We had the good fortune of connecting with Melissa Santell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Melissa, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
When you hear the word “risk” the forever cliche “no risk, no reward” generally comes to mind. The phrase is a permanent resident in my head and it’s squatted there for as long as I can remember. You probably can’t put your finger on where you heard it first, or who said it to you, but what it actually means is: you have to be ready to fail in order to succeed. At least, that’s what it means to me. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in business and in life, is the moment you acknowledge failure as an opportunity is the moment you become capable of being the best you. When you stop getting hung up on what’s not working and start focusing on creating solutions, you strike mental gold. It’s the kind of self-love magic that drips into every crevice of who you are and beams out of your skin like sunlight. And as it directly applies to this question, it gives you the delicious freedom to take risks. No permission required. It was a steamy July morning when I woke up, stretched my arms to the sky and decided to move to New York City. I packed everything I owned into my tiny blue Scion Tc, convinced a friend to make the 22-hour drive with me and journeyed into the unknown. I could have arrived there and turned right back around before hitting the Midtown Tunnel. Instead, I chose to make a series of sacrifices that changed my life (living with a Craigslist stranger, being jobless, moving to a huge new city with hardly any friends, just to name a few). If I had never taken that risk I wouldn’t have landed my dream job in the food space. I would have never tasted, explored, survived and been molded by every experience the city gifted me. And I likely would have never gained the confidence I needed in order to start my photography + branding company, FoodxFeels. P.S. If you think love makes you do crazy things, try starting your own business. It’s the most restless, rewarding, inspiring, wild, unequivocal adventure you can conjure up. While my chapter in New York has come to a close, it’s a powerful example of how a single decision can impact your path. Sometimes risks mean falling on your ass a million times before you get “it” right. Whatever your “it” may be. Other times risks give you the tools and stamina to achieve your goals. I wrote and published a cookbook in the middle of a pandemic. If you’re reading this, take the risk. Do the thing. There’s beauty in dedicating yourself to creating your dream life and embracing every challenge, fear and mistake along the way. I hope you find it.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I’m a native New Yorker with a taste for bringing ideas to life – in the kitchen and at the office. My childhood dream of becoming a food critic is a huge proponent of where I am today. While “food critic” hasn’t happened for me yet, I’ve created my own reality that involves: eating, working side by side with chefs and helping food brands stand out in a highly saturated market. As an independent culinary brand consultant and photographer, I’ve established myself as an industry pro with an overwhelming passion for food, entrepreneurship and capturing moments behind the lens of my Fujifilm camera. With an eclectic background built on luxury hospitality marketing and agency life, brands leverage me for my creative storytelling skills. I love helping brands express their personalities by unearthing what makes them unique and translating it into relatable, strategic messaging and imagery. From working with corporate brands like Welches to directing marketing programs for award-winning catering and event companies, I deliver magical solutions for food concepts of all shapes and sizes. If you asked me about my favorite professional wins, I’d tell you that being named Tampa Bay Business Journal’s 30 under 30, conducting secret R&D at Michelin Star restaurants and repping my clients on WFLA News Channel 8 influences me to reach my highest potential. Every. Damn. Day. Getting to this point in my career wasn’t easy, but it comes naturally to me in a way that’s hard to explain. I just feel like I’m where I’m meant to be — and I think my clients would say the same.
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?
Tampa has grown into a culinary hot spot and I couldn’t be more proud. My favorite restaurants in the city are Oak & Ola, Cru Cellars, Rocca, The Barterhouse, Rome + Fig Bistro and Counter Culture. If I had to name my go-to hangout spots, I’d say: Davis Island park for a little waterside escape, working + sipping at Buddy Brew Coffee, exploring Tampa Museum of Art, dolphin watching on Bayshore Boulevard, happy hour at Hotel Bar or Fly Bar, brunch at Oxford Exchange and digging into the closest vintage resale shop.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shoutout to: the entire culinary team at Neuman’s Kitchen for showing me the luxury food ropes in Manhattan, daily TED Talks for endless motivation, the Marketing Posse for giving me the opportunity to work alongside corporate giants like PepsiCo + Impossible Foods, Jennifer May for inspiring me to pursue food photography (I’m eternally grateful for all that I learned from you on set!!), and of course, all of the love and support I’ve received from my family during my entrepreneurial journey.
Kait Clarke Fotobohemia