Women of The Wedding Industry Wednesday, Stephanie Wiitala of S2S (And everything)
Over the past two years as I have shifted gears in my career completely, and started this little endeavor The Revel Rose, I have become incredibly grateful for the community of women I have the opportunity to learn from, be mentored by, and work with when the stars align. Clearly that was the motivation behind starting this weekly blog series.
But also, I am deeply moved, touched, and kicked right in the center of my feelings gut when I come across someone who feels like, I'll just say it, an industry mama. Someone who notices you early on and introduces themselves to you with a smile and a handshake. Someone who has a few words of encouragement, a bit of advice, or some bit of trusted insight they freely and happily give. Someone who remembers your name, invites you in, and asks you how things are, where you're at. How you're doing. How are things coming along. What is it you dream of.
Someone who feels like a perfect ray of sunshine, right when you need it.
It's not that this particular sunbeam has any more hours in the day than anyone else. It's not as if she's spread less thin, and doesn't have other bodies to warm. It's not as if she doesn't have her own business, partner, family, history, struggles or what-have-yous. But for a temporary time, she has the ability to make you feel like what you feel matters. Like what you're saying is important. And like whatever you are experiencing could be trying to teach you something about the value of hard work and patience, and the value in choosing gratitude every single morning when you wake up.
OBVS WE ARE TALKING ABOUT SUNSHINE QUEEN HER'SELF...
It's hard to describe someone like Stephanie, or what she does in one sentence. I'm not going to attempt it and I gave her the difficult task of trying to. But I met Stephanie, our last Catering Qween featured in January's Women of the Wedding Industry while catering an event with Epicure Catering at Historic Barns Park in Traverse City where Stephanie serves as venue manager for events and weddings.
Stephanie had this PRESENCE. An aura if you will. I truly have never seen someone in charge of managing a wedding look so happy in the few precious and hellacious hours before that wedding is about to start.
But she was smiling. SMILING people. Singing a little song to herself. Looking important but approachable. Busy but present. Focused but friendly, like if 200 people weren't about to walk through the door at any moment and start doing all the extra things that wedding guests do (sorry not sorry, y'all are some work), she'd be down for a cup of tea and a long chat about art or something.
Two years later, Stephanie showed up to a little cottage on Higgins Lake the day before the 4th of July, and prepared a meal for one of my very first couples and 18 of their loved ones. I knew I could trust her completely with their vision, and that day was one of my favorites of my whole season. An intentional meal, a long and languid afternoon without an agenda, and an incredibly happy team working along side me to pull it off.
Our summer wedding on Higgins Lake, catered by Stephanie and Jonathan of S2S. Photo by Amy Pezzicara.
Stephanie is a kindred spirit to me.
When I feel like certain parts of my personality; like being sensitive, or overly optimistic, or super trusting, or feeling pulled by different passions, or treasuring my family time above all else is going to get the best of my business, or somehow stifle my ability to succeed, I find that I can look to her as an example of how to balance the softer sides of yourself with the harder sides of owning a business.
The secret to Stephanie's joy is something that has intrigued me ever since I met her, so yeah.
That's the focus of this interview.
I don't edit my interviewee's words. And I don't shorten them for the average blog attention span. And I especially don't do it when someone is such a naturally gifted writer.
So I hope you can grab a cup of something warm, and enjoy this moment with The Sunshine Queen this winter week.
Stephanie serving wedding guests at a lakeside dinner on Higgins Lake. Photo by Amy Pezzicara.
So lady, where are you from?
I am from a hardworking single parent mom who did an above and beyond amazing job raising me and my sister Jen, while she also worked full time and went to college at night. She is my first mentor and inspiration in my life, where I learned that hard work pays off and to be the best you can be everyday no matter what is going on around you.
I am also a born and raised Traverse City, MI kid. I’m a girl who grew up loving the outdoors and most of all the beaches and acres of woods completely assessable from my own back yard. I am a young lady who grew up fast working for some amazing small business owners.
I am a woman who comes from countless experiences that have made me who I am at this very moment. I have always been proud of the community that I grew up in. I have been here in Northern Michigan my entire life and I can’t imagine going anywhere else.
Is your last name Finnish or something?
You nailed it Kendall! Thank you for recognizing that my last name Wiitala is Finnish. I am extremely proud to of it. My grandpa, Don Wiitala is a very important man in my life. My grandpa owned and operated a local radio station for over 40 years in Traverse City. He is the next person after my mom who truly inspired me to be the woman I am today. He is the first business owner I got to know and learn from.
With his business he supported his family, and he also supported his community. I think it is correct to say he is a local TC legend in his own right, though he is super humble about it all. He is exactly who I wanted to be when I grew up.
Your nickname is Sunshine Queen. You literally feel like a ray of sunshine when I’m in your presence. Who gave you that nickname, and where do you find your wellspring of joy?
Sunshine Queen comes from my love, Jonathan Dayton. We have thousands of love notes on yellow post-its we have left for one another over the years- Early on with those notes, Jonathan started calling me the Sunshine Queen and it seemed to fit perfectly.
My wellspring of joy is an original and bountiful source of thankfulness. Every day I do my best to recognize how much I am thankful for my three beautiful and intelligent kids, our strong health and ability to eat the best food right from where we live,. I am thankful for Jonathan and all we share, my loving family and friends, our successful businesses, our loyal customers, and to live peacefully and comfortably in a community I love.
You do, everything. But for people who don’t know you, give them a little feel for what your average week looks like.
Kendall, how am I supposed to keep this answer from turning into a chapter book.
As a mom my week starts with my babies. All three kids, Lauren, Riley and Esmé are at the top of my priorities making sure they get to school on time, eat properly, feel love and support, do their homework, get outside, and most of all continue to learn and grow to be independent successful grown-ups.