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Meet Trailblazer Stefanie Salem

Today we’d like to introduce you to Stefanie Salem.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Stefanie. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Before starting the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival, I had always traveled nationally and internationally for work since I was 22. I have built businesses in 7 different countries: Greece, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Nigeria, and the US.

I began my professional career working for a company based in Madrid, Spain promoting foreign investment in emerging countries through editorial advertising. I would be sent to a country with a team of three people, and we were told to meet and interview the president of the country, all of the ministers, and CEOs in each sector with only a phone number in hand. This was a task that usually seemed insurmountable with the lack of direction/resources, but we would always accomplish our goal. The last country I went to on assignment was Nigeria, and after completing a successful project for the Spanish company, I decided to start my own publishing business in Abuja, Nigeria. The company I had left gave me all of the skills and tools I needed to become an entrepreneur, so to me, this felt like the natural next step. Although many people thought I would be unable to start a business in West Africa, I stayed steadfast in my belief that I would succeed.

Daily life in Nigeria was already a struggle, let alone building a business focused on their government. It was an exhilarating challenge that shaped me as a businesswoman, teaching me many lessons in perseverance. After my time there, I published a 650-page book called “In God’s Time, The Building of a Democratic Nation” for the country’s 40 years of Independence. Although it took longer than the 6 months I anticipated, it felt incredible to witness my work come to fruition.

After returning to the US, I began to figure out what my next step would be business-wise. I had never been a 9-to-5 job type of person, and as a single mom, I needed the flexibility to be there for my kids (they were 2 and 4 at the time). I read the book Springboard, which really helped me focus on what I’m passionate about and what I’m better at than most. With all of my travels (75 countries and counting), tasting the local food from all different cultures had truly become a driving passion of mine. I live in Newport Beach, and I made it my mission to either find similar experiences to those from my travels or recreate them. As I learned in Nigeria, building businesses from merely an idea are what I felt I was better at than most. Since I was focused on culinary experiences, and there were no food and wine events in the city of Newport Beach at the time, I decided to create one – The Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival. I applied what I learned abroad and was aggressive in my outreach – I literally began by cold calling, smiling and dialing, and knocking on doors. We’re now in our 5th year, and it has grown to become one of the three signature events in Newport Beach; the other two have been around for decades.

Has it been a smooth road?
Taking an idea and executing it from scratch always has its challenges. If it was easy, more people would be entrepreneurs. There are enormous risks in starting an event of this size. I encountered plenty of rejection, stress, and failures, but learning from those failures is one of the keys to success. Plan A may not always work, so having a Plan B, C and D are important. There is always more than one way to achieve your goal, and sometimes Plan D turns out to be better than Plan A. With the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival, we’ve encountered some roadblocks, but planning ahead has helped in preventing last-minute fire drills.

My advice to other women – you have to keep trying and truly believe that failure is not an option. Failures do not define you. Instead, it is how you deal with your failures that lead to your success. If you believe in your dream, just start doing it. If people think about every pitfall and problem that could occur, they might talk themselves out of even starting. Instead, take each problem as it comes and deals with them on a case by case basis, and of course, think of a backup plan. Problems are much more manageable this way.

We’d love to hear more about Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival.
We have an event that stands apart from other food and wine events because of its exclusive, yet approachable nature. We focus on putting the spotlight on the best of the best in their field – Master Sommeliers, Expert Chefs, and high-level sponsors that co-brand well together. I’m proud of the fact that the majority of people that took the leap of faith with my year one are still with us. This event has become their event, just as much as it is mine. We’ve created a family of like-minded people who get together to share what they love and teach people about their passions.

Which women have inspired you in your life? Why?
One woman who has always inspired me is Pink. Her life and success have not come easy. She’s had to fight for it, and she has managed to build her brand the way she’s wanted to do it, paving her own path under her own terms. And I love her music. 🙂

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Image Credit:

Pencil Box Studios, Stefanie Salem

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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