ONE YEAR!! I don't remember my life before charcuterie! Since last year it has been all consuming in the best way possible for me (and anyone that has to listen to me talk about it all the time, ha). For my one year anniversary I wanted to share my year - the highs, a few lows and a piece of how it all got started - so here it is...
When someone lit the fire.
A few years ago a dear friend who is an incredibly talented cook and caterer introduced me to "graze tables." I fell in love with this concept and we started setting those up for every party we did for people! We did a lot of different menus with this style of serving and didn't necessarily incorporate or call it charcuterie then. Fast forward to Christmas 2020 and my family was having our traditional appetizer Christmas Eve dinner in our new home! We make random favorites every year and have always had a charcuterie board, even though that may not have been what we called it in the past! (And now it is a staple word and food category for the whole extended fam!) That term was not something I used for a board with more then cured meat on it. LOL. My sister-in-law said, "Maegan you have to check out these charcuterie board businesses popping up everywhere! You should do that! Why aren't you doing that?!" I jumped straight into researching and was amazed at the art and displays, the cheeses I never have seen before much less tried... salami roses?!! Come on. I was drawn in. I realized in those simple few minutes that my dream of doing parties and catering was right in front of my face. I just had to reach out and grab it.
When I made my first charcuterie box to sell it was like coming home. Like every party I did for free, every person I helped, every single day lead to this one and it all made perfect sense. In one box. But I would be completely delusional to suggest or share its been roses and rainbows. There has been a lot of roses and a few rainbows. But like with all flowers and rainbows, they need rain and storms to be visible. I have many of those behind me and I'm sure there are many ahead for me. There's no real book on this industry, it's new for everyone. It's trendy, fun and unique to the time and place we are in as a country. I don't think without the pandemic there would be such a fast and full charcuterie train to get on. It inspired women to create what they have already been creating but never realized how hard and rare it was. Magic. Timing is everything.
A Jane of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.
Month 1 was filled with hope, hard work, fear and honest to God blindfolds! LOL. The launch last February sold out in about 12 hours. I said I would make 20 boxes and see what happened. Well, I sold those 20 and was so excited and happy. I had another job and two kids to focus on so I wanted to just let the fire sit for a second to see where it went. My other business wasn't something I could up and walk from, I had clients that truly depending on me. I was successful and content. It was also something I had built from the ground up over the last 8 years while building a family. But I knew that wasn't my forever and I needed to jump all in to Southern Willow.
In April I was asked to become a vendor for Norman Public Schools and that changed the game! I received over 600 mini box orders in the month of May, it was so crazy! I officially had to give up all my other business obligations. There was no one that truly loved me that would not be supportive, this was truly a dream come true! I had to let go of my people pleasing guilt and jump right in. So I gave it up - the stability, consistency, a schedule I had kept for years, an income I had for years. My husband knew this was everything I ever wanted and really never missed a beat or acted surprised. We didn't really even have more then one conversation about it, he just said you have to give up the things that won't help Southern Willow grow and he was so confident in that that it just felt like the timing was right. That was my highest high in 2021. That space in time where I was officially saying "okay this is my job now" I was on cloud 9!
We would have no need for Light if there wasn't Darkness.
The lows. There are a lot of small things I would say that have been so incredibly hard for me. I won't list them all. Social media is definitely hard for me, sharing things about myself on a public platform is very overwhelming. I really don't share much even on my very minimal "friends" personal page. I luckily have a great friend that helps me balance that anxiety and posts for me and proof reads almost everything! LOL. Social media is so incredibly necessary in this business and time we are in, and seems so very natural for a lot of people, but it is not something that comes natural for me. I would say that's big on the list of things I hope to work through this year! I would love to make videos, share recipes, ect.. We shall see!
There are a lot of lows and fears I struggle with daily. Will anyone place an order this week? What should I make next? I need more content, I need more website knowledge, I need X amount of orders this month, how many ounces of meat do I need for 200 people...It's all a learning dance, that I am not leading and no one has showed me the steps. I have a million ideas and dozens of goals for Southern Willow, but I'm taking it one bite at a time so it can be what you want, this isn't really about what I want a celebration to be like, it's about you! I am only trying to help navigate your vision with my creations. Some of things I have come up with and spent HOURS of my heart and soul on no one ever end up buying or wanting it. Some of the things I find simple, easy and very natural for me to make have sold out in a day! It's wild!
My lows will always just be growing pains. I know that and invite every single moment of them for 2022!
Looking back on my many pictures of the last year, it is amazing to me how much I have grown as a food stylist. I have spent 365 days seriously learning, researching and creating. The glow up is so amazing to see. I look at some of the first things I created and was brave enough to share with the world and want to jump back to that version of myself and tell her, "You got this. They will love it. Thank you." She wouldn't have believed me. She had no clue where it would go or how hard it was going to be, but she did it anyways. I hope in 3, 5, 15 years I look back on these posts and feel all the feels, and continue to thank the journey.
Life is a marathon not a sprint.
Oddly enough I have sat back the last few days not thinking about the year itself, but about all the other years around this one. The ones I sat and cried in, the ones I showed up early and stayed late for free out of love for celebrating others and food. The precious people still wanting me in their life and ordering from me, the friends and family that have never doubted I would get to where I was going. I can't remember my life very much before this, it's as if it's always been here. I have said before I don't remember starting, it was a few conversations and I let my creativity and knowledge of food take over. I can't look back and see where the start flag was because there's also no finish line. You can start where you are and go as long as you want. All the same fears from year one exist, but are also much quieter. I work hard, I show up for anyone that asks and I am doing what I LOVE. Life couldn't be sweeter.
To my husband, Mr. McElhaney, hats off to you for an incredible 16 years. Your unwavering support and confidence in me with all my crazy endeavors is the foundation to all my success, Southern Willow wouldn't exist without you, truly. This year I have missed a lot of weekends and worked into the morning many nights. That will hopefully never change, and I know your support won't either.
Knox and Knight, my best taste testers, you are my WHY. You both inspire me daily to do better, be better and keep going.
My very tiny, perfect circle of friends. There are six women behind the curtain at Southern Willow, they help me with my mental state, share every post, tell anyone who will listen about me and talk me off my self-doubting ledge often. You will see them at parties and in pictures. They are my tribe. God bless you, I know spending hours talking about meat and cheese wasn't high on your bucket list, but you show up for me EVERY single day. I love YOU!
THANK YOU to my customers, each of you, for showing me so much support and love this year. You are making my dreams come true! I plan to nourish what I have created and grow this second year! I cant wait to see you again or meet you for the first time. Serving you has been and will always be my honor.