Susan Ungaro ’75 does not describe herself as a “foodie.” Yet, for the past six years, she has served in one of the most high-profile positions in the business: as president of the James Beard Foundation, the prestigious organization named for the famous chef and cookbook author James Beard that promotes America’s rich culinary heritage. In fact, according to the dailymeal.com, she is one of the fifty most powerful people in the food business.
Running the foundation has been a significant change for Ungaro, who previously spent her entire career in the publishing business. After graduating from William Paterson, she landed a position as an editorial assistant with Family Circle magazine, one of the country’s largest women’s magazines. She worked her way up through the ranks, eventually becoming editor-in-chief in 1994. She spent twelve years at the magazine’s helm, but in 2005, the magazine was sold, and Ungaro found herself looking for a new career.
While Ungaro might have seemed an unusual choice to head the foundation, she believes that her years in publishing gave her the skills she needs to achieve success in her new role. “The parallels are there,” she says. “Members are like readers, sponsors are like advertisers, and story ideas are like programming and special events.”
The foundation sponsors numerous activities including workshops, classes, conferences, readings, and other educational experiences that help people learn about and engage with food. It also presents the annual James Beard Foundation Awards, which recognize and honor excellence among chefs, cookbook authors, food journalists, restaurant designers, and others working in the food and beverage industry. She has also taken to the airwaves to publicize the foundation, making appearances on The Today Show, Top Chef, and Kitchen: Impossible.
Ungaro has successfully balanced her career with marriage and raising a family. She is married to Colin Ungaro ’75, whom she met on campus in 1971. They both worked on the campus newspaper, The Beacon, giving them each a foundation for their later careers. They have three children, Ryan, Matthew, and Christina.
She often says that she’s had two of the best jobs in America. “I have a great new career,” she remarks. “I have one of the greatest jobs working with the most creative chefs in the country. Not only am I running a restaurant, but also a foundation that gives out millions of dollars in scholarships. To see the awards, scholarship program, and reputation flourish with the help of an incredible team here at the foundation has been very gratifying.”
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