Former Chef Cooks Up New Lifestyle For New Year's

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Considering the way she arrived in the Rim country, it's amazing that Susan Begin didn't turn right around and leave.

It was Jan. 1, literally the dawn of a new millennium, and Begin (pronounced to rhyme with region) was about to embark on a new phase of her life. She had accepted a position as chef at the Landmark Restaurant in Christopher Creek, and had driven cross country with her dogs from Florida.

The last leg was the drive from Phoenix to the Rim country on a rainy New Year's Day. "When I got to the mountains," she said, "the rain turned to snow. But I kept on going, even though there were cars pulled off the road all over the place."

When she finally got to Payson, Begin stopped for groceries and headed up Highway 260. It was around Phil White Ford in Star Valley where she was told by the Highway Patrol that she couldn't go any farther without chains.

"I turned around and went back to Payson," she said. "It was New Year's Day and there wasn't much open, but I finally bought some chains at Radio Shack, of all places."

Begin walked out into the parking lot with no idea what she was going to do next. Right on cue, a man walked up and offered to put the chains on her car for her.

"He wouldn't take any money. That told me a lot about my newly adopted community," she said.

A native of Wisconsin, Begin moved to Arizona some 20 years ago. After working as a secretary and receptionist in Phoenix, she finally decided to pursue her passion cooking.

It was a big step when she quit a clerical job to take a position with a Valley restaurant as a combination bookkeeper/chef.

"On my first day of work, I walked up to the front door. There was a sign on the door saying the place had gone out of business," she said with a sigh.

It could only go uphill from there, and Begin slowly worked her way up the food chain. Before moving to Florida she spent two years as the chef and kitchen manager at the Prescott Pantry.

But there was something about Arizona that kept tugging at her, so she asked some friends who lived in Payson to send her the classifieds from the Roundup. She accepted the position at the Landmark sight unseen.

Once Begin got settled into her new job, she began visiting nursing homes as a volunteer. That's where her life took another turn she hadn't imagined.

"I met Tom and Donna Harris, owners of Sav-Mor Foods, when I was visiting their mother in a nursing home. We became friends.

"They called me blue-eyed Susie, and they started coming up to the Landmark for dinner," Begin said. "I told them if they ever needed help at the store to call me."

Practically the next day they called, and Begin began working part time at Sav-Mor.

"I absolutely fell in love with the place," she recalled.

When the Harris' confided that they wouldn't mind selling the store, Begin talked some family members into investing some money and bought it.

She had previously worked at a gourmet food store, and she enjoyed the grocery business. "I have just always liked being around food," she admitted.

But there was another attraction for Begin. "Every box in a shipment is different," she noted. It's like Christmas every day."

Besides food and cooking, Begin's other passion is hiking. She's a member of the Payson Packers, a group she calls "the best bunch of people in town."

When the Packers, many of whom hail from Wisconsin and Michigan, found she was the chef at the Landmark, they began coming up for dinner.

"Then they'd have their friends come up," she said. "They just helped me move into a house in town. I can't tell you what a great bunch of people they are."

But Susan can't resist the temptation to relate a tale about the time the Packers got lost in, of all places, Gisela.

"We were supposed to end up at that bar/restaurant the only one in town but we were kind of bushwhacking, and somehow we took a wrong turn.

"I don't know how many hours we were lost, but it seemed like forever," she said. "The leader of the hike was so embarrassed."

But it's a trip she highly recommends.

"It's this old saloon that looks like something right out of a Western movie," she said. There are horses tied up out front to whatever you guys tie your horses up to."

As another new year approaches, Begin said she can't believe how much has happened to her since she arrived in the Rim country at the dawn of a millennium. She owns her own business. She has met a great new set of friends. And she is living in a place she has grown to love.

"It's been quite a year," she said.

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