By Kathi Nailling Athens Daily Review, Texas
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) It took Sara Benezue four years to lose 300 pounds, but today she is healthy. With the help of Daymond John from the popular television show, "Shark Tank," in February she created her own business, "J and L Sauces."
Athens Daily Review, Texas
Once weighing more than 300 pounds and possibly dying from Lupus, Sara Benezue, 56, of Eustace is now a happy 116-pound entrepreneur.
Her journey started in 2002 when she was diagnosed with Sepsis Lupus -- an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the body's organs. In severe cases, organs are damaged and failure can occur.
"I was always a small person," she said. "When I was first diagnosed, I weighed 95 pounds. I wore a size 0-3." The treatment for her life-threatening disease caused a 200-pound weight gain.
"I didn't know if I was going to live or die," she said. "I spent four years in Green Oaks Nursing facility on Hospice care."
Eventually, Benezue's condition improved enough to move her to Oak Wood Place Assisted Living in Athens, where she spent the next six years.
"I don't remember the first two years in Oak Wood," she said. "After four more years, I felt it was time to leave." And that's what she did.
"For the first time in 10 years, I looked into a mirror. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It didn't even look like me."
Benezue decided it was time to do something about her weight gain.
"I love ketchup and BBQ Sauce," she said. "I put it on everything."
She made a determination to create her own sauces. After experimenting with some ketchup recipes, she found the perfect combination using Stevia as the sweetener or sugar substitute.
Stevia is a calorie-free, natural sweetener plant. It can substitute for some, but not all, of the sugar, used when baking because it does not provide all of the multiple functions that sugar uses.
It took Benezue four years to lose 300 pounds, but today she is healthy. With the help of Daymond John from the popular television show, "Shark Tank," in February she created her own business, J and L Sauces.
"Daymond John came a long way from turning a $40 budget into FUBU, a $6 billion fashion game-changer," according to his website. "Throughout his career, Daymond has continued to be an entrepreneur in every sense of the word. He is not only a pioneer in the fashion industry but a shark on ABC's 'Shark Tank,' New York Times best-selling author, branding guru and highly sought-after motivational speaker."
Benezue said she learned about John's seminars while attending an entrepreneur event in Tyler.
"I signed up. Thanks to Daymond John's team and a coach, now I have my own business."
During the three-day seminar, "The Success Formula," Benezue was chosen by one of John's team members to receive a $54,000 grant to start her business.
"It's a no-interest loan," Benezue said. "I could not have gotten where I am without the help of Daymond. I didn't know anything about running a business."
J&L Sauces, named after her grandchildren, Jakob and Lilly, can be found in various locations throughout Athens, including at Gibson's Pharmacy, Athens Health Food Store, Ship Shoppe, Come and Take It and Gun Barrel City Health Foods and Vitamins. The products can be purchased online.
She said she is working with restaurants throughout the county to use her products and has plans for her sauces to be offered at the State Fair of Texas in the General Store. They'll also be featured at festivals across East Texas.
Benezue said she plans to travel to Las Vegas in May 2019 to meet with John and other investors.
"I am hoping to get additional investors for my ketchup and BBQ sauce."
She dreams of developing additional products, such as a skincare line.
"In three and half years, I would like to have my own factory here in Henderson County," Benezue said. "I want to give back to my community."