Chef Jennifer Zavala, Shana Heidorn, Cara Stipa, Karen Gross, Adam Leiter, East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District, Women Mean Business

Women Mean Business In Philly’s East Passyunk 

Why are so many women opening businesses in Philadelphia’s East Passyunk Avenue neighborhood? And what can we all learn from these rockstar women entrepreneurs?

Tune into this episode to hear what went down at She Rocked It’s first-ever live panel discussion and networking event, held in partnership with the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District during Women’s History Month 2022.

Get ready for lots of real talk, inspiring stories, and actionable tips to rock it! Whether you’re looking to start a business, level up your business, or just need a jolt of inspiration from some truly courageous women – this episode has it all.  

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In this episode, you’ll hear:

  • [03:13] The lowdown on East Passyunk Avenue’s many women-owned businesses
  • [05:43] Dr. Robin Smith on transforming adversity into purpose and power 
  • [10:29] Introductions from women entrepreneurs 
  • [17:40] Why women opened businesses on East Passyunk Avenue in Philadelphia
  • [22:35] How women entrepreneurs overcame challenges in their businesses
  • [24:41] Why is entrepreneurship worth it for women business owners? 
  • [30:47] Q&A 1 What these women business owners wish they knew when they first started out
  • [36:56] Q&A 2 What keeps these entrepreneurs motivated 

Links from this episode: 

She Rocked It is a media and mentorship platform where creative, courageous women rock it together. We are eager to learn from, listen to, and lift one another up — driven by the belief that women’s voices are essential. On our podcast and Instagram Live interview series, She Rocked It host/founder and creative entrepreneur Karen Gross gets trailblazing women leaders, creatives, and entrepreneurs to reveal how they rock it – and their insights may surprise you. Their behind-the-scenes stories, best-kept secrets to success, and actionable tips are sure to inspire the rockstar in all of us! 

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Women Mean Business Transcript

INTRODUCTION:

Hey Rockstar! Welcome to the She Rocked It podcast. I’m your host, Karen Gross. And I am so excited that you’re tuning into this episode, because you’re gonna get to hear what happened at our very first live event in March 2022. During Women’s History Month, we partnered with the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District in Philadelphia. I’m a proud Philly girl, and I love the East Passyunk neighborhood. It’s in South Philly to be precise. And there’s an incredible density of women-owned businesses in this neighborhood. So, we wanted to celebrate that. And we wanted to hear from some of the women who’ve opened businesses in this neighborhood to find out what makes them tick. Why this neighborhood has been so hospitable to women, and what we can learn from them as entrepreneurs. So, whether you’re looking to start a business, whether you own a business, whether you just want to hear from some incredibly creative, courageous women, this episode is for you.

Just so you know, some of the speakers that you’re gonna hear from include Chef Jennifer Zavala, who’s the owner of Juana Tamale restaurant and she also was seen on the TV show Top Chef. You’ll also hear from Shana Heidorn, who’s the owner of Society Hill Dance Academy. That’s actually where we recorded this podcast episode. And Shana in addition to owning the Society Hill Dance Academy is a professional ballroom, Latin and wedding dance instructor. You’ll hear from Cara Stipa, who’s the CEO and Creative Director of The Utopia Collective, and she’s an acclaimed wedding and events planner. And lastly, you’ll hear from Elissa Kara, who has had her shop nice things handmade on East Passyunk Avenue for many years and that shop features an incredible array of handmade and artistic goods. So, let’s dive in. And by the way, this episode may sound a little different than a regular podcast because you know, we recorded it live and we had an amazing audience in the house. So I hope you enjoy.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

So, welcome. Thank you all for braving the random snow squall we had this afternoon to come out to Women Mean Business. I’m Karen Gross. I am the host and founder of She Rocked It. And very proud to be the host of this event tonight along with the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District. Give them a round of applause for really coming up with this amazing women-focused evening. And I used to live in this neighborhood. I’m still a big fan of it, though I don’t live here. But what I’m really a fan of is that as it turns out, there is an amazing density of women-owned businesses here on the avenue. But it’s so great that we’re getting to celebrate Women’s History Month together here on the avenue because this avenue exemplifies what can happen when women open businesses and really come together as a community. So, without further ado, I do want to pass the mic over to Adam Leiter, who’s the executive director of the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District.

ADAM LEITER:

Thank you, Karen. I want to just give a quick round of thanks to Karen, to our panelists to the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District board. I’m also going to thank Society Hill Dance Academy for hosting us tonight. So mostly, I want to thank you all for being here. I think that having events like this, having you come out in support, and, and seeing the support, especially over the past two years, in particular, has been the main thing that’s kept this avenue and all of these amazing businesses thriving. The support and strength that you’ve shown has just bolstered the business owners themselves to, you know, we definitely see this reciprocal relationship that happens and keeps people motivated. You know, getting through everything for any kind of business has been something that has, you know, has really been a big, big challenge. So, some of the stats that I like to go through— we have about 200 businesses overall on our mile-long business corridor. 160 of those are independently owned. Of those 160, about 80 are owned or CO-owned by women. So, we’re at like a 45%. So, we’re hitting that true equality mark, which is absolutely incredible don’t think that you can really get into, you know, exact specific reasons of why we’ve, you know, hit these kinds of numbers and why it perpetuates. But I’m hoping that, you know, by hearing some of the stories that are shared tonight, we’ll get some insights into that. So with that, I’m gonna give it back to Karen.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Yes, we are definitely going to talk about that Adam and see if we can dig up some answers as to what makes this such an attractive place for women to open businesses. So stay tuned. But before we really dig into the program, there’s a very special guest we have with us tonight. Some of you may remember her for her many years on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She was the therapist in residence on Oprah for many years. And she currently is speaking to Fortune 500 companies around the country, and also has her own show on Sirius XM, the Dr. Robin show, and she’s a proud Philadelphian we have Dr. Robin Smith in the house. Yeah. Who is going to kick us off and get us into the space together with some Women’s History Month vibes and beautiful words. Thank you, Dr. Robin, for being with us tonight.

DR. ROBIN SMITH:

Thank you, Karen from She Rocked It. Karen does rock it anyone who knows her. And I have the privilege of knowing her well. She’s a sister and a friend and a comrade. She’s helped my own business and brand in such amazing ways. And I’m honored to be here. And thank you, Adam as well.

But tonight’s theme about women it’s so important about what it means to mean business. What’s that mean to you know, so often, there is a fantasy. And I’ve had the same fantasy that someone else was going to take me more seriously, my dreams more seriously my pain or passion more seriously than I took myself. And so tonight for me is not only about hearing the genius of all of these women here, but making sure that you find the genius of your own. I mean, it’s really important we can meet people like me and what you don’t know— because this isn’t in my bio, but I always want people to know this— that much of what I know is not only because of my work and studying and all of that, which is great, but it’s also because I’ve suffered. And, part of the opportunity for women in particular, I believe is to take our suffering and convert it into usable currency. So, the things that you thought were trashable, the things that you wanted to hide about who you are, who you’re not the ways in which possibly, you know, your business survived, or maybe you’re one of the people who lost a business.

And so, there’s so much shame, unfortunately, in being human, and in being women. Women who are robust and resourceful, and who figure out how to put the stuff that didn’t work out for us and put it into the meat grinder, if you will. I know we’ve got an incredible restauranteur here who I want to come and eat at your place. But, there’s a quote from Alice Walker, the great writer and poet, she is famous to some people because of The Color Purple. And she has a quote that says “in search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.” And so I hope tonight, there’s nothing wrong with our mother’s gardens, or our grandmother’s gardens or our father’s gardens. But tonight is really about asking yourself, “what’s in your own garden, and what’s in your own heart”. And what is it that you want to grow. And you want to cultivate, and you want to nourish. So that you can really live into the life that you are worthy of and that you deserve. So, I am really expectant tonight, Karen that we will co-create, you know, this is about co-creation. Sometimes we come to events, and we sit and we wait for them to make the moment happen. That’s not going to happen tonight— tonight is really about you. And all of us co-creating a moment of power, and passion and purpose. So, let’s enjoy. And let’s be part of taking ourselves seriously as Women who Mean Business. Thank you.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Well, thank you so much, Dr. Robin, I felt that so deeply on so many levels. And you’re totally right, we are going to have a very interactive evening, we’re going to start with a conversation with these four incredible entrepreneurs. And then we’re going to open it up to all of you. So, as we’re talking, feel free to generate in your mind some questions, some things that you might want to share, we’re here to co-create together, as you said so eloquently, we’re going to have the mic back here that time so you can jump up and share.

I hope it’s okay if I just take a few minutes, I’m going to kind of introduce myself a little more. And then I’m going to invite all these amazing women on stage to kind of go one by one and introduce themselves. I had said originally that I’m the host and founder of She Rocked It, which actually launched about a year ago and to see all of this come together is something I never thought would really happen. I mean, launching any new dream and a new vision. I’m sure you all can relate. You kind of pinch yourself and say well, “I actually got to where I was hoping to get to” and you keep pushing yourself further and further.

But prior to launching She Rocked It and some of you may know me from my days in Philadelphia as a magazine editor— I was I wrote for Philadelphia Magazine, as contributing writer and also was the editor-in-chief of Where magazine and James Zeleniak, who’s running around knows me from that I was the editor of Where for three and a half years and really championed Philly, lived in this neighborhood for a number of years, and also have always performed as a cabaret singer as well. So, I’ve had this kind of dual trajectory as a writer, and a singer. And eight years ago, I left my full-time communications job to start my own communications business where I communicate through both words and music under the tagline Communication That Sings and I work with amazing people, including Dr. Robin, on messaging on copywriting, on speech writing.

And through my business, through my communications business, I’ve had the opportunity to work with incredibly distinguished and accomplished women. And I’ve sort of gotten to hear their stories by helping them to craft messages and speeches and so forth. And I thought, “wow, it’s a shame that only I get to hear their stories and their sort of secrets and their history, it would be so great for other women to hear what makes these women tick”. So, I thought, She Rocked It will be an opportunity to broaden that conversation to get to interview outstanding women. So—we’re all rockstars by the way— but some women have reached milestones in their career that we don’t know the real talk, the real stories behind the glory that all of us can benefit from and we learn from we listen to each other, we lift each other up through hearing from one another. And that’s exactly what we’re gonna do tonight. So, the goal of She Rocked It is to get to hear the real stories. That’s my story. I’m so honored to be here and I’m going to pass the mic over to Shana who is the proprietor, the owner of this amazing space and of course, our event hosts tonight. So thank you, Shana.

SHANA HEIDORN:

Hi, everybody. My name is Shana Heidorn. I am the owner of Society Hill Dance Academy. I have been, I’ve been in business since 2002. So, we’re about to celebrate our 20-year anniversary on June 8. I’m very excited about that, thank you. We recently moved to East Passyunk avenue we bought the building in June of 2019. And we moved in in the end of November. We teach people how to dance together we any dance you do with a partner— waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Ballroom, and Latin—that’s what we specialize in here.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

So, we’re gonna pass it down to Elissa.

ELISSA KARA:

My name is Elissa Kara. I own Nice Things Handmade at 1731 East Passyunk Avenue. I opened in February of 2010. I support local artists. My store is full of handmade wares from local artists near and far. 75% of the artists are local 25% are from across the country. And we have a small margin of fair trade. I love supporting local artists that make well-made, affordable, wonderful, beautiful things. I love shopping myself, I want people to come into my store and feel comfortable to shop. So, I try to provide handmade items for people like that

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Cara Stipa! Who is like a stone’s throw literally, you can see her storefront right there— The Utopia Collective. Cara, tell us about you and your business.

CARA STIPA:

Hi, I’m Cara Stipa, I own The Utopia Collective, which is right across the street. I do wedding and event design and planning. And I also have a retail storefront that sells wedding gifts and home decor. I’m originally from Rochester, New York. But I moved here about 20 years ago and after I graduated with my degree in advertising, naturally, I started working in nightclubs… and somehow kind of ended up doing a lot of hospitality and then very quickly realized that I really wanted to move towards events. I also had a really strong passion for interior decorating and so The Utopia Collective was kind of a combination of all of those things I felt really passionate about. So, I got the nerve to quit my job at Cescaphe working weddings for them and start my own business. And I signed the lease across the street next door on March 1 of 2020. And of course, two weeks later, we were shut down. And so really and we’ll talk about this you know, as we kind of go through the night my whole business trajectory of working for myself has been in the COVID landscape and just doing events no navigate that doing events, no less so, but still here.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

And then chef Jennifer Zavala, please tell us a little bit about you and your amazing new place that I got to eat on a Friday. So yummy.

CHEF JENNIFER ZAVALA:

My name is Jennifer Zavala, I’ve just recently opened Juana Tamale at 1941 East Passyunk. Five months in this has been a wild ride. And I’m extremely grateful to be here. I’ve worked in the Philadelphia restaurant scene for the last 15 years. I’ve grown up in Connecticut and migrated down here to work among some greats. I have two kids, they go to school in this neighborhood. I live about four or five blocks from my shop, which is a blessing and a curse as you know, parking still awful no matter what, even when I’m walking here. But yeah, so this is this is my neighborhood. This is where I’m raising my family. And I’m extremely excited to be here.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Thank you so much. Chef Jennifer, I think you’ve also cooked for some celebrities along your path right? Is that true what I heard? Can you just name like a few?

CHEF JENNIFER ZAVALA:

Sure. Yeah. I can name-drop some people. I was Ozzy Osbourne’s chef for a little while. I worked on Ozzfest. My time in Connecticut. I worked at music venues, which is how I kind of started cooking for bands. And you know, I’ve got to cook for Snoop Dogg and Britney Spears. A couple other like heavy metal bands I’m a big fan of and so yeah, I also did a very short stint on Dawson’s Creek, I was the lead catering chef for that. So, Philly, as a lot of you know, is a pretty rough city. And it didn’t matter my credentials, I still had to start from the bottom and work my way up. So, I’m excited to say that I’m still standing and still here. So yeah, so thanks for having me.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Fantastic, thank you all so much for giving us kind of an overview. And we’re gonna dive a little deeper now. Elissa, what originally inspired you to open up here on the avenue?

ELISSA KARA:

I needed a job and I’ve been fired.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

We said there was gonna be real talk.

ELISSA KARA:

Yeah, I was on unemployment. But I was, and I had lost my mom, which was really hard. And,

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

And she’s also an artist?

ELISSA KARA:

My mom was very crafty. And my mom was a waitress on South Street most of my life, and she was a very crafty woman. And she always made things incredibly special. She paid amazing details, to gift wrapping and… living in the city, growing up in the city, we used to go to all these little shops that used to be on South Street or in other parts of the city and she always noticed the tiniest details. And unfortunately for her she created an artist which upset her stomach frequently. But it was, you know, my mom, my whole I lived in an extended family that fed that they were all very creative people. But they were also you know, my grandmother worked on a store on Fourth Street, she did the books for fabric store for 40 years. My grandfather was a men’s clothing, you know, he was a haberdasher on South Street and my whole family was around South Street. So, it was very creative environment. And I thought “well, let me— can I do this? you know, Can I open this business?” and it was approachable. As a person that had no job. And no money. But you were like, maybe I can make it happen here.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

And 12 years later, I mean, that’s incredible.

ELISSA KARA:

yeah, yeah. Yeah!

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

And Chef Jennifer also you have worked many places you have traveled and set up shop what I know you live here but what were what other reasons inspired you to like really put roots down and open your first storefront here?

CHEF JENNIFER ZAVALA:

Parking. I definitely didn’t want to like parking in the city is ridiculous. I know that sounds really crazy but it’s really like dominated my life. You know, when you go places it’s not so convenient. And I, as a mom, I think that was like what was most important to me like not spending a lot of my time driving across town. And you have to really consider parking in your budget. Like, I’m being very serious with the parking thing. And like, you know, like I said, I have a son that goes to high school here and have a younger son that goes to elementary school here. And I felt like this would be a good fit for me, really, as just being close to my family, because, you know, years and years and years, which, you know, a lot of women when you’re working, you know, you miss so much. So, I felt like I would be close enough to be able to run if there was an emergency run if there was, you know, a sick day, which seems you know, was dominated our lives the last like, two years. And, you know, a lot of people know me for a lot of reasons. And I felt like, “what area of Philly can I annoy the most?” And it was definitely South Philly. I felt, you know, especially where I live. I was like, “where don’t they want me?” and that’s where I’m gonna go. So…

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

We’re glad! You know, sometimes it’s not always the reasons we may think I inspire some someone to land where they do. And it’s great to hear like the real reasons. And before I ask the next question, I do want to acknowledge one other woman in the house, Pam Zenzola—can we get Pam Zenzola a round of applause? Because I’m looking over at Pam, I think Pam is the unofficial mayor of East Passyunk. And Pam is so active at the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District and really is the reason that I’m here tonight. I know Pam because I lived in the neighborhood and she knows me as a singer. And it really was actually Pam, I believe, who originally noticed that all these women were here, all these two women, there’s all these women business owners, so give it up for Pam for first kind of getting the radar that something’s going on. And now we see that you know, the proof of women kind of being drawn, for many reasons to to the Avenue.

INTERSTITIAL:

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KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

And just kind of continue what you were saying, Chef, I I feel like you are starting to touch on some of the some of the obstacles a little bit that may you may have encountered along the way. I mean, obviously COVID being one of them over the past couple of years. But could you talk a little more about any obstacles that you may have faced in your journey of opening your businesses or your journey of entrepreneurship and how maybe just one obstacle in particular, because we all as entrepreneurs, we may have more than one, let’s say and how you overcame that obstacle?

And I’m curious, like, Cara, because Cara actually opened her doors March 2020 or signed the lease March 2020.

ELISSA KARA:

We need a bottle of gin.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Yeah if you could say one, but I imagine there’re more.

CARA STIPA:

Yeah, I mean, it was definitely challenging. But I do have to say it was kind of a double-edged sword. Because I opened my business in COVID, I really had no point of reference as what it would be like, without, it’s the only real landscape that I know, as being a business owner. So, in some ways, it was kind of helpful because I wasn’t bogged down by like when we used to be able to do this or when it was like this, I don’t really have that. this is just what it’s always been for me. So, there’s been definitely things that I’ve had to pivot on. You know, there was a time when we couldn’t have weddings and events. So, I never really thought of myself as having an online store. That was not something that I put in the original business plan. But here I was in 2020 selling gold vases online, just like trying to stay open. And somehow it really worked. But I’ve been able to incorporate some of the things I had to do to pivot into the business that I have now. So having a place where people can buy wedding gifts has been really helpful because I do have a built-in clientele with my brides. So, it’s been interesting and how things that I had to pivot to do just to stay open are now things that are actually helping my business right along the way, I guess.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

You know, I don’t think people sometimes realize the fear that can be involved in entrepreneurship on so many levels.So, I’m curious, because we know entrepreneurship is so rewarding and look at the space you’ve created. It’s amazing, but it’s also hard, it can be really hard. And we have so many entrepreneurs in the house. So, I’m curious if if each of you could maybe just in a sentence or two, say why is it worth it? Chef, why don’t you start?

CHEF JENNIFER ZAVALA:

So it’s worth it because I never have to listen to another man, tell me what to do. I think I’m pretty, I’m pretty serious about that. I have worked, you know, throughout my career for, you know, for always for someone else, for the most part, and I just really kind of got sick of, you know, working for a man who would tell me what to do with my talents. And for me, no matter what, no matter what obstacle I’ve experienced, and there have been many, and they feel like they’re not ending, I still go with that, that I am, I am free. Like, I’m free. And once you get so good at your craft where it doesn’t become you know, it just becomes muscle memory and you have the ability to not be, you know, controlled every day with a routine, you start to get creative and you start to become free in your space. So, I want to do this and I want to do that. And at the end end of the day, if I worked for someone else, I would never get to that level of freedom just mentally. So, anything that I’ve ever gone through or experienced in the difficulty of being an entrepreneur has all the driving force for me has always been freedom of not having to ask permission, or to live with someone else telling me what to do, or how to use my talents. So, I will go through, you know, hellfire if I have to, but I’m going across the other side, and at the end of the day, I’m going to be the one standing there controlling my destiny.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Cara, how about you? Why is it worth it?

CARA STIPA:

Well, all of that. But also, just being able to do what I love every day means a lot to me. And not to have that necessarily mean one thing. Like, I love weddings, I also love interior decorating. I love design, I love dogs, I love colors, I love napkin rings, and being able to put all of those things together into like a dream job where you can incorporate all those aspects of yourself and not have to say like, “I’m Cara, I’m a wedding planner,” “I’m Cara, I’m just interior decorator,” like, I am a business owner. And I get to take all of my talents and all the things that I’ve learned along the way from every job that I’ve had, and infuse them into something that makes me really happy and get to be creative in that way.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Beautiful.

ELISSA KARA:

Um, I would say that one of the things that I love is that I get to help artists. And I get to help people like myself get their work out in front of other people. Which is so important, because just like so many crafts, all different things that people do. I love being able to tell people where they can find important information or helping them navigate, getting their stuff prepared for another business. Helping artists know all those tiny details that are just one page on the internet, like putting your prints in certain kinds of sleeves and why cards need to be in sleeves or all these details, the language, everything. And you need somebody to guide you and help you because people are overwhelmed. And there’s a lot of details. So, I love being a micro business and helping other little micro businesses achieve stardom.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

And Shana, tell us why is it worth it for you to go into that entrepreneurial journey?

SHANA HEIDORN:

Well, sometimes I wonder, “is it worth it?” There are many days and there will be many more. I have four children, four children, and some days, some weeks I don’t get to see them. I see them off in the morning and by the time I get home, they are asleep. You know, it’s rough. It can be rough. But why is it worth it? I came to Philadelphia when I was 24 from Minnesota. I grew up in Minnesota. And I really loved Philly. I’d landed in a cool city. And I loved it. And I wanted to stay but there was nowhere I wanted to work. I didn’t want to work. They were all skeezy greasy dance studios. I’m like, “This is not what it should be about. It should be fun. It should be a happy place for people to come and dance.” And you know, yeah, it’s their bubble bath.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

I love that. So you created your own vision and what you did here,

SHANA HEIDORN:

So, I opened my own. And I think a lot of people who do not own their own business thing out you own your own business, you can do whatever you want. Yeah, no, you can’t. No, you can’t. You actually can’t. It’s worse because even when when you work for somebody else, you go home at five o’clock, you’re done. You’re never done. You are never done when you own your own business. Is it worth it? Yes. Is it work? Yes. It never ends.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

That is the truth. Yeah. And I want to thank all these four panels. Can you just give them a round of applause because this is the real, the real stuff that you’re hearing tonight is awesome. There’s so many other things I want to ask. I think what we’ll do is we’re going to do a little community Q&A And I’m going to loop back with a question or two for the panel. So don’t go away. Okay, officially we are opening the floor. There’s the mic if you’d like or you could just stand up if you feel more comfortable. Feel free to ask any of us a question you might have tried to keep it brief if you can, or if you have a quick share about your own experience and you are inspired to share you all have the floor.

AUDIENCE MEMBER 1:

Is there anything like looking back on when you very first opened if there was like a little voice that was like, “Don’t forget to do this one thing”

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Don’t forget to do the one thing?

AUDIENCE MEMBER 1:

Yes. What is the one thing that you wish you did?

ELISSA KARA:

Get an accountant, NOW.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Just to repeat your question, To make sure everyone heard, so if you could go, any of these women could go back to those early days, if you could, like, say something back to yourself to do this thing, tell yourself that little voice, what would it be? Maybe we can each go down the line and say, what’s that one thing? So Elissa said, Get the accountant going, what about Shana? If there’s one thing you could like, tell yourself at that moment, right? To do, right?

SHANA HEIDORN:

I don’t know, that’s a really good question. Great question. Start with somebody else.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

What about you two? Anything?

CARA STIPA:

I think one thing I’d say, it’s always going to cost more than you think it is. So, when you’re thinking about a budget, and what you have allocated, to what, and even just opening, like, you think you open your doors, and everyone’s gonna be so excited, and they’re gonna come in and be down the street, it’s always gonna take longer than you think. And it’s always gonna cost more than you think. So that would be my advice.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Chef?

CHEF JENNIFER ZAVALA:

So I think my little voice was, you know, prioritize your mental health. And that doesn’t necessarily mean, you know, you’re you’re bound to have a nervous breakdown, it just means that you cannot make the right decisions for your business or for yourself if you’re mentally not in a good place, you know, you, you know, Desperate times call for desperate measures, and you’re gonna be making decisions that can have an effect on your business, you know, negatively, if you’re just not in a place where you mentally feel, you know, confident in in those decisions. So, prioritizing your mental health over anything— business comes and goes, your mental health can go forever, if you just don’t prioritize it now.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

It’s great wisdom, I would actually sort of piggyback on that to some degree, which is, know that there’s going to be fear. Like, I don’t think that, okay, so just know it. And even like, eight years in for me, there’s always new things that come at you. And it’s always like, “Oh, my gosh, how am I going to do it this time?” And just kind of acknowledge it and move forward. Anyway if you can just know what’s going to be there. I don’t necessarily, as a singer, people, are like, “do you get nervous?” And like, yeah, I still get nervous. Like, every time it’s a new stage, every time it’s a new audience, every time I write a speech, it’s a blank page. And I’m like, “how am I going to do it this time?” And you know, what, how you become an entrepreneur is I think, just by pushing through that, and just you kind of keep going. So just if you all feel scared, it’s not unusual, doesn’t necessarily go away. So just keep going. Keep going.

Can I piggyback on what you said?

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Absolutely.

ELISSA KARA:

And it goes back to the mental health part. Knowing that, like, be flexible. Kinda like what I said before. Because the idea is that you have everything costs money, everything takes twice as long, you know, and just know, like, I waited nine years to get the sign that I want it. And I imagined the gooseneck lights, and you know, like, wind in my hair. And I was like, “It’s okay, I’ll just use some milk crates and some two-by-fours as a desk,” you know, and then you’re like, “oh, it cost $5,000. And I have five.” So, it really is like, you know it, give yourself space and put down boundaries, give yourself days off, because similar to what Shana said before, it’s a 24-hour job. It doesn’t stop like once you start, I feel like I say goodbye to people as if they’re having children. I’ll be like, “it was so nice knowing you, enjoy your business. I’ll see you on the other side. And, text me at 3 am.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Well said it’s the truth. Shana, what do you think?

SHANA HEIDORN:

Alright, I sat here and thought about it for a second. I did. There’s two things. One is just like a sentimental thing, right? I really do wish quite often that I had documented more safe pictures saved thing about and you know, because sometimes I go back and I don’t have anything. You know, I do have some but not enough that and that’s just a fun little, I remember, you know, memories kind of thing. Um, I wish. And it’s different now, because I’ve been in business for almost 20 years, very soon to be 20 years. But like when I needed to buy this building. There was all kinds of things that I had done 20 years ago, I didn’t know where it was. My article of incorporation—what is that? I don’t know where it is, it was some black folder somewhere, you know, be more organized. You know, I didn’t understand what that stuff was. Be more organized. If you are, if you are one hand was raised, put this stuff away, file it, label it, even if you don’t know what it is, because as you grow, you’re going to need it.

And thank God for other people, like, a piece of advice is if you don’t know how to do something, get someone who does. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You know, you are one person, you cannot do it all. I would not be here today sitting in this building, running this business if I was afraid to ask for help. Right? Don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s the number one.

SHANA HEIDORN:

That’s a great point. And I think it was Elissa said about getting an accountant, like, surround yourself with as many knowledgeable people if you can.

ELISSA KARA:

Yeah, people don’t think they think I’ll do these things. And life moves fast. You know, and you get caught up in the things you do know how to do. And then before you know it, you need, like an accountant should be on your list.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Was that helpful? Yay!  Amazing. Do we have any other questions? Yes. Come on up.

Wait, is that a man? Okay. I’m kidding. Come on up. Give this man a round of applause. I’m joking. We love you. Come on up. Yes. Thank you for being here. Yeah, someone asked me they’re like, “Are men allowed at this event?” They asked me I’m like, “first of all, we need men to support everything that women are doing their allies.” So yes, I’m so happy that you’re here, please.

AUDIENCE MEMBER 2:

My second woman’s event of the day.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

I’m very cool.

ELISSA KARA:

Good for you!

AUDIENCE MEMBER 2:

I first like to say I love hearing your stories, and not to show like a false sense of assimilation. But it truly resonates. Even though being a male, it resonates even with me, and I’m sure with everybody hear all of your stories, and they’re really sound like they’re from the heart. My question is, for one or all of you,

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

we love you, are you single?

AUDIENCE MEMBER 2:

I…

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

No, I’m kidding. I’m sorry that was a cabaret moment, I couldn’t help myself.

AUDIENCE MEMBER 2:

I think I’ve seen your act. Very, very good. So what drives you, like, what makes you see that hurdle and want to jump over it?

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Great question. Chef, why don’t you start? What drives you?

CHEF JENNIFER ZAVALA:

Power. That’s it. No, really? I mean, a little bit.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Sorry, not sorry.

CHEF JENNIFER ZAVALA

No. I think just, you know, I know there, especially in my business. I know. You know, when I started cooking, which was 100 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of women. There wasn’t a lot of women of color. Mom was a bad word in a kitchen. And so, for me, it’s really been about visibility. There wasn’t someone like me that I could look at and say, “if they’re able to do it, I can do it.” You know, when you’re in, you know, a male-dominated business that’s always like, “well, you know, I’m not going to get beat by a girl.” And I think that can be very defeating sometimes and almost like deafening to deal with and I feel like me being out here and showing people that you do not have to have the conventional path, is really the driving force for me. Because I know someone’s gonna see the choices that I’ve made and the decisions and the path that I’ve taken and feel inspired to keep going on their own. You know, I don’t have a ton of resources. I never asked anyone for anything. I didn’t work, you know, at this place, it wasn’t a cool kid at this place.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

And she’s you’re self-taught also? Which I think is really amazing,

CHEF JENNIFER ZAVALA:

I’m, yes, I’m a high school dropout and like there wasn’t Instagram, you know, when I was coming up and I think a lot of times what happens, you know, I don’t know about like retail business or you know, things like that, but in my particular industry, it is like, you know, when they say people don’t want to work, it’s such a loaded layered thing. People don’t want to work as hard as you really have to work when push comes to shove, they want instant gratification, you know, success by association. When people come to work for me, they think, “oh, yeah, I’m gonna get to work with Jen and you know, things are gonna be great. We’re gonna do all these things.” Well, I’m cleaning fryers, I’m washing dishes. And I think that a lot of times people don’t realize that’s really what it’s about. And so, to be visible, and to be loud, is really a driving force to me, because I know that down Passyunk Avenue, one day, there’s going to be more face-tattooed women on the street. And I’m going to have something to do with that. And that makes me very proud.

CARA STIPA:

Yeah, okay. So I think for me, two main things, I guess, on a bigger scale, just kind of like how Jen talked about just representation matters. And even though the wedding industry, there’s a lot of women, there’s not a lot of women of color, and being able to see that and to see someone who looks like me and say, like I can be in the luxury business. And that’s something that can happen for me is really important and showing other women that there’s a space for us, has always been a driving factor in starting my business. And I guess on a smaller scale, just having something— you know, I got married at 36. A lot of my friends are getting married in their 30s 40s, even 50s. And there wasn’t really a space for us, you know, that felt like weddings were geared towards our age group, I guess it felt really young. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s an exciting time, no matter what age you are getting married. And it just felt like to be able to take that and maybe elevate it and make it a little bit older or more grown was really important behind my brand. So, Utopia Collective. It’s not like the typical things that you see, as far as wedding stuff goes. You know, like I said, I was married at 36. And when I registered for my wedding, like we don’t need fucking towels, like we’ve lived together for five years, the jig is up, like we want cool home decor and things that actually mean something to us. So that’s been a factor in just building my business and my brand as well.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Love that. Thank you.

ELISSA KARA:

I would say I love making people happy. Like I do. I love helping people find that special gift that’s going to make their mom or their brother or their sister or whoever, or that person that’s sick laugh or smile or, just make them happy. Like, I love being Santa Claus. I’m a happy Jewish girl who loves being Santa Claus.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Sung: “Make someone happy?”

ELISSA KARA:

Sung: “Papa, can you hear me?

I really do. I’m a people pleaser. Like, I really do love reaching people that way and making them happy.

SHANA HEIDORN:

Well, I think every day it’s a different answer. Every day, that’s a different answer. I’m in business. We’re all in business, to make money. That’s why we’re here. Right? So that is definitely a driving force. And you can’t be afraid to say that and you can’t be afraid to remember that every single day or you will not stay in business. Right? That’s important. Now, I’m very lucky that what I do every day I love I love making people happy. I love teaching people to dance. I love that “aha moment” when they understand what it’s all about. But you know, if you are an entrepreneur, you have to remember and I’m gonna say this, you’re in it to make money. That is your driving force. And if it’s not, you’re not going to stay in business.

KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT:

Yes, we could have a whole conversation about the financial, the money stuff. I’m glad you brought that up. This has been amazing. I would just add from my own—this is such a great question. Thank you for this question. For so long, when I would tell people that I was a singer, and or a writer, they would say to me, “what do you really do? Like, what’s your da— what’s your day job? Like? What what do you like, really do”. And what I love is that I actually am a singer and a writer. And that’s my, I’m a full-time creative entrepreneur. I left full-time employment eight years ago, and I’m still standing, and part of what drives me is like the eff you to anyone who ever asked me like, “can you make a living as a creative person.” And I am constantly embracing what that can look like. And I love the creativity of being an entrepreneur that like, I really was into cabaret and performing in Philadelphia in my 20s and early 30s. And I just lived for it. And now I’m really passionate about helping raise the volume of women’s voices. And as an entrepreneur, I can say yes, to that being my muse right now. And say like, not just I shouldn’t say it’s like, “eff you” it’s more like, “join me.” Join me, to all the other people who heard that makes me emotional, to heard that, like, you can’t be an artist successfully, like and make a life. And I’m figuring it out. Now, I have a great blessing thank goodness of being able to pick my clients and work with outstanding people who I love, who I’m friends with. I mean, that is such a gift. And it’s kind of like I can show the people that it’s possible and I hope other women can feel who are creative that they can do it also. So that’s what definitely what drives me. I knew I was gonna get emotional tonight! Thank you for this. It’s been such an honor for me and for She Rocked It to be part of this tonight. And I think the amazing turnout that we’ve had tonight indicates that we need more of these kinds of spaces where women can really talk amongst one another, let their hair down, really share some real talk, listen to one another lift one another up. So, I just want to say thank you to again to East Passyunk Avenue for creating this very welcoming, safe space for all of us to get to be among each other. So, thank you so much.

OUTRO: Thanks so much for tuning into the She Rocked It podcast. I’m your host, Karen Gross. This episode has been produced by Tori Marchiony with audio engineering by Teng Chen. The She Rocked It theme song is by Karen Gross and Tim Motzer. Visit our Instagram page @sherockedit to join the conversation and visit our website sherockedit.com To learn about how you can join our community, support our work and attend our live events. Also, you can apply on our website for our Rock-It Launcher group mentorship program. See you there!


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