Festival-Preneur: Stefanie Salem
From serial entrepreneur to savvy epicure
If you are a fan of epicurean events and live in the Southern California area, you are likely familiar with the Newport Beach Wine & Food festival. Serial entrepreneur Stefanie Salem launched the event in 2013. A California native, Stefanie is a world traveler and has launched seven businesses throughout the world including Greece, Zimbabwe, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Nigeria and the United States.
The single mother of two 8 and 10-year-old boys was inspired to launch the event form her travels around the globe to 75 countries. Using her experience as an entrepreneur and her love for fine cuisine, she has cultivated the festival into a high-profile event featuring the country’s best culinary talent and some of the finest food and wine in California. I recently caught up with Stefanie to learn more about the festival and her journey as an entrepreneur.
“Over the years I fell in love with food and how each different culture puts their passions into their individual creations.”
You are a self-proclaimed “taste-bud traveler,” can you explain?
I grew up camping every summer across the United States with my family, which gave me my first taste of exploring new places. In high school, I took my first airplane to Switzerland to be an exchange student for the summer. That trip sealed my determination to see as much of the world as I could.
After college, I decided to look for sales positions that required lots of travel, and that’s exactly what I found…I lived and worked in seven different countries, while also traveling to the neighboring countries on the weekends to explore and of course taste the unique cuisines of each different culture.
Over the years I fell in love with food and how each different culture puts their passions into their individual creations. Food and adventure are always the two main things I look for when traveling. When I’m not traveling, I like to try and recreate dishes at home to bring back memories from my trips.
What challenges did you experience launching the festival?
There were plenty of challenges launching the festival. I needed to build my network from scratch, and I did it by pounding the pavement. I knocked on door after door, introducing myself and selling my vision. First-year events are always risky for sponsors because there is no past history of success. I encountered lots of rejection at first, but I persevered and was met with more and more success. I’m very happy to say that our sponsors that took the leap of faith with me our first year are still our partners six years later.
Was it an instant hit with the community?
The inaugural event was a hit with those that attended and participated, but it definitely has taken time to get the word out. Each year we grow and have more press due to both marketing and word of mouth. Ajenda PR is an incredible asset as they ensure the media is aware of the festival and any new, exciting changes. Now that we are in our sixth year, the festival is bigger and better than ever.