SAN ANTONIO - Rosemary Kowalski remembers being a young World War II bride when her husband took his $10,000 war service award and went into the food business.
Despite having no experience, they bought Ben's Diner on North Zarzamora Street.
"We bought it from a man named Ben Barcelona, and we knew so little. (We) didn't even have sense enough to change it to our name. We just left it in his name," Kowalski, the 92-year-old matriarch of RK Group, said.
The couple learned the business with on-the-job training. Rosemary eventually went into private homes in the hopes of starting some business by word of mouth.
"There were no people. There were no books to teach you what catering was. And they taught me, the ladies did, how to serve a party," Kowalski said.
The word of mouth spread rapidly, with socialites sharing the success of the private parties with their husbands, who eventually would hire Rosemary's Catering for company picnics.
Seventy years later, RK Group has the lucrative Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center food contract and is a multistate food service phenomenon that spans three generations of Kowalskis.
While most people associate RK Group or Rosemary's Catering with Rosemary herself, she hasn't run the company since 1979, when she turned it over to her son, Greg.
Her son is part of the management team that spans 70 years of service. It's a remarkable record of longevity in a business that is fraught with short-lived food industry efforts.
Greg Kowalski, who is still president and CEO of RK Group, said that while his mother set the pace, the employees have kept them in business.
"We are blessed to be first-generation, second, third, but it's the staff, past present and future. Without everyone's hard work and dedication, there's no 70 years," he said.
As Rosemary Kowalski continues to attend social events and nonprofit events in her daily outings, she continues to exude the sort of energy that got her catering company into the big leagues.
"My main word is work," she said. "I feel like you can do anything and everything if you work, say 'please' and 'thank you.'" That's all you need, is those three words."
Rosemary Kowalski said her most amazing experiences include being chosen to offer Pope John Paul II all of his meals when he visited San Antonio in 1987.
But she said that all her meals were important, whether it was a simple breakfast, lunch, or dinner for the leader of the Catholic Church or a wedding she catered 60 years ago.
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