Susan Lacz, CEO of Ridgewells Catering, speaks with Our Town host Andy Ockershausen about her life and career in Our Town. Hers is a lively interview! By the end, you will understand, if you don’t already, why she has been, and continues to be, a successful business woman in Our Town.
Susan has lived and worked in and around the Washington DC metro for almost 40 years. Originally from North Jersey, “totally a Jersey girl”, she moved to Arlington in 1978 to attend Marymount University which, at the time, was an all girls school. She has nothing but wonderful things to say about her college experience, and now serves on Marymount’s board of trustees.
Susan attributes much of her success to her parents’ strong work ethic. Through high school, Susan worked Saturday and Sundays and during the week after school at Wyckoff Deli in Wyckoff, New Jersey. When she came to Our Town to attend college she worked at Tino’s restaurant in Arlington, just for the fun of it. She tells Andy she was hooked on the food industry from day one at Wyckoff Deli, and her passion for entertaining came from her Polish roots, more specifically her Grandmother, and upbringing.
After college, Susan pursued a career in sales with Wang computers. She really enjoyed selling and was good at it. What lacked was the same passion for it that she had for food and entertaining. So she went about finding a career that captured it all – food, entertaining, sales, and passion.
Susan knew she wanted to work for Ridgewells but lacked the experience they were looking for at the time, so she went to work at Clyde’s at Tyson’s Corner, as a catering manager, where she was ultimately fired. Undeterred by that, she went back to Ridgewells and convinced them (after a year and a half!) that she belong there as a member of Ridgewells’ team. After ten years with the company, Susan bought the business with her partners Jose Valado and Thomas P. Keon, currently Ridgewells’ COO and President, respectively.
Andy fondly refers to Ridgewells as “always a family affair”. Susan has been with Ridgewells for 30 years and has owned and operated it together with her partners for 20. Ridgewells has grown into a 40 million dollar company and is considered, by the Washington Business Journal, the largest caterer in Our Town. Andy and Susan talk about competition from other caterers. Susan says that only serves to inspire them to work harder and continue to strive to be the very best.
Giving back to the community is important to Susan. She makes every effort to lead her team out into Our Town community and has set Ridgewells apart from the rest. Susan serves on numerous boards including Marymount, Junior Achievement, the Committee for the Hall of Fame, Don Bosco Cristo Rey, and the Greater Washington Board of Trade. Through Ridgewells’ work in the community, Susan has set an example for other caterers to do the same.
Susan doesn’t miss a beat as she and Andy discuss the role of women in business in Our Town. She has served on boards in the past when she was only one of two or three women sitting around the board table surrounded by “suits”. She is thrilled that times have changed and more and more women are visible business leaders in Our Town. She strongly believes that women should support other women. Susan loves seeing more women take top positions in this type of business these days. She surrounds herself with positive females within her own company and gains strength in that support network. Susan is proud to be an honoree of the 2004 Washington Business Journal Women Who Mean Business program.
Andy comments on the quality and service that Ridgewells is known for throughout the DC area. The servers are familiar with their customers which instills continuity and quality that people can rely on time and time again.
Andy inquires about Ridgewells unique and compelling advertising. Susan explains that a few years ago, they refreshed their brand in order to meet their customers where they are today. They are fully aware of social media and take it seriously in their marketing strategy. One thing won’t change, and that is the color of their trucks. People remember the purple trucks so this image has stayed with the company and is incorporated into its current branding.
Andy asks Susan about taking Ridgewells national. Susan jumped on the opportunity when Ben Bundren, the general chairman of Kemper Lakes, Chicago for PGA Championship, asked Ridgewells to cater their event in Chicago. This was their first major catering event outside of the Washington area. Susan and her team learned quickly to buy, rent, and hire local. They even found local charities where they could donate leftover food in order to give back to the local community. Susan is quick to tell Andy about lessons learned “. . .you could buy chicken in Chicago, we didn’t need to bring that from Washington, you can hire people in Chicago they got people up there to work!” The Ridgewells’ team worked hard for the PGA and that relationship led to catering for the US Open and eventually the NFL.
We hope you have enjoyed this week’s episode of Our Town with Andy Ockershausen. We invite you to listen to each new episode of Our Town as they roll out over the next several months. You can subscribe to the Our Town podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or if you complete the subscription form in the sidebar to the right, you will be notified by email when the next episode appears here on the website.