The Ingredients for a Healthy Family Business

Jaclyn Crawford Issue 09 - Jan/Feb 2014, Operations Leave a Comment

Seattle Sutton’s namesake and founder keeps her business as healthy as its menus by relying on those she trusts most: her family.


By Jaclyn Crawford

This morning, as you walked into your office, you said hello to your coworkers and began work. Now imagine walking into the office and saying hello to your brothers, sisters and maybe even a grandchild.

For the Sutton family, this is a day in the life. If you were to call Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating, there is a good chance a member of the Sutton family will greet you on the other end. For 28 years, the business has been a family one.“When someone says, ‘Did you ever expect your business to do so well?’ I say ‘yes,’” said Seattle Sutton, the company’s Founder. “But when they would ask, ‘Well, did you ever expect your grandchildren to become so involved?’ Well, I really didn’t know that because they were babies or not yet born.”

Healthy Eating & Helping Hands

Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating offers healthy, freshly prepared meals in different weekly plans of all types of menus—the latest with a vegetarian focus—with the mission of improving people’s eating habits. With the inspiration of her husband, a local physician, Sutton was able to identify and address dietary needs.

“I knew that if I was going to do meals for people, it would have to be the healthiest eating—freshly prepared meals like I would serve my family,” Sutton said. “I knew I would have results because I would have the calories counted and do all the planning, shopping and cooking for [the customer] so there would be no frustration.”

From there, Sutton’s children became involved in the company in various ways. Her daughter Ruth became a distributor; Sarah took on the task of advertising; and about eight years ago Paula jumped in to assist clients with health issues. Sutton’s two sons also have pitched in on company projects. And grandchildren, young and old, are encouraged to become a full-fledged part of the family business after graduating college.

“It was a lot of work at times, but it was also a lot of fun,” Sutton said. “I think that is one reason why they’re all so close and work together so well—because they know each other so well.”


All In the Family

While some of us may find it challenging to coordinate a simple holiday party with family members, Sutton has much more on her plate. Though when asked if there are any downsides of working closely with relatives, she is quick to say no, though with one exception: hard work.

“They’re working too hard, maybe somebody would say. I think a lot of it is because they don’t want to let anybody down,” Sutton said.

If a family member wants to join the team, Sutton uses traditional management approaches. “Because we’re so close knit and trust each other so much, we just attempt to get them positioned in the company wherever would be right for them,” Sutton said. “Of course that is the key to any business. If you put people in the right places, they will not only enjoy the business, but they will be able to do a good job.”

Not all of Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating is made up of family, but Sutton said she firmly believes in treating all employees very well and she takes the measures necessary to show them they are valuable part of the team. Sutton shared a recent story: When her granddaughter decided to join the business, Sutton made it clear to senior management that she was there to learn.

“We talked to the managers and assured them that she’s not there to take over position, but rather to learn, as a Sutton, every aspect of this Seattle Sutton business,” Sutton said. “I think it is important to make it clear to other employees that they are there to improve the company. We have excellent managers, so it is absolutely no problem.”

It Comes Down to Support

One of Sutton’s favorite aspects of the family business is the support she receives through it. She credits her husband with helping guide her toward its creation in the first place.

“Sometimes I think he is the only person I could’ve married that would have really gone along with the things I do,” Sutton said. “Being in the medical field, he fully supported me. He wanted it to be my project, my business, but he doesn’t even know how much he influenced me.”

Even now, she says the family is as passionate about the company as they were going into day one.

“When you start a new business, you have to have the right support,” Sutton said. “And with a business like mine, it’s very easy to be proud.”


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Jaclyn Crawford

Managing Editor at Forefront Magazine
Jaclyn Crawford is the Managing Editor at Forefront. Jaclyn is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago.

Jaclyn currently resides in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. In her free time, she likes to travel with her husband, play badminton, and find new coffee shops around the city.

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