Around each October or November, Cleveland Magazine staffers gather for a cocktail party. It’s unlike any other party we throw throughout the year. It’s a smaller affair — maybe just 60 people — and is meant to honor our Most Interesting People for the upcoming year.
It’s a way for those individuals to meet each other. There’s lots of laughter, selfies, handshakes, drinks and food — but most importantly lots of conversation as people from different walks of life in Cleveland come together for one night.
I’m repeatedly left in awe at the kind, hard-working spirit and can-do attitude of our Most Interesting People. While we couldn’t all gather for such an event this year, reading their stories on the following pages was almost like sitting in front of them and listening to their conversations. There’s plenty of lessons to take away from this year’s class: how to persevere, how to advocate for change and how to move forward when times get tough.
As always, there’s too much good stuff and we couldn’t fit it all into the magazine. Here’s a few motivational gems that we couldn’t leave out.
Jill Vedaa, Salt chef and co-owner: Working as a chef for 27 years at spots such as Lola, Moxie and Flying Fig, Vedaa recognizes that Cleveland does not have a lot of female chefs. Part of it, she thinks, is the environment, the hard pace of the job and the lack of support from others. To change that, restaurants need to be filled with leaders who think differently. “I was fortunate to have really good chefs and managers that cultivated a different kind of kitchen, where you weren’t getting hazed every day, you weren’t getting shit on every day.”
LaRese Purnell, Real Black Friday founder: The pivot to helping small businesses keep their doors open in the face of the pandemic taught Purnell, who owns an accounting, tax and professional services company, an important lesson. “This pandemic made me clear on my purpose in life. It showed me that CLE Consulting was supposed to open, because we became a triage center to businesses, and it taught me that I’m definitely a philanthropist at heart.”
Callie Brownson, Cleveland Browns chief of staff: Buddy Teevens, Dartmouth College’s head football coach, first hired Brownson as an intern. He admired her energy and desire to make the game safer. After just one week, the players convinced Teevens to hire her full time. She helped implement non-contact practices, which relied on mobile virtual players. It significantly reduced injuries and the team suffered just one loss in a conference championship-winning season. “His peers said, ‘If you take the contact out of practice, you’re going to play softer on Saturdays,’ and he said, ‘Let’s prove them wrong by winning football games.’ ”