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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

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Susan Hawke, an All-American tennis player at SDSU, draws from her years of competition to give Snapdragon Stadium fans a winning experience. Susan Hawke, an All-American tennis player at SDSU, draws from her years of competition to give Snapdragon Stadium fans a winning experience.

Ex-SDSU Aztecs All-American Now Leads Snapdragon Stadium's Hospitality

Susan Hawke, executive general manager for food and beverage, hustles to provide a top-notch experience for stadium guests.
By Tobin Vaughn

The only thing Susan Hawke (’93) enjoys more than a great party is hosting a great party. As executive general manager for food and beverage at San Diego State University’s new Snapdragon Stadium, she is utterly in her element.

Hawke is head of hospitality at the newest large-scale entertainment venue in the region. Her job is to make sure guests have a good time.

The position is the latest in a series of similar jobs Hawke has held at other venues including the San Diego Convention Center, Qualcomm Stadium and, most recently, Petco Park where Hawke was general manager of food and beverage operations. The Snapdragon job, though, is different; the work is more personal. 

A San Diego native, Hawke was an All-American tennis player at SDSU. She remains a true competitor on behalf of her alma mater.

“I am competitive because I want to be known as the best,” Hawke said during a recent interview in her Snapdragon Stadium office. “I want the stadium to be known as the best.”

Tennis Lessons

Hawke returned to SDSU in December 2020 when she was named executive general manager of 386 Hospitality, a division of Aztec Shops named for Marshall Faulk’s 386 NCAA record-setting rushing yards in SDSU’s 1991 win over University of the Pacific. Since July, she and her management team have been working to hire between 400 and 500 seasonal workers to staff the stadium’s food and beverage outlets.

All the eating and drinking at games, concerts, and other stadium events is projected to comprise approximately 25% of Aztec Shops’ food and beverage operation. That Hawke is an alumna familiar with all the company’s campus venues and catering business is considered a bonus by Aztec Shops CEO Todd Summer.

“I think Susan understands the uniqueness of San Diego State and all of its different programs,” Summer said. “She wants the university to be as successful and as great as it can be.”

Between setting up clubs, conducting mass trainings, verifying supply orders, and answering an endless barrage of questions, Hawke’s workdays are busy. Her husband, John, who is a registered nurse, and the couple’s two children understand that her approach to any task is based on two lessons she learned while playing tennis.
The first is to keep going no matter what happens. The second lesson came from her college coach when Hawke was having a rough match.

“She said, ‘Listen, you're going to win and you're going to lose, and there is always going to be someone faster and someone better, but as long as you are giving 100% that's all you can do,’” Hawke recalled.  “That’s how I look at life now.”

So, each day, SDSU and its stadium guests get Hawke’s very best effort. “I am pouring my heart into this place because I love the whole university and what it has meant to me in my life and a lot of my close friends’ lives,” she said.

Life of the Party

Hawke’s best friend is Taunya Moen (’93, ’98). The two were teammates when the Aztec women’s tennis team was regularly ranked in the Top 20 and won tournaments and conference championships.

Moen said her friend has always been able to bring people together. She describes Hawke as naturally hospitable. 

“First of all, she's hilarious,” Moen said of Hawke. “She has a great sense of humor and is always the life of the party.” 

Hawke’s parties, Moen said, are unparalleled “She can entertain like nobody and she’s really good at it. She was that way in college, and she is still that way today. It's a big, important part of her life to bring people together and bring them joy.”

Seeking Perfection

Although she is a fan of Aztecs football, Hawke has little time to watch games while working. She is too busy checking in with vendors and guests making sure everything is running smoothly.

“We want the Snapdragon food and beverage experience to be top notch,” Hawke said. “We're not perfect all the time, but we are always trying to be perfect.”

At an Aug. 30 soft opening during a football team scrimmage, Hawke and her team had an opportunity to test the stadium’s food and beverage services with real guests before the season’s first game. More than a dozen breweries and local eateries were represented along with several food trucks. Results were overwhelmingly positive.

Lorenzo Garrido (’91) and his son, Gray, came from Chula Vista to check out the stadium and its food. “I love that they had a lot of local San Diego restaurants represented,” Lorenzo said. 
The Garridos selected Cali BBQ, a place they had wanted to check out. Both gave the experience an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

The fries were deemed “excellent” and the sandwiches “delicious.” The price? “I think the price is very reasonable when I compare prices here versus elsewhere, especially when you go to sporting venues,” Lorenzo Garrido said.

Nearby, Patrick Connors (’79) of San Diego sat with his wife, Erin, enjoying a beverage and a cheesesteak sandwich from Gaglione Brothers. Both were impressed with the stadium and its drinking and dining options.

“It’s excellent,” Patrick said of his meal. Regarding the surroundings: “This has a definite San Diego feel to it, which I think was the intent, and I would say they hit a home run.

“It's a great facility with plenty of variety of food and beverage. I think it's going to be a great home for San Diego State and the Aztecs for the next century.”

Such positive reviews are what Hawke lives to hear. She is happiest when her guests are happy. 

“When people come through the gates, whether it is for an occasion or it's their first time at the stadium, or they brought their kids because it’s somebody’s birthday — whatever the case may be — I know that I am some part of people’s special day. Everybody comes here to have a good time, and to be a part of that is, in a nutshell, why I do it.”

For SDSU fans, of course, the experience is always better when the Aztecs prevail.  But no matter how the game turns out, Susan Hawke intends to make sure her guests always win.