We had the good fortune of connecting with Elena Sullivan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elena, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
Before I address the factors behind my success, I want to discuss the concept of success. Currently “A Casarella Charcuterie” is not doing business with the public. This, to many, would not meet the definition of a successful business. The truth is that I was preparing to launch right around the time that the pandemic hit. When that happened I decided it was probably not a good time to start a business whose primary focus was communal finger food. I spent the next few months focusing on my social media, primarily Instagram, where I shared pictures of boards that I made for family or, on occasion, very close friends. Although restaurants are starting to open, my business is still in a state of limbo as I decide how I want to proceed. For now, however, “A Casarella Charcuterie” is an ever-growing Instagram account (@acasarella_charcuterie) where I inspire others who wish to create beautiful grazing trays and platters. Despite not being “open” for business in the traditional sense, I’ve been fortunate to have success in other areas: recently I appeared on Fox5 news along with Yasukochi Family Farms, showing viewers how to transform the contents of a CSA box into beautiful grazing platters. There have been other successes as well, and the one thing they all have in common is that other women are almost always behind me: cheering me on, opening doors, boosting my confidence, and so much more. I am eternally grateful to this wonderful network of women for having my back and I try to pay it forward as often as I can.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
The path to where I am right now has been… twisty. In my teens and early twenties I worked mostly in restaurants, though I also did a stint as a live-in nanny and spent a few years placing temps in downtown Chicago. I finally began my professional career in my mid-twenties as high school English teacher. I loved being a teacher—it was both challenging and rewarding—but after having children in my early thirties I left the classroom to raise them. As my girls got older and we left Illinois, I decided not to go back into the classroom. In 2012, as a New Year’s resolution, I decided to start a blog. Figuring it would last as long as all of my previous New Year’s resolutions had (i.e. one to two days), no one was more surprised than me when I stuck with it. Initially the blog, entitled, `a casarella (which means “a little house” in Italian) was meant to be a story telling vehicle. By February my readership was at about 50 people a day, several of whom might have been my mom. Then, in March, I decided to write about a craft that I was making for my next-door neighbor’s birthday. Imagine my shock when it went viral. I posted it in the morning before going on a hike. Two hours later I checked my stats to find that it had been viewed over 5,000 times. Once I determined that this was not, in fact, a mistake, I sat and refreshed my computer, watching as my stats climbed to over 24,000 page views for one day. While these are not huge numbers, especially by today’s standards, they were pretty exciting for me. Thus began a change of direction for `a casarella, the blog. It went from being a story telling vehicle, to being a blog about crafting, cooking, and eventually, decorating. I had several more viral posts and those led to opportunities like brand partnerships. Along the way I taught myself how to take better pictures and write small snippets of code. I also learned about new forms of social media as they were introduced, being one of the first users of Pinterest back when it was invitation only. In 2014 my brother, a software engineer, told me about a job working as a Social Content Manager for a start-up in the Bay Area. The job could be done remotely, and though I argued that no one would want to hire a middle aged woman with a fifteen year gap in her resume, he insisted that the work I had done on my blog more than qualified me for the position. He was right. I worked for that company for almost a year, until, like many start-ups, it ran out of venture capital funding. During that year I had not touched my blog. Between the job and the kids I was too busy to keep up with it. When the job ended, I wrote a few posts here and there before stopping altogether and focusing on social media, mostly instagram, as my love for photography had only grown during this time. When my friend Mel encouraged me to start selling my charcuterie boards I decided to name the business “A Casarella Charcuterie” as I already had a number of social media handles bearing the name, which I love. The creativity which I once poured into my blog was easily channeled into this new venture, making me feel right at home in this space.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Obviously all visits include a trip—okay, several trips—to the beach, usually in Del Mar. I also love taking visitors to Little Italy which is small, but has a whiff of authenticity to it (and some delicious food)! Another place I like, which some might consider a bit kitschy, is Old Town. I especially enjoy taking family from the East Coast and Midwest. They appreciate watching tortillas being made from the sidewalk or learning about the history of early settlers in San Diego. Encinitas and North Park are both great walkable neighborhoods with fun restaurants and shopping. (Of course I’m talking about pre-Covid.) Liberty Station is another enjoyable destination, especially the Public Market. Finally there’s Coronado. It’s always nice to bring visitors to the Hotel Del.
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?
As I mentioned earlier, the biggest factor in my success has been other women cheering me on, and by far the loudest cheer in that crowd has come from my dear friend, Mel Krogman. Mel is the kind of person you want in your corner. If she believes in you, you have no choice but to believe in yourself. When I began bringing grazing platters and charcuterie boards to neighborhood parties Mel was insistent that I could—or rather that I *should*—start selling them. As a professional saleswoman herself, she saw opportunities and potential where I (initially) did not. Everyone needs a “Mel” in their life and I am profoundly grateful for mine.