Elegant. Sweet. A generous spirit. In many ways, the Santa Maria Valley wouldn’t be quite right without the influence and passion of Susan Righetti.
You may have heard of the Far Western Tavern. Clarence and Rosalie Minetti established this contemporary, classic ranch-style restaurant in 1958, along with Rosalie’s cousin Richard Maretti and his wife Jean. Far Western Tavern has been driven by a timeless appreciation for regional cuisine, influenced by traditions such as Santa Maria Style Barbecue, and an inherited commitment to hospitality.
This is where Susan comes in. Clarence and Rosalie’s daughter, Susan Righetti, established Susie Q’s in 1981, a series of products based on family recipes.
“While I was working at my parent’s restaurant, I enjoyed meeting diners from all over the world who traveled here to experience Santa Maria cuisine,” she said. “It inspired me to find a way to share the wonderful flavors of my family’s culinary heritage beyond the restaurant. So in 1981, I created the first Susie Q Brand products, and created relationships with local grocers who kindly put them on their store shelves.”
Her first offering was a bag of pinquito beans, which has expanded to several seasonings, beef jerky and strawberry glaze. While Susan handles her seasoning products and business details, her husband, Paul, keeps to their cattle and horses.
“As a young girl, Santa Maria style cuisine was always a central part of gatherings at our family ranch,” said Susan. “I still recall the aroma of my mom’s beans simmering on the stove, while ranch-raised steaks, seasoned with the perfect blend of garlic, salt and pepper, sizzled over coals of red oak.”
Spanish vaqueros of the Santa Maria Valley pioneered this style of cooking more than a hundred years ago, making it unique to California’s central coast. “It’s almost a ritual,” said Susan. “You gather with your family and friends and it’s so easy to do. You can entertain and prepare a great meal at the same time.”
Santa Maria Style Barbecue is very simply prepared. The cuts of meat, the flavorful seasonings and the use of local ingredients, such as the plump, pink pinquito beans, have also been passed down for generations. Sunset Magazine deemed it the West’s best BBQ.
Susan credits her parent’s love for Santa Maria Style Barbecue as one of the reasons why they opened the Far Western Tavern.
“When I started, few people had heard of it,” she said. “Regional cooking and local flavor have become so popular since then. There’s no right or wrong about American cuisine. It’s about what flourishes in the region and the showcasing of local, seasonal ingredients.”
Susan is appreciative of her parents for all that they have given her, and is proud of their tremendous work ethic that have made them icons in this community. She feels truly blessed to live a great life in a place she will always call home, and continue to be a part of a lifestyle that has spanned generations.
“In my mind, Susan personifies the authentic hospitality and rich history of the Santa Maria Valley,” said Laura Booras, general manager of Riverbench Vineyard & Winery. “Through her Susie Q’s Brand products, which we proudly sell in our tasting room, she offers a taste of the local food culture to people around the world. And even though she is somewhat of a local celebrity, her humble demeanor makes her very approachable – which is why I personally use her as a resource on everything related to Santa Maria Valley food, farming and ranch life.”
“Susie has created a place where guests and locals alike can come and enjoy the cuisine of Santa Maria Valley,” said Clarissa Nagy, owner and winemaker at Nagy Wines. “She has the gift of making a stranger feel as though they have been a part of our community for years. Her spice blend is known worldwide. I have guests who come looking for Susie Q to take home with them to share the Santa Maria experience with loved ones.”
Susie Q’s products are available at retail outlets in California and a handful of other states, including Costco stores, and have created a business that complements the family’s ranching enterprise and lifestyle.
Next time you’re in the Santa Maria Valley, gather ‘round with some barbecue – the way local families do. Or, take Susie Q’s with you to enjoy a little bit of Santa Maria Style at home.