5Qs: Syd Ross on The Garden Party’s 10th Anniversary


Over the last 10 years, the Garden Party Foundation, which will host its annual Garden Party fundraiser event on June 10 at Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester Hills, has raised around $1 million for student educational programs among the professional trades as well as several charities. For this year’s event, organizers hope to raise upwards of $200,000 to support professional trades educational programs at Oakland Community College, which operates campuses in Auburn Hills, Farmington Hills, Royal Oak, Southfield, and Waterford Township (in addition to a virtual campus). The Garden Party, which runs from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., will feature tastings from more than 20 local restaurants, 100 different wines, and a classic car display. The foundation will also host another fundraiser on Aug. 12 at The Harris Gardens on North Central Michigan College’s campus in Petoskey. Syd Ross, founder of the Garden Party Foundation and president of Great Lakes Wine & Spirits in Highland Park, spoke with DBusiness Daily News on the 10th anniversary milestone, the importance of professional trades, and how all of the funds raised goes to Oakland Community College.

DDN: Why did you start up the Garden Party Foundation?

SR: I can’t believe it’s been 10 years. One of the reasons we started the foundation was to support a charity that has a happy ending. There are so many wonderful charities around our region, and they all do amazing work, but this one is very straight-forward. You buy a ticket ($150) or a sponsorship, you mingle with more than 700 people on a Sunday afternoon, there’s great food, wine, and cars, and all the money goes to a great cause.

DDN: How did you evolve the gift giving to professional trades training?
SR: Two years back we decided to consolidate and give all the proceeds to OCC. They are a wonderful partner, and now that our two brands are aligned, we’re both reaching greater heights. Our company is in the hospitality business, and one challenge within our industry is that it’s hard to find enough well-trained students and graduates to work in the restaurants and in the spirits business. So that’s why we focus now on supporting the next generations of chefs, sous chefs, sommeliers, and all the other trades. My wife, Elizabeth, and I are very blessed to have great friends in the industry. The event takes a lot of hard work, but it’s a lot of fun.

DDN: What are the trades that will be supported?

SR: In addition to the culinary arts, there’s collision auto repair, HVAC/R systems technology, robotics/automated systems technology, welding technology, automobile servicing, criminal justice, electrical trades, fire fighter technology, and machine tool technology.

DDN: How do you get the restaurants involved?
SR: My hat goes off to them. Sunday is usually a slower day for restaurants, and people want to rest, but these restaurants can’t wait for this event. The staff people are so friendly, and when they take a break from serving delicious food, they go around and sample the other food and mingle with their colleagues. So it’s a great networking experience for everyone. We also encourage the ladies to wear elaborate hats to add to the fun.

DDN: What are some lessons learned over the years?
SR: It has never rained on The Garden Party. It may rain beforehand or afterward, but never during the party. Two years ago, we decided to spend some extra money and have the tent air-conditioned. I had thought about it for a couple of years, and I’m glad we made the decision to cool things down. Our guests really appreciate it, and we’ve seen our crowd size rise because of it. We also begin planning the next party right after the current one. We’re doing a better job of getting everything done ahead of time, and we’ve already raised $150,000, where last year we raised $110,000. So we invite everyone to buy a ticket or a sponsorship, and enjoy one of the great parties of the summer.

For more information or to buy tickets, visit http://www.thegardenpartymichigan.org/.

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