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These Ladies Are On Fire

Written By: Chelsea Raineri Palm Springs Female Influencers

Strong, powerful, hardworking women are an inspiration to us all. Their dedication to helping make the world a better place and advancing themselves in their careers makes for incredible role models. Your votes have given us the honor of awarding six amazing women with the title of the Top Female Influencers in Palm Springs. Whether they’re making headlines in the real estate world, or giving young girls the chance to see their full potential, these women more than deserve this title. We asked them about getting started in their career, facing conflict, their hobbies, and much more! Read on to learn more about these remarkable women.

 

Barbara Keller – LULU California Bistro

Q: How did you become part of the restaurant industry?

Barbara Keller: It wasn’t planned. My husband, Jerry owns a family publishing company that was started by his grandfather in the 1860s. I worked in theatre and film in New York. We were semi-retired when a tennis friend of Jerry’s mentioned that he wanted to open another restaurant. In the blink of an eye, we were partners and subsequently bought him out. Jerry was born to work a room. I’m an orchestrator. We both lead instinctively and somehow together we’re crackerjack!

Q: What does it mean to you to be voted one of Greater Palm Springs’ favorite female influencers?

BK: I imagine this recognition in the community is primarily for my involvement in a plethora of charities in the desert in a variety of ways. And I hope that’s true. I would like to know that I’ve influenced many others to give back to our beautiful community in whatever way they’re able, from stuffing envelopes, walking for AIDS or breast cancer, chairing or working on events, to collecting items for auctions or writing a check.

Q: When faced with conflict, how do you work to resolve it?

BK: I resolve conflicts by working with both sides and including others in discussions who know the issues deeply and are more than capable of being sensitive to the concerns of all involved. I once ran a labor union in the film industry. I know that everyone needs to give a little.

Q: What do you look forward to most when going to work?

BK: I don’t “go to work” in the typical way. I work primarily from home on my computer and phone and go to many meetings. I look forward to the people in my work and charity life. Whether it’s at LULU, the Palm Springs Art Museum, or Desert AIDS Project, my joy is seeing the same devoted, lovely people in my life.

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

BK: My greatest pleasure is visiting with my nearly 105-year-old dad every day. He’s an artist who paints each day and he’s a voracious reader. He plays Words With Friends on his iPad and he’s a word puzzle fanatic! He has a great sense of humor and I know how lucky I am to have him in my life. He’s my inspiration.

Q: How did you make the transition from working in theatre to opening LULU?

BK: I was no longer working in theatre or film when we moved to the desert. But theatre is still a big part of my life. I love the McCallum, of course, but also Jerry and I try not to miss plays produced by some of the exceptional theatres in the desert, namely CV Repertory, Coyote Stageworks, and Dezart. They are equal to any good off-Broadway productions I’ve seen in all my years as a theatre zealot in New York. I take some of the parts of theatre I love and meld it with LULU, actually. LULU is not just a restaurant; it’s an orchestrated setting. It’s a backdrop for fun. It’s an arena. Every now and then we change the outdoor chair colors, the cushions, the art on the walls. You can be sure I’m involved in those redesigns.

Q: How do you use LULU to benefit local charities?

BK: Probably the largest day of assistance is Dining Out For Life, an annual fundraising event raising money for AIDS service organizations all over the country. We give 50 percent of our breakfast, lunch, and dinner sales to the Desert AIDS Project that day. During the season we give special charity rates to notable charities. We serve dinner to over 400 people after One Night Only for Jewish Family Service. We also host events for nonprofits both inside and outside our restaurant, and we donate gift certificates to multiple silent auctions. We’re always involved in donating our services to Dinner@My Place for Desert AIDS Project and Let Us Entertain You for the Palm Springs Art Museum, two charities for which I’m a trustee. We’re about to cater an event for Israel Cancer Research Fund, a board on which Jerry sits.

 

Penny Gundry – Zense

Q: How did you become a boutique owner?

Penny Gundry: In 1998, I decided to make a career change and went back to school to earn an Interior Design degree. After graduating, I realized that I had made a grave mistake and did not want to spend a year with a client deciding which shade of white paint to use in the interior of a home. At that time, I had zero retail experience, but I had a concept of what the ideal shopping experience would consist of, and I saw an opportunity to use my skills in the design and merchandising of a storefront. Upon completion of construction, the real challenge was deciding what sort of merchandise to fill the shelves with. I decided on handbags and accessories and that is where my travel experience helped me to discover emerging designers from around the world that complemented the ZENSE sense of style.

Q: What does it mean to you to be voted one of Greater Palm Springs’ favorite female influencers?

PG: Being voted one of Greater Palm Springs’ favorite females influencers has been quite an honor. It is a confirmation that the styles, attitudes, and design that I make available at ZENSE, which are a reflection of me, resonate strongly among so many discerning women and men within our community.

Q: When faced with conflict, how do you work to resolve it?

PG: When faced with conflict, my modus operandi has always been to walk away from it. As a business owner, this approach is not realistic and I have had to find a balance. Now, I am more willing to listen to the points of view of all parties involved. If it comes to an impasse and all sides have a valid point, I apply the baseball rule and the tie goes to the runner or in other words, the customer.

Q: What do you look forward to most when going to work?

PG: My step daughter, Melissa, is my store manager and really is responsible for the current success of ZENSE. She is my greatest joy and the person that I look forward to seeing the most when going to work. Also, over the course of 15 years that ZENSE has been open, we have developed many strong friendships with our loyal customer base and it is such a pleasure to have them enjoy the store year after year.

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

PG: When I am not playing tennis or attending pilates or spin classes, I enjoy traveling. One of my past careers was as a Pan Am flight attendant and I never lost the sense of wanderlust. Now, I am able to incorporate traveling with business as I search the globe for emerging designers. It is really quite amazing how many talented, unique artists are tucked away in remote, undiscovered locales and it has been very exciting for me to introduce these people to an appreciative audience at ZENSE.

Q: What is your favorite boutique to shop at in New York?

PG: My favorite boutique in New York City was HANS KOCH on Prince Street. He and his business partner, Reggie, created handmade handbags out of gorgeous German leathers in about 500 square feet of space. The showroom was in the front of the store and the design and manufacturing area was in the rear. The designs and colors that Hans created were a perfect complement to ZENSE. Unfortunately, Hans and Reggie retired and his sort of boutique is a dying breed in big cities.

Q: How did you come up with the name of your boutique?

PG: Creating a name for my boutique was a challenge since I wanted the store to have an Asian sensibility. One evening, my husband and I shared a bottle of wine (red wine, of course, per Dr. Gundry) and we played with the word ZEN and suddenly, ZENSE appeared. It had good mouthfeel, just like the wine we were drinking. Of course, once I opened ZENSE, customers wanted to know what the word meant so I had to create a definition, which was incorporated into our marketing. ZENSE (zen(t)s. noun the Eastern practice of integrating the five senses to achieve ultimate harmony and fulfillment.

 

Jillian Wills – HOM Sotheby’s International Realty

Q: How did you become part of the real estate industry?

Jillian Wills: After I earned my bachelor’s degree at Point Loma Nazarene University in Exercise Science I decided to stay in San Diego, because what young person wouldn’t want to stay there? Meanwhile, back at home in the Coachella Valley, there was growth happening all over including my mom’s real estate business. She started planting seeds and dropping hints that her dream to help expand her business was to bring me on her team and share my native expertise with clients. As a young business person I saw the potential in being an independent contractor and was excited about having my mom as my mentor. It seemed like a door leading to endless possibilities. After about a year on my own in San Diego, I seized the opportunity and passed the real estate exam. I joined my mom’s team, moved back to my hometown in Rancho Mirage, and never looked back.

Q: What does it mean to you to be voted one of Greater Palm Springs’ favorite female influencers?

JW: After I shouted, “What! Who, me?!” loud enough for the entire office to hear, I calmed down, took a deep breath and couldn’t stop smiling the rest of the day. I saw the group of other women I was nominated with and I was truly humbled. There are so many amazing women who do so much for the Coachella Valley. I am a desert native who loves where I live and am doing my best to give back and serve wherever I am. I am honored to be recognized as someone who is having an influence.

Q: When faced with conflict, how do you work to resolve it?

JW: I remain calm and identify the problem then look at all sides of the situation. I take in the perspective of everyone involved. The key to being a problem solver is communication and getting to the root of the conflict through a constructive non-critical way. I also believe in the power of prayer!

Q: What do you look forward to most when going to work?

JW: Everyday is something different. Some days I am out showing properties, other days I am following up with clients and leads, there are days I never leave the office or I may be holding an open house. I like the variety of activities that each day brings. What I look forward to most is the marketing side of being a real estate agent. I like to be creative and find the best way to tell a story to sell a property. Every property has a buyer. I just have to market to the masses and tell a story that captures that special buyer.

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

JW: There is always something fun going on around Greater Palm Springs; from festivals, block parties or pool parties, charity events or grand openings. I love supporting the local community and being active and outdoors. I enjoy the different hikes around town especially the Bump & Grind hike in Palm Desert. I’ll admit I am very social so I have a hard time turning down a chance to share a delicious meal with friends at one of the many locally owned restaurants in town. As a single woman, I am involved in my church’s young adult group and we have regularly scheduled outings that include afternoons at polo matches, foot golf, and games nights.

Q: How did you start working with California Desert Association of Realtors Desert Young Professional Network (YPN) and Community Service Committee?

JW: Community service has always been something that I have been passionate about and been involved in. When I first got involved in real estate I learned about a group called Young Professionals Network (YPN). After connecting with the California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.) YPN leadership, I knew this was something that I wanted to be involved in. That year I joined the local Desert YPN advisory board and was also able to attend all the C.A.R. YPN forums for that year. Little did I know that this would be the preparation I would need to step into the Chair seat in 2016 for Desert YPN.

Q: How do you use tech to benefit your work as a realtor?

JW: Technology has become an essential tool for me to continue to stay connected and build trust with my clients. Instagram is my favorite social media platform to feature beautiful images to market our listings, but also to share fun local events with fellow locals or those thinking about becoming locals. It’s a fast-paced, mobile friendly way to communicate and stay engaged with many around the world. I remind myself that technology is a great way to create efficiency and social engagement, however human-to-human relationships will always be the core of how I want to run my business.

Kelly McFall – Wilma & Frieda

Q: How did you become part of the restaurant industry?

Kelly McFall: The restaurant industry was not my career of choice — or so I thought. I wanted to be a fashion buyer and merchandiser, but while going to college I began working nights as a server in a restaurant. I left the restaurant business thinking I was going to get my “real” job, but ended up going back to the restaurant business. Three times I did this, when I finally realized that this business suited my personality so much better; each day is a new day, it combines creativity, people development, strategy, and brings fun customers through the door, so it’s never a dull moment.

Q: What does it mean to you to be voted one of Greater Palm Springs’ favorite female influencers?

KM: It’s quite an honor to me, I felt I was among such a great group of talented women and I am proud to be part of this community.

Q: When faced with conflict, how do you work to resolve it?

KM: I’m often the Plan “B” girl. If this doesn’t happen or we run into an issue, then what are my alternatives?

Q: What do you look forward to most when going to work?

KM: It’s different every day, but I think what I look forward to the most is seeing my team grow and develop. I once had a boss that told me to never do this job for the money because that would grow old, but that if you had an interest in your people (employees and customers), this job would always be inspirational. I have found this to be very wise advice.

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

KM: I love traveling, and new adventures. I’m always looking for current food trends and enjoy finding them on my travels.

Q: How do you come up with the unique dishes at your restaurant?

KM: Sometimes I’m influenced by my travels, but I also read a lot and stay on top of trends and pop culture. Our Chef, Chad Spears, and I collaborate very well and make a good team. We both come up with unique ideas, and he likes to experiment with different tastes and flavors. He has such a strong technique and is able to make what once was an idea into something that really tastes good.

Q: What do you enjoy most about working with family?

KM: This can be a tough and exhausting business, but since I work with my mom and brother we have each other’s best interest at heart and handle the business when the other needs to take time off. Therefore, the burden does not rest on all of us. We often say that the Beatles weren’t the Beatles without one of the members; for Wilma & Frieda’s to flourish it takes all of us.

 

Bianca Rae – Bianca Rae Foundation

Q: How did you become part of the news industry?

Bianca Rae: During my college summers, I lived in LA and interned at E! Entertainment and KTLA. I learned so much from everyone there! Some great mentors who still guide me today. A few months before college graduation, I attended a journalism convention in Las Vegas. It was supposed to be strictly for news directors from the West Coast to critique our reel. The fifth news director I sat down with turned out to be my station’s assistant news director, who apparently saw something in me because they ended up flying me out for an interview and the rest is history! It was such a dream.

Q: What does it mean to you to be voted one of Greater Palm Springs’ favorite female influencers?

BR: It’s exciting and an honor, but mostly it’s a responsibility I take very seriously. To me, being an influencer is more than just having a high number of followers on social media or a lot of likes on a picture; it means a lot of eyes on my actions and minds taking in my message. It has always been important to me that my public image is the real Bianca. I can genuinely say who you see on my social media or who you see at events is who I am. I hope kids see me and want to be closer to their moms, or work harder for their goals, or start volunteering at a young age.

Q: When faced with conflict, how do you work to resolve it?

BR: Knowing my calling and keeping my eyes glued on it is crucial. My mom helps me with that. She always reminds me what I’m here for. I know I have a big calling in my life, but sometimes bullies or life circumstances can bring you down for a hot minute. Then my mom reminds me it’s part of the path that someone with my calling is on. It’s part of this life I chose. Then I lift my chin up, smile, and get back to it.

Q: What do you look forward to most when going to work?

BR: First off, I love viewers’ emails and messages. Yes, some can be harsh, and that’s helping me build the thick skin I need in this industry so I welcome those. But the sweet ones are just indescribable. It blows my mind how someone can like and support someone so much that they’ve never met, and I’m so grateful for their love. Also, I honestly love my coworkers. It’s always fun.

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

BR: Much of my free time goes to my foundation, but I do, of course, make time for my personal life and friendships as well. I love to try new restaurants and eat, so thankfully I enjoy working out too! I also love traveling and hotels and spending time in unique places. And my favorite hobby of all is spending time with Jack, my rescue dog!

Q: How do you use your platform as a news anchor to benefit your charity?

BR: I am very lucky that my station is full of very generous and philanthropic people who see the importance of the Bianca Rae Foundation. My bosses not only attend and support my charity events; they also let me promote them. Whether it’s a PSA or a story, they have helped me spread our word and message for years. I know I’m blessed. Personally, I am very active on my social media and am grateful I have a large following. I get to use it to send thousands of people a message at a time in my career when a lot of people are listening. Things have fallen into place and that’s how I know this is what I am supposed to be doing.

Q: Which event for your charity has been most inspiring?

BR: The Rae Of Hope Retreat has changed my life. I love and adore the girls who attend so much. They are my Rae Of Hope girls. By now, I know most of their names, their parents, and their stories. These girls and their strength among 12-year-old-adversity inspires me. Some of them come from really tough backgrounds or go through really tough things at school. It all reminds me just how important this retreat is and just how important it is for people who are in the public eye to be good role models.

 

Your Fab 5 Female Influencers of Greater Palm Springs

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