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Jeannie Uyanik On Modern Wedding Planning And Catering To Ambitious Brides

People

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 Uyanik

Before 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!

5 Min Read
Featured

Judge Tanya Acker On Overcoming Racial Barriers And Her Rise To The Top

You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life.

The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.

“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.

Shaping Her Career

Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.

"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.

“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."

After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.

As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.

How Did Acker Become A Judge?

In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."

Judge Acker in white pantsuit with her dog. Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.

Acker's Time Away From Home

Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.

Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."

She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.

“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."

“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."

Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."

Overcoming Racial Barriers

As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.

At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.

Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker

The Power Of Self-awareness

“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."

Know Your Support System

“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."

Learn From Your Experiences

“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.

“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.

Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.

This article was originally published May 15, 2019.