Food for Thought: Geist area’s ‘Chef Suzanne’ caters to all

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By Sam Elliott

Suzanne Rockwell didn’t always set out to be a master chef cooking up hundreds of meals any given day, but that’s where the Lawrence resident has found herself since founding her career’s latest endeavor — Chef Suzanne Catering — in 2009.

“First and foremost I’m an entrepreneur,” Rockwell said. “When I was in college, I purchased a retail store from the man I had worked for back in the ’80s and we expanded that over 15 years and put commercial kitchens in them. With each city or state we went into, I hired a chef to manage the store’s cooking school. This was before the Food Network… That’s where I learned to love to cook, from the chefs that would come into the stores.”

After 20 years of owning her elegant shops and working with chefs, Rockwell spent four and a half years in the business world working for shoe retailer Finish Line.

“They were getting ready to launch their website and nobody in house at Finish Line believed that people would want to buy shoes online,” she said. “And I knew nothing about shoes, but they knew I was entrepreneurial so they hired me and I stepped away from cooking.”

Upon her return to cooking, Rockwell worked as a private chef out of her own home before working in area restaurant kitchens. When the restaurant where she and coworker to this day Vicki Smith worked was abruptly closed in 2009, Rockwell founded Chef Suzanne Catering.

“The one thing that was keeping that restaurant going was all the catering I was doing, so I figured, ‘Well, let’s cater,’” she said. “We started out in the little kitchen in the Sterrett Center over in Fort Ben. The City of Lawrence allowed us to rent that kitchen, and we outgrew that kitchen in a couple years so we moved over to Indiana Lake Golf Club.”

From there, the business moved into the kitchens at Geist Christian Church before Rockwell found the company’s current home at 9623 Windemere Blvd. in Fishers, where she built the cooking and event hosting space in 2014.

“This was just a shell with gravel floor, which was great because I had architectural plans and knew just what I wanted to do,” Rockwell said.

Chef Suzanne Catering caters to all needs, from cooking a handful of meals per week for families to large-scale corporate events.

“We also have an athlete division where we have had or currently have several Pacers players, Colts players or MLB players when they’re here for training that we cook for,” Rockwell said. “Then we’ll do parties in people’s homes, too, where we’ll send a chef out to someone’s home for a private dinner party in their home and cook in their kitchen. We make our space here available too for cooking classes, team-building ‘Chopped’ style of competitions where people have fun and get competitive and scream and yell — it’s really fun.”

The staff of five chefs plus office, delivery and event serving personnel have developed strong chemistry after years of working and cooking together.

“We’re really lean and mean for the amount of food we put out,” Rockwell said. “We’ve all worked together for a while now. We haven’t had much turnover.

“During the week, we could be serving 100 to 150 different corporate meals, there’s usually 12 to 15 families we feed every day, two or three professional athletes and then we could have a private event in someone’s home,” she added of the group’s workload.

Chef Suzanne Catering also volunteers its services to a collection of charitable organizations, food banks, the local YMCA and Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township.

“The charity work we do — my accountant will tell you I do way too much and give away too much — but it makes me feel good and makes my staff feel great,” Rockwell said. “Our biggest project this year we’ve taken on is Harrison Hill Elementary School. Every Tuesday and Thursday night they have Family Enrichment Nights. The problem they were having was feeding people… We just took it over. We’re feeding 200 people a week and then we gave them a steam table and some equipment they could use.

“We do stuff with the schools, the Y — we just do a lot of stuff with feeding people,” she added. “If a food pantry sends out an SOS, we’ll donate and then serve as a collection place for people to drop off. Nobody should go hungry and there’s such a need for food.”

For more, visit ChefSuzanne.com.

Get to know Chef Suzanne Rockwell

  • Lawrence resident
  • Columbus, Ohio, native
  • Graduate of The Ohio State University
  • Founded Chef Suzanne Catering in 2009 after working in kitchens and as private chef from home following 25-year business career
  • Family: husband, Duane; son, Alex; daughter, Cait; three grandchildren with another due in June; two rescue beagles and one cat.

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