We had the good fortune of connecting with Amber Shell and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Amber, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I believe it was Albert Einstein, who once said, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that is not what a ship was built for”. I grew up in a small country town, where life moves at a slower pace. No matter how nice it would be to be home for every holiday, not have to travel hours and hours to see friends and family, I wanted more than what my hometown could offer. I wanted to see new things, and explore my options. If I hadn’t made the leap to leave, I would not be the same human being I am today. Each decision I have made so far, has led me to make even bigger riskier ones, and I am that much happier for it. All of our choices have varying levels of risk and reward ratios. Some people would say that I haven’t made that many risky decisions in life but we all have our own definition of risk. For some it could be as simple as walking across a busy street, or as crazy as jumping out of an airplane for a thrill. Driving to work, not knowing if we are going to get into a car accident, is just one example of many choices that we make each day, that all hold their own level of risk whether we acknowledge it or not. I believe that when we actively choose the road less taken, the risk is obviously greater.

The most memorable “risks” I have taken over the years, could pretty much be summed up into moving to new places, and trying new things. With each move, growth and adaptability had to take place within myself. I had to jump out of my comfort zone, but every time I did, I was rewarded with a new perspective, new friends, new environments, and new skills. I moved to Chico for college, not knowing a soul, terrified that I had to make all new friends who I now call my bests. I moved to Santa Rosa for a new job, where I had to start over, building myself a new community too. It was there that I really honed my skills as a cake decorator and got into the events industry. Ironically, the hardest move of all was to the place I had always longed to be, near the ocean. I had to start over once again. My life as I knew it had fallen apart due to a long term relationship ending and I needed a fresh atmosphere. A family friend was looking for an events assistant in San Diego and I hopped on the opportunity.

For me, personally, it felt like the riskiest thing I had ever done. Moving to yet another new, EXPENSIVE place, with no friends or family close by even though I knew they were a phone call away, I still felt incredibly lonely. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do something on my own and make decisions based on my needs and desires, not anyone else’s. This was right at the beginning of my divorce, in the middle of trying to sell my house and during a time when I was quite broken mentally and emotionally, To be honest, that decision has been the most rewarding of all. It has pushed me to be more assertive, discerning, and less passive about my life’s purpose.

I am sure this goes without saying but finding love after heartache, is also another risk I can now say that I firmly believe in. You risk your heart breaking again and again but when you land the one that just gets you, it makes all the grief worth it.
Ilya, my partner in life and in business, is no stranger to risk. He came to California at the age of 19, from Russia, where life was very different than it is here. He had to leave everything he knew behind, but he persevered. This country was full of opportunities and freedom that he would never have back there. His mother risked it all to come here on her own and make a better life for her, her son, and her mother. If she hadn’t, he wouldn’t be here today. He has not taken one day for granted here either. He has worked so hard, to be here and to stay here, and continues to do so. For him, life was so hard growing up that he never wants to feel like that again.

Both of us had a lot more time on our hands due to being laid off from our “normal” jobs. So we took a risk at the beginning of Covid and opened up an Amazon business to see if we could figure out how to navigate the e-commerce world. Months later, we found out that it is a lot harder than we thought and we had lost so much money. We can optimistically say that we learned a lot but the reward was definitely less than our expectation. When we found out that we would not be seeing a profit for a long time, we had to pivot fast and decided to stick with something we were both good at; being creative. We started our picnic and events business in the middle of the pandemic, hoping to make ends meet at the time. It turned out to be a good move! People wanted to safely celebrate milestones or just get out of the house and we could help them do that!

The greatest risk reaps the biggest reward. Not always. You win some, you lose some. But if you have the courage to take that leap of faith, it feels really good when it works out, even better than you had hoped. All those small decisions you make each day lead to the big ones that change your life. You’ll never know what can happen if you don’t take that chance. Do you want to remain safe in your harbor? I don’t think that is what we are built for.

Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
It all started when Ilya and I met a few years ago, in San Diego, and became friends pretty quickly. We both were in similar industries at the same time. I was working at a bakery and he was working at a restaurant. We ended up dating and even traveled to Greece together in the first 6 months. I was in the “seize the day” part of my life after moving to San Diego, and once I met him, it never stopped.

After staying up late so many nights, even though we both had work in the morning, working on projects together, talking about our dreams, especially when it felt like that is all they will ever be, we moved in together. A week later, Covid struck the U.S. and we were laid off from our respective jobs at the time. We were going to be spending A LOT more time together. We were scared about finances of course, scared of the unknown, scared of the what-ifs, and we still are. But we took a few deep breaths, danced on the kitchen counters, made exquisite homemade crepes for dinner, and got ourselves a steamer to sanitize everything that came into our new home. It was a wild time. We have never had so much time on our hands. We learned even more about each other, enjoyed every second of it and made use of all the extra ticks on the clock.

When we realized this was going to be longer than a month or two, we started to research how to set up an e-commerce Amazon business and tried to rack our creative brains on how to make ends meet when the government assistance wasn’t really cutting it. We tried selling some pretty awesome resin tables that we made, thinking it could lead to cool future, but they are still sitting in storage. They are available if anyone wants to check them out on Facebook Marketplace!

Amazon was a lot harder than we ever thought it would be. It took months to get up and running, hundreds of hiccups, and a few thousand dollars later. It is definitely meant for a long term profit rather than quick and easy money. Check out our cool “LushPRO” electric wine opener on there if you’re interested!

After the first nine months of setbacks, we decided that giving our time and creativity to something closer to our hearts felt more authentically Us. We both had cake and catering experience, and I had been involved with events for the last 10 years or so. I had taken a few things I had learned from my friend Angela, (who had hired me to do some similar types of things, when I first got to San Diego), and a little money we had left, and invested it into a website and some inventory to throw small outdoor picnics at picturesque locations around San Diego.

It was meant to be something somewhat small to bring in a little money while we were struggling, but we didn’t want to say “No” to anything that came our way, That led us to making more tables, purchasing more inventory, and us having enough pillows to set up our own Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

If we didn’t have a color or theme that someone asked for, we still did a little savvy shopping to make it work, to make people happy and keep the jobs coming in. With more inventory came the need for more storage and business expenses. We were taking on larger jobs up to 60 guests and knew we needed more space and a bigger vehicle. We sold my SUV that we were using and bought a new large van that could hold half of our inventory while the other half is in storage,

The biggest struggle with this business is getting to the items you need for each event, when space is limited, but we make it work. We are in a 3rd floor apartment which also has its own set of challenges. Setting up takes on average, an hour for smaller events and up to four hours for larger events. Then there’s the cleanup which takes about the same amount of time to pack up, not including the cleaning of linens and dishes! This business is not for the faint of heart. Hauling inventory up and down stairs, hills, and in and out of vehicles is all hard work. But the results are worth it! Everything looks so good when we’re done! The clients are happy, everyone has great memories that will last a lifetime, we can pay our bills and feel good about what we do. The best part is, people are out enjoying nature, in a gorgeous setting, without having to lift a finger.

We get to choose our own schedule which helps if we have a trip planned. However, working for yourself has it’s own caveats. We don’t have anyone paying into medical benefits, or social security, or a 401k. We can’t count on a steady income…YET, and we always question everything we do. It sometimes feels terrifying but keeping a positive and optimistic attitude really helps.

We know what it is like to be on a budget but still want to do something fun and extraordinary. With San Diego’s skyline as the backdrop, and our almost perfect weather all year round, you can’t get much better. We want everyone’s experience to be flawless so we go the extra mile to make everyone feel like they are getting that carefree experience. I have always loved throwing parties, and I love the reaction on people’s faces when they realize that the set up they are seeing for the first time is for them. Don’t get me started on the proposals and weddings! We get to witness and be a part of some of the very biggest, best moments of people’s lives and it is truly the best feeling making someone’s day.

We know we’re not the first and definitely not the last that have dreamed this concept up. Outdoor picnics and parties are always a good idea, even more so here in San Diego. I do think that there are a few things that set us apart from others. We can accommodate quite the large group, all the way up to 60 people. We are not afraid to do some heavy lifting and cleaning when it comes to setting up and cleaning up. We have almost every color scheme available for clients that might not want the typical neutral boho scheme. We can do more than just a picnic too! We can do florals, weddings, elopements, custom backdrops, custom signage, full party and event planning, and even cakes. We also have many contacts and vendors that we go through to bring a whole party to life. If you want just a tablescape, we can do that. If you want a picnic, umbrella, backdrop, cotton candy machine, beverage cart, bounce house, photographer and drone footage, we can do that too! With all of our experience and craftiness, Suite and Sea, can put together quite the event. We have a plethora of location suggestions, vendors that we love to work with, and our styling and staging for anything from picnics to photoshoots and elopements is top notch. We are always looking at ways we can grow into a larger full service event company while still maintaining budget friendly pricing.

Suite and Sea, got it’s name because we don’t want to be just considered a picnic company. We have bigger and bolder dreams and this is just the kindling on the bonfire. By the way, we do those too! The definition of Suite is a group of things forming a unit or constituting a collection. We put together “Suites” anywhere we are permitted to do so, whether that be a bonfire on the beach, a picnic in the park, a kid’s birthday party in your own backyard, wedding arches, baby or bridal shower backdrops and photozones. We can even decorate your vacation home or your own for the holidays.

What we love about this job is we get to do something different every day. It cannot possibly be monotonous and we get to hang out in the most beautiful places. When we set up an event, we actually don’t go home. During the event we might run an errand, but usually we will hang out in the vicinity of the event because gas is quite pricey when you’re driving a large van and we want to be available in the instance that our clients need anything or decide to leave a little earlier than planned.

It has taken a lot of frustration, and hard work to get to this point. But we are not even close to being done. We were able to start doing this full time, but we want to keep growing so we can save for a house and give back to the community that has kept us in business. We know that this is just the beginning of a big adventure and we cannot wait to see what enfolds!

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well this is an easy one. We live in the best area for sightseeing and we recently had both of our parents in town visiting for a week!

Ilya is the best chef when it comes to breakfast, so we don’t have to go far from our own kitchen for a morning feast. When we do go out for breakfast or brunch, we love to show our friends and family some of the unique spots like Morning Glory downtown, S3 Coffee Bar on Mission Gorge, or a hidden gem like Caroline’s Cafe in La Jolla, near Scripps. We like to pair our coffee with a gorgeous ocean view or a fun artistic environment.

Since we eat a little later we tend to not bother with lunch as often, and more than likely we are off somewhere walking around seeing the beauty that San Diego has to offer. We might grab a snack or a sandwich wherever we might be at the moment. Just a little over a week ago, we went to go see Balboa Park, which can take all day! We walked the Japanese Friendship Garden over there, which we were looking at as a potential wedding venue. We explored all the artists at Spanish Village, heard a free concert at the Organ Pavilion and checked out the Prado for lunch al fresco, overlooking the beautiful Casa del Rey Moro Garden.

Picking a spot for dinner or drinks is so difficult when there are so many great places to go. For happy hour we like to go to Coasterra for coconut margaritas, and ceviche. For dinner with one of the best views in town Island Prime, C-Level, or Il Fornaio in Coronado are all great options for that skyline city view to impress. For some really good food downtown, Barbusa’s squash blossoms are to die for. Born and Raised has quality steak and we can’t forget Nolita Hall with that gorgeous lush Instagram-worthy patio. We had to look for a few dog friendly places with a view too since my parents had brought their new rescue. Since we had been by to Paradise Point looking for a potential wedding venue as well, we discovered that they had an upscale restaurant, by the name of Tidal, with quite the large patio and a view to the bay. We had an aloha themed menu on the patio with plenty of heaters and ambiance one evening, and my parent’s dog, Bobby, was able to join in the fun.

One of the most interesting things we did was visit the Safari Park in Escondido. It was a bit of a drive but such a cool interesting thing to do for a day trip somewhere. Where else can you go and see wild animals so up close and personal and also in more of a natural habitat? Not only is that place interesting to see, you feel like you’re walking through the Swiss Family Robinson’s treehouse at times with all of the buildings covered in natural elements and tons of lush tropical forestry. We were even able to go up in their 10 minute hot air balloon ride at 400 feet to see the entire park from an aerial view! I would definitely go back!

We made another day trip to see the USS Midway. Let me tell you, unless you are prepared to walk 5 miles, and spend an entire day there, you cannot see the ship in it’s entirety. It is THAT large. It was pretty neat to see where the crew slept and how they lived. There is something for everyone on that ship! The flight deck at the top, has a few planes you can climb inside. You can tour the barracks, see the higher ranked officer accommodations, ready rooms and more. There’s arcade games, a movie theater that explains some of the history of the aircraft, a cafe, and even alcoholic beverages you can enjoy out on the patio overlooking the iconic Unconditional Surrender, AKA “The Kissing Statue”. Personally, what I loved the most was the volunteer vets everywhere you looked, offering a plethora of information that you might not hear on the audio tour. You could hear the pride in their voices when they spoke of the history behind the ship and all of the important tasks and duties that had to happen to make that metal island run. It was much more memorable than I expected.

If we want a fun little jaunt and some great people watching, we head over to the boardwalk in Mission and Pacific beach. We bike from our place in Mission Valley to the boardwalk and back quite often since there is a great path that borders the water all along Mission Bay. Walking along the boardwalk, popping into Beach House for a drink, sand between your toes and a perfect seat for a sunset is one of our favorite spots. Lahaina’s is also a more low key spot to hang. If we’re wanting to party, PB Shore Club is definitely the place to hit. Slushies and the second floor outdoor view is always a good time.

Walking along La Jolla Cove is a really great free experience too! You get a great view, some adorable seals and sea lions within reaching distance (look but don’t touch!), and even some sea caves you can explore, one of which is right near the Children’s Pool. The seals and sea lions bask right there and swim right next to beach goers. We visited the Sunny Jim Cave at the Cave Store in La Jolla too, for an interesting encounter with an old smuggling cave. 145 shallow steps lead to a small wooden deck where the mouth of the cave opens up. You’ll want to take a breath of the cool ocean air before heading back up!

Coronado is another stunning place to walk around. The homes are always so well manicured, neighborhoods are quiet, and the Hotel Del is a rad spot to check out even if you just walk around the historical hotel. The hotel boasts multiple places you can dine or drink outside, the inside architecture is beautifully maintained with a lot of vintage flair, and the beach always has a little food truck or sand artists that wow you with their impermanent artistry. Our other favorite spot to show our friends is the little beach by Twin Trees Scenic Lookout. The city skyline at night across the water is by far one of the prettiest views we have ever seen. This view of the city can be seen very well from Il Fornaio in Coronado too. Last but not least, our all time favorite gelato place, is Gelato Paradiso. So many delicious flavors to choose from and you can pick up to four for one cup! I cant make up my mind so this is a lifesaver.

The best thing about our business, is we have everything we need to pull off a comfortable, economical and beautiful experience if we want to! We can set up our own bonfire on the beach, with slingback chairs, wood or propane burning firepits, s’mores, and blankets, or we can set up a delectable charcuterie and cheese grazing board with a luxe picnic, pillow seating and decor for an outdoor affair to remember. Cuvier Park, Windandsea, South Mission Beach and La Jolla Shores are some of our favorite spots to frequent. Ilya even proposed to me above Scripps Pier in the La Jolla area!

Overall, we never tire of this city and everything it has to offer. We always have an adventure every time we leave the house!

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
We are so lucky to have both of our families and friends in our corners always cheering us on, which is really helpful when we feel like everything is falling apart or when we have a slow week. Knowing that we have their support always, is such a mental and emotional life preserver that we can hang on to. Ilya’s dad has been instrumental in the forming of this business as well. He has a garage and tools that we use all the time to build our tables, backdrops, arches, and more. We could never have opened up our business without his help, guidance, and support.

Carl and Melina Zeitsen are the sweetest people who definitely were accommodating with my schedule and always there with encouragement even when they knew that I might step away from my cake decorating job with them, when the business took off. They gave us a glimpse of what it might look like working with my significant other 17 years into the future. Their relationship has a lot to do with us continuing to do what we love. Believe it or not, even just a few encouraging words here and there, even from random strangers, make us feel like we are really on the right track.

I would also love to give a huge shoutout to Angela Cordoni. She took a chance on me at a vulnerable time in my life. She gave me a place to live, taught me multiple things in the short time I worked for her as her event assistant, and showed me around San Diego, amongst other things. She showed me what’s possible with hard work and fantastic customer service. I would not be in San Diego without her giving me a fantastic opportunity to get off my feet and become independent.

Of course, we cannot forget to acknowledge everyone that has booked their events with us so far. Trusting us with your special milestones is the only way our small business survives! We thank you all for your your support!

Website: www.suiteandsea.com

Instagram: @suiteandsea

Facebook: www.facebook.com/suiteandsea

Yelp: http://m.yelp.com/biz/suite-and-sea-san-diego

Other: Business Phone Number: 530-717-0716

Image Credits
1st photo with the two of us and our setup. Jessica Beamon Photography (photo cred) 6th photo is of me behind our picnic setup. Erica Brown (photo cred) Last photo Jessica Beamon Photography (photo cred) All other photos are taken by me.

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutSocal is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here