Sunday, December 13, 2015

Aroha's New Years Eve Menu & Our Special Announcement!

I can't believe in just a few weeks 2015 will be coming to a close! This past year has been such a life changing experience for both my husband and I and I truly can't believe how far we have come.

We are so thankful for the amazing customers we've had so far at Aroha. There are so many large corporate owned restaurants that we compete with daily and as a small family owned restaurant, we are beyond grateful to those of you who continue to spread the word about us and support our small business and family! We look forward to providing you with more quality food and service as we continue to grow in the Westlake Village community.

As for Aroha's New Years Eve plans...we have just released our six course 2016 Countdown Menu which offers many of my husband's most delicious dishes including the New Zealand Venison Loin with cherry gel, vanilla parsnip, pistachio, and micro licorice greens; Ceviche of Tua Tua Cloudy Bay Clams with lime, cilantro, chili, and tomato; and Jelly Tip Ice Cream with fresh berry jello, mixed berries, and house made vanilla ice cream encased in chocolate! If you would like to view the entire menu (as well as the wine pairings!), click here. We are proud to say our Countdown Menu is 100% gluten free/gluten free optional. We will also have separate available menu options for vegetarians dining with us, and, as always, if you have any specific allergies, we are happy to make changes to the dishes to meet your needs!

We will also be offering some giveaways throughout the evening, including $100 gift certificates and bottles of wines!

We hope all of you are having a wonderful holiday season thus far and look forward to spending New Years Eve with you!

On another exciting note, I would like to officially announce, with a photo and short video, the arrival of our baby boy, Bailey! He arrived in this world on October 17th and Gwith and I have been soaking up every second since.

Throughout the nine months of my pregnancy, I wrote a song for Bailey and I sang it almost every day. I'm happy to say that since he's been born, it almost always relaxes him and puts him to sleep! The video below features both the song and footage of Bailey shortly after he was born! Enjoy! ("Hey Little Baby" by Justine Thomas is available on iTunes.)

Once again, thank you everyone for your support! It means the world to us!

Reserve Now

30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2015 Aroha Restaurant.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Skinny Pregnancy

I've gone back and forth on whether to write a blog about this because it's such a sensitive subject for me, but at the end of the day, I'm hoping I can help someone else just like me because I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Let me start by saying that I've never had any eating disorders (just a lot of allergies!) and my body has always had a super fast metabolism that just can't be tamed. Since I've been an adult, I've been a primarily healthy eater and ate fish, fruits, and vegetables regularly, as well as took my daily gummy multi-vitamin. I'm allergic to gluten and dairy and my body has always had issues if I eat too much meat. I'm a light eater with a sensitive stomach and I've always done better with smaller portion sizes throughout the day (or drawn-out multiple course meals) rather than three big meals. It's always been challenging but over the years, I've managed to figure out foods that work for me...and my brilliant chef husband always finds ways to slip me extra calories with loads of olive oil and other hidden ingredients in my dishes.

June 2013 at 85 lbs
I'm 5'0 and never weighed more than 85 lbs in my life, not for lack of trying! Back in August 2013, however, I ended up with food poisoning and a stomach parasite that led to me being unable to stomach food for about five months. During this time, I dropped to 75 lbs and I was scared out of my mind. I woke up nightly panicking about my low weight and what all of the BMI information said online. I felt awful, had dizzy spells regularly, and was worried that my body was failing me.

December 2013, with my hubby and sister while I was ill at 75 lbs
However, after a round with antibiotics in January of 2014, I began to eat normally again. Of course, even so, my body, which took about four years to get from 78 lbs to 85 lbs (thanks to my chef hubby!), wasn't jumping up in weight at all. No matter what I ate, I still remained at 75 lbs. The most unhealthy part of this weight for me wasn't the weight itself in the end, it was the mindset I put myself in. Online articles would say how unhealthy my weight was and people would look at me stunned if I told them. I convinced myself I was unhealthy, despite the fact that I was now eating three healthy meals a day, with snacks in between, and on any day I didn't think about it, I felt fine. I looked thin but I didn't look frail anymore and I wasn't malnourished. I was the same weight I was when I was sick, but my body was now getting the nutrition it needed and felt fine...One of the worst parts of searching online for information was reading that women with such low BMI's can have trouble having children.

My hubby and I, at 75 lbs and healthy again, during Thanksgiving 2014
This year, I learned that BMI and health are all relative and being naturally "underweight" doesn't matter if you're taking care of yourself and getting the nutrition your body needs.

In February, my husband and I found out we were going to being having our very first child! We were instantly over the moon with excitement. Within days, I began looking up online everything I needed to do and what to expect during my pregnancy. Unfortunately, my google searching led me to all the data I longed to avoid reading - the dangers of having a low BMI during pregnancy. The thing that all of these sites leave out is that a seriously low BMI with a body you take care of and is just naturally low is vastly different than a malnourished body. First I read that having a BMI as low as mine meant trouble conceiving because your body is apparently too unhealthy. This was definitely untrue in my case. Then the articles continued with information that scared me for months. Supposedly, my chances of miscarriage were enormous or at the very least, I was destined to have a micro-premie or premie baby.

During my morning sickness, I dropped to 72 lbs and panicked daily about how I was going to gain the necessary weight this pregnancy. After all, my weight was already so "dangerously low" and now I couldn't eat again. After the first trimester passed, I began getting plenty of food cravings and eating. Still, I eat in what I call "Justine size" portions. Other people might think it was a small amount of food for a pregnant lady but I felt pretty stuffed after my meals. Over time, I started to gain weight and as the months passed, I realized all of the problems I read I'd have, weren't actually happening. In fact, as my parents and husband love to say, I was a textbook pregnancy! Every symptom I had fell in line with exactly when it was supposed to happen according to the books! When I finally found a doctor after months of searching, I went into my first appointment at 80 lbs. I was again terrified that I'd go into the doctor's office and be belittled about my weight. To my surprise, she never mentioned a thing. I looked healthy, I felt healthy, and the baby was growing fine.

This weekend, at 38 weeks and 6 days (at my final weight of 92 lbs), I gave birth to a healthy 5 lbs 14 oz baby boy. I didn't gain 40 lbs as the pregnancy websites suggest for "underweight" women but I feel and felt fantastic (other than every normal pregnancy symptom in the book and now postpartum soreness!), my baby grew perfectly well, and I feel like I'm starting this new chapter of my life with an entirely new outlook on myself and my health. What you weigh is all relative and has no true representation of how healthy your body is. How you take care of your body is what matters and don't let anyone tell you different. The key to health isn't the number on the scale, it's having a healthy mindset and taking care of yourself.

Baby Belly at 34.5 weeks, and 90 lbs!
When I first became pregnant, I searched and searched for an article about someone who was super skinny during their pregnancy and had a healthy outcome. All I found were the horror stories. I really hope now that I've written this, that anyone in a similar situation to me can now find a story that makes them feel good about themselves, their body, and their pregnancy. At the end of the day, all those articles taught me was that an unhealthy body can't cope with pregnancy. And that's how I now body is perfectly healthy. :)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Aroha Restaurant: Our One Year Anniversary, Year in Review, and Meeting Lorde!

It's hard to believe it's been a year since our restaurant's grand opening! So much has happened in these last 12 months and we have learned so much about operating a business, customer service, and most importantly, ourselves. Saying it's been an easy ride thus far would a lie. It hasn't been. It's been hard, exhausting, overwhelming, and sometimes, downright depressing. But it's been worth every moment because for all of the challenges we've faced, it's also been exciting, fun, eye-opening and at the end of the day, completely amazing.

Celebrating our one year restaurant anniversary! (Sept. 10, 2015)
The biggest challenge we've faced in the past year is our overwhelming desire to please everyone, which these past couple months, we finally realized that's not possible. You can never please everyone or cater to everyone, and as we've realized this, I feel like we've brought the restaurant back up to the level that we always intended for it, and we plan to keep it there. We've always been about providing quality food and service and quality comes at a price. It's been hard to become okay with that idea! As young business owners, even if 90% of the customers love and appreciate the restaurant's food and concept, every time the 10% come in that complain that our freerange imported New Zealand meat is too expensive and should be $20 or less, we've made the mistake of trying to rearrange the menu and pricing to cater to these individuals. Of course, being sticklers for quality, we kept the quality and still tried to meet these demands. Needless to say, that has not worked in our benefit and we certainly have paid the price for those mistakes...very literally. The fact is, we will never sacrifice the quality of our food or service and at the end of the day, we just need to keep getting visits from our amazing customers who understand that. After a year of being open, we've finally learned that this group of customers does in fact exist and we just need to focus our attention on them! We're very excited to start Year Two focused more than ever on our concept and bring more amazing creations and ideas to Aroha!

At the end of this first year, the biggest lesson we've learned is to never be afraid to follow your vision. Go with what's in your heart and eventually, people will follow. It just takes time to grow and trying to rush growth is just a recipe for disaster.

While we've been through some very challenging times, we've also had some incredible experiences that we never would've dreamed of! A couple of weeks before our grand opening last year, we were contacted by the New Zealand Consulate to host a private event for the Consulate General, Leon Grice. The event went off without a hitch and it was a fabulous way to adjust to our brand new kitchen and staff.

Gwith and I with the New Zealand Consulate General, Leon Grice.

That day was exciting for us, both professionally and personally, as Gwith and I received the surprise of a lifetime! His family flew in from New Zealand to surprise us and celebrate our restaurant's launch!

Then, shortly before opening last year, we were contacted by The Breeder's Cup Taste of the World to represent New Zealand a month after our grand opening! This opportunity was an incredible experience as we presented our venison carpaccio to celebrity chef, Bobby Flay (who absolutely loved it!), and 1,200 other guests within a three hour time window.

Gwith and I with Bobby Flay at the 2014 Breeder's Cup Taste of the World

Flash forward and we've had some great talents visit our restaurant since our opening! Within the first few months, we had visits from now regulars, Hercules actor Kevin Sorbo and Kiwi native Flight of the Concords' comedian Rhys Darby.

Gwith and I with Kevin Sorbo (Hercules)
Rhys Darby and his wife, Rosie, tweet about his experience at Aroha

During the winter of last year, we also got a visit from the New Zealand news station, Seven Sharp! The exposure we were given apparently made Gwith a celebrity back in New Zealand and thanks to this video, we've even had Kiwis fly in from New Zealand with our restaurant on their list of places to visit!

This past week, however, has blown our minds. Within our final week of our first year, we had the opportunity to cook for not one, not two, but THREE Grammy award winners! One week ago, we had the privilege of serving System of a Down's lead singer, Serj Tankien during our Friday lunch. It was wonderful to chat with him and we were ecstatic when he asked us for a photo so he could Instagram his experience! The post blew up with over 12,000 likes within the day!

Us with Serj Tankien and his Instagram post
Still over the moon about this experience, on Monday night, Gwith received and incredible phone call and opportunity from New Zealand TV personality, Brooke Howard-Smith for his charity, Cure Kids. Just two days away before the launch of their video, "Team Ball Player Thing" (a charity video and song raising money for Batten's disease featuring New Zealand musicians), he was searching for a chef to cater the LA launch party at Grammy Award winning producer Joel Little's house. Gwith seized this opportunity and on Wednesday night, we made our way there to cater the event, supplying our Cloudy Bay clams, green lipped mussels, New Zealand lamb, and the biggest hit of the party, our venison sausages from our Sunday brunch menu! The event included a large majority of the artists featured in the video, including many of my husband's favorite Kiwi bands like Six60, Kids of 88, The Naked and Famous, and Daniel Bedingfield (who happens to be the singer of our song, "If You're Not the One"). Throughout the night, as the only pregnant lady there in my third trimester, I was kept company by non other than Grammy Award winning artist, Ella Yelich-O'Connor, otherwise known as Lorde! As she ate up our food (and repeatedly made her way back to the grill for more venison sausages!), she couldn't have been any sweeter. She was constantly making sure I not only had a place to sit throughout the evening but also that I was being kept company. I truly love the essence of Kiwi culture. Everyone is so down-to-earth and truthfully, if I hadn't seen so many photos of her online and in magazines these past couple of years, I never would've known she was a celebrity.

Us at the Kiwis Cure Batten Fundraiser (Top left: Me and Lorde, Top right: Gwith and I with Six60, Bottom left: The guests watch the launch of the video, Bottom right: Gwith and Lorde)
Please support this fantastic organization and cause by sharing the video and checking out the song "Team Ball Player Thing" on iTunes. Be sure to share with the hashtags #kiwiscurebatten and #teamballplayerthing! The video features a slew of New Zealand celebrities including Peter Jackson, Rhys Darby, Bret McKenzie, Boh Runga, Brooke Fraser, Dave Dobbyn, Gin Wigmore, Kimbra, Daniel Bedingfield, Matiu Walters, Sam McCarthy, Thom Powers, Alisa Xayalith, Lorde, nine of the All Black players,  and countless others! It really is an amazing collaboration.

As we start our second year at Aroha, we can't wait to seeing what new opportunities arise! We hope this upcoming year brings joy to everyone as we continue to grow into our roles as restaurant owners and take Aroha to new heights!

Thank you everyone for all of your support this past year! It has been one wild ride and we look forward to continuing our journey with you!

Reserve Now

30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2015 Aroha Restaurant.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Our Aroha Summer & What's New on the Home Front!

Since we opened Aroha last September, our main goal was to build our customer base gradually while we learned the ropes of running a restaurant and made connections locally with the various newspapers. It was a tough experience to originally open so close to the winter months with little advertising when most people aren't in the mood to go out, and especially to try something new!

This summer though, we felt our staff and restaurant were ready for a big launch! I think the most important thing we've learned through the restaurant is that there will always be hiccups in any business. Nothing will ever be 100% perfect but timing is definitely everything. While we may still have an off day (who doesn't, right??), we now know how to work with the staff to improve any issues a lot faster.

After nearly a year of trying to begin valet parking for our restaurant, we were ecstatic in July to finally begin and thus have enough customer parking available to launch our full advertising campaign with confidence!! In the past month, we've been heavily pushing our name out on Facebook, running ads in 805 Living, The Acorn, and Beyond the Acorn. The Acorn has been fabulous to our restaurant and wrote both a review for their newspaper and an article for their magazine, discussing my husband and I.

Read the full article for Beyond the Acorn here
We've got some exciting things coming up at the restaurant in the next two months, including a new and much more extensive wine list beginning at the end of next week, an extended happy hour menu, and I'm sure my husband has a few new dishes up his sleeve! We've already added some new additions to our brunch menu and a couple new seafood salads to the lunch menu! Be sure to come in for Sunday Brunch soon to try our brand new Blueberry and House made Ricotta Pancakes, House Cured Ora King Salmon, Blackberry and Granny Smith Apple Oatmeal, and of course, New Zealand Venison Sausage (view the menu here)!

It's been exciting to see our numbers begin to jump and we are so grateful for all of the support from the community! The most challenging part is making sure my husband is there for all of the busy times now, which is a great problem to have, of course, but the timing of everything couldn't be crazier! While the restaurant continues to grow, so does my belly! With our baby due in October, Gwith has been a real trooper trying to balance everything. Every morning, he wakes up at 6 am to help me and my growing belly out of bed, before heading back to sleep (or to the supermarket if I'm craving something!) and then heading to the restaurant and returning home at 10 at night...of course, if he's not at the restaurant (he's pretty much always on the phone for the behind the scenes work though!) you can guarantee he's either at a prenatal appointment with me or organizing the house in preparation for our baby! I'd be lying if I said I wasn't in nesting mode right now and going completely crazy wanting everything to be perfect! I'm in awe of him everyday and how hard he works at home and at the restaurant for our growing family.

On the home front, we have had a busy week this week with not one, but two close friends flying in to stay with us for our baby shower on Monday! One friend is a close friend of Gwith's from New Zealand, Max, and the other is one of my best friends, Lisa, who I've only seen in person once since we were 10! We are so happy to have them both in town with us! So far, we've been taking Max to all of the "best" America has to offer. I say that sarcastically. For some reason, and Gwith was the exact same way originally, every visitor we have from New Zealand wants to go to places like Walmart and Taco Bell! No matter how much I try to convince them that we have much better quality stores and restaurants, apparently there is nothing more "American" than those places! Poor Max has been dying from the LA heat though! On Tuesday night, he arrived in the valley in pants and a long sleeve shirt. For anyone that lives here, you know how bad that is. That night, Gwith found him standing in front of our A/C vent, arms outstretched, trying to cool down. We're hoping to squeeze in a little time on Saturday or Sunday to show them around LA more, but we'll have to wait and see what Gwith's schedule is looking like at the restaurant.

I am so excited for our baby shower on Monday! As I've entered the third trimester, the past number of weeks have not been easy for me, so it's nice to look forward to something. When I say it hasn't been easy, I mean, our wonderful baby boy has been enjoying punching my hip and kicking my ribs at the same time, pretty much all day long. He's incredibly active, which is wonderful, but man, he must have Gwith's energy levels, because I swear, this baby never sleeps. My stomach is also getting pushed on more and it's getting much more challenging to eat! I am definitely looking forward to his arrival this October. Although, as a first time mom, I'm also terrified about the thought of labor. I've never done well with pain and I've always tried my hardest to avoid it...but this is one thing I can't seem to get out of! ;)

Our handsome baby boy as of July 15th (25 weeks!)
In other news, I've been writing a song for our baby boy since pretty much the day we found out I was pregnant! I am so excited for every one to hear it once he's mentions his name in the chorus, so I can't post it yet...however, I may post a clip of a non spoiler part soon! :)

Anyways, hopefully I'll find the brain power to write again soon! I've been wanting to blog for a while but every time I sit at the computer, my pregnancy brain clicks on, and I can't remember a single thing to talk about. My brain must've been working a little bit better this morning! YAY! Maybe it will last another hour...or even the day??! That would be amazing!

Again, thank you everyone for your wonderful support at the restaurant and for the many congratulations on our upcoming bundle of joy! Every time a guest congratulates us, Gwith passes it on to me when he gets home. :)

Bonus photo of our bunny Willow napping because she's just so darn adorable!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Road to Success Lies in You

Hi everyone! It's been a while. For those of you who don't know, my husband and I are expecting our very first child this October - a baby boy!!! We are beyond excited...this also explains why I've been so absent from the blog these past few months. Pregnancy is a wild ride!

Today, I felt inspired to write a blog after seeing a post on Facebook about encouraging kids to read for the sake of their standardize test scores. Seeing something like this saddened me, angered me, and all around just made me think about the pressures from society my child is going to grow up in. I am grateful that I grew up with parents who didn't believe test scores and school were the be-all end-all, and I am happy that Gwith and I will raise our son exactly the same way.

I don't believe tests and school are the way to success. My belief is that passion, enthusiasm, and drive are what make you a successful person, which is why encouraging our children in their interests at a young age is far more important than anything else. For those of you who have read my past blogs, you know I dropped out of high school at 16 years old (read my story here). This was not an easy decision for me, or for my parents, but it was undoubtedly one of the best decisions made in my life. When I flashback to the day we decided I needed to leave school, I can still picture myself sitting on the floor, shaking in tears from the depression and insecurities school had taught me to feel. I felt helpless, stupid, and like I had no control or ability to make decisions for myself. That was the day it all changed. After crying in my mom's arms, she asked me, "Do you want to drop out of school?" Tearfully, I told her yes. While it was a struggle for my parents, they didn't show that to me. Without any hesitation, my mom saw the pain I was in and agreed with my decision. I originally planned to study online and take my GED...but life got in the way. Instead, I continued teaching myself what I loved: film editing. I was on Final Cut Pro daily, fine tuning my editing skills and learning the ins and outs of the program. In many ways, I still felt insecure and incompetent thanks to many years of my experiences in school. However, film editing was the first thing I knew I was able to do and helped me believe in myself. I created plans for an editing business and worked on a few corporate training video projects, but at 18, thanks to my parents, I ended up with the experience of a lifetime - an experience that taught me greatly about passion, hard work, and management. In December of 2008, my sister, a friend, and I, wrote a TV show pilot script called "Little Blossom". My parents loved the script and encouraged us to create it. Of course, I don't think they realized at the time what that meant...In January, I had built a website for our project. By the end of the month, we had advertisements for actors out on Craigslist, Colorado Screen Actors Guild, and had contacted numerous talent agencies in the Denver area. Throughout February, we began auditioning actors for our ambitiously sized script. When I say ambitiously sized, I mean, when we do a project, we never think small. We go straight to big. Not big. Huge. Our production required 40 actors, at least 15 background extras, a camera crew, makeup crew, and 15 various filming locations.

The audition process alone was life changing for me...and I can safely say, we had no idea how many people would find out about our "little" project! Before we knew it, we had days full of auditions with actors flying in from Florida, New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. As three young women ranging in age from 18-21, and all looking about 15, we were beyond nervous that we wouldn't be taken seriously. As we prepared for our first day as casting directors, we put on our business suits, our serious faces, and walked in to the office that would be our audition room for the next month or two. As the auditions passed and the days continued, we really got the hang of what we were doing...and over time, we realized that the actors coming in were far more nervous than we were. I spent years assuming that adults looked at me as an insecure little girl. The moment that changed was when we had a 45 year old man come in to our audition room, shaking throughout his audition, because the three of us made him that nervous! I will never forget that day. I'm not going to lie, it was a pretty good day! Over the weeks, I stopped thinking about "will these people take us seriously?". I had a job to do, actors to hire, and I could care less. We were interviewing actors for parts ranging in age from 12 to 65! If anyone had a problem with us, that was their problem, not ours.

After the audition process passed and we had a full cast, we began writing contracts, release forms, etc. It was my first experience looking at legal contracts! I learned quite a bit about what the language in those and what needs to be added, removed, etc. As the summer arrived, my mother and I set out to find our various filming locations: the most challenging being a school for exterior and interior scenes! I fell in love with the outdoor layout of a school and we contacted them immediately. Unfortunately, they came back to us with a ridiculous contract. My mom couldn't understand half of it and as I read through, I realized it gave us liability for anything that happens on the grounds, whether we're there or not! I highlighted the line for my mom to read and we realized, as much as I loved the location, we had to find another school. The school we ended up at didn't have the layout needed to film the opening shot as I had hoped, but we made do with what we had!

Throughout June and July, we began holding rehearsals. During the rehearsals, we directed our various actors on their roles and prepped them throughout the summer. In the meantime, my sister Raishel, friend Rhiannon, and I, shopped for clothes for our cast and props for the sets. With filming right around the corner (our first day was August 1st!), we had to hustle. A couple of days before filming, one of our actresses got her character's attire and didn't approve. Her character was a flirty, sexy, high school student who wore shorts skirts, high heels, and tight fitting tops. The next day, she informed us that she had taken it upon herself to shop at some very expensive stores to buy "sophisticated" attire for her character and expected reimbursement. Needless to say, with only a couple days before filming, we had a decision to make...and the decision was easy. We had an ensemble cast so we cut her entire character (and yes, she was a lead!), out of the script, rewrote scenes, added a few scenes for other characters, and fired her. I had never made a decision so quickly in my life...but we had no time to cast someone new and we weren't going to let her do whatever she wanted! This taught me that no matter what issues arise in business, there are always solutions if you think fast on your feet.

Promo photo from the set of "Little Blossom" (August 2009)
Filming was a hectic and wild ride. Some days, we would wake up at 4:30 am, return home after midnight, write the call sheet, and do it all over again. It taught me how to work on very little sleep, how to schedule, and ultimately, how to manage. As the days continued on set, my sister and I co-directed the actors every day, repeatedly tried to teach the "professional" camera crew how to film (we quickly found out they weren't as professional as they said!), and tried to keep the makeup crew from having breakdowns when things fell behind. One day, a couple weeks into filming, we had our largest scene yet. We had about 25 people at a house, waiting to film a scene. The house was owned by our cameraman and he was supposed to have set up the set and scene in advance...but that hadn't happened. Instead, our cast was waiting around throughout the day, for him to finish setting up the scene. My sister ended up having a breakdown (As luck would have it, our ambulance had arrived for a scene and the paramedics were still there and able to check that she was okay!). My dad had flipped out completely and left, and my mom and I remained to deal with the exhausted cast members who were crying and having meltdowns, a fussy makeup team constantly getting angry and asking us when things would be done, and a lazy camera crew...I don't like to call people lazy but every time we went to check on them, they were sitting down and chatting while everyone waited for them to finish their work! It was probably the worst day of my life but somehow, I managed to do everything. I still don't actually know how, but I did.

After a month of filming, we finally wrapped production. A month or so later, my family left for our vacation to Australia and New Zealand, which is where I met my wonderful husband (read our love story here)! Upon our return, I went straight to editing the show and we continued into post-production, renting out a recording studio to record ADR for noisier scenes. In April of 2010, we were ready to premiere the show!

Photo from the premiere (April 2010)
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, we didn't have the connections or knowledge of the entertainment industry to bring the show anywhere. At the time, it was hard to acknowledge that, but in the long run, I don't think that experience had anything to do with pitching and launching a network TV show. It ended up being a major confidence builder that taught me about the strength I never knew I had.

That experience was the reason that when Gwith and I opened our restaurant, Aroha, last year, I knew we could manage it. I'm not sure if I had continued in school if I would have the confidence and self-respect that I have now at 23 years old. Maybe I would've found it eventually, but I tend to doubt it. Not everyone needs to experience a giant film production to find their confidence. The point is, we all just need to find something. Some people find their confidence through good grades and the school system...and that's awesome for them. However, some us find it through our creative outlets, our athletics, or our passions for helping people and making the world a better place. Society places far too much importance on school being the only outlet that can mark success. At the end of the day, only we can mark our own success and believing in ourselves is what gets us there. Grades are just a mark on a piece of paper and no reflection on our intelligence and work ethic. If grades and school truly marked these things, then by all standards, Gwith and I wouldn't be capable of being where we are today.

I hope as our restaurant builds in success, that one day Gwith and I can obtain the funds to continue forth with another big dream of mine. I was lucky enough to have parents that could fund my dream of "Little Blossom" and help me towards my passions in life. My dream is to begin a foundation one day that can do the same for other high school drop-outs like my husband and I. I would love to make other peoples dreams a possibility and help them build their confidence and abilities by letting them learn to write business plans, obtain the funds for their businesses, and gain management skills, or pursue their goals as artists, or any other career they dream of succeeding in. I truly believe that if more people were encouraged and helped on the paths they dream to take, they'll get there.

Believe in yourself and anything is possible.

Monday, March 30, 2015

It's Your Thoughts, Not Your Age, That Matter When You Get Married

I'm twenty-four years old and I got married at the age of twenty. Plenty of people would say that my age was far too young to get married. Yet, if someone gets married at the age of thirty, plenty of people would say "It's about time!". When did important life decisions become about a number, rather than just knowing when you're ready?

I am very much in love with my husband and I have been since practically the moment we met. But when I made the decision to marry him, my love for him was only a small part of my decision. For just being in love, does not make anyone ready for marriage.

Marriage is about being ready to spend your life compromising, sharing your decisions, and above all, understanding how to balance your needs while selflessly making decisions to benefit your spouse. It's about being ready to grow up and take on a million new responsibilities you never saw coming. It's about accepting your spouse for every single part of them, the good and the bad, and being ready to deal with the ups and downs that go along with that.

With things like Facebook now a days, it's hard for people not to compare themselves to their peers. At 24, I see all kinds of different worlds on my Facebook in my age group. There are the people that are married, the ones with children, some who are already divorced, and the couples who aren't married yet but have been together for years. Then there are the singles who are off in grad school, others beginning their new exciting careers, working non-stop, and then a handful who somehow still party and drink like they never left high school. The point is, every one is different. There isn't an age that makes you ready for the future. Only you can decide when you're truly ready.

At twenty years old, I was lucky enough to know. Since I was a little girl, the only thing I could remember wanting more than anything in the world was a family of my own. Before I met my husband, I had dated my fair share of guys and each one taught me about myself and what I was looking for in a relationship. They also taught me that sometimes, you only see what you want to see when you're in the moment. I dated a guy I really liked when I was 17, and yet, I don't even know why I liked him so much. Deep down, I knew he wasn't right for me but I didn't want to admit it to myself. When he broke up with me, I was heartbroken. However, as time passed and the blinders I had kept so tightly on came off, it was clear to me that he and I would have never worked out. I think what I liked about him was that he was a symbol of the independence I was so eager to have. However, this one major attraction didn't mean we were in any way compatible.

When I met my husband at 18, there were clear signs that made me realize over time that he was the one for me. However, the biggest sign was how natural I felt around him. Whether I felt ridiculously goofy or mind-blowingly frustrated, he always understood. I knew at any moment I could be myself and he would never hold me back, only help me blossom further. And I realized I did the same for him. To me, his "faults" aren't "faults". They're personality traits that make him who he is, and it is part of marriage to find the ability to understand and respect them. The fact is, if I had to choose between a lifetime of his faults or a lifetime without him, it wouldn't even be a choice. There is no world that I can picture without him. Like all big decisions in life, you should never hide from the negative sides you may see. These sides only help you decide what you truly want and what you're truly ready for.

At twenty years old, when he proposed to me, I didn't ever just expect the happy moments. I never went in with blinders on. I knew exactly who I was marrying and expected that we'd face challenges along the way. In some ways, I prepared myself for things that never even happened. Honestly, I feel like when we got married, we both knew who the other person was so well that we've never judged each other for our differences. Our annoyances or frustrations never give us thoughts of "maybe this isn't working". They only help us strive to be an even more dynamic couple.

The point is, no matter what age you are, falling in love is always easy. It's getting married, however, that takes a different level of understanding that only you will know if you're truly ready for.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Finding Your Creativity

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and I couldn't fall back asleep. There was a conversation I had earlier yesterday that had my brain spinning and I was trying to think of solutions. This conversation was in no way negative, it was one where I just wanted to find a way to help.

It was about finding your creativity. As an all around creative person, I know just how tough it is to hit a mental block. I've had a year go by where I couldn't write a single song and it depressed me beyond belief. I'd even sit down, try to write a few phrases, and then realize they meant absolutely nothing to me.

One day, I don't know how I realized my cure, but I did. After many stressful months of changes in my life and me trying to shrug it all off and "get through it", I closed my eyes. I let myself feel the struggles that I was trying so hard to mask. Suddenly, a flood of songs came to me within days. It's like I couldn't stop. Happy feelings. Sad feelings. Fearful feelings. Loving feelings. They were all there again and the second I let the words hit the paper, I could feel the thoughts I had kept bottled inside of me for months leaving me. Once the songs were complete and I sang them repeatedly, I ended up with closure.

At the end of the day, I realized. Creativity has nothing to do with anyone else. Creativity is personal and it's private and it's something you do for you. If you eventually choose to share it with others, you do. But there shouldn't be any pressure to do so. First and foremost, you have to do it for you, and the only way to do that is use your creativity like your own personal diary.

The fact is, every book, song, or painting is every creators own personal diary. And yet, through months of struggling with my own emotions, I found comfort in singing other people's songs. Trying to relate to what they were singing about. The honest truth though is, nothing other than your own art will "cure" you. Because even if you love a song, a story, or a character, and it makes perfect sense to you, at the end of the day, you can still shrug it off as someone else. Yet when you create it, when you write it, there's no one else it stems from but you.

So, here's my advice. If you're going through a creative block right now, I want you to close your eyes. Picture that little box inside of you that holds your emotions. Take a key, unlock it, and let your emotions come out. If you're a writer, write about it. Start your novel by creating a character that feels what you feel, thinks what you think, fears what you fear, experiences what you've experienced. Even if you can't think of how to begin the story, begin your prologue with your character talking about their own writer's block. Their own fear to let their emotions loose. Begin from there and let your feelings guide you. Don't worry about the imperfections in the story, the chapters that you skip, write from where you can and write from what you know. Don't plan to show your story to anyone. Let it be personal and don't be afraid to let this character express everything you feel.

My go to first phrase as a songwriter when I'm struggling to find the words is, "Today, I woke up". Whether I write it into my song or not, I begin from that place, because for me, my feelings and emotions are always in the front of my mind when I awake. As the day progresses, a million distractions come my way but if I think back to how I felt when I opened my eyes and what was on my mind, I can always work from there.

The fact is, once your emotions are free, it's easier to write, sing, paint, etc. about anything else. Every story, even the fantasy stories people write are somewhere based on their feelings, thoughts, and experiences. But to get there and write a story that you or anyone else can connect with, you first have to deal with your reality and discover your own emotions.

If you just open that little treasure box inside your mind, you'll discover a lot about yourself, and once you open it, you can begin to deal with it. The beauty of creativity is that you don't have to deal with it through analysis or long discussions. You can deal with it in the most personal heartfelt way you know how. Through your own art and your own characters. Somehow, my songs always begin with my struggles, but they always end with a conclusion. Like any story, there has to be a beginning, middle, and end. If you start your story from the beginning (or even the middle!), eventually, you will find your own conclusion because there's no other way for it to end.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The True Definition of You

It's funny how when you're a certain age, or when you're still trying to discover who you are, how you latch on to things to help "define" you, yet the only thing in this world that defines you ends up being you.

When I was 16, I was obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If I could've become Buffy, I think I would have. I couldn't go a conversation without somehow connecting the show and I most certainly couldn't go a week, if even a day, without watching an episode (or a full fledged marathon!). I was obsessed with going to conventions, meeting the actors, and getting their autographs. I had to get prop replicas and always made fan music videos. Everything in my life somehow related to the show. If I was depressed, I was season six Buffy. If I was trying to work out my own teen years and problems in school, I was high school Buffy. My obsession with Buffy continued for a few years. Until one day, it didn't. Don't get me wrong, I still love the show. It will always be one of my favorites. But my world somewhere around 18 stopped revolving around the show and with each passing year, it slowly faded into the background.

Convention photo with Buffy the Vampire Slayer star, James Marsters, and my sister, Raishel

What changed? Me. My life. At 16, all I wanted was to escape into some fantasy world. Now, at 24, everything is so different. Back then, if I was given the choice to watch TV or go out, I would've gladly chosen TV (unless it was somehow Buffy related of course!). Now, given the choice, I would always choose spending time with my family or driving off on an adventure with my husband or working on some creative project.

It's ironic. At 16, I would've been the first person to defend why TV is amazing and necessary in life. In fact, I did so on many occasions with my parents. At 24, I understand it's entertainment value and to an extent, I still understand the lessons that a person can learn from a show. I mean, I did learn at six years old never to drink and drive thanks to Party of Five! It opens up conversations and it allows you to learn about different perspectives. However, shouldn't life do that? As a reformed TV addict, I now constantly wonder what good being obsessed with a TV show does. In the end, I feel like it can become more of a mask than anything else. Someone else's story that you use to hide behind when life gets tough.

I'm thankful for the people in my life, who without knowing it, helped me remove my mask and discover my passions and reclaim myself. Through some incredible life milestones, from getting married to moving to CA to opening our restaurant, I've learned that I don't want to escape my world, I want to embrace it. When things are complicated and I get scared of what's to come, I no longer turn to TV as my comforting friend. I turn to the people around me for guidance or support.

Our Wedding (September 3, 2011)
The truth is, no material thing in this world will ever define you. That's why our obsessions and interests change year after year. It's why something we loved one year may repulse us the next. Because truthfully, the only definition of you is what comes from inside. It's your thoughts, your feelings, your real world experiences. Everything else is just a mask. Don't get me wrong, it's okay to love these things and life wouldn't be life without having interests and hobbies, but the point is, it's also equally okay to wake up one day and feel differently. You should never let it define you because life changes and you're constantly evolving.

In the end, never lose sight of who you actually are at the core. Because that person is amazing and deserves to shine...and that is something a TV show (or any other obsession for that matter) will never provide.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Aroha Restaurant: This Valentine's Day...

As the weeks countdown, I am getting more and more excited for Valentine's Day at Aroha. It's strange because I'm normally such a traditionalist when it comes to the holidays, and I partially expect myself to feel bummed out that I don't get to have my own romantic dinner with my hubby. However, reservations are already filling up and I'm incredibly excited for our special menu.

Gwith has been working with his molecular gastronomy set that I bought him for Christmas to learn some cool new things to do like making foams and sugar-glass shells. I've been encouraging him to practice these methods in hopes that he can use some on the Valentine's Day menu.

Speaking of which, we will be releasing our full Valentine's Day menu tomorrow online! At the moment, our menu includes some delicious (and romantic) options including Oysters with a citrus foam and micro basil, and my personal favorite dessert option, Dark Chocolate Kiss incased with white chocolate mousse sprinkled with gold leaf and rose crystals. For those with allergies and dietary restrictions, you'll be happy to know that our pre-fix menu is 100% Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Optional, and Vegetarian Optional as well. Each dish is also paired with a delectable New Zealand wine.

I'm going to start working on a romantic music playlist for that Saturday evening and I'm definitely brainstorming on decor ideas to make the restaurant even more romantic.

To finish off the evening, every guest will also receive a copy of my CD single, "Stepping Stone", the love song I wrote for Gwithyen before we married. The single will come with a small booklet telling our own personal Aroha story of how we met and fell in love. I am incredibly excited to share my music with everyone on this special day!

For those of you who won't be joining us for Valentine's Day, and would like to listen, please visit my music page or find me on iTunes. If you'd like to hear one of my more recent live recorded songs, listen below to "Hideaway".

If you haven't made a reservation yet for Valentine's Day and do plan on joining us, I highly suggest making a reservation now, as we're already 50% booked for the evening!

Reserve Now

30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2014 Aroha Restaurant.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"Hideaway" - My Newest Song!

I've never been brave enough before to post my rough song recordings anywhere public (other than to my Facebook friends) but I figured it was about time I broke my fear.

For the past few months, the clouds in my head have finally parted and I've been able to write new songs again...and I've written quite a few lately. It also helps that I've been getting much better at the guitar!

My latest song, "Hideaway", is dedicated to my amazing husband, Gwith, who is with me even in our darkest hours and is always there to pull me through. I don't know where I would be in life without him and I am grateful every day to have him in my life.

"Hideaway" Lyrics:

My love for you grows stronger everyday
and when I'm with you, you take my breath away
If I just close my eyes
will we be dancing in the skies?
If we just fly away
We can sway for eternity, hey hey.

I wanna hide away with you tonight
I wanna let my heart feel free to fly
I wanna curl into your arms and know
that with you, there's no place I'd rather go.
The days go by and all I want is you.
You're my everything, you're with me through and through.
If we just find a cave, will we be snuggling through the night?
If we just misbehave, we just might be brave enough tonight!
You hold me close, we're blowing in the wind.
Oh, the water rose, we didn't seem to mind...
If you just brush my face
Will I be melting in your embrace?
If we just feel the tide,
we can sail worldwide.
That with you, there's no place I'd rather go. x2

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Aroha Restaurant: Our Craziest Night Yet

I'm not going to lie - Saturday night was amazing in a lot of ways but today, I'm still feeling an endless amount of anxiety.

The truth is, nobody and nothing you do is ever perfect. And especially not on the first try. That night was definitely one of those examples. Things didn't run as smoothly as they normally do and service was slow, even though for us, it felt like a marathon was being run. First of all, our last "busy" night was in November, and we served around 65 people in 3.5 hours. Before that, we slowly built from serving 30 people on a Saturday night, to 40 people, to 50 people, etc. We still had a few hiccups with 65 people but in general, we had eased into it.  Suddenly once December hit, our Saturday nights slowed to a halt. Last week, we served 30 people for 3 hours. So imagine our surprise this Saturday when 85 people showed up in a 2.5 hour timeframe...

For the very first time since we opened, not a single table at the restaurant was empty. It was amazing to know so many people had suddenly decided to give us a try. Of course, I've been wishing repeatedly that we and our staff had expected it!

With only four people in the kitchen preparing three course meals for 85 people within a 2.5 hour time frame, I'm surprised a majority of the tables actually got served in a timely manner. I was even more surprised while making the rounds from table to table that one table actually got their main courses too early!

Luckily, for the most part, the guests were incredibly understanding. They know we're new, they see we're working hard, and they have amazing confidence that we will get our pacing down. Unfortunately, there's always a customer or two that you can't rectify the situation with no matter what...and it completely kills me.

For me, it doesn't matter that 81 of our 85 guests were happy and understanding. In the end, all I can think about are those four customers who left unhappy. Why? Because I truly want everyone to be happy. I want everyone to have the best experience possible and to know that we couldn't give it to them devastates me completely. To make matters worse, Yelp, always comes around to haunt you. Again, countless five star reviews but when that one one star review creeps up, it's heartbreaking every time. I wish I could say I'm sorry to them or turn the clock back to make things run differently. But truthfully, no matter what I wish I could've done, I'm pretty sure if I repeated the day, it all would have turned out the same. No matter what, we couldn't be everywhere at once and I can't continue to beat myself up for it.

Because that's the thing. When you're running your very first business at 23 and 26 years old, or any age for that matter, your going to mess up. You're going to have an off day. But how else are you ever going to make something successful in life? No one succeeds at anything in life without screwing up the first few times around, because honestly, that's the only way you learn.

The most hurtful thing to me is to have our work be chalked up to being a result of "amateur management". The hardest thing about being a young business owner is that all of our mistakes are considered a result of us being young and therefore incompetent. Yes, we're young. Yes, things did not go as planned. That's not amateur, that's just life. For a fresh new business, there's no way mistakes aren't going to ever be made. However, many restaurants have these problems after years of being open, with experienced managers over the age of 40. In the end, I feel proud because we're only four months in. In four months, we've dealt with so many challenges and have managed to arise to the occasion practically every single time. So we made a mistake. Who hasn't? In the end, all we can do is learn and grow from the experience. And for the last year, my husband and I have done exactly that.

For the rest of our time in this industry, and in life in general, we will continue to learn from our negative experiences and use them to our advantage.

So to those customers Saturday night who left unhappy and angry, I am sorry. We didn't intentionally fall behind in the kitchen and we didn't intentionally avoid apologizing to your table. We will however, continue to intentionally work to fix these problems so they do not happen again on our future busy nights.