We had the good fortune of connecting with Sally Tiongco and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sally, how has your balance changed over time? How do you think about the balance?
When you are young, wild, and free, you think mostly about yourself. “When is my next trip? Where should I go?” In my 20s, I traveled to Spain, Italy, Thailand, Philippines, Mexico, New York, and so forth. “What am I doing on Friday?” We always ended up at El Torito or Acapulco for $2 happy hour margaritas with friends and co-workers. Post-college life seemed like a vast cluttered space of endless possibilities. There was no true work life balance to think about. I just needed to score a respectable job in the real world.
Before I became an independent business owner, I worked regular business hours in marketing and public relations, clocking in and out at precise times- never too early or a minute past 5 PM- and then heading home to eat, relax, and watch episodes of “The Office,” “Desperate Housewives,” or “How I Met Your Mother.” Those shows were actually released around the same year I graduated college. Lucky me. As a marketing coordinator and young director of public relations of a small entertainment company, I attended nice corporate sushi lunches, red carpet events, and fancy fundraisers. This career lifestyle had status but no substance for me. I wanted more professional and personal growth, fulfillment, and creativity.
So, I moved from my cubicle to the classroom and became a public middle school teacher in underserved communities of Los Angeles for the next eight years. Talk about a total switch in careers. I obtained a Master’s degree in Elementary Education with an emphasis in literacy. I absolutely loved engaging my students with fun lessons and fostering a love for learning through digital assignments and projects. I was even recognized as one of Microsoft’s most innovative teachers at the start of my teaching career. It was the perfect job for me at the time- newly married to my husband who also taught with me, so we were able to devote most of our lives and time to our students, creating our own curriculum and resources and even serving as LA marathon coaches. However, I worked from 7 AM to nearly midnight. My mind was always switched “on” professionally. “How did today’s lesson go? What am I going to do with Student A, B, C through Z’s behavior?” Yes, I’m sure you all remember middle school drama and hormones. “How can I engage and support the kids given their individual backgrounds? How can I effectively prepare them for their state exam and futures?” There were piles of essays to grade (my “winter break” consisted of grading papers while taking a quick break to shove down the lukewarm Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas prime rib) and hours spent on Google Docs to share my lessons, YouTube to find culturally relevant videos to connect kids with the content, and PowerPoint to present the lesson with the super awesome spinning transitions. Despite the long days and nights of work, my husband and I were still able to create a pretty nice “work life balance” that worked for us at the time. We definitely took advantage of our summers off!
My definition of “work life balance” later changed as I matured professionally and personally. When I became a mother, I knew I had to work hard and meaningfully and live life with purpose and joy not just for myself, but also for my family now. It’s not just about me anymore. I wanted and needed to shift all the time and energy I devoted to teaching middle school to my new primary subjects: motherhood and my children.
So, I changed careers again, but this time for the long run. I transitioned out of the classroom and found a creative alternative to still teach with more flexibility and independence. My husband and I had moved to a Downtown LA loft right during its celebrated revitalization- this is where we raised our daughter. I always loved dining out at restaurants and exploring cities on foot and this was the perfect time to do so in our own neighborhood. So, why not combine all three passions- teaching, food, and exploration- into my next career move? And at the same time, I can support local businesses, represent my city as a proud LA native and food ambassador, and most importantly, have the flexibility to raise a family. That’s exactly what I did when I became the owner and CEO of Six Taste Food Tours.
I now work for myself and my family- I have two young children and parents heading into their 70s, so they have my unconditional support. As a Vietnamese-American millennial, I have vehemently (and shockingly when compared to my counterparts) held onto a lot of my parents’ traditional Asian immigrant ways: I am teaching my children Vietnamese as their first language; I instill frugality so that my kids can appreciate simplicity and develop enhanced gratitude (yup, it’s back to the basics with home-cooked Vietnamese meals, board games, reading books, riding bikes, and playing ball and tag outside with minimal use of technology). I grew up in a low-income household and shared a bedroom with my entire family of 5, so I want my children to internalize and implement the values of hard work, perseverance, and education in order to attain their personal success and work life balance as adults. Especially in our tech-infested solitary world, these kinds of life lessons would require an incredible amount of time, energy, and commitment from us as parents. Therefore, I am truly grateful for my personal and professional journey where I have earned the time and resources to now give back to my children and family.
Being a self-employed business owner, I am able to creatively integrate all of my past careers – PR and marketing to build my brand and relationships with vendors and clients; and education to manage large groups and engage guests with fascinating facts about food and LA- while making time to volunteer at my children’s schools (currently, homeschooling them due to COVID- I’m incredibly grateful that I have the time and teaching abilities to support my kids especially during this pandemic), taking family vacations, and having date nights with my husband. In order to achieve this “work life balance,” I relied on my passion for doing what I love for those who I love, determination and versatility to make that possible, commitment to what matters the most to me, and a strong support system.
What should our readers know about your business?
Founded in 2009, Six Taste is a family-owned walking food tour company in Los Angeles with nearly 1500 guest reviews. We are also recognized as a 2020 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Winner, meaning Six Taste is in the top 10% of attractions worldwide. Our mission is to support local businesses and enrich the L.A. community through food and education. Six Taste tour guides lead historical and cultural walking food tours through different and “hidden” neighborhoods of Los Angeles, particularly Downtown LA, Hollywood, Santa Monica, Arts District, Sawtelle Japantown, Little Tokyo, Koreatown, San Gabriel Valley, Persian Square, Glendale, and Thai Town, that feature generous samples of diverse dishes from 4-7 restaurants. Our team of tour guides consists of passionate LA natives who have a deep connection, knowledge, and love for our city.
With our highly regarded reputation as the premier food tour company in Los Angeles, I am truly proud to have a family of committed tour guides, loyal restaurants who have shown us incredible hospitality (many have reserved seats for our large tours of 50+ guests or even accommodated us during busy lunch hours or holidays), and enthusiastic clients from companies like Google, Netflix, YouTube, Disney, Capital Group, and USC who have spread the word to other colleagues, friends, and family. Through these amazing connections, I have been a proud partner of the LA Times Food Bowl and worked alongside Jonathan Gold’s team to curate food tours based on his 101 Best Restaurants List; I appeared on ABC’s Eye on LA episode of “Great Tours in LA,” and I was a guest on the Emmy-Award winning food show “Tasting America.” However, it took incredible patience, strategic planning, communication skills, and passion to build Six Taste to a level that was comfortable yet ambitious and worked with my primary schedule and commitment as a full-time mother. I believe that a successful business allows you to display all your passion and talents in a meaningful way that enriches both your professional and personal life so that you can achieve that “work-life balance” that best suits you.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My friends all love to eat like me, so our itinerary would include multiple food tours of different LA neighborhoods. We would take the Metro to experience LA’s public transportation system. Yes, we have a subway! Stop 1: Thai Town to visit the world’s only Thai Town and get some incredible Thai food from Ruen Pair and Jitlada, then pick up desserts at Bhan Kanom Thai. Stop 2: Hollywood to see the Walk of Fame and Capitol Records Building, eat at The Running Goose in their beautiful outdoor patio, then watch a movie at El Capitan Theater or musical at The Pantages and then have drinks at Lono- a hidden tiki bar. Stop 3: Downtown LA for Angel’s Flight, Grand Central Market, Clifton’s Cafeteria, Cole’s French Dip (with a stop at their speakeasy), and Gelateria Uli for dessert (and we’d stop by Guisados, Bar Ama, Tacos 1986, Guerrilla Tacos, and Sonoratown for tacos) then catch a Lakers game at Staples Center and/or Dodgers game Stop 4: Arts District (Bread Lounge, Pour Haus Wine Bar, Little Bear Belgian pub, Hauser & Wirth and other art galleries and breweries on Bird or Lyft scooters Stop 5: Little Tokyo (Japanese Village Plaza, Mitsuru Sushi and Cafe, My Ramen Bar, Far Bar for a great selection of Japanese beer, Fugetsu Do Bakery for fresh handmade mochi, and Chado Tea Room for a gorgeous afternoon tea). Stop 6: Santa Monica (Pier for the rides and games, Third St. Promenade for shopping and street entertainment, The Curious Palate for tacos and nachos (their short rib wrap is also amazing), Colapasta for amazing homemade pastas, Ye Olde King’s Head for fish and chips and beer) then to Venice Beach for the Canals and Boardwalk Stop 7: Westwood to check out UCLA’s campus (GO Bruins!) then head over to Persian Square (Attari Sandwich Shop, Taste of Tehran, Saffron and Rose Ice Cream). Stop 8: La Brea Tar Pits, LACMA, and Original Farmer’s Market and The Grove Stop 9: Glendale (Raffi’s Place for kebabs, Khinkali Dumpling House for Georgian dumplings, Damon’s Steakhouse for tiki-inspired cocktails) and then to The Americana (Din Tai Fung for soup dumplings). Stop 10: Knott’s Berry Farm Stop 11: Disneyland Stop 12: Universal Studios. There’s so much to see, do, and eat in LA (unfortunately, many attractions and restaurants are closed due to COVID) that I could go on forever!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
A huge part of my success is thanks to my supportive husband Jonathan who taught with me at the same startup school when we were in our early 20s. He then paved the way for me to become a CEO so that I can continue to exercise and enhance my talents in the creative workforce while doing what I love the most- being a full-time mom and teacher to our amazing children. My husband was recently awarded “Principal of the Year” in his network of public schools for his incredible leadership, ingenuity, and generosity. With our combined talents and passions, we have been able to build a future together from the ground up since 2003. Our special dynamic fuels more motivation to continue doing meaningful work and giving back to our family and the communities that we serve. Jonathan is my biggest fan and inspiration. And of course, my children Madelyn June and Miles are my daily inspiration to keep my mind, body, spirit, and hustle going strong.
Other: TripAdvisor: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g32655-d1569381-Reviews-Six_Taste-Los_Angeles_California.html