Sum of Your Business: Brittany Todd

Intro by Aryn Henning Nichols • Photos by Photography by Brittany

It’s lucky that Decorah photographer Brittany Todd “never gets sick of wedding cake.” Because in the nearly seven years she’s been running Photography by Brittany, she’s surely eaten a lot of it.

Of course, weddings aren’t the only moments Brittany’s team captures – there’s also engagements, families, graduating seniors, and a shoot option called… “All Up in Your Business,” where – you guessed it – Brittany photographs your business.

Business is something Brittany has learned a lot about over the years. What started out as a hobby post-graduation has turned into a real-life career, and now encompasses a team of seven photographers, two cinematographers, and one marketing/social media expert.

Plus, the 29-year-old mother of two busy boys offers photography classes to the public, is involved in the community, and manages to, somehow, cook actual vegetables for dinner (much to her boys chagrin). On top of all that, Brittany recently moved from a home office to a studio space in Downtown Decorah. (Update: AND now husband Nathan and Brittany have added the Decorah Sugar Bowl ice cream shop to their list of businesses!)

Surely more than once, this busy woman has been requested to, “Teach us your ways of life!”

“I try to do it all and not pull my hair out, but really I am better at styling the mess on my head to cover up the craziness behind the scenes,” she writes on brittanytodd.com. “The main focus of my career is to capture YOU. Whether you are short, tall, blonde, brunette, married, single or anything in between: be that. My goal is to have you trust that being YOU is what makes you beautiful.”

The result is lovely, saturated images that speak honestly of life, love, and…well, the pursuit of happiness. We were excited to feature Brittany as our Sum of Your Business for this inspiring women issue because she is just that: Inspiring! Read on to learn more about how she manages to have her cake…and eat it too (what, too much?!).

The Basics:
Name: Brittany Todd
Age: 29
Business: Photography by Brittany
Years in Business: June 26 this year will start year seven of weddings!

1. Tell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?

After graduating from Luther College in January 2010, I was certain that my calling was in Residence Life. I went through a two-month marathon process of interviews with 15 different schools and became a finalist at two different colleges. We were certain we were moving to either Dubuque or Green Bay. In April, however, everything changed.  I was informed by both schools, within one hour of each other, that I was their runner up and therefore did not have a job. At all. Anywhere. As a couple, we decided to stay in Decorah for another year since we were getting married that July and at least had some connections to odd jobs while we waited for a full-time opportunity. During that waiting process my photo-shoots became more frequent and more substantial. I wasn’t just photographing my friends’ kids anymore; clients were actually hiring me to shoot their wedding day, and I was loving every second of it! In August 2011, our first son, Carter, was born, and we decided it would be much easier to raise a baby with a photography career than in a college dorm. I slowly stepped away from a career in Residence Life, to a newfound dream career in photography. Fast-forward to 2013, and shooting was officially something that paid the bills, supported my family, and gave me great joy on a daily basis. It was then that I became my own boss and officially launched Photography by Brittany… in an office next to our living room.

2. What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

There are countless perks! I get to travel throughout the United States doing what I love! I get to choose my own hours. Yes, sometimes this means I am the last one to leave downtown at 1 am, but it also means I can take a day off to celebrate my kids’ birthdays, go on a last-minute trip with my husband, or spend an entire day focusing on filling my own cup, whether that means a lunch date with a friend, yoga sculpt at Reefuel, shopping downtown Decorah, or binge watching online classes or even Netflix. I can dress up on days I am with clients and wear sweatpants and slippers on days in the studio. A major perk is that through this seven-year journey, my kids have been a part of almost every single work day in the office, whether that office was in our living room or downtown in the new studio. They have their moments, of course, but sometimes the brutal honesty of a three or five-year-old is exactly what I need when it comes to choosing a location, setting up a shoot or just choosing treats from Beyond the Bar or Java John’s Coffee House for a client meeting. I know not every profession allows the flexibility that mine does, but just think how much more productive everyone could be if they could work during their personal prime time hours (I am a night owl) and be with their family as much as possible?

3. How about the worst?

Some days this list seems longer than the previous one, but I promise the good always outweighs the bad! I am the HR department, secretary, coordinator, president, CEO, and maintenance crew all rolled into one person. There is no guaranteed salary. There are no work benefits. Nobody gives me health, dental, or life insurance. There are no paid vacation days, paid sick days or even a single moment of paid maternity leave. When I first started, I took on any shoot that would come my way, including a family shoot the day before I went into labor with Carter as well as a wedding 13 days after he was born. (That is a story for another time, but, in short, Carter did great. Pumping in the doorway of a boat bathroom? Not one of my favorite life moments. 😉 )

There is not anyone to celebrate successes with in person. Cake in the break room is just not as exciting when it is your own birthday and you are eating it alone. Do not get me wrong, I love my days alone when I can crank the music and sing aloud while I edit, but there are many days when I wish there was someone here to celebrate with during the successes, and someone here to always get input from.

4. Was there ever a hurdle where you just thought, “I can’t do this?” How did you overcome it?

Not a specific hurdle, but there are definitely days and sometimes weeks that I stare at my work and think that I will never be as good others already are. If you think Pinterest is hard from a parent or teacher perspective, try looking at it through the eyes of a photographer (or a photographer mother!). Pinterest is amazing, and Pinterest is awful. I often remind myself that if I didn’t think there was someone better than me, I wouldn’t have anything to strive towards. The moments I doubt myself are the moments that make me a better photographer, business owner, and family member.

5. Any mentors/role models you look to/have looked to?

I highly recommend everyone start following Jeremy Cowart on Facebook, Instagram, or any other way possible. If you haven’t heard of “The Purpose Hotel” look it up! Jeremy is taking his talents of photography and expanding them into a vision that will help MANY people for decades, if not centuries, to come. His ability to run a business, expand the business and yet keep his wife and family as his number ONE priority is not only inspiring, but something we should all strive toward daily.

6. What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started?

Dear High School and College Self:

Your grades matter in order to keep your scholarships, but then they will be irrelevant. Stop writing down every single word that goes on the board and take a moment to truly LISTEN to those teaching. Social networking is everything. Relationships are going to build a business faster than money can buy one. Equipment is important, but without a solid work ethic, support from those closest to you, and an incredible client base, you will not be successful. That family and friend-base you have now? They’re going to support you every step of the way. Keep being kind to those around you, because those professors, classmates, mentors, friends, and acquaintances are all going to be clients of yours someday. Each will leave a photo session with a part of your heart, and give you a little more sense of self-worth.

7. How do you manage your life/work balance? You worked out of your house originally, and have recently moved to a space in downtown Decorah – what are the pros and cons to the move?

Working from home was fantastic. If you ever get the opportunity to do so I highly recommend it, even if it is just for a few weeks. While having a home office I would do laundry, make lunches, start dinner, vacuum, grocery shop, and play with my kids in between checking emails, editing, making phone calls, and creating online albums for client review. When the workday was over, so were all of our daily life tasks. Having a space downtown has been quite an adjustment to that, but I love it in a completely different way. I get to see more people (especially more adults) on a daily basis. I can still take my kids to the library as I used to, but when we return to the studio downtown I immediately have a sense to work, instead of picking up around the house. Although it is tempting to respond to an email as soon as I see that it has been sent, it is much easier to leave work at work, and be home when I am at home (check out Peter Awad’s “Slow Hustle” podcast for more on that concept!).

8. What keeps you inspired? Any quotes that keep you going?

It is a hard concept to perfect at first, but I have gotten better about telling myself that I cannot serve others if my own cup is empty. Giving myself an opportunity to remember that I will be successful today, in this moment, could be as simple as a 15 minute break with Pinterest or an hour long Skype chat with a friend to collaborate on fresh ideas. Occasionally, I feel like these activities put me further behind in my to do list, so I remind myself that if I do not take time to enjoy life, my family, and my friends, there is no purpose to my career. Yes, we need money to pay bills, but if we are not enjoying life as it happens, we are guaranteeing ourselves missed memories. I would be a hypocrite if I encouraged others to prioritize their memories, if I, myself, was not creating any. Because of this, my job inspires me during every shoot. Every client has chosen me over any other photographer to capture one of their most important moments in life. These occasions may be as extravagant as a wedding day or as simple as an annual family session, but to my clients, and to me, it is so much more than just a shoot. You never know when a session is going to be your last as a family, exactly are you as you are right now, so embrace the NOW! There is no greater inspiration than to know that this gift I have been given (and am constantly trying to perfect) is something that positively impacts those around me, with the simple click of a button.

Anna Bolz / Pastry Chef

 

Inspiring Women Series: Anna Bolz / Pastry Chef
By Sara Friedl-Putnam • Originally published in the Spring 2017 Inspire(d) Magazine

Even though Decorah native Anna Bolz lives in New York City, a metropolis brimming with 8.5 million people, her heart is deeply rooted in community. And each table of diners at Per Se, where Anna holds the title of pastry chef, offers up a different story of community and an opportunity for connection. Anna’s part in the evening’s story comes last – sometimes the literal icing on the cake – through the mouth-watering desserts she and her team of eight concoct at the Michelin three-star restaurant.

Anna takes that role seriously: It’s so much more than an evening afterthought.

“Because all the items are served at the same time, I strive to achieve an ideal balance of flavors, textures, temperatures, and colors,” says Bolz. “I want to ensure that the whole experience offers diners as much sense variety as possible.”

Recent pairings have featured a “bright, cold, and refreshing” hibiscus and pear dessert, pistachio ice cream that’s “rich, luxurious, and garnished with rose,” and a “sweeter, softer, more modern” chocolate dessert.

Anna credits her environment – “the city that never sleeps” – with providing all the inspiration she needs. “I will take a walk and smell the flowers, visit a gallery and see how a work of art is put together, or go out to eat and check out what other people are ordering,” she says. “I live in a very inspiring world, and it’s all about opening my eyes and being receptive to it.”

It wasn’t all that long ago that this small-town girl was learning the restaurant basics at a Water Street eatery in Decorah.

In December 2005, Anna – then a senior music major at Luther College – had her sights set on graduate school in trumpet performance when a part-time job at Hart’s Tea and Tarts morphed into something much bigger. After the restaurant’s chef abruptly quit right before the holiday season, she pitched in to help out.

The experience changed her life forever.

“I realized that while the music room was fun, it also lost its sparkle for me after six or seven hours,” says Anna, the daughter of Lloyd Bolz and Mary Steele, both of Decorah. “The kitchen, in contrast, felt like play – even though I was putting in 14- to 16-hour days, it never felt like work, and I started wondering how far I could push that.”

Quite far, it turns out.

Since 2009, Anna has focused her natural creativity and boundless curiosity on her work at Per Se, the NYC counterpart to Chef Thomas Keller’s fabled California-based French Laundry. Originally hired as chef de partie (section cook), Anna honed her craft under renowned pastry chef Elwyn Boyles, advancing to pastry sous chef in 2011 and then, in 2015, to pastry chef.

Anna has worked hard to earn the respect of her colleagues – she is one of only two women on the restaurant’s executive team, and oversees her own team that’s responsible for Per Se’s palate-pleasing array of desserts. And it’s a good bet she won’t stop there.

“I’m constantly looking at how I can do my job better, help others be better at their jobs, and make an impact on people around me that’s not just about creating beautiful food,” says Anna, who typically arrives at work in the Time Warner Center before noon and rarely leaves before 1:30 in the morning. “My goal is to guide the next generation, collaborate fully with my colleagues, and be a contributing force at this destination restaurant.”

Anna attributes her tireless work ethic to her parents, especially her father, Lloyd, a construction firm owner under whose watchful eye she learned how to swing a hammer and wield a saw.

“My parents taught me very early in life to work for what I wanted,” she says. “I started out doing minor cleaning projects for my dad and eventually graduated to construction.”

Those skills came in handy when, after earning her bachelor’s degree from Luther in May 2006, she decided to spend the next nine months doing construction full-time to save up for the move to New York. The goal: Attend the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center).

“I had never been to New York,” she says, “but I knew it had a lot of restaurants and a lot of opportunity and thought it would be the best place for me to learn the trade.”

Those instincts proved correct, and, after settling in New York in February 2007, Anna took full advantage of the city’s culinary landscape, spending her days attending classes, her nights “externing” at Jean-Georges (another acclaimed Michelin three-star restaurant), and her weekends plating and finishing desserts at the Porter House steakhouse.

“I was putting in 75 to 80 hours a week among the three,” she recalls. “My friends and family thought I was crazy, but it was what I wanted to do.”

That unbridled passion and undeniable talent didn’t go unnoticed. Johnny Iuzzini, Jean-George’s executive pastry chef, offered her a full-time job at Jean-Georges. (If Iuzzini’s name sounds familiar, there’s a reason – he served two seasons as head judge on the Bravo TV show Top Chef: Just Desserts.) Though Anna had intended to move closer to home after wrapping up her studies, she quickly changed course.

Two years later, when Anna felt it was time to move on, her well-connected boss was right there to help, setting up trials (a working audition of sorts) in the kitchens of two of the city’s top restaurants: Daniel and Per Se.

“Working at Jean-Georges opened up a lot of other options for me,” she says. “Johnny helped me realize what was possible for me in the industry and set me on the right path.”

That path, of course, led to Per Se, where Bolz particularly enjoys the “systematic, detailed, imaginative work” involved in creating the finale of the nine-course, prix-fixe, French-influenced tasting menu ($325+ per person). The menu’s “assortment of desserts” comprises fruit, ice cream, and chocolate treats as well as candies. (Dessert lovers, rejoice! The restaurant also has a five-course dessert tasting menu – $70+ per person – at Salon, its walk-ins-only dining room.)

In February 2017, Anna was one of two pastry chefs recognized by the restaurant-industry magazine StarChefs with its Rising Star Award. And while the accolades are nice, this Driftless native says the best part about her work is that it doesn’t feel like work at all.

“My day is never the same because I respond to what’s happening in the restaurant and the needs of the people around me,” she says. “I love being constantly challenged to be creative, and I honestly cannot imagine doing anything else.”

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Sara Friedl-Putnam loves all kinds of desserts–especially any involving chocolate!–and hopes to one day indulge in a full plate of Anna Bolz’s culinary creations.

May 2017 Calendar!

May 2017! Wow, there are lots of fun things going on! Start your planning now with this handy-dandy May 2017 calendar (and you can download the pdf here).
Enjoy! XO, Inspire(d)

LOOKING FOR MORE DETAILS ABOUT EVENTS ON THE CALENDARS?
Check out these great May 2017 activities!  In chronological order, each event’s number coincides with its number on the calendar!

22. May 1: Visit Historic Forestville – Saturdays only in May/Sept/Oct. Memorial Day Weekend-Labor Day: Thurs- Sun $6-8. Step back in time to 1899. Where real history happened! 507-765-2785 forestville@mnhs.org

23. May 2: Author Faith Sullivan (Goodnight Mr. Wodehouse, The Cape Ann, Gardenias, What a Woman Must Do) at Dragonfly Books!  Author talk / signing 7 pm. www.dragonflybooks.com/events.  Free!

24. May 6: You’re invited! Help Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation hand-pull unwanted plants from outstanding 1,200-acre woodland near Waukon. No experience necessary. Lunch provided. Kids welcome. 515-288-1846 www.inhf.org

25. May 6: Annual Plant Sale, Seed Savers Exchange: Rare family heirlooms & historic commercial varieties of flowers, vegetables, fruit trees. New this year: hops & strawberries. 9am-5pm. seedsavers.org

26. May 6: Spring Garden School, Seed Savers Exchange: 10am-3pm workshop focusing seed starting, planning your garden for seed saving, and getting started with composting. Sign up: seedsavers.org/events 

27. May 7: Murder Mystery Dinner Theater at Empty Nest Winery. Advanced tickets only; $45/person includes 3 course dinner and Murder Mystery Comedy Production. Call 563-568-2758 for tickets. www.emptynestwinery.com

28. May 7: The Decorah Chorale and Oneota Valley Community Orchestra (OVCO) will hold a joint concert to perform Mozart’s Requiem at 3 pm at Decorah High School. No charge for admission however a free-will offering will be accepted.

29. May 12: Ultra Mega Mega, Luther College CFA, Visual and Performing Arts Spring Open House, 6-9pm

30. May 14: Mother’s Day Cider & Strudel, Seed Savers Exchange: Orchard in bloom, 20% off all purchases, cider, strudel, guided hike, apple history. More info: seedsavers.org/events

31. May 16: Help us launch local author Keith Lesmeister’s first short story collection, We Could’ve Been Happy Here! Author talk / signing 7pm. Dragonfly Books. www.dragonflybooks.com/events. Free!

32. May 21: Original folk music matched with witty humor with songwriter/performer Bill Staines in the Legion Room, Chatfield Center for the Arts. 6:30pm. $20, limited seating. www.chatfieldcfa.com