Over the years we have been asked so many questions about our journey of creating, developing and opening a family business from scratch. The range of questions span from things about our family, friends, managers, crew, customers, community activities and to how we pick our flavors, toppings and sauces! We loved these questions so much we actually started a weekly blog by Sue called ‘Sundaes with Sue”.

However, we have continually been asked about the highlights and some of the “not so awesome” highlights in our journey too! We are taking our first swirl at capturing our journey with an annual highlights and not so awesome highlights.

As we started to write all of these chapters we had four HUGE “aha” moments:

1) Swirling Gratitude for Our Family who loved and supported us from before day one! Sue and I will never be able to adequately express our thanks to Jen, Joe, Jim, Julie, Keegan, Joe Sr., Lucy, Mary and Kerry. We will always be thankful to Julie for everything she did to help us open, grow and all of her contributions as crew member and shift leader. We will be forever thankful to Jen, our partner and co-founder, who trail blazed so many of our cultural traditions, holiday celebrations, social media success, and who trained and led our most successful swirlers. Jen’s legacy will be forever in the DNA of Suzy’s Swirl!

2) Swirling Gratitude for Our Friends who have always been there for us in our highlights and not so awesome highlights. We were blessed to have friends who helped us in so many ways to open and build our business. To mention them all would take pages and pages, however we always remember their unwavering support, faith, confidence and the right words at the right times.

3) Swirling Gratitude for our Amazing Team of Leaders and Swirlers, the real people who make the “magic” of Suzy’s a reality. Over the past six years, we have met so many amazing, wonderful young people who are/were passionate about Suzy’s. We have been fortunate to truly work with the best of the best. Swirlers who contributed to our success and supported our gowth through their love of Suzy’s. We are honored to know that we could be part of “making their first job their right job.” We are proud to see their successes in life, school, sports and business during and after their Suzy’s experience. Today, we are so grateful for our leadership team of Caitlyn, Laine, Jenelle, and Becca who are blazing trails in expanded areas of catering, new business development, marketing, event management and exceptional customer experiences.

4) Swirling Gratitude for our Customers, Community Partners and suppliers. This is the true secret in our swirl, our loyal customers, community partners and suppliers. We will never have enough ways to say thank you to every customer that swirls with us when it is 90 degrees, - 20 degrees and everything degree in between. We love celebrating the ups and downs of life and the happiness of what each day brings with our customers.

Suppliers are the back bone of existence. We are grateful for their support, innovation and mutual trust in our partnerships. We have and will continue to appreciate their efforts, and going above and beyond through the ups and downs of our continued growth!

Our community partners actually have their own page on the Suzy’s website because there are so many to mention and thank for years of support. We are so grateful to every partner for believing, partnering and supporting us!

We look forward to you enjoying the highlights and “not so awesome” highlights of our journey.

With Swiriing Gratitude Kathleen and Sue!

A Story of Frozen HAPPINESS, Family & New Beginnings!

Chapter 2011-2012

Suzy’s Swirl is truly an American dream of triumph, heart and passion. It is also the story of family  brought together to take a dream and make it a reality in spite of a personal tragedy.

Suzy’s Swirl started as a conversation between Kathleen Wood and her brother-in-law, Joe Tierno, over 25 years ago. Both had a passion for restaurant business since they were kids, growing up in the Chicago suburbs. In 2011, Kathleen and Joe made the decision to take their conversation to the next level and begin the journey of making their discussion a reality.

The partnership was ideal. Kathleen was a 30-plus-restaurant industry leader with a long and successful track record of building profitable restaurant companies. Joe had over 25 years of contracting experience. They both agreed that, beginning in 2012, building the next great restaurant chain would become a focus for both.x

On October 1st, 2011, Joe unexpectedly passed away, leaving his wife, Kathleen’s sister, Sue, and their four children. The loss for Kathleen only served to intensify her mission to make their dream a reality.  The picture included was a family picture taken at our nephew’s wedding two weeks before Joe’s passing – Joe is the smiling guy to the far right.

The journey toward developing Suzy’s Swirl created the opportunity for Sue to re-energize her successful career in sales and marketing. Together, the two sisters found a new passion for not just opening one location, but a new vision of creating a new model of business that would make the pursuit of the American Dream affordable and accessible.  As the journey continued Sue’s daughter Jen become a partner in the business bringing her successful background in retail management experience to the growing team.

Chapter 2012 - Open and Off to The Swirling!


Awesome Hightlights:

  • We OPENED - August 4, 2012 - our first cusotmers arrived 15 minutes after we unlocked the doors and we never turned back.

  • Our first year was fast and swirling!

  • We met so many new people and the community support of Gurnee was amazing!

  • We were grateful for all the pre-training at the Holiday Inn. Our original crew of 25 swirlers had collective restaurant experience of six total months

  • We developed an army of Swirlers who became awesome sous chefs prepping fruit thousands of pounds as our fruit is all fresh and they NEVER cut their fingers!

Not Awesome HIghlights:

  • Taking the towels home to wash and dry each night.

  •  We did swirl and turn quite a few Swirlers.

  • We all had our roller coaster ride of finding our Inner Suzy!

Grand Opening

Amazing things we learned as a family and a team:

  •  We had so many restaurant consultants in our family besides Kathleen - so many insights

  • Sue’s amazing faith was and is invaluable to our success

  • Starting a concept from scratch is a roller coaster

  • The well of gratitude we had for our swirlers and customers that supported us every day!

Chapter 2013 - Cups for a Cause Begin

The idea of Cups for a Cause begins - we start leveraging our cups to support the great works of others!

Awesome Highlights of Cups for a Cause:

  • Craig Stelz of the Chicago Bears joins the team to support the Big Joe Super Challenge

  • Suzypalooza is launched to support to No Kid Hungry

  • Sydnie and Morreen Balyles come in for our first Alex’s Lemonade Swirl

  • The Big Joe Challenge begins for the American Heart Association

Other Awesome Highlights:

  • We begin what also becomes part of our DNA Halloween events thanks to Jen!

  • We continue to grow very quickly and we are continuing to improve

  • We make our national debut at the People Report’s Summer Brand Camp

  • Kathleen takes Suzy’s Story to the White House to promote women in foodservice

Not So Awesome Highlights:

  • We are still washing towels every night

  • We still had swirlers coming and going


Chapter 2014 - New Year - New Opening

Big Big Big News

  • June 2014 - Suzy’s Lake Bluff opens - SO excited to bringing Suzy’s to Lake Bluff

Awesome Highlights:

  • Suzy’s Swirl is on Chicago’s Best with Brittany Payton

  • We are featured in Jim Knight’s Best selling book - Culture that Rocks!

  • Our management team is in place in both locations - Jen become our first General Manager

  • We finally stop bringing towels home every night!

Not So Awesome Highlights:

  • We learn were all our leaks are financially, operationally and in human resources

  • We start the painful at time process of fixing our leaks!

Chapter 2015 - Big Ideas - Expanding Teams - Catering Services

Awesome Highlights:

  • Suzy’s Catering and Events services is officially launched

  • Suzy’s start bringing Suzy’s to events like: Lake Bluff Bluffinia Concert series, Intellgensia Bike Criterium

  • Suzy’s continues to be part of Gurnee Days and Gurnee Events

  • Suzy’s brings July 4th into our DNA while sponsoring and participating in local July 4th celebrations

  • We partner with the College of Lake County to sponsor “Big Ideas” their new entrepreneurial student competition

Not So Awesome Highlights:

  • Growth brings new challenges to our leadership team

  • We continue to address leaks in our operational consistency

Chapter 2016 - Championship Teams - Shaking It Up

Awesome Highlights:

  • Our business is expanding - events, catering, fundraising, cups with a cause

  • Cubs win the World Series - We offer 108 minutes of FREE Suzy’s to Celebrate - it’s awesome!

  • We also expand out product line with Shakes and Floats

  • We begin the process of expanding our yogurts and sorbettos to feature more “diet and lifestyle” diverse options

We continue to love bringing Suzy’s to:

  • LFHS Turnabout Dance

  • Street Scenes- Carmel High School

  • College of Lake County - Big Ideas Entrepreneur Competition

  • Lake Bluff Annual July 4th Parade

  • Bluffina

  • Trunk or Treat

  • JDRF Annual Walk

  • Gurnee Days

  • So many more!

Mixed Highlights Depending On Your Perspective

  • This is a great year for us, however we start to analyze our business for growth

  • We start to strategize on our growth opportunities

Chapter 2017- One Door Opens and Another Door Closes - We Love Gurnee

Gurnee Award

Awesome Highlights:

  •  We begin delivery and everyone loves it!

  • Our customers nominate us for Business of the Year in Gurnee. Special thanks to Karen from JDRF for nominating us. We win and are so grateful!

  • We find the most AMAZING producer of craft yogurt, gelato and sorbetto. A product and partner we have been searching for since 2011!

  • We make the strategic decision, we are going to pivot and start producing our own retail product line.

Mixed Highlights:

  • We make the decision not to renew our lease at our Gurnee location- The facebook posts explains it all.

  • We had a record turn out of Gurnee friends, customers and former crew members who visit us the last week-end we were open.

  • We still hear on average 3-5 times a week how much people miss the Gurnee location.

  • As of January 2019, the Gurnee location is still vacant.

Chapter 2018 - Focus - Frozen Happiness - Retail

Awesome Highlights:

  • The team double downs on everything Suzy’s - Catering - Events - Social Media

  • Sue starts her weekly blog - Sundaes with Sue

  • Our Retail Product Line is launched - Frozen Happiness

  • We launch our first Frozen Happiness point of distribution with the Compass Group

  • We become - ACDBE - DBE and WBE certified

  • Product innovation continues with Ice Cream Sandwiches

  • Suzy team members feature Suzy’s in three different college projects and each project recieves an A

Not So Awesome Highlights:

  • We developed the entire Frozen Happiness retail line and after testing it for months with mixed results and very little traction we regroup - the product is amazing - the name is not connecting. We change the name to something very clever - thanks to our good friend Wendy - Suzy’s Swirl!

  • Last count, we were at 10,000 people who have told us they miss us in Gurnee - we miss Gurnee too!

 Chapter 2019 - Year of Acceleration - Cups with a Cause - Big Joe

Awesome Highlights:

  • We have so many great things planned for 2019 - we couldn’t wait for the year to start!

  • Suzy’s sponsored the premiere conference for the restaurant and hospitality industry - TDN2K - Global Best Practices Conference

  • Suzy’s is excited to share our Cups with a Cause at Global Best Practices

  • Big Joe Challenge Day Big Joe Competition on March 9th (Joe’s Birthday) had a great turnout! Thank you to all that participated and competed!

  • Won the 2019 WBENC Pitch Competition in Baltimore, MD

  • Suzy’s is aggressively pursuing new distribution and opportunities for Suzy’s Swirl Retail Product Line

Not So Awesome Highlights:

  • None so far - haha!

Keep watching for more and know we Swirl Gratitude every day for you!