Beth Ford, Land O’ Lakes’ CEO, says making their restaurants more welcoming is a family business

Beth Ford, Land O’ Lakes’ CEO and president, is being called one of “women to watch.” Before Ford, a lifelong resident of Mitchellville, Nebraska, moved to Ottawa, Maryland, in 1977, she cleaned toilets. “I…

Beth Ford, Land O’ Lakes’ CEO, says making their restaurants more welcoming is a family business

Beth Ford, Land O’ Lakes’ CEO and president, is being called one of “women to watch.”

Before Ford, a lifelong resident of Mitchellville, Nebraska, moved to Ottawa, Maryland, in 1977, she cleaned toilets.

“I just got out of the field in the winter and came back,” she says. “I said, ‘I think there’s something here for me.’ ”

Ford moved to Washington, where she worked in one of the corporate hospitality companies and served as director of security for U.S. embassies for 25 years. Before Land O’ Lakes purchased her concession leases at the U.S. Capitol grounds and Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Ford served on the company’s board.

“Basically, I had no experience in water management, so I didn’t know what we were doing. I didn’t know how to do it, so I had to figure out how to make it better and how to make it more manageable,” she says.

A heady moment

In 2006, Ford led a group of Land O’ Lakes executives who leased the U.S. Capitol grounds. After acquiring numerous concession rights, they worked with the Architect of the Capitol to add hand-held-pipe taps for the first time. Ford says that was a “heady moment,” in part because it helped to “create an operational framework and to move things forward and to secure the future” for concession operations.

In 2009, Land O’ Lakes first acquired the Roosevelt (Hazen) building, the administrative headquarters of the U.S. Commerce Department. Ford attributes the company’s success in that space to the fact that they had managed the concession contract at the Hirshhorn Museum before it was sold.

The tables turned, though, when the U.S. Capitol and Abraham Lincoln’s grave were closed off.

“All of the concession properties on Capitol Hill are blocked up from the street, and in those moments, we didn’t have a site management presence,” Ford says. “If you’re a mom-and-pop concession owner on the Hill and you want to work, you’ve got to rely on us and our ability to open those gates for you.”

After they lost their lease at the U.S. Capitol in 2013, Ford says, “it didn’t take us long to realize that it would behoove us to relocate all of our U.S. facilities back to Mitchellville.”

Beacons of hope

Before Land O’ Lakes acquired almost 1,000 concession rights in the Washington area, one takeaway from them was the need for a breakfast outpost. At the market, which stands on top of the historic Country Fair Theater, general manager Ty Wolff shares advice for young people looking to come into the business.

“We have everything that you could ever hope for, but we’re also a place for locals and people who are interested in wanting to bring things to the community. And also, we have things for people who are just trying to relax and enjoy the day,” he says.

Of course, they’re also bringing in 35-foot two-story bars and outdoor grills.

“We have each and every amenity that the resort had, and in places like western Europe, if they had a place like this, they’d tear it down and replace it,” Wolff says. “We’re hopefully bringing a feeling that everyone should feel comfortable here on Saturday or Sunday morning, when they can walk in and feel like a kid again, as we’re all proud of our family business.”

Land O’ Lakes understands that the best business model — a business with a strong brand — is one that helps other businesses prosper.

“For us, a wise man said in politics, ‘You’ve got to be willing to apologize for your business,’ ” Ford says. “So that business has to work for everybody, not just Land O’ Lakes. That way, the brand will mean something to everybody.”

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