Hello friendly faces! It’s that time of the week! We’re back with a new CNSM Meet a Mom spotlight brought to you in part by Mary Gifford of Gifford Law. This week we’re are excited to introduce you to Northbrook mom of two grown and flown twin boys and the founder and president of Sweet Melissa Media, Melissa Levine!
A registered dietician nutritionist, Melissa has always held a great appreciation for culinary arts. When you read her impressive list below of favorite North Shore eats, you’ll see the foodie in her shine. So, when the pandemic began and restaurant doors were forced to shut, Melissa had a great idea that changed the trajectory of her career path. In an effort to help keep North Shore beloved restaurants thriving, Melissa began creating (and donating) short promotional videos that the restaurants could use to inform the public on current offerings. A year later Sweet Melissa Media was born.
Get to know sweet Melissa, that impressive list of must-stop restaurants and how she was able to start a small business from scratch with a dash of love and a pinch of humility. Welcome, Melissa!
Photo credit: JENNY MAE STRINGER
Hi melissa! Please introduce yourself. Where are you from, where do you live now and what brought you to your current town?
My name is Melissa Levine. My friends & family know me as Missy. I grew up in Milwaukee, then moved with my family to Houston, Texas where I later attended college at The University of Texas at Austin. After college I landed my first job in Los Angeles. I met my husband in LA then followed him to his hometown of Chicago where we got married. We lived in the City several years before settling in Northbrook shortly after our twin boys were born.
You’re a mom – tell us about your kids and feel free to brag away!
I am a proud mom to 2 amazing twin sons! My boys are close but each one has different interests & talents. Serendipitously, they both attended 2 different universities in the same town which was not something we had planned! The boys just graduated and one is pursuing a career in music and theater arts, and the other aspires to attend law school. They are both kind, bright, creative, ambitious young adults. I am hoping they both stay close to Chicago!
What are one or two fun facts to know about you?
When I was younger, I loved to dance. I still love to dance, and can’t resist an occasional TikTok dance in my kitchen while prepping dinner! I often incorporate dance choreography into my clients’ social media content!
What are your favorite places to hang on the North Shore?
This one of my most favorite subjects so buckle up for my personal faves! If I had to choose a favorite dining experience, it would be an afternoon tea. I love the tea service at the Deerpath Inn in Lake Forest! It’s probably the best on the North Shore.
I’m a frequent diner at Kamehachi and Blufish Sushi (love their renovated outdoor patio). Le Colonial in Lake Forest is amazing, both food & ambience.
I am not a breakfast/brunch person (sorry breakfast places). I’m a regular at Three Tarts Bakery, the best food, yummiest and prettiest baked goods, and I also enjoy That Little French Guy in Highland Park. Another favorite is Great Coast Commons in Kenilworth. I love dining at Guildhall especially in their new outdoor space.
Tamales in Highland Park is one of the best Mexican restaurants on the North Shore! I am also a regular at Jimmy Thai, great reliable Thai food with exceptional service. Rosebud is a long time favorite and I love their outside patio in the summer.
My favorite restaurant locales in the suburbs are Evanston and Highwood. Both areas have cool city vibes & really good food. I love Maria’s in Highwood (best old school Italian food & traditional Italian cookies) and Dave’s Italian Kitchen in Evanston (great food/good value & lots of vegetarian options!)
I think the best thing that came out of covid are all of the outdoor dining venues. I love dining outside whenever possible!
Photo credit: Jan Lowe
Floral window display: Martha Nippet
What gets you through a tough day?
I love to walk. I strongly feel that exercise can improve your mental health and well being. Living in Downtown Northbrook makes it easy to take a walk, explore, and clear my mind. I love to walk to local coffee shops & enjoy a nature walk at Techny Prairie.
You are a registered dietician nutritionist. Tell us more about your background and how you’ve used this certification in your career path.
I attended Loyola University for my registered dietitian certification. I have always been a foodie. Not just eating food, but cooking food, photographing food, and learning about the role that food plays in our culture. As a dietitian, I opted for jobs that were more creative. The hospital setting was not for me. I found my strengths in culinary, writing, and education. As a busy mom raising twins, I always managed to keep my feet in the water doing something in the nutrition field.
While raising my boys, I was always the mom with the camera! If someone needed a photo of their kid from a school event they would come to me. I did a great deal of volunteer work while my kids were in school. Everything I volunteered for involved food, photography, videography, and communications. Hence, sharpening my media skills while involved in all of the parent organizations!
During the pandemic you started Sweet Melissa Media. Please tell us the impetus behind starting this new career path.
Yes, Sweet Melissa Media is a covid baby! When the pandemic happened, my kids had just started their freshman year of college. My plans for my life as an Empty Nester suddenly shifted. I had 2 kids sent home from college, could not travel, and could not even go out to eat! After months of being at home making homemade bread and babka I decided I needed something more. On the very day that Governor Pritzker shut down indoor dining, I came up with an idea. I was going to put together videos to show the public what the restaurants were doing to keep people safe and encourage diners to continue eating outdoors and carry-out. I didn’t know if restaurants would even want this, so I called around to some local restaurants to see if anyone wanted a video that I would donate.
I began quickly and steadily learning about the restaurant business. For example, the first time I called a restaurant and spoke with the owner, he sternly advised me not to call any restaurant during the lunch hour. He later became a client & good friend. I learned as I went, and one video led to the next. Within a few months I had created a lot of videos, which helped many struggling restaurants. All of the videos were donated at the height of the pandemic. It felt good to help so many small businesses. And after a year of donating videos, it was time to start my business, Sweet Melissa Media.
While my initial business plan was to work only with restaurants and food businesses, a connection through the Northbrook Chamber opened up the doors to working with other small businesses. My clients range from restaurant owners, realtors, mortgage brokers, boutiques and even a senior living community. One of my recent projects was a boutique hotel & spa in upstate New York!
Who is your ideal client as it relates to Sweet Melissa Media?
My ideal client is really any business that needs help promoting their business or brand. Most of my clients are new to the world of social media. I create the content and manage their social media accounts or provide step by step instructions on how and where to post.
What is your process with clients who come to you for social media support?
Since most of my clients are new to social media, we try to keep it simple! I’ll talk to the client to find out what it is that they want to promote and do it in a way that is authentic, real, relatable & fun!
Are there any other endeavors you’re currently focused on?
As a small business it’s important to give back to your community. I am the Director of Social Media for the Northbrook Farmers Market. I also work with The Northbrook Chamber, Hunger Resource Network and Northbrook Days.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about yourself or Sweet Melissa Media?
Owning your own business is not always glamorous! It’s really hard work and a big commitment! Many nights I fall asleep with a computer in my lap! However, each morning I wake up so excited to get down to social media business!
What’s the best way to connect with you?
You can learn more by visiting my website https://sweetmelissa-media.com/. I hope you’ll come along the journey with me by following Sweet Melissa Media on Instagram @sweetmelissamedia, Facebook, Food content on Instagram @foodiefilms_bymelissa and @sweetmelissamedia on Tiktok.
About our Meet of Mom Sponsor
A very heartfelt thank you to CNSMoms’ Meet a Mom sponsor, Lake Forest mom of three and owner of Gifford Law, a solo Estate Planning Firm (wills and trusts). Mary, we appreciate your support of local moms in our North Shore communities! Learn more about Mary by visiting her Meet a Mom spotlight here! Contact Mary directly here: [email protected].