Margo Catsimatidis is among the most recognizable women in the New York City and East End power landscape. A ballerina-turned-business and philanthropy leader, Catsimatidis has cemented a legacy of influence that is known among many of our region’s most powerful, and plays an intangible role in the success of her husband, John, and the Catsimatidis family’s company, Red Apple Group.
Born in Indiana, Margo Catsimatidis’s first passion was the performing arts. Beginning in her early years, Catsimatidis’s creative spirit drove a successful early career in dance. By age 12, she was lauded by the dance community, and was invited to embrace her Eastern European roots at the internationally-renowned Bolshoi Ballet—the youngest dancer ever to be invited to perform at the hallowed program in America.
“I grew up in Indianapolis, but since I was 12, I always dreamed of coming to New York. Though, I had to wait until I was good enough at ballet to do that. So, the first time that the Bolshoi Ballet came to the United States, they came to Indianapolis, and I was chosen to dance with them. It was one of the biggest thrills of my life and they were wonderful, so it gave me an opportunity and a hope that I could make it anywhere,” says Catsimatidis.
In her teen years, as a life of dance began to flourish, she set her sights on New York City—the mecca of the performing arts. With her focus on the big city, she ventured from Indianapolis, Indiana to the Big Apple in 1971, in pursuit of her dream.
“I started ballet about 9 years old with my sister, who was 8. My mother put me in ballet and I learned how to dance. We went from the ‘back of the room,’ to the ‘front of the room,’ and then the ‘Vondersaar Sisters,’ as they called us, came to New York. My sister came to New York at 14 and a half, and I came at 16 and a half, with a hundred dollars in my pocket, and I felt like nothing could stop me,” Catsimatidis continues.
Shortly thereafter, though, her ballet career was cut short due to a dance-related injury. But in the face of adversity, her ambition and creative talent brought her acclaim in the theater and became the cornerstone of an illustrious career to come.
“I was recuperating, at the time, from a knee injury so I could not perform. I learned of this guy who opened a supermarket near where I lived, and I went in to get a job until I could heal. I was told that they were looking for people to work in the office, and I went for an interview and I got the job—it was a guy named John Catsimatidis who I would end up working for,” she says.
It was then that Margo Catsimatidis would begin a professional endeavor that would shape her life and future. Serving as the first secretary to the Owner of Red Apple Supermarkets, she would soon meet the love of her life and her now-husband of over 40 years, John.
“John was the chief cook, and bottle washer—he did everything at the time. I ended up loving business so much, I would work 90 hours a week. I was like a sponge, it was amazing to learn and watch John—and he’s still amazing to this day,” says Catsimatidis.
John and Margo then began to build an empire that today extends to several different industries, including supermarkets, oil refineries and assets, gas stations, real estate and media, all beneath the Red Apple Group corporation.
In the over four decades since her first position with Red Apple, Catsimatidis has been featured and profiled by countless high-profile publications, been recognized by organizations ranging from the Greek Orthodox Church of America to the Bowery Mission Society. Most recently, she was interviewed about her life and success by renowned columnist and writer, Cindy Adams, while on the airwaves of 77 WABC Radio—a station which is a subsidiary of Red Apple Group.
Catsimatidis’s contributions to New York City and the East End have been many and varied. Spending much time at their home in East Quogue, Catsimatidis leads a variety of charitable endeavors which expand opportunities, support underserved communities, advocate on behalf of awareness and support law enforcement.
To name a few causes near to her heart, Catsimatidis is the vice chair of the Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund, a member of the Executive Committee of the New York Police Athletic League, on the board of the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Association and—perhaps most notable to her ethnicity and family origins—a board member of the Russian Heritage Foundation.
Catsimatidis received the coveted Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2000, for her work in heritage preservation.
Her family’s remarkable venture to the United States is, in many ways, the seed of her willingness to give back.
“My mother was from Poland, my grandmother was from Russia, and my grandfather was from the Ukraine. My father was an Army Intelligence Officer, and found my mother and grandparents in a concentration camp in Krakow. He rescued them and brought them to America, to Indianapolis, where I was born.
“My father had saved a four-star general’s life, so my mother and grandmother were given passage to come to America. They worked very hard, were very grateful, and they loved America. The freedoms we are blessed with—we all worked very hard,” she says of her family’s background.
But their generosity, Catsimatidis adds, also comes from their own struggles, humble beginnings and humility—as well as the belief that others can rise the way the Catsimatidis have.
“John grew up poor in Harlem. I grew up poor in Indiana. So, we understand what it is to struggle, do better and then help people. That’s what we are about, always—helping people and getting better.
“In so far as the business, we are always thinking, ‘How many jobs did we save?’ or ‘How many jobs did we create?’ We are about making a difference in people’s lives, so that is what we care about most,” she says.
When asked about her love of the Hamptons, Catsimatidis says, the community is the best part of living here.
“The Hamptons brings people together. The natural beauty here, the way of life, it is embraced by us all—which makes us all realize how much we have in common. It’s a lovely place where there is a spirited and mutual love for the East End, that we are all fortunate to be a part of,” Catsimatidis concludes.
Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate publisher of Dan’s Papers.