Stefanie Salem Builds Prominent Food & Wine Festival

Which business has been the most challenging?

It’s a toss-up between building my business in Nigeria and building the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival. I took an enormous financial risk starting both of these businesses because they take an investment to get off the ground. I was the sole investor in each business.

Nigeria was challenging for a multitude of reasons. The culture, including the time of day that business gets done, was completely foreign to me at first and took a while to get used to. Having the power go out 20 times a day and the water run out at least once a week created a challenging work environment.

Picture this for example, I would get a call from the Ministers office at 2 a..m saying, “The Honorable Minister will see you now.” Simultaneously, the power in my flat would be out and there would be no running water. I had to take a bucket shower by candlelight to get ready to go to a meeting at the Minister’s office at 3am. True story. I would have a meeting with a Governor on a Monday, and I would literally sit in his waiting room 10 hours a day waiting for five days before he met with me.

This type of thing happened regularly. It was not easy working there. I thought my project would take 6 months, but one and a half years into it, I realized I was only halfway done. I did feel disheartened knowing that I had at least another year and a half to go before I finished. To re-motivate myself, I started listening to Tony Robbin cd’s every morning and that tool helped me maintain a positive outlook until I finished my project. It took another 2 years to complete and was an incredibly valuable lesson in perseverance.

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is due to one of my biggest regrets. I’ve learned to ask more questions and listen more before making any decisions.”

Newport Beach Wine & Food has been a challenge because I had a skeleton crew for the first few years. When my team went home, I continued working every night. We have a saying, the airplane is landing on this day no matter what, so we better be ready for it. I have done every single job there is to do for this festival from A to Z, including lining dumpsters.

It is astounding how many details go into making the festival a world-class event. Additionally, raising enough money to pay for our inaugural event was a challenge, and I had to invest more than I originally intended. Ultimately, I faced a lot of challenges during the first year, but seeing the success and growth of the festival each year has made it worth it.

Being a serial entrepreneur, have you had any regrets with past businesses? If so, why and how did you do things different with the next business?

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is due to one of my biggest regrets. I’ve learned to ask more questions and listen more before making any decisions.

How do you maintain life and work balance?

I work hard, but I also travel at every chance I get. Travel fills my soul and re-energizes me. I love spending time with my kids and taking them on new adventures. When we’re together, I focus on them, and the three of us have a very strong bond. Between my business and my kids, I don’t have a ton of extra time.

What advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs?

It’s not going to be easy. You will experience failures, but you have to try again and persevere. No one can stop you if you truly want it. Quitting is not an option.

What is your favorite quote?

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”

To learn more about Stefanie and the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival, visit

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