceries they sold. I loved the connectedness to the earth, and that’s so lost in today’s system of consumption. So I wanted to bring that back. Anything that’s not used in my manufacturing process, I use in compost on the farm. We use drip irrigation, which saves tons of water. A lot of people don’t know about these systems or for whatever reason don’t want to use them. But for me, I want to keep integrity in my food and operations.
My products are also free of the top allergens. I thought it would be a unique differentiator, and that also makes the sauces anti-inflammatory. The plant-based approach is also personal to me—I want my parents to be healthy. Influencing the Latin person’s diet when they’re an immigrant in their eighties is tough. Like everybody, they’re used to eating a certain way. I thought, Well, if I can create staples from our family table but swap out ingredients for healthier versions, that has to help.
Every little thing that’s changed in our food affects so much in our bodies. I guess more and more people are becoming aware of that, but my parents don’t care. They just want something that tastes good. So I knew that my healthy dips and salsa had to taste excellent. If you’re going to be swapping out what they grew up with, it has to be better. And it worked. My parents love ZUBI’S.
“I AM A WORKAHOLIC … I STILL FEEL LIKE I’M A FANTASTIC MOTHER, AND I BELIEVE IT’S BECAUSE I’M DIVORCED.”
DFWChild: How has starting a company influenced your children? Do they love cooking or have an interest in entrepreneurship?
SZ: My daughter loves to be in the kitchen. I’m a classically trained pianist and singer, so I wanted my kids to play music. My daughter was taking piano, but she has dyslexia. She said, “Mommy, it’s just too hard. But what comes naturally to me is cooking.” So we cook all the time together. And my son lives and breathes the business side of it. Over the summer, I developed a curriculum for them to learn about business, how to run your own company, the principles of accounting, but in a way 9-year-olds can understand. I’m looking at using the curriculum as the foundation for a camp in the future.
DFWChild: How do you have time for it all?
SZ: Work-life balance is a struggle for me. I am a workaholic, almost to an unhealthy degree. I still feel like I’m a fantastic mother, and I believe it’s because I’m divorced. And here’s why. When the kids aren’t with me, I don’t have to stop to do this or that. I will just plow through work whenever the munchkins are with their dad, and when I’m with them, I’m so present.
And the life that I now married into, it’s very different. We have a lot of help out here on our ranch. We have wonderful help at my home in Dallas. I wouldn’t have a work-life balance without those people in my life.
DFWChild: You mentioned that your daughter Liliana has a learning difference, and your 6-year-old stepson Luke has Down syndrome. What’s it like parenting children with diverse needs?
SZ: In some ways, I feel like my past prepared me for this. I led development at the YMCA to get the Rise School of Dallas built. My husband was the lead donor. It’s the Ashford Rise School of Dallas now, named after his company. That’s actually how we met. And I volunteered with children who had Down syndrome when I was in college. So I felt very prepared to advocate for little Lukey.
And yes, Liliana has dyslexia and ADHD, and Louis has ADHD. There’s definitely a balancing act to meet their needs, but you manage. I have a wonderful group of friends and moms, and we support each other. I’m always out there asking questions and trying to find the best answers.
SARAH ZUBIATE’S CULINARY FAVORITES
Our Mom Next Door dishes on the recipe she makes all time time, her must-have kitchen tool, and more.
Recipe on Repeat
“One of my favorite dishes to make and eat is Tex-Mex Migas. They are perfect for a family on the go—they’re simple, fast to make and healthy to enjoy. My kids love them as well! I probably make them several times a week.”
- Sauté 1 jar of ZUBI’S Salsa and 2 tablespoons of ZUBI’S Crema
- Add crushed tortilla chips, stir, then cook for 1 or 2 minutes.
- Sauté eggs in half of a jar of salsa & half a jar of ZUBI’S queso; slow scramble or fry.
- Plate the salsa and chips and then add the fried eggs on top, and garnish with cilantro, avocado, red onion, and cotija (or dairy-free cheese). Top with more crema for extra spice.
Get the full recipe at eatzubi.com.
“The Berkeley Bowl Cookbook, based on produce from the Berkeley Bowl supermarket in California. It helps you bring color into a side dish or main dish while staying connected to the earth through natural products. This cookbook is best for someone who is willing to venture out a little bit, but it’s a fantastic way to introduce new and exciting ingredients to your family.”
Who Inspires Her
“Josefa Navarro of the Paco Gandía restaurant in Spain. She is famous for her paella [a rice dish]. Her dishes are just so authentic, from how she sources her ingredients to how she maintains her humble beginnings to stay in touch with her roots.”
Must-Have Kitchen Tool
“A lime squeezer! I use that for my drinks, cocktails, food, everything. When I visited my parents recently, they didn’t have a lime squeezer. I got one right away to keep at their house so I could use it.”
Getting Kids Cooking
“For me, what really worked was not pushing my kids to be in the kitchen with me. Instead, I focused on storytelling associated with the eating. It worked, I think, because my children are sentimental like I am, so I could associate a dish with stories and tie it back to a person they knew. I would start by saying, “Let me tell you why it’s so special to me,” and I get to see their faces light up. Now, they help me in the kitchen all the time, and they’ve even started asking me about different dishes at restaurants, talking about where the ingredients come from and why they’re used.”
Photos courtesy of ZUBI’S