Women in Business Spotlight on Lisa Ruddy
Princeton Soup & Sandwich Company
Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? Why did you choose the business career you are in?
I am a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. I worked for 7 years for Nordstrom in management/buying; I opened their Paramus store and Freehold store with them. I loved, loved my job with them but then my husband and I started to have a family and I knew the demands of retail. The long hours and traveling were not conducive to raising a family.
Fast forward 10 years and my husband, who runs a construction business in NYC and who was a fan of Soupman on 47th and 5th, saw a small sign in the window saying that they were franchising. I was home with three small children under the age of 10, and he said “We should open one of these in Princeton. There’s no one that does a dozen different soups a day.” Plus, he said, it’s only soup; how hard could it be? LOL.
At that time, I knew from my years of training at Nordstrom that if you offer an exceptional product with exceptional service you win every time. Plus, I love cooking good quality, healthy food, so I agreed and we opened the first original Soupman franchise. From day one I loved it.
Four years later the franchise was going in the direction of retail so we broke out from Soupman and became Princeton Soup & Sandwich.
Why Princeton? How long have you been in business or worked in Princeton?
We have been in Princeton 11 years. We chose Princeton because it had the perfect blend of town, university, businesses and residents in a beautiful setting. There was nothing else like us in town.
Why would we choose your business over similar others? What makes you special?
Several reasons, starting with the fact that we offer 7 to 8 varieties of premium soup that we rotate daily, as well as exceptional quality ingredients with vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free options for soups, salads and sandwiches. We make all our dressings, spreads, sauces, falafel, and hummus in-house – our biggest goal is not only to offer quality food but healthy eating with premium ingredients. We also truly try to make sure every customer that walks through our doors receives exceptional service and we employ people that truly love what they’re doing versus just being there for a job. Oh, and if I didn’t mention already, we have the best lobster bisque on the planet!
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment so far?
Our biggest accomplishment was breaking out on our own, making our own soups, having our own recipes, and doing all the business we do out of 585 square feet and somehow making it work. Not to say we couldn’t use more space. We truly value the support from great friends, customers and businesses who eat with us and say they had a great meal, and from new customers who come in and tell us they are pleasantly surprised by how much they enjoyed their meal. That’s my most rewarding accomplishment.
Who influenced you the most in your career and why?
I’ve had many great influences my entire life – my parents, to start with, never made me feel like there was anything I couldn’t succeed at and have always encouraged me. My husband has had a successful construction business for over 20 years which inspires me in many different ways. Certainly all those years working at Nordstrom gave me the discipline and marketing, merchandising and customer skills that I applied to the food industry. Also, a very good friend of ours, Rob Ilvento, founder of Cluck U Chicken and Jersey Shore Fries, taught me everything I need to know about the food industry and he continues to mentor us as he is a fourth generation foodie.
Anything else that you would like to share?
Throughout this journey my biggest goal was to make my three children part of the operation – for my girls to know that anything is possible and for my son to know that a woman can have the same successes as a man. My oldest daughter worked with me from the time she was 10 years old and she is in her last year at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY working on her BA in Culinary Arts Management – and she is an incredible chef. We love when she’s home on her breaks!
My son at 16 years old started his own tech company called Recordz for aspiring music artists and will be attending Rutgers Business School in the fall.
And my youngest daughter interviewed me the other day for her government class. One of the questions was “Is it hard to be a woman in business?” At first the question caught me off guard because you would think in this day and age that question would not even come up anymore. I said, hmmm … I guess being a woman in business you have to be tough – probably more tough than a man because you never want to be taken for granted or perceived to know less. Also, as a woman in business my biggest concern is always about balancing family and work. With three kids, two businesses and two dogs it can get a little hairy at times. But like I tell my kids, “Work hard, Play hard” – it works for me!
Are you involved in any charitable/community causes that you are passionate about?
Being a business owner in Princeton, we have so many wonderful charities, fundraisers, organizations and causes walk through our doors. While at this time in my life I don’t work with any one in particular, we try and help the ones that walk through our door in any small way we can. We had a woman who came in the other day who is part of an organization called “Room to Read” raising money for education programs in underdeveloped countries. She raises the money by selling cookbooks and she asked if she could get one of our soup recipes to put in the book. Without hesitation, I said of course. Not only was I honored that she thought of us, but being able to do very small things such as this to help others gives me a great sense of accomplishment.
How can PMA support or serve you better? Suggestions and feedback?
I think the PMA does an excellent job of bringing businesses in touch with other businesses, the university, and other organizations in the town that can help us all grow and develop.
Perhaps, at every monthly meeting a different business could be highlighted so that we each get to learn about their offerings, promos and what they do best, so we can share that info with the rest of the community. Just ten minutes can help a business promote themselves and we can all help each other.