The competition was tough. Last year, Lauren “Daisy” Lewellyn beat out thousands of applicants to win a slot on The Learning Channel’s reality show Dinner Takes All. The show’s premise was simple: Throw a dinner party for four strangers in your home and the host who throws the best soiree pockets $1,000. Contestants were awarded points based on food, presentation, and entertainment. Though Lewellyn came in second, the contest changed her life and enabled her to nearly double her income in less than a year.
When guests arrived at Lewellyn’s three-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, they found a “Summer in the City” complete with a lemonade stand, a candy bar, and a dessert bar with several choices. “Instead of one appetizer, I had six,” says the 27-year-old Howard University graduate, whose favorite was the grass popper bites (battered chicken on a wooden bamboo skewer on wheat grass).
“The dinner party was perfect because it combined everything I love,” says Lewellyn. During production she says the producer and director would pull her off to the side to give her compliments. “The camera crew said my personality was made for television, but I was just being myself.” The experience opened her eyes.
She says she took time off from work as an accessories editor at Essence,where she was clocking 12-hour days, and, after a vacation, came back with a plan. “I decided I was too stressed working that hard to build someone else’s name,” says Lewellyn. Her experience on the TV show made her embrace her love for event planning and television. After praying on the matter, she quit her job in September and began a freelance career as an event planner and a fashion, beauty, and lifestyle expert. At the time, she was earning $56,000. But to help matters, she had a low credit card balance and about $9,000 in her portfolio.
To make the transition, Lewellyn notified her professional contacts about her job change. The week after she left her job she was offered several gigs: among them, one as a TV commentator for a fashion segment, one for event planning, two for public relations, one as a fashion consultant, and one as a stylist. She accepted what her demanding schedule would allow, invoicing $5,000 in six days.
But not every week was so lucrative. One week she received a check for $310 for a day’s work and that was it. Other weeks she made nothing, but took every opportunity to expand her business, whether or not she was paid. That’s a lesson she learned early in her career, when she met Preston Bailey, the famed go-to party planner for Oprah Winfrey and other celebrities. After a brief chat, she volunteered to work as an apprentice at one of his million-dollar weddings at the Waldorf-Astoria. “I did grunt work, but I did it with a smile on my face and because of that, even today, Preston is an awesome reference.”
Prior to her career change, Lewellyn had $750 in savings, which is nothing compared to her