It shouldn’t surprise you that a lot of great businesses in Pensacola—retail, restaurants, event planners—have great women behind them. The most inspiring part of these women’s stories is not that they are successful in the business world, which is predominately male, it’s that they are working for themselves and every day they get to do something they are passionate about. Whether it’s baking the best wedding cakes in Pensacola, teaching a paddleboard class, decorating a home or designing and handcrafting jewelry, these women are making a living doing what they love to do. They turned what some might view as hobbies into successful businesses. That doesn’t mean it’s been easy. But when you get to do something you love, it’s worth it. And they’re not done yet—keep watching to see what these ladies are planning.
Small Business, Big Ideas
You have to love what you do if you own a business, but that doesn’t always mean you get to do what you love.
“People tell me, ‘You’re so lucky you get to paddleboard for a living,’” said Cindi Bonner, owner of Fitness Onboard. “Really? I haven’t paddleboarded in so long.”
“Most people have a romanticized version of a self-owned business,” said Dee McDavid, owner and designer at Dee McDavid Interiors.
Retail shop owners must have an affinity for shopping, but even that can get tiresome.
“Friends say, ‘You must love going to market,’” said Vicki Weir, co-owner of Pizzaz Personalized Gifts & Events. “But it’s 12 to 13 hour days. You can’t be slow, you have to know what you’re doing.”
“It’s T.J. Maxx on major steroids,” adds Katie Rozier, co-owner of Indigeaux Denim Bar & Boutique.
No matter how late they have to work or to what extent, they will continue their business. It is truly a labor of love.
“I always wanted to have my own business,” said Julia Ussery, owner of Scout. “I can’t imagine not working.”
Building a Business Lacey Berry’s foray into jewelry design stemmed from a hobby, until friends and businesses with great taste took notice.
“It’s a two-parter,” she said of her business start. “Another local business, Indigeaux sold my jewelry and a good friend of mine, Smith Sinrod, gave me a kick in the butt.”
That kick has resulted in not only local buzz about Berry’s hand-crafted pieces, but her accessories were featured with Sinrod’s line, By Smith, at Jacksonville Fashion Week and are featured on the Wondermode website.
It’s interesting to ask a group of business-owning women who did the business proposal and who didn’t. When Rozier wanted to open a boutique at 21 years of age, she had to prove herself before she opened her shop doors.
“I got a lot of ‘You’re 21-years-old, what are you doing?’” she said. “I just took that criticism and made that for the better. My mom and I did a lot of research and put a business plan together.”
On the other hand, Weir and her daughter Courtney opened up shop a mere 30 days after discussing their plans.
“It was something I had always thought about doing,” she said. “We found a space with a one-year lease. We didn’t over-think it. We took a risk opening in the height of the recession. Can’t wait until it gets better.”
And if the recession wasn’t enough, the oil spill was certainly discouraging.
“I opened my business a couple months after the oil spill,” Bonner said. “I did a little bit of a business plan. It was a lot more work than I thought. I was completely clueless.”
Rozier didn’t miss a beat citing the oil spill as a business roadblock. She was denied for her small business loan, but was thankfully approved by a different bank—which eventually bought the bank that denied her.
“I wanted to make sure it was the right thing to do and so I did teaser trunk shows,” she said.
With or without a good economy and crowded beaches, owning a business is hard work.
“You really have to understand that you have to give 100 percent,” Ussery said.
“It’s not for the faint at heart,” Weir added. “I love it, but it is hard work.”
“It’s so freaking intense,” Rozier said.
And it’s a lot of hours. Weir said she liked the freedom to say yes or no to everything and be her own boss. But as Bonner said, being your own boss doesn’t mean you can slack off. She’s up at three, every morning.
“Be ready to give way more than you would give a boss,” Bonner said.
Not to mention working on holidays, which are crucial to store’s sales. It’s not called “Black Friday” for nothing.
While Weir’s friends are retired, she’s dreaming of store displays.
“Do you ever think you’ll retire?” Berry asked Weir.
“No,” she said quietly. And the room erupted in laughter. “A majority of my friends are retired and I think, ‘What would I do all day?’”
It goes to show that you can do something once you put your mind to it. Despite setbacks, these businesses are still standing and doing well.
“When people come into my store it makes me feel so good,” said Weir. “It’s pretty, smells good, good music—a little respite during the day.”
“Retail therapy,” Ussery said.
“People can come in and spend hours shopping and talking,” Rozier said. “That’s what I enjoy.”
For Bonner, she can rest assured that her clients are having fun and improving their health.
“It’s not about the sale, it’s about changing lives,” she said. “And it’s a cheaper form of therapy.”
Collaboration vs. Competition The retail world is often very unkind, but not for those who choose to make shopping local fun.
“I was pleasantly surprised at how supportive everyone was,” Berry said.
Not only has Rozier kindly sold (and sold out) of Berry’s pieces, but Ussery has taken a mentor role in her life, which has been a huge asset. Ussery is a graduate of Parsons School of Design and worked in New York City as a fashion designer before opening Scout in 2007.
“She gave me good advice that I followed,” Berry said of Ussery.
“Worst thing is to think you know everything—you don’t,” Ussery said. “I learn something new every day.”
Bonner is looking to bring Fitness Onboard downtown and collaborate with The Fish House.
“They can take a class and stay for a drink,” she said.
“And then you can send them to shop,” Ussery said, and then points to Rozier. “You have been awesome sending people to Scout. We are not competition. They can shop at your place and my place.”
“I’m a woman, I shop everywhere and have different tastes,” Rozier said.
Weir agreed that she refers people around town all the time.
“We all want Pensacola to succeed and we all want to succeed,” Rozier added.
“I myself go to Innerlight and Coast Paddle,” Bonner said.
Much like the scene in “Miracle on 34th Street,” some Indigeaux customers were surprised to be sent elsewhere.
“I sent a girl to Francesca’s and she looked at me funny,” Rozier said. “I go into other stores and see what they offer.”
Being a part of the community also means that you invest in local non-profits. Whether it’s donating items to auction or working on a committee, these women contribute above and beyond.
“They support me, I support back,” Ussery said. “I have respect for people that are glad I’m here.”
Family Ties Two out of the six businesses in this discussion are mother-daughter teams.
“I love it, it’s the only way I’d do it,” said Weir of owning Pizzaz with her daughter Courtney.
Rozier works with both parents, owning Indigeaux with her mom while her dad is the accountant.
“I enjoy working with my mom, but it’s hard creating boundaries,” she said. “They always want to talk about business. I finally told them, you’re also my parents.”
Weir does have her reservations, too.
“The only challenge is Courtney is getting married,” she said. “Her fiancée lives in New Orleans and she wants to continue to share responsibilities and commute.”
As Weir chose to go into business because she liked the idea of working with her daughter, some chose to open their business once children have grown so as not to miss anything.
“Before the store, I worked from home, when my daughters were at school,” McDavid said. “I could not do this while my girls still lived at home.”
Bonner and Ussery are still trying to balance family and business.
“My mom was a nurse,” Rozier said. “She gave me a lifestyle—you are giving your kids an amazing lifestyle. They’re going to say ‘Thank you.’”
“Will you talk to my daughter?” Ussery said.
That’s what employees are for—taking some of the load off the owner.
“I’m 41-years-old I can’t schlep these 40-pound boards anymore,” Bonner said with a laugh. “I have trainers and all of my dock staff kids—I know all their mothers.”
Berry, who has been soaking in all the advice, had to ask, “How do you relinquish control?”
“Try to find someone with the same passion you have,” Rozier said. “When I have to leave the store, people tell me ‘You’ve got great girls.’ I’m very thankful and blessed.”
“They’re like an extended family,” Weir said of her employees.
“As long as you’re not hurting your business, you stay in control,” Ussery said. “Control and manage it as long as you can.”
The women also couldn’t help but acknowledge the help at home.
“My husband has been very supportive,” said McDavid. “He’s certainly been my anchor.”
“I should probably say the same, too,” Bonner said.
“Without my parents’ help, this would not be happening,” Ussery said.
Missing sleep and holidays is a small price to pay for loving your job and following a dream.
“There’s never been anything more rewarding,” McDavid said.
And when you have like-minded women to talk to and get advice from, it’s even more inspiring.
“It’s the future, women are in the working world,” Ussery said.
“We’re the smarter ones,” Bonner said with a laugh.
“We should get together more often,” Rozier said.
DEE MCDAVID INTERIORS
WHERE: 3000 N. 12th Ave.
DETAILS: 470-0001 or deemcdavid.com
WHERE: 165 Ft. Pickens Rd, Pensacola Beach
DETAILS: 512-6845 or fitnessonboard.com
INDIGEAUX DENIM BAR & BOUTIQUE
WHERE: 122 S. Palafox
DETAILS: 607-2255 or indigeaux.com
LACEY B. DESIGNS
WHERE: 832 Gulf Breeze Pkwy.
DETAILS: 934-3436 or pizzazhome.com
WHERE: 403 S. Palafox
DETAILS: 607-7105 or shopscoutonline.com
“The only free time I have is in the shower,” said Shannon Pallin, owner of Fiore.
That’s when she dreams up floral designs and gets respite from her children. Such is the life of those whose job it is to make a bride’s dreams come true.
“It was a slight lapse of judgment for me,” joked Betty Weber of Betty Weber Cakes. “For me, I went into the wedding business for the creative end of it—to make something beautiful, to make someone’s special day more special.”
“Ditto,” said Megan Kennedy, owner, event planner and designer of Megan K. Events.
Scoff all you’d like about careers that depend on love, but in March, ABC News reported that the average budget for a U.S. couple’s wedding has risen to $27,021 and has been steadily growing since 2008. For these women, making Pinterest boards come to life is not just a hobby, but a full-blown career.
“People are always going to get married,” said wedding planner, Sara Gillianne.
“Weddings and babies,” added Saranne Soule Morrow, owner of Sassafras Stationary & Gifts. “It’s nice to be in a happy business.”
A Creative Business All five of these wedding women came into their businesses differently. Some knew early on that they would work in the creative field and some had to endure a boring nine-to-five before they made that change.
Pallin started as an apprentice to a floral designer in Southern California before working in New York City as a floral designer.
When I started, there was no school for what I did,” Pallin explained. “I went to New York and worked for someone else and learned all about the logistics.”
Gilliane, on the other hand, always had the knack for planning, but needed the push to start a business.
“My mom threw me into it,” she said. “I had always done birthday parties for kids. She was my initial push.”
Megan Kennedy worked for over ten years in banking before she changed careers. And she has no regrets.
“Everything else seems so boring,” she said.
“I stopped and got a ‘regular job,’” said Gillianne. “I hated it. I’m excited that I get to wake up and do this every day.”
For these women, it was real life experiences that taught them the most. For anyone looking to get into the wedding business, the panel suggests to intern and familiarize yourself with the business early.
“I had an assistant that told her dad, ‘I saved you a bunch of money. I’m getting paid and I’m going to business school,’” Pallin said of the experience she provides. “I’m constantly training. Nothing leaves the shop without me seeing it.”
Of course, taking a business course or two couldn’t hurt. Or, as Pallin did, hire an accountant.
“My brain isn’t numbers,” she said. “Find an accountant that will grow with you. Mine is like a mother. It’s worth it to have someone helping you.”
Morrow, holds a Masters of Business Administration, so she’s able to crunch numbers and talk stationary.
“I’m not as much of a creative mind as these ladies,” she said. “I do everything myself. I can’t give that up.”
Another tip? Comfortable shoes.
“Do not wear the wrong shoes to work,” Pallin said. “I’m usually jogging all day.”
As these women began to make a living out of something they loved to do, they found that there’s a price to pay for “having it all.” It’s hard work.
“It’s a full commitment,” Pallin said.
“And it takes time,” said Gilliane. “It’s not like the movie.”
“I often joke that I’m like the postman on steroids,” Weber said.
For Pallin, having a perishable product means working hard—and fast.
“I always say I’m the Energizer Bunny on steroids,” she said. “Our flowers come in and Friday and Saturday we install. It’s a lot of hours from start to finish. We don’t leave the shop on Friday if it’s not done.”
Business hours are a grey area for planners and wedding vendors because you can get contacted anytime of the day thanks to technology.
“A lot of brides don’t have regular hours,” said Morrow. “I get e-mails at all times of the night.”
“We reply immediately,” Kennedy said of the emails her business gets. “They’re anxious. We’ve got to assure them.”
“They need to know that you care, that you’re available,” agreed Morrow.
The job is truly 24/7. Even holidays aren’t sacred.
“We work weekends and holidays,” Pallin said. “Your schedule and life is planned differently. Family and friends have to be understanding.”
That’s why Morrow downsized. Her cozy shop is not only filled with cards, but her mom and beautiful baby son are there, too.
‘The Bride is the Boss’ The most fun and frustrating part of staging a wedding has got to be making something out of nothing, and on a budget. Even with the rise in wedding receipts, many young couples are footing the bill instead of parents, and are trying to keep their bridal budget low.
“We offer our brides the option to make what they can—make your boxes, make your mason jars,” Pallin said. “We offer a lot of our sources and give them as much advice as we can. We don’t want to lose their business completely.”
Sometimes it’s a matter of narrowing on what matters most.
“You have to ask them what is most important to them,” Gillianne said. “You can’t have 200 people on a $3000 budget.”
“You have to be honest about what it really does cost to have a wedding,” Kennedy added.
No matter what the budget is, wedding vendors all have to—and want to—make their bride happy.
“The bride is the boss,” Pallin said.
Not only is the bride the boss, but vendors can become attached. After all, a wedding takes about eight to 12 months to plan.
“It’s a bonding experience with these girls,” Kennedy said. “And then you have to breakup.”
“You miss some,” Gillianne said. “You want to call them up and say ‘Wanna hang out?’”
The Allies of a Wedding Master Thanks to the wedding industry’s newest best friend, Pinterest, wedding vendors can see what exactly a bride wants in her wedding.
“The first thing we do is start with the client’s Pinterest board,” Pallin said.
However, Pinterest does create extremely high expectations. Most pinned photo-shoots employ fake flowers and cakes to ensure a perfect photo.
“The downside is that people see the best of the best,” Kennedy said.
It also makes a do-it-yourself wedding seem much more feasible than it should.
“A DIY wedding is not really realistic,” Kennedy said.
“Let your vendors do the jobs,” Pallin said. “How hard do you want to be working the day before or the day of your wedding?”
What counts more than Facebook feedback and online galleries is the reference from a wedding vendor you trust. Morrow enjoys referring her clients to vendors she trusts and knows.
“I have the luxury of being on the frontlines and I have the pleasure of passing on vendor’s names,” she said. “I know Betty Weber personally and you need to have her cake.”
The day of the wedding, the women are a team working diligently with one mission: a beautiful wedding.
“We help each other in crisis,” Kennedy said.
“All vendors give a bit more to get the job done,” Weber added.
When the pieces come together, vendors and planners are just as excited to see the end result.
“I love after all the planning and seeing how it all comes together,” Gillianne said.
When it comes to the most important day of your lives, you can have faith in these local wedding magic makers.
“There’s that element of trust,” Pallin said. “You have to trust when it’s all said and done.”
Weber’s thankful when a client puts their trust in her right away.
“It’s great to hear ‘You’re the expert, I’ll leave it up to you,’” she said. “Thank you!”
BETTY WEBER CAKES
DETAILS: 477-1745 or bettyweber.blogspot.com
FIORE OF PENSACOLA
WHERE: 824 E. Belmont St.
DETAILS: 469-1930 or fioreofpensacola.com
MEGAN K. EVENTS
WHERE: 600 S. Barracks St. Ste. 210-3
DETAILS: 619-1440 or megankevents.com
SARA GILLIANNE WEDDINGS AND EVENTS
WHERE: 10111 Vixen Place DETAILS: 291-6502 or saragillianne.com
SASSAFRAS STATIONARY & GIFTS
WHERE: 4400 Bayou Blvd. Ste. 16-D
DETAILS: 435-7797 sassafras-online.com
It has to be awkward when you introduce yourself to someone and they were expecting someone else.
“I’ve come out to meet a customer and they say ‘Oh, you’re the chef,’” said Tricia Horton, chef at Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille.
“Every time my husband Ryan and I meet someone they think he’s the chef,” said Erika Thomas of Portabello Market, Nacho Daddies and Portobello Eatery.
It may still be a male-dominated industry, but women are catching up—and not just by baking cupcakes.
“I’ve seen it change in the past few years,” said Amber Rushing, who runs R & R Fine Catering with her husband, Blake.
“Food is such a sensual, feminine thing,” said Kiley Bolster, chef at The Magnolia.
Rushing asks Horton, who is the not only the head female chef, but the only female chef, if there are ever problems in the kitchen.
“No,” Horton said. “But I’d bark right back at them.”
Getting a Taste for Cooking Horton and Thomas attended culinary school. Horton earned her culinary arts degree with top honors at the Art Institute of Atlanta. Thomas graduated from Johnson & Wales University.
“It was my first real step on my own,” Thomas said. “I trained in London with Fergus Henderson at St. John restaurant. His sous chef was a woman, which was a huge deal.”
Rushing may not have a culinary degree, but her resume is pretty impressive. She’s worked with prestigious titles at restaurants in London and even worked with Gordon Ramsey for three and a half years and helped with opening his first U.S. restaurant in New York.
Bolster began her cooking career in the comfort of her childhood kitchen.
“I always loved food,” she said. “I cooked for my family when I was eight years old. When I was about 13, my aunt would hire me to cater her Christmas parties.”
“Growing up, all of my family members were good cooks,” Rushing said.
It is that comfort of a family get-together that she hopes to share with her customers.
“My objective is not to be a premier chef,” Bolster said. “I want my customers to go home full and drunk. I make them a sandwich, Bill makes them laugh.”
“The bottom line is the taste of the food,” added Thomas. “It doesn’t matter if you can julienne an onion.”
“I cook by taste not by technique,” Bolster said.
Opening up a restaurant is a dream of anyone who enjoys cooking.
“I would definitely like to have my own restaurant,” said Horton.
Sometimes that dream seems to be a bit more like a nightmare.
“Five days prior to opening, the inspector said ‘You can’t have that kind of stove,’” Bolster said. “I already had a menu prepared. There were a lot of tears, a lot of ‘I can’t do this.’”
The Magnolia’s lack of stove only adds to the restaurant’s charm. It also makes Bolster an even more creative chef.
“Now I have to ask myself, ‘Can I roast walnuts in a toaster oven?’” she said.
While Bolster has the unique challenge of cooking without a full kitchen, all chefs share the challenge of making quality food affordable for both the customer and themselves.
“I’m a baller on a budget,” Bolster said with a laugh.
Caterers often have to work within someone else’s budget, especially in today’s economy.
“We’ve had a lot more conscientious clientele,” Thomas said.
Eat, Pray, Love Working alongside most of these women are their husbands and families. What started as a catering business for Thomas and her husband has become three restaurants. Bolster had to ask how she balances that and three children.
“Make them wash dishes,” Horton said with a laugh.
“They’re a very supportive family,” Thomas said. “They help at Gallery Night. Hopefully, they’ll learn to take pride in their work.”
Bolster and her boyfriend, Bill Manning, opened The Magnolia to get closer.
“Bill and I started the bar because we wanted to spend all of our time together,” Bolster said.
Amber and Blake Rushing’s love story is right out of a culinary-themed romantic comedy. The two met at Jackson’s, fast forward to today and they’ve been married for five years. Rushing even supported her mustachioed chef husband while they lived in London.
“And we lived in a pretty nice place,” she said.
“Blake has told me, ‘Amber is better chef than I am,’” Bolster recalled.
Thomas and her husband have been in business together for 12 years.
“We’ve come a long way,” she said. “It’s made us stronger, we learned to communicate.”
Even when you get to work with your spouse, your time is limited when you own a business or work long and odd hours in a kitchen.
“It never ends,” Bolster said. She holds up her iPhone. “I’m always on my phone. One month I had sent 7000 texts. That’s the demands of it, even when you’re out of town.”
“You’re always promoting the restaurant,” Horton said. “Sometimes I’m out and I think ‘Maybe I shouldn’t have had that last shot.’”
That is, if you can even go out for a drink.
“Definitely the hours—not having Fridays and Saturdays off,” Horton said of the hardest part of her job. “My days off are when everyone’s at work.”
While cooking takes up a majority of their lives, it isn’t all they do. Thomas is a mother of three, Bolster is a writer, Horton plans to continue her education and get a master’s in nutrition, and Rushing is currently in school studying pre-engineering drafting.
Cooking and the Community Being a local chef is a lot like being a part of a secret club. Extra portions and free desserts are just some of the perks.
“You get special treatment,” Horton confirmed.
Chefs look out for one another and are quick to collaborate. Bolster serves Marie Mayeur’s gelato from Dolce! and purchases produce from Sandy Veilleux of Flora Bama Farms of Pensacola. And when they do get free time, these women are trying each other’s dishes.
“It’s all a community,” Bolster said. “You get from it what you put into it. You still have to go out when you don’t want to cook. It’s a pleasure to go out and eat their food.”
Knowing that a chef is eating your creations raises the bar, too.
“It makes you want to be a better cook,” Bolster said.
“A better restaurant is better for everybody,” Horton said.
“And it’s nice to see your friends succeed,” Rushing said.
And it must be nice to cook for like-minded foodies. Bolster continues to try to please her customers with comfort, yet inventive, food.
“I’m still in the first year and I’ve had five menu changes,” she said. “You have to go with your gut, but it’s hard to take risks in this community.”
Much to the dismay of chefs, sometimes customers just want simple, recognizable food.
“I had a customer ream me because there was fresh spinach on her pizza,” Thomas said.
No harm done though, even chefs enjoy guilty, drive-thru, pleasures.
“Once you go Doritos Locos, you never go back,” Rushing said.
“The most important thing is making something beautiful,” Bolster said. “If it puts a smile on their face and makes them happy—that is the reason why all of us are here.”
JACO’S BAYFRONT BAR & GRILLE
WHERE: 997 S. Palafox
DETAILS: 432-5226 or jacosbayfrontbarandgrille.com
WHERE: 2907 E. Cervantes St.
DETAILS: 912-6196 or magnoliapensacola.com
WHERE: 34 S. Palafox
DETAILS: 433-5333 or nachodaddies.com
WHERE: 1 Energy Pl.
DETAILS: 439-6545 facebook.com/portabelloeatery
WHERE: 400 Jefferson St.
DETAILS: 439-6545 or theportabellomarket.com
R & R FINE CATERING
WHERE: 400 Bayfront Pkwy.