RACINE — As a teacher at Gilmore Middle School and Case High School and principal at 21st Century Preparatory School, Tasia White’s career in education was steeped in being a positive role model for her students.
White, 36, hopes to continue to inspire her former students, her own three children, and others in the community with her embrace of entrepreneurship with the Oct. 10 opening of her Downtown Racine Cajun and Creole restaurant, TaejaVu’s on Main, 240 Main St.
“It feels good to be able to be a strong example,” she said. “It’s never too early to start living your dream.”
A native of Racine who grew up in the neighborhood around 13th and Grand, White lives by the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson: “it’s better to have tried and failed than to live life wondering what would’ve happened if I had tried.”
Along those lines, White said of stepping out in faith with her new entrepreneurial venture: “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying.”
That being said, she’s hoping for success for TaejaVu’s on Main. If the restaurant’s soft opening weekend is any indication, White and her husband, Levon, made the right move; Tasia said customer response to the new restaurant was “overwhelming,” with most of TaejaVu’s weekend reservation blocks filled to capacity and more than 6,000 Facebook views of the opening weekend preview video.
“It far surpassed our expectations,” she noted. “We had a steady flow of patrons coming in, everyone smiling and having a good time. Overall, the feedback’s been really good. People have been receptive.”
A longtime dream
Life as a restaurateur is a natural fit for Tasia.
“I’ve always loved to cook,” she noted. “I grew up in a home with a mom who cooked pretty much everything from scratch and grandmas who cooked everything from scratch. I was the kid that wanted to be in the kitchen with them. Cooking has always been part of my life.”
An alumnus of Jefferson Lighthouse and Park High schools, Tasia earned her undergraduate degree at UW-Parkside and her master’s at Alverno College, pursuing a “first career, first passion” in education, working in her hometown Racine Unified School District.
But with cooking being a long-standing passion, Tasia also dreamed of one day owning her own restaurant.
“I always wanted to do it, but I always had fears — what if it doesn’t work? what if it’s not well-received? — over-thinking it,” she said of her “suppressed dream.”
Levon said the key turning point was “getting over the fear of the ‘what if’ factor.”
Pandemic provides food for thought
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Wisconsin in March, it provided Tasia and Levon, a former Case CNC machinist, with time for reflection on the important things in life.
It seemed an opportune time to pursue Tasia’s longtime dream and take the entrepreneurial plunge.
“COVID opened our minds up to the possibilities.” Tasia said. “When COVID happened I was working at home virtually, with a lot of time to think about how time is a valuable asset. I also liked the flexibility of being home with my kids in the morning, not having that morning rush … I thought about how if I made the leap into entrepreneurship I would have autonomy over my time.”
A breakthrough moment for Tasia came while listening to a “really important sermon” by minister Sarah Jakes Roberts entitled “Weeping to Walking.”
“It was speaking to me,” she recalls. “Your passion is something you have to be willing to suffer for. Passion is not a glamorous thing necessarily. It’s something that you’re willing to go all out for. The sermon inspired me. This is something that I was really passionate about. I had to be able to have faith.
“I prayed — went in my room, shut the door and got on my knees … ‘There’s a blessing before me I cannot see, but I know you can see it. I trust you. Whatever it is, I’m just gonna run with it.’ Along the way, there’s been so many signs God absolutely had his hand in it – this was already said and done before I ever figured it out.”
Within a week, the Whites were restauranteurs with a lease and a blank slate for making Tasia’s longtime dream a reality. Five months later, with the ”all hands on deck” assistance and support of family and friends, including Tasia’s dad, Troy Collier, and her uncle, Juan Collier, the couple opened TaejaVu’s on Main to the community.
“There’s a lot of people that have helped me — and continue to stand beside me — to make sure this is a successful venture,” Tasia said of the “blood, sweat and tears” support that’s been given in support of making her dream come true.
Oct. 10 was an emotional day as TaejaVu’s opened its doors.
“I cried tears of joy,” Tasia said. “I couldn’t believe it was happening. I was in game mode. It was euphoria. It’s surreal because it’s real now.”
For Tasia, TaejaVu’s is as much a tribute to cooking legacy laid by her late mother, Tammy S. Collier, as it is an evolving legacy White hopes to leave for her daughters — Ava, 15; Laila, 12; and Elle, 8.
“It’s all about building a legacy,” she said. “It’s bigger than what you do now. It’s what you leave behind … something that my kids can be proud of, something that my family can be proud of.”
The Whites, who dabbled in catering for eight years, looked to differentiate themselves within Downtown Racine’s evolving dining scene.
“We were trying to come up with something different we don’t have here, something you won’t get at the typical restaurant around here,” Levon recalled. “We wanted to bring a different vibe to the area.”
Tasia credited a three-year stint working as a “turnaround” principal in Chicago with expanding her horizons as a “foodie.”
“It expanded my mind — the variety of festivals and foods and events,” she said. “I wanted to bring some of that back here.”
Tasia said they ultimately settled on a “sultry seafood and soul” niche in Cajun and Creole cuisine, largely centered on chicken and seafood. TaejaVu’s also offers a full bar.
Decorated in black and white, accented by a dramatic mural by local artist Dee Hutch and a rotating selection of artwork from Racine’s Mahogany Gallery, the 2,000-square-foot TaejaVu’s offers a wide-ranging menu of appetizers, salads, pastas, sandwiches, soups and boils, frits, and desserts. Signature menu items include the Lobster Po’Boy, Snow Crab Boil, Lobster Scampi with Fried Green Tomatoes, and Tasia’s “World’s Most Famous Mac and Cheese.”
The restaurant officially opened Oct. 14 with COVID-spurred limited dine-in at the bar, carry-outs and curbside pick-up.
TaejaVu’s is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5-11 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. All major credit cards are accepted.
For more information, call 262-456-7111 or visit www.taejavusonmain.com. More information is also available on the TaejaVu’s on Main Facebook page.
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