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Rosinne Chlala is the co-owner of Festivities, a catering and event planning company in Norwalk, Connecticut. The weddings and other events she was working on for March, April, and May have all been postponed.
We are in the celebration business. We plan, design, and cater many kinds of events, from large-scale weddings, galas, and bar mitzvahs to small, intimate parties. During the 36 years we have been in business, we have seen the marketplace change several times. But this is very different because this is so economically challenging for every industry.
Our March, April, and May events have all been postponed. Thankfully no outright cancellations, and we have worked with our venues and creative partners to find new dates. The challenge is going to come in September when we have all the May weddings and all of the September weddings in one month.
How hard is this? You have been planning your wedding for a year, with every detail playing out in your mind. And now, something that you can’t even comprehend has entered the picture: a silent virus. So we move quickly to find solutions. One of our brides was getting married on a beautiful farm in Dutchess County, New York in May. Everybody would be flying in. Her parents are in Illinois, and guests are coming from several different states. Her dad is a doctor and, of course, concerned. When we spoke about all the concerns, I advised her to postpone. “This is such a wonderful celebration, and we want everyone to be happy to be there, and not have your father worried,” I said. She agreed. There were no tears. She found another date with her venue, and now she’s planning for fall decor instead. She’s excited about that. Life is about attitude.
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For another bride, who was more hesitant, I advised her with this: “We want everyone to be really celebrating that day. If it means postponing it, then you postpone. The other option is to get married on the date you planned, and you have a party later. The story becomes part of your history. It’s a story you can tell your children.”
We have never experienced this situation, and it’s so hard to make these decisions. However, it is a time to be wise and thoughtful. If you were to continue, and even if your friends and family venture out, their concerns will outweigh their joy. It’s a time to really take everybody into consideration and say, “If I’ve invited them to witness our joy, I want them to be joyful.”
We’re a boutique company. My brother and I own it together, and we have a small, in-house, core team. We’re not calling in any of our part-time team to keep our footprint as tight as possible.
Cash flow is tight, and as a catering business with a liquor license, our expenses are high — high insurances of every kind, including business and health. Our team has children and mortgages and health insurance issues. We feel a deep responsibility to our team, most of whom have been with us for over 20 years.
I don’t know whether we’re Pollyanna about it, but I just feel that we’re going to get through this somehow. We’re going to get through it because we’re going to make good choices, not because I have my head in the sand. I’m looking into refinancing our credit line. I’m looking into different ways to not spend money that won’t affect our business.
We’re just on hold, but we’re on hold in a very creative process. I set up my dining room at home for work. I call it my abundance room. I’m just sitting there doing all my work I never get to. This is a time to work on the business rather than in the business.
We were looking at the marketplace and asking, “What do our customers need from us right now? What can we do differently?” A lot of parents now are basically homeschooling — nobody has time to cook. So we are preparing and delivering really healthy dinners that please all members of the family. Along with our regular menu, we’re doing a weekly menu from a spring vacation spot. If you couldn’t get to the Caribbean, we’re doing a Caribbean week. We’re doing a Mexico week. We’re doing Florida week. If you can’t get there, we’re going to bring it to you. We’re going to keep it fun.
Today, we started working on something we’re calling Teachable Moments. We’re going to do a series of classes online, six or seven-minute videos of recipes and little tidbits that can make every day and everything you do at home a celebration. For adults, we’ll do interesting recipes. For kids, we’re going to show them how to set a table, how to make a healthy snack, how to bake cookies. We want to explore the question of how do we spend our time at home and really make it special? We’ll send those out on YouTube, in newsletters, Instagram, IGTV, LinkedIn. We want to create a sense that we’re in this together, and that we can be creative even though we’re nervous.
I spent 10 years in the Middle East. For five of them, I was in Beirut, where I was the features editor for a daily English newspaper. I’ve lived in the desert. I lived through war in Lebanon. I’ve been sequestered before. I had no phone, no TV, no car, and I had a bitty baby. I promised myself that I would not allow my day to be just restless wandering, that I’d be creative. I learned how to bake and decorate cakes. I read books. I macraméd. I made a promise to myself that my day would not go by without learning something new. We’re bringing that attitude to our business, and I’m excited about that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.