Executive edge: Lawrence French & Gregory Sargowicki
For his 16th birthday, Lawrence French cooked a Swedish smorgasbord for 35 guests. It was a dinner that would spawn a lifelong love of cooking and entertaining for the co-owner of Lakewood-based Lifestyles Catering.
"I thought I was going to get into a chef's position, but it just worked out that the front of the house was where I felt most comfortable," said French, who grew up in the Fort Collins-Loveland area before his father, a construction engineer, moved the family to such far-flung places as American Samoa and Hawaii.
"I like the entertaining aspect of catering and the preparation that goes into an event and then to see it all flow to where the bride or party host just sits back and enjoys the day," he said.
French earned a bachelor's degree in hospitality management from North Dakota State College in Fargo, N.D., where he met his partner, Gregory Sargowicki. A native of Warsaw, Poland, Sargowicki fled his homeland in 1983 after being arrested for his involvement in the Solidarity union.
"I'm a political refugee," said Sargowicki, who escaped to a refugee camp near Vienna before ultimately being sponsored by Lutheran Family Services in Fargo. "I was extremely lucky to get a sponsor; many people waited years to get sponsored. They immediately sent me to school, and I simultaneously went to three schools to learn English - a language which I love - and which didn't come hard to me at all."
A vacation trip to Colorado inspired French and Sargowicki to move to Colorado, where French worked in the culinary departments of major hotels, and Sargowicki, who has a mechanical engineering degree, worked at such companies as Alcoa, regularly earning promotions.
It wasn't always their dream to open their own business, but when Lifestyles Catering came on the market in 1995, they jumped at the opportunity - with French running operations and Sargowicki working as director of marketing. Lifestyles Catering employs 35 full time and its kitchen in Lakewood operates round-the-clock.
"1995 through 2000 were fantastic because the economy was booming. We literally tripled our business every year," said Sargowicki. "It was 24/7 hectic, but it was fun. We made money, met tons of people and started doing a little more on the social scene whenever time allowed us."
Today, the couple are regulars on the metro-area's social scene supporting such charities as the Human Rights Campaign, Cancer League, Kempe Center, ARC, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Excelsior Youth Center and arts organizations.
"We get involved in things we care about - that have meaning to us," French said.
In 1997, Sargowicki purchased Willow Ridge Manor, an eloquent event center in Morrison that today hosts two to eight weddings each weekend.
"The weddings are nice because people are booked a good year ahead, but with the general economy, even the weddings are contracting a little bit," French said.
The holidays are a boon to the business when Lifestyles Catering ramps up staff to 50.
"It's six weeks straight of running crazy and praying that you have good weather," French said.
Neither can think of anything they'd rather be doing than being in the catering business.
"We love to entertain, and this business is an extension of entertaining," said French. "And when we're not throwing parties for other people, we're throwing parties for ourselves."