October 26, 2015
2015 Outstanding Women in Business

2015 Outstanding Women In Business: Susan Lawrence, Pepper's Fine Catering

Matt Volpini
Susan Lawrence Co-owner Pepper's Fine Catering

Susan Lawrence is co-owner of Pepper's Fine Catering in Northborough, having realized a lifelong dream to open her own food business.

"She has an inner need to make people happy, and creating events for people for the special events in their lives brings her great joy," said Carol Trzaskos, human resource manager for Pepper's.

Lawrence entered the food service industry in 1987 with the opening of Pepper's Fine Foods & Café. Her retail enterprise rapidly developed a loyal following. Not satisfied with occasional visits to the gourmet shop, clients persisted in requesting other services. Hence, Pepper's Fine Catering was born.

Today she runs the company with her husband, John Lawrence, who also is catering director. The company has grown to include 24 full-time employees, and partnerships with leading area venues such as Tower Hill Botanic Garden and Mechanics Hall.

"She is truly a leader, one that all of her employees look up to and admire," Trzaskos said.

Pepper's Fine Catering has received the Commonwealth Institute Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts in 2011 and 2012, the Bride's Choice Award in 2011 through 2015, and numerous other honors.

Who is your most influential role model?

In truth there have been many who have taught, coached and inspired me. This collective wisdom and experience have helped me both professionally and personally. But I must single out three people. My parents Edward and Phyllis Kattany instilled in me that I could be and do anything I strived for. Growing up I experienced my father's dedication. As a physician, he literally worked seven days and regularly made home visits to those who could not get to him. My mother's tireless and unselfish dedication to our family was a huge inspiration for me.

My husband and business partner John Lawrence is widely open to life. I live and witness abundant opportunities and a full life with our relationship.

What has helped you achieve success in your career?

I've always loved food, and I love design, so I'm well matched to be a caterer. The exciting part is that the catering world keeps changing with lifestyles. Our business has always been tuned in. Catering has become much more of a full expression of what the celebration is, and we have responded. Pepper's Fine Catering has grown to offer our clients full event management, and style and design services along with our passion for fresh, delicious and interesting food that is graciously served.

For this continued growth and for a healthy company, I know it is up to me to never stop learning in every area of my business and in life. The resources, the books, the courses, the networking opportunities are out there. The key is to enjoy the process because it directly affects the outcome.

What's your primary motivation?

I start at the end goal, which is how did I make my client feel. What wonderful memory have we given them? People hire a caterer because they are celebrating something in life: a birthday, a baby, a wedding, a successful project, a fundraiser.

We strive to delight all of the senses with fresh beautifully prepared food, and our team is dedicated to thoughtful design.

How do you give back to the community?

We have catered eight years of Black Tie Galas each for 350 people for Veterans Inc. at no charge to give back to our veterans who have been there for us. We also participate in fundraisers for numerous local groups, such as Abby's House and the UMass Memorial Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. We partner because each group's mission is one of taking care of others. Pepper's also donates to schools and cultural institutions.

This past year, the Rainbow Child Development Center had a new opportunity through a grant to get a hydroponic garden system and teach the children this sustainable way of gardening. We made and donated a portable market stand to help teach the children about running a business and managing their money. The children sold basil- and mint-flavored lemonade at CitySquare and began learning entrepreneurship.

How do you handle stress?

We handle many catering events each week. It's a fast-paced business full of details and communication. What I have learned is the power and importance of effective communication. I go to the source and get a clear firsthand understanding of the situation. People feel heard, a resolve is reached, stress dissipates, productivity increases and the ease in relationships is brought back.

I work at recognizing that if something isn't working, change the way you are doing it.

With my love of food and design I enjoy gardening, working in the soil, nurturing plants and flowers, and designing garden beds as a most enjoyable way of de-stressing.

How do you balance your career and your personal life?

I make it a priority to be consciously aware of what I am contributing to my work, to my family and to myself. I'm learning to set boundaries. I won't allow myself to get overwhelmed. I seek partnerships. It's about honoring who I am and the life I want.

I try to live simply, love generously, speak kindly and leave the rest to God.

Meet the rest of the 2015 Outstanding Women in Business

Roberta Brien, vice president of projects, Worcester Business Development Corp.

Linda Cavaioli, executive director, YWCA of Central Massachusetts

Susan Gunnell, executive vice president & COO, Southbridge Savings Bank

Naureen Meraj, senior global director, NTT Data

Joyce A. Murphy, executive vice chancellor and chief executive, Commonwealth Medicine

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2015 Outstanding Women In Business: Susan Lawrence, Pepper's Fine Catering

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