WASHINGTON — The complex and complicated story of Susan Smallwood takes you from the FEDS to the fish eggs. There is a lot in between, but Smallwood will be saving some of those stories for the docuseries being filmed on her chaotic but triumphant life. For now, Smallwood will continue to use her Grandiosity Events and La Grande Caviar brands to, in her words, redefine the rules. After serving time in the federal prison system, Susan came out swinging. Turning herself into a self-made entrepreneur. Her story is one that legends are made of. Don’t think for one second, she is sitting on her hands, she continues to add tools to her toolbelt, recently celebrating La Grande Caviar’s one year anniversary, while preparing to put on her 7th annual Celebrity Charity PoloXJazz event through her Grandiosity Events, which will be hosted by Judge Greg Mathis.
Ms. Smallwood shares her prison to penthouse story with Zenger News.
Zenger: I’m coming right out of the gate, how does a beautiful and intelligent woman like yourself end up in federal prison?
Smallwood: Oh, that question. I like that. It goes back. I was born in Korea, raised in Germany and Belgium. My dad was in the military. We moved every 2 to 3 years. When I was 7 years old, I was sexually violated by my father. Unfortunately, my dad brainwashed my mom, so they were both emotionally abusive. My dad was emotionally, physically, and sexually abusive. I suppressed old memories and went into the army at 17. My roommate mentioned I was waking up every night crying and I didn’t know what that was about. What happened to me, suppressed, repressed, and it came back when I was in the military. In the military I’m dealing with military sexual harassment. Now it’s compounded. What I didn’t know is they were covering up everything. You couldn’t tell on nobody. I got out of the military… they are filming a docuseries on my life. The production company don’t want me telling everything.
I went through a lot of trials and tribulations trying to find myself. What I attracted was, men in high spaces, older men with money. I got addicted to a lifestyle. I was living in a big ass house and I wasn’t happy. I had all the material things one could ask for. I was hiding my unhappiness with my material possessions. I was introduced to a girl from New York. We met in D.C., and she asked if I wanted to make money getting involved with transactions dealing with kilos of cocaine. I had to share the backstory because it’s not like I jumped into it.
Zenger: You do your time, you get out, and now you are trying to normalize luxury through your Grandiosity Events and La Grande Caviar brands.
Smallwood: When I came home, I said I was going to name my company Grandiosity because it was one of the nicknames, they called me in prison (something similar). Initially, I wanted to start a custom furniture business because I love furniture, but I also loved to entertain. My first two events were at Signature Flight Support Private Jet Hangar, BWI. From federal prison and nobody doing what I’m doing as a woman of color. I produced those two charity events. Of course, I had to endure a lot of hate and jealousy. I have traveled all over the world, and I have been into spaces that most people weren’t accustomed to. I didn’t know this. 95% of people never been inside a jet hangar. After those events, I had to think, what’s next? I got with Tiffany & Co. They donated to an event that I produced at Embassy New Zealand in D.C. I did a private event at the Mercedes Benz of Alexandria. Then I was invited to a Polo event in Virginia. I had such a grand time, my friend said, “Susan, why don’t you do your own Polo event?” It didn’t even look like something that I would do. I went home and meditated. In 3 months, I marketed and did my first Polo & Jazz in 2017, and approximately 200 guests showed up. They all had a grand time. They led me to 18-19 where I am now. Lisa Raye hosted last year, this year Judge Mathis is my host, and T-Boz from TLC is coming through. We have more announcements coming out as well.
Zenger: Tell me about this amazing caviar and how you got your start with that.
Smallwood: In March of 2020, there was a new caviar lounge opening up in Fort Lauderdale. I introduced myself to the GM, who introduced me to the owner’s grandson. They have the largest caviar brand. They allowed me to host my first caviar event on March 4, 2020. During my search, there were no images of people of color with caviar. I said, I’m going to change the complexion of caviar. The next week we were on lockdown (COVID). While on lockdown I started devising a way to get into this market. After investing thousands of dollars with this brand on the west coast, they finally took me serious and allowed me to be brand ambassador. It was a chance meeting in Washington, D.C. where I was presenting that caviar brand in front of a group of folks, two gentlemen said, “Susan, why are you promoting another brand? Start your own caviar brand.” I didn’t know how to go about doing something like that, so I kept emailing them because they are the ones who told me to do it. I’m thinking they are going to back me. They didn’t even reply.
Fast forward, another situation occurred that was the fuel to my fire. I jumped out of the airplane without a parachute. I had a meeting and I said, “I would like to have my own caviar brand.” The rest is history. I just celebrated my one-year anniversary in D.C. While I was campaigning, in addition to changing the complexion, I’m normalizing luxury, because a lot of people of our culture have never tasted caviar. The first thing they want to do is snub their nose at me and say, “No, thank you.” And I said, “Well, try it before you die.” Once they try it, they realize, it isn’t bad. I incorporate the caviar bar at all of my events.
Zenger: You also push the health aspect of caviar as well.
Smallwood: Yes! Caviar is a nutritional powerhouse. It’s packed full of vitamins and minerals. It increases collagen reduction which keeps our skin firm and youthful. It’s rich in peptides which reduces inflammation. And it’s also an aphrodisiac, oh la la. There’s a lot of benefits to caviar that people didn’t know. This is some fertilized fish eggs. They are now looking at caviar from a different perspective. Elevating grand experiences, normalizing luxury, changing the complexion, and I’m redefining rules. It’s not just champagne and caviar anymore, I got Uncle Nearest the black owned whiskey to curate cocktails for my caviar launch last year. Uncle Nearest is now returning to do a Grand Lux VIP section at my Polo & Jazz this year. Tito’s is going to be doing curated cocktails this year.
This woman came home from prison, went broke, lost everything, and all this stuff, and I built my brand on people believing in me. Going back to my childhood, I never thought I was smart. For people to see it in me, and one lady said to me, which resonated with me, “If you say yourself the way other people saw you, you wouldn’t feel that way about yourself. Now, I walk with my head in the air with confidence, Percy.
Zenger: What advice would you give someone who has hit rock bottom and is trying to climb their way up?
Smallwood: Love yourself first. Believe in yourself. When you believe in yourself, the universe sends you people, places, and things to catapult you. Don’t go on money. I hardly had any money when I started my caviar brand. That was all magic, because I believed in myself. When I presented myself, they believed in me. Do not listen to naysayers. People will try to minimize what you’re doing because they didn’t think of the idea. They will try and take your idea and then protect themselves by getting everything trademarked. I went through hell to get to where I am at 55 years old, but I still have that grand energy.
Edited by Deborah .C. Amirize and Virginia Van Zandt
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