After more than three decades, Seattle Sutton will be passing the baton for the business she adorned with her name.
Sutton, 87, of Marseilles, announced Tuesday she and her family have sold Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating to the company’s registered dietitian nutritionist, Rene Ficek.
“We’re really proud of being able to hand it over to an excellent employee,” Sutton said in a phone interview. “I feel she’s always had the same philosophy of no gimmicks and no contracts.”
“My children have worked very hard in assisting me and some have other jobs,” Sutton added. “We just decided it was time to pass the baton on to someone else.”
Some family members will remain at the company to provide a smooth transition.
Sutton said Ficek has helped the company focus on staying nutrition-focused by helping plan and analyze the meals over the past five years.
Ficek has been interested in the company for a while and kept an eye on the business while attending school. She said it offers products she recommended while working as a clinical dietitian at Illinois Valley Community Hospital.
"I'm really excited. I never thought I'd be doing this," Ficek said Tuesday in a phone interview.
Sutton said other offers for the company were on the table, but the family is excited to hand the company over to a dedicated worker and one whose core values align with the company.
Ficek agreed and noted the two always saw eye-to-eye on health-related issues and bonded over a shared concept of health, wellness and nutrition.
Ficek, who also writes the Healthy Bites column published monthly in The Times, said she plans to keep the name of the business the same and plans are in place to work toward future growth.
"We have a lot of plans in the works," Ficek said. "We definitely are looking to improve the overall meals and menus, but we definitely want to grow our business to distributors, do a lot more marketing. We have a lot of plans for that in play."
Sutton, a registered nurse, began the business 33 years ago at age 53 with a focus on providing healthy pre-prepared meals when weight-loss programs were beginning to grow.
Her meals focused not only on losing weight but eating healthy and adhering to a philosophy of never adding artificial sweeteners, food dyes and adhering to sodium restrictions.
“When I started that was sort of unheard of,” Sutton said.
“I honestly couldn’t fathom why more registered dietitians weren’t doing this,” she added. “I know (Ficek) will help grow the business as she’ll (continue to) look at the meals and nutrition.”
The business began in Marseilles and started with the name Diet Carry-Out until Sutton changed it in 1996 to the less generic Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating.
“People in Marseilles still call it Diet Carry-Out,” Sutton added with a laugh.
The name “healthy eating” didn’t come lightly as the company met USDA requirements that looked at the health-based aspects of every meal.
Sutton said the nationwide company has found a niche with seniors who want regularly delivered healthy meals without having to leave their home and have many patients referred to the program from health care professionals due to meeting the dietary guidelines of the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association.
Sutton said she’ll still assist with some television commercials, has already booked pre-arranged speaking engagements and said she'll offer Ficek her assistance whenever it's needed.
Sutton plans to spend time with her family, which includes five children, 14 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and one more great-grandchild on the way.
“We just feel that we need more time together and to have fun,” Sutton said.
For more information on Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating, visit seattlesutton.com.