A 35-year veteran of the restaurant and foodservice industry, Susan Wilkie’s career has been a journey through health care, universities, theme park foodservice, and beginning in 2002, she entered the consulting world. As owner of Wilkie Enterprises and vice president of the Strategic Planning Studio at DM&A Webb, Susan has contributed to the operational success of foodservice enterprises and the professional development of individuals. Susan was awarded the IFMA Silver Plate Award for College and University contributions to the industry while at San Diego State University.
FE&S: What was your first job in foodservice?
Susan Wilkie: I was a waitress in college for Aztec Shops Catering at San Diego State University.
FE&S: What keeps you working in the foodservice industry?
Susan Wilkie: Making a difference in the lives of our clients and their customers, and watching the learnings from our consulting applied to their business and seeing the results! One of my clients once said “You made me a hero on my campus!”
FE&S: Who was the person that influenced your career most?
Susan Wilkie: Rosalie Lawrence, owner of a company called Food is Love. In 1972, I went to work for a hospital and she owned the consulting company that managed the food and nutrition services department. She taught me how food influences culture for the patients, staff and physicians. I applied those learnings to a new hospital in San Diego and was able to turn the hospital from a loss to a break-even business model.
FE&S: What aspect of your career gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment?
Susan Wilkie: Mentoring managers and chefs to achieve their potential. Opening the door to their imagination, capabilities, sense of accomplishment and pride in themselves. This was true at USC, San Diego State and at the Disneyland Resort. As a consultant, with every opportunity I have to influence the success of others I take the time to do so.
FE&S: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in the foodservice industry?
Susan Wilkie: Just because your food choices may have evolved to become more sophisticated, don’t assume your customers should follow you or emulate your eating behavior. It’s important to balance those sophisticated and healthy food choice with customer lifestyle and dining behaviors.
FE&S: If you were not working in foodservice, what would you be doing?
Susan Wilkie: I cannot imagine doing anything else. This business is my passion, my heartbeat. The business is so diverse; you are wearing many hats all the time: researcher, business analyst, food expert, concept developer, culture change artist, organization realignment advisor, training expert, facility and space planner. So many careers are built into one industry.
FE&S: Who in the foodservice industry do you admire most?
Susan Wilkie: Marion Edwards, principal of FOODTHINgK. Marion has done it all — from being an owner-operator of an upscale market to running hotels and the foodservice programs for San Diego State, Disneyland Resort, Starbucks and Great Wolf Resorts, and now to running her own business. Her vision, culinary and visual merchandising expertise is an inspiration for me and for the clients that she serves. She is the most innovative, creative food person I know, and has lent me countless support on special projects.
FE&S: How about another foodservice company? Other than your own, which one do you admire most?
Susan Wilkie: Fessel International, an international consulting company. Their business work is in theme parks, hotels, restaurants, casinos and more. I work with Randy Hiatt and Gene Lawless when they need assistance with theme park analysis. Their work is creative, insightful, detailed, imaginative and grounded in research and financial modeling. Randy Hiatt has traveled around the world, and he brings those experiences home for his clients.