Weddings require enough organizing to daunt even the most competent of planners, and many modern day women just don’t have the time to put their everything into wedding prep. With full-time jobs, classes, and other commitments to manage, they’ve got more than a venue, dream dress, and floral arrangement to worry about. This is where professional planners come in, Founder of C&G Weddings, Jeannie Uyanik, being the best of the best.
An elaborate reception at Cipriani 42nd Street by Jeannie UyanikBefore founding her firm, Uyanik founded true love with her own sweetheart, Alpert Uyanik. She recalls meeting him in Turkey, though a bit of memory mix-up is involved as he thinks they met in Turkey three months earlier than she does. Regardless of when the couple actually first met, their blossoming romance led them to an engagement and the need to plan one of the biggest days of their lives. “I was supposed to be planning my wedding while getting my MBA [in finance], and I didn’t want to do anything,” she admits. “I hadn’t dreamt about my dress or my wedding. I wanted something fun and beautiful and breathtaking, but I didn’t care about anything else.” Uyanik decided to get in touch with three major wedding planners at that time and was left sorely disappointed. Rather than speaking directly to Uyanik about the financial side of wedding planning, they skirted around that topic, saving it for her mother. “What I wanted to say to this women in 1999 when I was sitting in her office was ‘I am here, I have a right to be here, and I have a right to be spoken to’—this isn’t the ‘let the parents plan your wedding’ generation anymore.”
Uyanik’s firm’s name originally was Cap and Gown Weddings, to “reflect women getting graduate degrees,” since Uyanik herself was in the thick of that arduous process when she tied the knot. It has since been shortened to C&G Weddings, but carries the same meaning.
“I would say the key to our success is referral. We don’t advertise, we don’t do marketing—it’s all word of mouth, both from vendors and venues to clients.”
The wedding guru, Jeannie Uyanik
Although referral is now C&G’s recipe for success, when they first got off the ground, they had no one to refer them, leaving them with planning pro bono as their sole option. “Starting a wedding business doesn’t require capital,” she explains. “It started out in my apartment, we were all willing to not get paid—I was in finance doing well for a pretty young kid and I had a great job. The opportunity cost was fun for a month or two.” The fun wore off and difficulties emerged, Uyanik turning to Google Adwords to obtain clients for a while. When the client pool was shallow, she did not sit around and wait for opportunities to come knocking on her door, she put in the work. “I went everywhere, I met everyone, I saw every venue there was,” she says. “I spent a year—when bridal magazines like New York Wedding were critical—going through every page, pulling the ads, reading the backs...it was gorilla bridal warfare 101.” Now her company can do 35-85 weddings in a mere year—an extraordinary leap, made possible because of Uyanik’s unyielding determination.
When it comes to acquiring clientele, Uyanik does not take the modern approach of promoting via the social media platforms that have saturated our society. “I don’t have any social media presence,” she reveals. “This morning before 9am I talked to seven clients. I don’t have time to take pictures, but poll any of my forty clients and they’ll tell you I’m always five minutes away.” Uyanik believes a larger firm could effectively utilize social media because they’d have the ability to hire people for that purpose alone, but much of the wedding content posted online seems “superfluous” and “vapid,” which Uyanik does not wish to contribute to.
“A lot of my company and the trajectories we’ve made as a firm are based on how I wanted to be a mom. I don’t know how I did it, I think part of it is that, I can only speak as an entrepreneur in a sense, and when I started out I never really thought of myself as one, the one commonality is that you will not accept failure. You will not accept giving up and there’s always a way to make something work. And also, get over it. People have done harder things.”
As far as the evolution of the wedding industry itself, Uyanik recognizes a few notable changes that occurred over her 20 years in the business, one being financial. In this day and age, weddings are often extravaganzas marked by dollar signs and fancy destinations. “I'm fascinated by the fact that if you look back in the 1950s, 95% of people did not hire a florist,” she says. “The idea of hiring a florist was ridiculous. Most people were putting together weddings that were small and intimate. So this whole wedding industry really didn't get its game on until the 80s and I mean, we're not talking about $100,000 anymore we're talking about hundreds of hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Uyanik has also noticed a shift back to moms being engaged in the process of wedding planning. “When I was getting married, women were starting to really be busy, and a lot of them had moms who worked,” she says. “20 years later, what I'm seeing is a little bit different. A lot of moms aren't working and their daughters are insanely busy in a very different way. So you're seeing a return to parents being super super involved and I think that's generational. Doing everything and wanting the kids to be happy.”
So how does Uyanik feel about working with not only brides, but with their mothers? She loves it, describing it as a “joy” and a “pleasure.” If they are reasonable and genuinely want her advice, she is happy as a clam to help out.
What gives her an edge is her honesty when it comes to planning the wedding that will be uniquely perfect for a particular bride. She speaks to her clients as she’d want to be spoken to, raising red flags when she sees them instead of turning a blind eye and hoping they don’t regret their decisions the day of. “Sometimes I say things that throw people off,” she admits. “‘I'm not sure this makes sense for you, but…’” With honesty comes trust, Uyanik of the belief that chemistry with her clients is paramount—nearly 20 years of experience has taught her that.
“I had a conversation with the mother of the bride this morning. Who, when she first hired me she said, ‘I've thrown all three of my kids Bar Mitzvahs, I throw parties all the time. I really don't need this, but I have a busy year coming up.’ I love this woman because she trusts me. So even though she has all her own ideas, when I say stop you need to listen to me for a second, she not only listens, she thinks about it. I love her because she's someone who is willing to release control.”A typical week for Uyanik doesn’t exist, her schedule ever-changing due to her inability to control how many new clients will show interest in her firm. When a sea of prospective clients rushes in to inundate Uyanik, her day(s) get a little more hectic. “[Prospective clients] want to move fast,” she explains. “They want information fast—either they have been just engaged and they're really excited, or they're terrified that they've been engaged for a month and it's too late now.” Uyanik has to move swiftly, as her firm’s policy promises a proposal sent out to prospective clients within 24 business hours of the request. “I started [the policy] when I had zero children and no clients, and that seemed like a great idea...people loved it,” she says. “Now I wish I could take that back, but I'm not going to. It's great because usually if someone's going hire us, they hire us pretty quickly.”
Not everything can be picture perfect. Uyanik remembers when things went sideways because of a catering company hiring a new chef, but luckily crisis was averted thanks to Uyanik. “Frankly, I think that that is a testament to my involvement because I'm playing a very big role in making sure that the expectations are managed,” she notes. “I know exactly what I’m dealing with within 20 minutes of talking to someone. If someone tells me they want it to be really elegant and simple, that tells me 5,000 things.”
Bringing brides the memorable weddings they deserve is not all Uyanik does, she supports her husband in his spontaneous food ventures as well. “My husband was on a walkabout—he’s literally obsessed with the neighborhood—I have never walked about in my life, I don’t have time. I'm hosting Labor Day Monday and he comes in and says, ‘Hey guys, there's a wood-burning oven that's beautiful in a store for rent on 116th.’” Upon first opening the businesses in Harlem, about four years ago, Uyanik and her husband had found themselves in a neighborhood devoid of great pizza—a NY staple. The oven that caught Uyanik’s husband’s eye was like golden treasure, spurring him into suggesting they open up their own pizza place with the help of an experienced executive chef who previously worked at esteemed restaurants such as Nobu. And that’s how Harlem Pizza Co. was born, to be followed by a burger joint called Harlem Burger Co, both satiating customers’ comfort-food cravings.
From planning weddings and running restaurants to raising kids and doling out wedding-planning wisdom with her radio show “The Event Jeannie,” Uyanik has proven herself to be an inimitable woman with a work ethic that should be emulated. If you have a wedding to plan, who you gonna call? C&G Weddings!
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.