The kitchen is the heart of the home, but for Armand and Susan Rocco that extends beyond entertaining family and friends to being the focus of their business and service to the community. Susan Rocco founded the Kitchenworks alongside her husband, Armand, in 1989 after searching unsuccessfully for a quality, customer-service oriented design company to remodel her own kitchen. Now a licensed interior designer, Susan combined her flare for design with her gift of hospitality while Armand brought his love for gourmet cooking and his technical expertise to develop a line of high-end appliances with excellent customer service.
High school sweet hearts, the Roccos were married at the age of 18 and have been faithful at their church for many years. But it wasn’t until the couple became involved in Lifework Leadership that their focus began to shift to looking at how they could also serve the community. Having completed the Lifework Leadership class together four years ago, they now sponsor the program, and Susan has volunteered as a Lifework coach. During a recent visit to their showroom on East Sunrise Boulevard, Armand and Susan shared how Lifework Leadership has impacted their business and their personal lives.
Good News (GN) – First, tell me a little about what you do at Kitchenworks.
Susan – We design custom kitchens and we sell high-end appliances – but not just kitchens. We do baths and bars and entertainment centers and all of that. Our ideal client is someone who is looking for quality materials, quality cabinetry, custom work, excellent design work, personal attention to detail and personalized service. That’s what we do. We do everything from the beginning. We meet the client. We come up with a plan. We do all the drawings and we execute it. We’re responsible to do the field measurements, the installation. We have carpenters who work for us. We supervise it till the very end. Sometimes there is already an interior designer on board with the project. When that happens, we sell the cabinetry and help guide the cabinet color, making sure that it’s cohesive with the flooring, the counter top material and whatever else the designer has in mind. Or maybe a certain style. For instance some designers really want to do a very contemporary look, very sleek, very clean lines, and we steer them in that direction once we see whatever materials they have – what would like neat and be kind of unique.
GN – Are there very many businesses like yours in South Florida that are that custom and high end?
Susan – I wouldn’t say that there are many exactly like our store. We’re more of a boutique hands-on store. We work by appointment. We give a little more personal attention to each client that comes in, so we’re totally different from a Home Depot or a Lowes or even a larger firm that has 30 sales people and they all converge on you… Often our clients end up being friends and they keep calling us and stopping by after we’ve finished their job. And I love that because I love to have that connection with people. And what’s neat about our business is I really like to tailor it – not only to design functional kitchens, but kitchens that are fabulous for people – that are one-of-a-kind unique, a place that they are happy to be in, because a lot of us spend a lot of time in the kitchen. People are hanging out there because that’s where the food is; that’s where the conversation is happening. It’s kind of the heart of the home. It’s the hub. So, we like to make it really spectacular if we can. That’s what we strive to do.
GN – You were telling me earlier that faith is a big part of your life. Do you and your husband attend a church?
Susan – We do. We attend First Baptist Fort Lauderdale, right here downtown. We’ve been there since Anthony our son was five, and my son is 33 now, so it’s been a long time. Before that we were at Sheridan Hills down in Hollywood. We’ve been faithful at our church for many years. We love our church and we had always felt like we were pretty much being good Christians by giving to our local church being plugged in, you know Bible study and raising our kids in it.
GN – So tell me about how your got introduced to Lifework.
Susan – I think it was Pastor Larry Thompson who invited us to come and hear about it. We did it together and we loved it. That was the thing that was the catalyst to thinking how can we use the unique gifts that God has given us to benefit not only our church but how about our community. And it was really Armand. He came home one day and… you read these books and you can discuss and interact with the group at your table. Armand had been at a table with a woman who was working with a nonprofit, Heart2Heart… He got inspired and came home and said, “I think the Lord wants us to do a fundraiser for Heart2Heart.” It’s a whole ministry geared toward visiting the elderly – seniors who don’t have people to visit them and sharing love with them and hopefully your faith. My grandma was in an assisted living – a nursing home – before she passed away, and I had gone to visit her a lot. So we just decided to open up our showroom, and we did our first fundraiser for Heart2Heart. It was right after we finished Lifework. We had a friend , Jonas, who is a chef, and he and Armand and our daughter-in-law did all the cooking that night. And Jonas did a cooking demonstration.
There was another session at Lifework that asked how has God uniquely equipped you and blessed you, and how can you use that to bless others? And I thought, we could do kitchens for people in need. The first year we were in Lifework we committed to a Habitat home, so we did the Habitat home and the next year we did a home for 4KIDS, and then it was Dillard High School.
GN – What did you do for Dillard High School?
Susan – For our class project, we all pulled our resources together to turn an old unused room into a really cool teacher’s lounge for the teachers at Dillard High School. It was a Lifework project, and it was fabulous to have everyone pull together. We did flooring and furniture and cabinets. It was such a blessing to them. But I had never really had my eyes opened to thinking about needs in the community. To think how could we as business owners be blessing our community instead of just our local church. By reaching out to people in the community, its another way to show the love of Christ.
GN – Are there other ministries that you support as a business?
Susan – The ones we support as a business are 4KIDS, Sheridan House Family Ministries, Heart2Heart and Habitat. Oh, Taylor’s Close too… So, our business is not always booming where we can give kitchens away to people in need, but when we can, we do because I feel like its good to be a blessing.
Armand – We also do the Special Olympics Dream Ride.
Susan – Armand is a car enthusiast besides a chef extraordinaire.
Armand – So Dream Ride is an event that they do in Connecticut once a year. They take exotic cars and classic cars and usually have between 500 and about 1,200 cars altogether. They block off about 18 miles of roadway, and you take a Special Olympic child on a ride – actually most of them are teenagers or young adults. So anybody that’s in Special Olympics can go to this event in Connecticut once a year. It’s kids from all over the United States, and they get a ride. But it’s a week long event for them. They have all kinds of things that are going on during the week, and it gives their parents a break. They usually raise about $3 to 4 million on top of what they spend… So we’ve done that the last couple of years. I drive a car and they ride. Dreamride.org is the organization.
GN – Why did you want to go through Lifework and what do you think you got out of it as an individual?
Armand – I think probably for me it was to further get in depth with the Bible and giving. We had been giving to one organization for many years; tithing to the local church was always a priority for us, but I think it was more of seeing what else is out there. For me it was being able to help other organizations that we hadn’t been exposed to like Heart2Heart. And I think it impacted us as a company to share Lifework Leadership to our employees and getting them involved.
Susan – The whole presentation at Lifework is nonthreatening… It’s business oriented topics, interpersonal relationships, how to handle certain situations, moral dilemmas – all kinds of things that every business goes through – struggles, disappointments, and I found it very encouraging and uplifting and good advice… It’s really an eye opening experience. And every book that you read you glean something new from it. Every person who does their case study or does their topic, you get something new every time you go. So I love that…. It doesn’t matter if you are someone who is searching, just a regular business person or you’ve been a Christian for a few years or for 30 years, I think there’s something in Lifework for everyone… It was good growth for us I think. It was very introspective. All the homework and stuff you do, you are really looking inward at yourself asking how does God want me to change or what should I be doing differently than what I’m doing right now?
GN – Why did you decided to be a sponsor of Lifework?
Susan -– They’re doing an amazing work here in our city and they need support. It would be so great if Lifework could touch every single business in the city of Fort Lauderdale. It would be transformed because look at us. We’re just one little small mom and pop shop with 10 employees and a couple carpenters, but if our little kitchen store and the guy down the street and the construction worker and the roofing guys and every body in town starts to change the way they think … not just focusing on making money… we have to be able to make a profit… but it’s bigger than that… we need to be busy about what God wants us to do and for each of us it’s different.