If you’ve ever flipped through SJ Mag, browsed the local food and wine scene on Instagram, or attended a local charity event, chances are you’ve come across something written, posted, or organized by Suzanne Ledbetter. A Fresno native, Suzanne started volunteering as a way to get to know more people when she first moved to Lodi in 2006. At the time, she had no idea how it would take root and grow, giving her the opportunity to share her passion for food and philanthropy with her community. “Living in Lodi has definitely become part of my identity,” Suzanne says. “My husband likes to joke that while he was raised here, I know everyone.”
Suzanne studied Public Relations at Fresno State and Sacramento State Universities. After considering becoming a broadcast journalist, she decided she didn’t want a career that would keep her moving from place to place. Instead, she embraced life in Lodi and accepted a position as the coordinator and sole employee of the Hutchins Street Square Foundation in Lodi.
Meanwhile, she had the chance to get an inside look at the local food and wine industries thanks to her husband Craig Ledbetter’s role as Vice President and Partner of Vino Farms. “We farm around 17,000 acres of wine grapes in Lodi, Napa, Sonoma, Yolo, Solano, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara counties,” Suzanne explains. “His job often takes us to different wine regions for industry dinners and special events.”
As she began to pull the curtain back on the local food and wine scene, Suzanne saw huge potential for growth. She believes that food is like music in the way it can bring people together and knew she could have a role to play in helping Lodi grow into its own. “My husband’s industry certainly served as inspiration for my passion. I basically had behind the scenes access to wine industry events, award shows, dinners, and tours—it seemed like a natural progression,” she says. “But in reality, my love of cooking and food came from my father. He was an incredible cook when he wasn’t [a slave] to his job, and he experimented with all types of cuisine. Growing up, I would be privy to filet mignon with a red wine reduction and souffles. Our time spent together in the kitchen is something I hold dear to my heart.”
This seed of an idea grew into Fine Foodie Philanthropy, Suzanne’s blog, which she launched in 2017. “I felt like there weren’t enough voices amplifying the good things in our local food and wine industry, so I thought I would do my best to tell the stories behind the food and wine,” she says. Her goal was to highlight the quality of local products, restaurants, and wineries, as well as give back to the community and support local charities.
“Our food and wine scene has grown tremendously over the past decade. But what hasn’t changed, is our local food industry’s commitment to using locally sourced produce that is grown in abundance,” Suzanne says. “I basically spread the word about new openings, changes in personnel, and new dishes to hit the scene. Through the years, I have developed a great relationship with the restaurant and winery owners, as well as our local chefs.”
Through her work with Fine Foodie Philanthropy, Suzanne has partnered with local brand such as Calivirgin, Klinker Brick, Bokisch, and Acquiesce on a wide variety of projects ranging from live cooking demonstrations to creating wine and cheese pairings. Over the years, Suzanne has also lived up to the “philanthropy” part of her brand and has been extremely involved in many local charities. She is currently Vice Chair of Lodi’s Boys and Girls club (and has previously served as Chair). She also served as Chairperson at Young Professionals of Lodi and was an active member of Omega Nu. But she believes that one of her biggest accomplishments is her current role as Chair of the Foundation Board at St. Joseph’s hospital. “Life has come full circle after having a preemie baby there in 2013,” she says. “This has been a huge undertaking, but one I was happy to accept. Our son was born at 31 weeks and we credit the care and compassion of their staff to our son’s health.”
When not blogging, fundraising, or researching her next article, Suzanne spends her time traveling, attending 49ers or Kings games with her husband and son, and playing tennis.
“My father passed away in 2008, and I think he would be proud of me for pursuing my passion.”
Find the Fine Foodie Philanthropist
Asked and Answered
- What’s your favorite part of being the Food and Wine Editor at San Joaquin Magazine?
- Getting to share the dishes, chefs, winemakers, and stories behind the food and wine. We have so many incredible folks in SJ and I am grateful I get to share their stories.
- What’s the key to getting that perfect Instagram worthy food shot?
- This was something I had to teach myself to do by doing research and trial and error. Food and wine need staging, which can require hours of detail, gathering, and cooking to make the perfect shot. I have collected quite the inventory of food styling props and even have plastic ice cubes for when I need to shoot a cocktail.
- What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment?
A. Serving as Chair of the Foundation board at St. Joseph’s hospital, taking risks like cooking on Good Day Sacramento, and serving as a judge for the Fresno Food Expo.