Sandy Blanchard started in the food service business at age 20, as a waitress at Golden Corral in Gonzales, Texas.
She got promoted six months later, and worked in management for several years at various restaurants throughout the country, from Houston to upstate New York.
In 1995, she and her husband came to Northwest Arkansas, as he was offered a morning show job at KKIX-FM, 103.9 “KIX 104.”
Upon the move, Blanchard planned to take a step back from the responsibility of leadership roles, and just work as a server. However, all that changed when she learned of a new restaurant company called MarketPlace in Springdale.
“I was so intrigued by what I was hearing about this company, I actually asked if they had a manager position available,” she said.
There was not one open at the time. However, just three days after Blanchard decided to take a job at another company, she got a call from MarketPlace owner Dave Strong. He told her a manager had been let go, and asked her to come in for an interview, which led to her being hired as a manager for MarketPlace Grill.
“Accepting that interview was one of the best decisions of my life,” Blanchard said.
Her husband retired from the “Buck and James” radio show 18 years later, but Blanchard has stayed with her career at MarketPlace.
She is one of 10 employees who have been with the company 20 years — since its inception.
MarketPlace marked its 20th anniversary with a picnic at Tyson Park on Aug. 21.
Anyone who has ever worked at a MarketPlace restaurant concept was invited to attend.
A few former staff members are now married to each other and have children, and Blanchard considers meeting their families a highlight.
Through the years, many of the staff members and the customers have become Blanchard’s close friends.
She credits the longevity of her career to her dedication to serving others.
“I know that, with anything we choose to be a part of, we represent, so I try to ‘represent’ for my company the best I can, every shift,” she said. “At the end of each day, I decide whether I got the ‘W.’”
Blanchard said her favorite part of the job is working with staff and watching them evolve.
“I love developing leadership within each of my team members,” she said.
When it comes to her own mentors, she looks to the company’s owners, Strong and Dave Godwin.
“I am who I am today as a leader because of their example and wisdom,” she said. “They give me the opportunity to truly run the restaurants I manage for them, like I own them. They also allow me to be a part of the bigger picture.
“MarketPlace is a part of me. I’ve worked for a few companies in my lifetime, and these guys have it figured out, in my opinion,” she said. “They also understand there needs to be a balance in work and home life. In the restaurant business, that is very uncommon.”
The North Dakota native also considers her parents to be key role models.
“They both had a strong work ethic and a servant’s heart,” she said.
Now, she heads a staff of eight, as general manager of MarketPlace Express at the Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville, a position she has held for about two years.
However, Blanchard said the company is planning to resurrect its BurgerLife concept, and that she will manage that store when it happens.
Since Blanchard was featured as a Forty Under 40 class member in 2003, she said she’s grown more into the leader she wants to be. She prides herself on being a leader and not just a boss.
“There is a difference,” she said.
But the biggest change during the past 12 years has been in her personal life.
She and her husband now have a 7-year-old daughter, Taylor.
After several in vitro fertilization attempts that did not work, they chose to adopt.
Blanchard recalls having an unexplainable feeling when she drove her new baby home from Pine Bluff the day after she was born.
“She held my finger for over three hours,” she said. “I was finally a mom.”