From growing up on a quiet Santa Maria cattle ranch to becoming a successful entrepreneur in charge of a 40-year-old company, Susan Righetti stays true to her roots by bringing Santa Maria Valley barbeque to the forefront.
Offering an array of flavorful seasonings, pinquito beans, fresh salsas and sauces, and red oak wood chips, her Susie Q’s Brand products are essential for any Santa Maria–style barbeque setup. Founded in 1981, Susie Q’s has brought the distinctive Santa Maria culinary heritage to dinner tables across the country for four decades. (And they’re still delivering during the COVID-19 outbreak, though bean orders are up 200-plus percent, so order now!)
“I have seen the community awakened to the rareness of this place that we call home,” said Righetti. “The valley runs east to west instead of north to south like most valleys, [allowing] the cool ocean air and breezes to funnel in. That’s why this area is so amazing agriculturally.”
Born into deep family ranching and culinary traditions, Righetti’s inspiration for Susie Q’s Brand derived from her parents’ popular restaurant, the Far Western Tavern, and their one-of-a-kind cooking. “Looking back at my life growing up on a cattle ranch and witnessing the creation of the Far Western Tavern by my parents, the odds of one day being in the specialty food business should have been apparent!” said Righetti. Featuring contemporary California ranch cuisine, The Far Western Tavern, which was founded in Guadalupe but moved to Orcutt a decade ago, is an ode to Righetti’s heritage and highlights Santa Maria’s culinary treasures.
“Susie Q’s Brand presented a unique opportunity to combine my passion for creativity while producing something practical and meaningful,” said Righetti. After getting married to her husband, Paul, the pair began to raise their family on Paul’s ancestral ranch in the Graciosa Valley, where Righetti “became increasingly aware of the importance of celebrating and preserving our culinary heritage.”
With a crop of pinquito beans, a makeshift worktable in the garage, and a love for sharing her take on Santa Maria barbeque, Righetti’s humble beginnings began to slowly blossom into a full-scale specialty food business. On the verge of celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2021, Susie Q’s remains family owned and operated, with their grandchildren slowly becoming more involved as well.
“We have three grandchildren, who all live on the ranch and have literally grown up with this business,” said Righetti. “Each one has very different interests, but they are all very proud to be a part of Susie Q’s. We have tried to demonstrate to them the art of working together as a family; not always the easiest, but always worth it.”
One grandkid is interested in the artistic and entrepreneurial spirit of the brand, another is eager to take on the challenges of the ranch and its livestock, and the third is excited to excel in business management. Taken together, those three roles should make for a very sustainable company in the years to come.
“We have grown from a minute mail-order company to a supermarket and big-box staple item in this region, while maintaining a community of specialty food retailers throughout the nation,” said Righetti. “One of our proudest accomplishments has been the ability to build and maintain these relationships through all of these years.”
Susie Q’s Brand recently expanded its services to a worldwide online market through Amazon Marketplace. Indeed, the company’s digital growth is one of Righetti’s proud accomplishments and continues to increase the company’s popularity, allowing consumers to buy any of the products from their smartphones.
When looking to the future, Righetti is constantly listening to her customers. “While our products are already vegan friendly and gluten-free, various dietary restrictions have led us to develop alternate blends of our Santa Maria Style Seasoning that maintain a similar flavor profile, balancing salty, sweet, and savory,” she explained.
Susie Q’s will also continue to engage with customers through social media and produce YouTube cooking tutorials on its channel. “We are planning on helping people hone their grilling skills with videos on how to cook an authentic Santa Maria Style tri-tip over an open flame,” said Righetti. The company’s current YouTube channel has led to an additional creation of a new recipe website that features the Pinquito Bean as the primary ingredient.
Susie Q’s Brand Favorites
Pinquito Bean Kit: “The pinquito bean kit has been a big hit,” said Righetti of the package, which combines the beans with the seasoning. “Anyone can just add water to a pot, mix in the ingredients, and let it simmer for several hours.”
California Red Oak Chips: “Red oak is an essential component of Santa Maria–style barbecue,” said Righetti. ”Our red oak wood chips are made from downed trees on the ranch. We simply cut smaller logs, allow them to dry, and then chip them to a specific size. This allows our customers who may be too far to get red oak logs for fuel to still impart the distinct, low-tannin flavor in their meats.”
Seasonings: “Our Santa Maria–style seasonings are intended to all generally have the same flavor profile,” said Righetti, “just with slightly different ingredients for various diets, such as our pink label, which is sugar-free.”
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