Updated: Jun 15, 2022
I love this story about Marissa and creating her cheese plate company so much.
Following your passion, especially when it leads you off the beaten path, can be terrifying. But if where you are now doesn’t spark your creativity, it may be time to listen to that. Life is way too short to stay in a job that does not fulfill your soul.
In this episode of The Pollen Podcast, I bring on Marissa Mullen, founder of That Cheese Plate, to talk about her big leap from working in the music industry to chasing creativity and building her own brand. We also dive deep into the importance of human connection and how to let your creativity flow.
Listen to this episode to learn when it’s time to quit your job and follow your passion! A happy and successful life is more than just money — choose to chase your creative impulses.
🔥Here are three reasons why you should listen to this episode:
Learn how pursuing your passion is the fast track to success.
How Marissa went from working in the music industry to building beautiful cheese plates that bring her so much joy.
Hear a real story about how following your creative impulses lead you to deeper alignment in your work and life.
Achieve the life, career, and clients you’ve always wanted (and fully deserve!). Sign up for Diana’s Camp Clarity Course now!
If you’re an entrepreneur looking to fine-tune your business, hit us up at Ascend: the Elevated Entrepreneur Mastermind!
Access other courses from Diana Davis Creative
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life by Marissa Mullen
Connect with Marissa:
Cheese By Numbers: Instagram
That Cheese Class: Instagram
Marissa Mullen: Instagram
[08:34] Meet Marissa
Marissa has always been outspoken throughout her professional career.
Growing up with an interest in music, she made it her life’s mission to work in the music industry.
Interning for the music department at the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon sparked her interest in working in the music department of a late-night show.
She worked as an assistant to Jon Batiste on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
[15:28] Starting Her Cheese Plate Journey
In her free time, Marissa started making cheese boards to destress and relax.
In 2014, she wanted to make a centralized location for inspiration and created a Tumblr called “The Art of Cheese.”
She eventually rebranded it into “That Cheese Plate” and moved to Instagram.
[19:54] That Cheese Plate
After coming up with “cheese by numbers,” Marissa decided she wanted to build on it.
When she started the brand, her dream was to write a cookbook. However, several publishers had rejected her, so she started another account called “Cheese by Numbers.”
Eventually, she got an invitation to be on the Rachael Ray Show.
Listen to the full episode to find out how her brand blew up after guesting on the show!
[22:40] Quitting Her Day Job
Random House accepted Marissa’s book proposal.
Since publishing the book was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, she decided to quit her personal assistant role with Jon in March 2019.
After that, she began to focus on her brand by writing and doing events.
When the pandemic struck, she connected with her community through Instagram.
The book’s initial printing did well, and they have printed 225,000 copies today.
[26:01] Resparking Her Creativity
After moving into her own apartment, Marissa felt isolated and uninspired.
She started therapy and reflected on why she associated her self-worth with productivity.
[28:07] Marissa: “You need to take a break in order to feel inspired again. You can’t just keep going like a machine.” - Click Here to Tweet This
Her second book, That Cheese Plate Wants to Party, is about how cheese plates are a form of self-care.
[29:03] The Importance of Human Connection
As a deep feeler, Marissa needs to channel her emotions in creative ways.
She started a podcast called Diving In with her friend Leslie, where they talk about the vulnerabilities of being in the entertainment and content creation industries.
Talking about her internal issues through the podcast helped her heal.
[30:28] Marissa: “[At] the core of all this, it’s just human connection that is the most important, you know? It doesn’t matter what you’re building, what you’re doing, it matters about how does it make people feel? And how does it bring people together in this way?” - Click Here to Tweet This
[32:21] How to Create Content Without a Professional Camera
Marissa shot the photos for her books on her own using her iPhone.
The creative aspect, aesthetics, and vision were really important to her.
For her second book, her photos turned out better because she learned how to edit her photos on Lightroom.
All you need is a nice backdrop, indirect natural light, and your phone.
[35:48] Making Connections
Figure out who you want to email and be strategic.
Interact with other brands on social media.
In-person networking is also important to expand your network.
If you want to find out how Marissa and Diana met, tune in to the full episode!
[49:01] Diving Into Astrology
During the pandemic, Marissa started exploring astrology and doing birth chart readings.
Journaling and connecting with yourself takes practice and commitment.
Feminine energy is better transmitted through movement, while masculine energy is best transmitted through stillness.
[57:07] Marissa’s Advice
Feel what your intuition is telling you about something.
Turning your passion into your work isn’t easy, but hard work pays off.
Rest is important.
[59:48] Marissa: “It’s the hustle that inspires you but it’s not going to happen if you just put in an hour here and there and sit on the couch and wait for things to happen. You have to make that email, you have to reach out, you have to network. Do all these things that you’re putting your energy out there so that it comes back to you.” - Click Here to Tweet This
[1:01:40] Letting Creativity Flow
Creativity is operating in that flow state where your fears and doubts disappear, almost like a spiritual moment and connecting to childlike joy.
Marissa’s entrepreneurial crush is Ina Garten.
Lately, she’s listened to the audiobook of Untamed by Glennon Doyle and Sofi Tukker’s music.
She’d love to create flower arrangements, curated dinner parties, and a poetry book.
Marissa Mullen is a bestselling author, entrepreneur, food stylist, and podcast host. She is the founder of That Cheese Plate, a global community for cheese plate inspiration and creative food styling, and is known for pioneering the cheese and charcuterie trend. She is dedicated to bringing people together through cooking, creativity, and artistic expression.
She hosts a podcast called Diving In with Leslie Moser. Her debut book, That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life, focuses on crafting a cheese plate as a meditative activity. Her second cookbook, That Cheese Plate Wants to Party, is set to release in 2023.
Enjoyed this Podcast on Following Your Passion?
So many people get stuck in a job that does not bring them joy because they’re expected to — or because they’re afraid of change. Sometimes, the best course of action is to steer away from the beaten path and go where your creativity leads you!
Pollen is a podcast for Creative Entrepreneurs — just like you! If you enjoyed this episode of Pollen Podcast, subscribe and help us spread the word by sharing it!
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Have any questions or want to leave a suggestion? Say hi on the ‘gram @dianadaviscreative! You can also subscribe to my newsletter for travel updates, learn about special projects, and get tips and tricks for the creative entrepreneur life!
Connect with me on Linkedin: Diana Davis Creative.
Thanks for listening! Stay tuned to my website for more episode updates and other exciting programs and resources.
Try to feel what it feels like in your body. How does it feel? How does your intuition feel? What is your intuition telling you? If something is not working, you will know. And you will inherently feel it. When I was at the Late Show, kind of approaching those like last moments and had this opportunity to leave for That Cheese Plate, nothing in me wanted to stay at the Late Show. And if I forced myself to stay there, I would have been miserable. So it's like you know when you need to make a change.
Diana Davis: Welcome to Pollen, the podcast for creative entrepreneurs. I'm your host, Diana Davis, multi-passionate creative, business coach, Gemini, manifesting generator, matcha drinker, and travel junkie. I'm also the founder of Diana Davis Creative, where I went from a six-figure photography business to coaching creative entrepreneurs like you. If you want to have a career and a life you love. You're in the right place.
On this show, I'll be coaching on all things creative entrepreneurship, and you'll hear stories from fellow creative entrepreneurs that will show you it is possible to do life the way you want to. They'll share the nitty-gritty of their journeys, like the real shit, and how they are doing it differently. I'm stoked to have you along on this journey. Let's go.
Hi, Pollen. I am beyond excited for this episode, and for you to listen to this guest. We have my friend Marissa Mullen coming on. She is the founder of That Cheese Plate. And all I can say is that this is such a creative episode. You're going to learn so much and going to be so expanded in so many ways. She has quite the winding path, quite the journey.
Officially, Marissa Mullen is a best-selling author, entrepreneur, content creator, and podcast host. She is the founder of That Cheese Plate, a global community for cheese plate inspiration and creative food styling. You have to follow this account if you haven't yet. With her beautiful, inventive and accessible new approach to food styling, she pioneered the cheese and charcuterie trend in popular culture today. And when she says that, she means it she actually was one of the very first people to start making cheese plates and putting them online.
Mullen has appeared on The Today Show, Good Morning America, The Rachael Ray Show, Live with Kelly and Ryan, Business Insider, and Food and Wine among many other outlets. Her innovative Cheese By Numbers method has revolutionized how cheese and charcuterie boards are crafted, and her work consistently inspires authenticity, intentional gatherings, and finding joy in the present moment when joy is needed more than ever.
Mullen’s inspirational workshops on food, creativity, and artistic expression bring people and teams together even when they are far apart. Her debut cookbook, which you'll learn was all shot on an iPhone, That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life underscores how creating cheese plates can be grounding meditative activity. This book has inspired many, was awarded with Amazon Editor's Pick for 2020, and listed on Wall Street Journal's bestseller list. Marissa is dedicated to bringing people together through creativity, self-expression and entertainment. I cannot wait for you to dig into this episode. Enjoy.
Before we dig into this week's episode, I have a couple of announcements of things that are happening in the DDC world and I always want to keep you up to date on that. First of all, Ascend, the elevated entrepreneur mastermind starts this Thursday — pretty wild. Time is flying by and we are open for business. We already have one full cohort and we are filling a whole other one because there is so much demand. This is for the creative entrepreneur, which — let me break that down for you — you can be a yogi, a fitness pro, a photographer, a ceramicist, a designer, a consultant, a coach, anybody.
Basically, if you have a heart-centered business, even if you are a realtor, and you have a heart-centered business that you are looking to grow, that is you. It is for creative entrepreneurs who are already making income and already landing clients. This is for you if you want to ascend and grow past that stage versus Camp Clarity is more about rewiring your business if you've been in it for a while, or creating the foundations to a new business or side hustle. Ascend is kind of that next level if you will. I don't love the word levels but for lack of a better term, that next level.
It is a four-month program. You will be in a room full of amazing just epic entrepreneurs, I can tell you because I know a lot of people who are already in it. And you will always have time to workshop on these calls, which are weekly calls. We also have a Slack group to keep in touch during the week and workshop anything that you need support on. And you get the mastermind. That's the point. That's the definition — is that there's many minds in a room who can solve problems from a very varying perspective. We might have a PR person, which we do. An architect, a writer, a designer, a photographer, a social media expert, a brand partnership guru, all of these people will be in that room with you, workshopping what you have going on to ascend.
This is not that you're broken and we are fixing you. It is that you are crushing it and you're wanting to go further. DM me on Instagram at @dianadaviscreative if you're interested in that. Again, we start in two days, so get with it or apply in the link in my bio. Also, the next announcement I have, probably the most exciting thing we have announced all year, is that we are hosting our first in real life retreat. It is going to be in the beautiful — oh my god beautiful — stunning Rocky Mountains in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and it is going to be August 29th through September 1st.
There are still a few rooms available. This is obviously limited capacity because it is not a Zoom Room; it's in real life. So please check that out as well. We will drop the link below. It is going to be epic. If you've never been on a retreat before, in real-life connection and coaching is just beyond a Zoom room. You can't even compare it. It's like apples to oranges. We will be coaching, meditating, doing yoga, hiking, hot springs, relaxing in the beautiful rocky mountain air. Join us.
Hello, Pollen listeners. We have such a fun, special guest today. Marissa Mullen is in the house. Marissa, how the heck are you? How have you been? What's up?
Marissa Mullen: Oh man, I'm just so happy that spring is here. It's been a long winter. It's just like, once the leaves come out and like the sun is warm, I come alive. And I'm ready to go. But it took some work to get there.
Diana: Seasonal depression is no joke, especially you're based in New York City. I always contributed when I lived in New York. Like when it would start being nice. I felt like it was like earthworms after the rain. They come out on the sidewalks. That's like New Yorkers — the sun comes out and they're like crawling all over the ground. They're all over the parks. They're —
Marissa: Oh fully. There's always that first warm day in March. That's like such a tease. And everyone comes out of their little cupboards. Their like, boxes, and “Oh, we're here we're out, sun.” And then the next day, it's like sleeting rain and 40 degrees again. And you're like, Okay, New York —
Diana: — of relationship. Yeah. Okay, so I do want to talk about how we met because I love that expansive story always of how two people can connect. And I think ours is really fun. But first, I want just kind of the Cliff Notes of who are you. Tell the people who you are.
Marissa: It's a complex story. No, I’m kidding. Yes, always as a kid, I always was a chatter, would talk all the time, would blurt in class. I couldn't shut up. And I think that kind of contributes to how I am today in the world. Throughout my professional career, I feel like I've had the — I've been a little bit outspoken per se, which we'll get into. But I grew up in Connecticut and I've always been very into music and art and grew up as an emo kid in high school in the suburbs, going to Warped Tour. And at a really young age, I was very into music and always wanted to work in the music industry, and made that kind of my mission in life.
When I was in high school, I started interning for record labels and for a friend's band. I also ended up working for a nonprofit organization on Warped Tour. And that kind of just fueled my creative spark of wanting to work in music. I've never been the type of person who wanted the classic nine to five — still am not. I kind of reject a lot of things in society that people tell me to do.
Diana: We love that.
Marissa: We love it. And as I get older, I'm like, “Wow, I really, really don't like the — you have to get married, have kids moved to the suburbs.” I'm like, “Nope, not for me.” Which is a realization that I'm having now.
Thinking back, I've kind of always been this way. So that being said, I always kind of had these jobs that were a little bit off the beaten path. I worked at a venue, I went to college and studied music, business, and communications. In college, I ended up interning at a management company called Nettwerk Music Group. And that's where I kind of dipped my toes into artist management and the world of that, which is a crazy world that, later, I learned that I didn't love but it was great experience. And then my first internship that really kind of sparked this passion in me was working at the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. And this was one that, with timing and circumstances, originally, I interviewed for it. And then Hurricane Sandy hit New York City and everyone lost power.
They didn't get back to me for a month. And at that point, I already accepted my internship at the management company. I was just like, “You know what, it's fine. I'm not going to do this right now. But maybe at another point in my future.” And a year later, I was looking to do another internship and pulled up that email from a year prior and just cold emailed them was like, “Hello, I know, you guys wanted to interview me, and you never did. But I'm free now.
And I'd love to interview for an internship.” This is, I was probably like 20. And they responded and I interviewed and got that job, which really was just an insane experience. I was working in the music department at Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, right for the premiere of the show. It was super chaotic, super, like, the hours were insane. But I was obsessed.
I was one of those interns who would pick up every shift possible, would make it — I made an intern manual by the end for the next person. I was always just like the obnoxious overworker. And so after that, I finished that internship. And my mom was like, “Oh, so you're graduating in a year, what do you want to do?” And I was like, “I want to work in the music department at a late night TV show.” And she's like, “Oh, well, there's only four positions that have that. There are only four late-night TV shows. So good luck.” And this is something that, my mom and I, we joke about because she always initially doubts me and then I'm like, “Just wait, I'll prove you wrong.”
Like in middle school. I'm almost six feet tall. I'm very tall. And in middle school, she was like, “Yeah, you should definitely try out for basketball.” And I'm like, “No, I'm going to do cheerleading.” She’s like don't do cheerleading. You've never cheerleaded in your life. You've played basketball in elementary school, definitely do basketball.” Tried out for cheerleading. And I was the only sixth grader to make the team. So I was like, “Told you mom.”
Diana: Get it, girl.
Marissa: A similar thing happens with this. I basically set out I was like, “Okay, well, the Late Show, Stephen Colbert. He's taking over for David Letterman. They don't have a music department. I'm going to figure out who they're building this with. I'm going to get in however I can.”
I emailed every single person I knew was just like, “Hey, if you know anything, let me know.” And in a turn of events, a friend of mine worked at the Colbert Report. My resume flew around on someone's desk, I got a call. And it was to be the personal assistant to the bandleader on the show, who is Jon Batiste. And at the time, Jon Batiste was a Juilliard graduate, and he was 26, I was 23. We were babies. And I reconnected with him recently. It was just like, “Wow, we were so young, in this position of chaos that I can't believe we actually — it ran smoothly.”
Because I was basically put in charge of seven Juilliard recent graduates who had never been on like a structure of a TV show, who've never been used to working in corporate America, they're so by the book, or like — what's the word not by the book, just off the beaten path.
Like, “I'm going to go play a gig there and go here,” very free-flowing. And I had to almost like, they called me the jazz cat wrangler, because I would just like wrangle them like cats, and like, “Guys this way,” like, “Oh, get on stage now.” I worked there at the Late Show for four years, it was amazing. It was, again, one of those really intense jobs, 14-hour days, and I ended up picking up the responsibilities for being Jon's personal assistant outside of the show as well. And at this point in my life, it was just one of those things where I'm like, work is life, hustle culture is life. If I'm not working as hard as I possibly can, I'm not worthy, which later I've learned that is not the case. But it took me a very long time to get there.
At this certain point, we would, at the Late Show, be there during the week from Monday through Friday, get on a plane, go to California play two gigs for Jon's solo stuff, come back, go back to work Monday. And there were times where I would work maybe like 53 days straight with no break. And in my mind, I was like, “This is normal. I'm just working in music. I'm making a name for myself.”
Diana: In New York City.
Marissa: In New York City. And oh, let's not forget that the Late Show paid me $40,000 starting salary to live in New York City. And I just thought that that's what people did. Like that's what you had to do to make it. And I’m like, “Eventually I'll get to this position where I'll make more money. Eventually I'll go up in the ranks to have more creativity and more freedom in the sense,” but it's really hard as a personal assistant because your life is theirs. And Jon, he's amazing. I have nothing bad to say about him, and he actually really helped me express my creativity like he let me run his social media. All of it however I wanted, like we would do photoshoots together. He let me direct music videos for him. I directed every live performance of his on the Late Show secretly, so no one knew because I wasn't allowed to since I was an assistant.
It was actually really nice, because after I left, he called me back in to actually creative direct a performance for his. And I was just like sitting in this room with everyone at the Late Show, like leading the meeting, which was really rewarding. He really helped me shine in that light, but it's just an all-consuming job. And when you are a personal assistant, the growth trajectory is pretty difficult because either you go and work for the management company, which after my internship in Boston at that management company, I realized I didn't really want to be a manager. Or you kind of like become a lifer, personal assistant, and you grow as the artist grows.
As I was doing this, I loved it, but it was definitely a lot of stress and anxiety. And so something that I did to calm down on the weekends, and when I had time off was to make cheese boards. And this is an Instagram that I made in college. So it's called That Cheese Plate.
Diana: What year was this that this started? Didn’t you start on Twitter?
Marissa: So I made — I started on Tumblr. So it was called The Art of Cheese. I started it in 2014. I was just about to be a senior in college and my friend and I were having a wine and cheese Christmas party, and I was looking for inspiration for cheese plate spreads. And I realized that there's not one centralized location on the internet for inspiration. I'd be looking at like wedding websites, Pinterest, like deep search Googling like brie. I was just trying to find photos of cheese plates. And I was just like, “You know what, I'm going to make a centralized location for inspiration, and call it The Art of Cheese because cheese plates are artistic.” And there you go.
I started this account on Tumblr, was just posting photos I'd find. I was not well-versed in cheese plating myself. I would make cheese plates for friends and family and I always have been artistic and very into working with my hands. My mom would put me on cheese plate duty, but they weren't as intricate as they are today. I have photos of my first ones, and it's just hilarious. But started this Tumblr and then realized in like 2015 that Instagram was the next big thing. I moved over to Instagram, I rebranded I had named it That Cheese Plate, mainly because a large cheese company took www.artofcheese.com. I was like, well there goes my domain name that I never reserved. I changed it to That Cheese Plate. And I basically ran it in tandem with working in the music industry. And I almost took what I learned from music and applied it to cheese.
I'm like, “Okay, well, if I was an artist manager, and the cheese was my artist, what would I need.” And so I made a logo, I've made a merch store, I started teaching cheese classes in person, started doing events, and just kind of built it up into this brand. And it was always something that was anonymous. I'd show my face here and there, but not very often. And in the beginning, it was a lot of just reposts of other people's plates. And then slowly I started to make my own when I was working in New York, mainly because for me making a cheese plate was such a meditative activity. And when I was not working, making a cheese plate, having friends come over putting on music, drinking some wine, it was just like the perfect activity to do.
It encouraged me to post those plates as I'd make them for friends. And then over time, 2018, I was still working at the Late Show. That was the first time I taught an in-person cheese class. And this was with friends who own a wine bar in the East Village. And they were looking to do some programming and we came up with this idea of almost like a paint and sip class but cheese plates. I'm in the front of the room, I teach you all how to make a plate. And then there's a buffet table. Everyone makes their own teach you how to take an Instagram and it's just such a fun daytime activity.
Diana: Honestly, so much better than paint.
Marissa: Oh yeah. And then you get to eat it. Yeah, delicious. But when I was teaching these classes, I realized that I would build my boards in the same order every time. I'd start with the cheese. Then I'd add the meat, then produce then crunch, then dip then garnish. And I'm a very like, I guess I'd say I'm Type A I like organization. And I decided to kind of put this order into a map almost like “Paint by Numbers” and call it “Cheese by Numbers.” So it breaks down the cheese board into six steps, makes it super easy to understand. And a friend of mine who worked at Late Show she was actually the receptionist at the time. She's a brilliant illustrator. And that was her passion project. She would just doodle for fun and doodle illustrations for the show. I asked her to doodle one of my cheese plates for a cheese by numbers map mainly to put on a tote bag.
And she did it for me and I was like this is so — it's so beautiful. I love this concept and I want to kind of like build on this and see where it can go. And when I started That Cheese Plate in the beginning my dream was to write a cookbook. I always thought that cheese plates were just so beautiful and intricate. I always said, I want it to be a coffee table book. Like less of a cookbook, just like a beautiful book of photos of cheese. And in 2018, I was teaching these classes and then around the same time, I asked a friend of mine who actually has a book, not about food or anything, just how do you write a book. I have no idea where I'm starting, I think it would be a really great idea, but I just don't know what I'm doing. And she connected me to her book agent who worked at a small literary agency in New York, and I had a meeting with her, pitched her the idea, this concept Cheese By Numbers for a book, she loved it. We took it out and pitched it to probably 25 publishers, and every single person rejected it.
They were like, “You don't have enough press. You don't have enough followers.” At the time That Cheese Plate had, I think, like maybe 30,000 followers, which is not enough for a book, apparently. And I'm like, “Great, I've been working for what, four years to build this account from zero to 30,000, blood, sweat, and tears. And that's still not enough for a book deal, according to you people, okay.”
Then I kind of just put the book idea on the side and continued on working in music and doing my thing. And kind of fueled by anger with these publishers, I made another account called Cheese By Numbers. And I basically wanted to put the idea on the internet so that people could see how the system worked and how easy it is to build the plate. And using the maps with something that I call swipe to build, which is like a swipe and the cheese plate builds on itself.
I started just cross-promoting on That Cheese Plate to be like, “Hey, here's the plate, but to learn how to build it go to Cheese By Numbers.” And over time, slow build, I think probably it grew faster than That Cheese Plate. I'd say within like six months, it hit 5,000 followers. And then in December of 2018, I got an email from the Rachael Ray show. And they were like, “Hey, we found Cheese By Numbers on Instagram. We'd love to have you on the show.” I was like, “What? Not That Cheese Plate, the one that I've been doing this whole time?” They’re like “No, Cheese by Numbers.” And it would be confusing to talk about both and “I'm like, great. Okay, there I go making two Instagram accounts, stupid.”
I go on Rachael Ray, and we talk all about Cheese by Numbers. And overnight, it went from like 5,000 to 15,000. It just blew up. And from that point forward, it was just nonstop. New Year happened, then I was on the Today Show, I did an article with Vox about how cheese plates are self-care. I was on a plane with Jon Batiste going to show and made a cheese plate on JetBlue that I Instagrammed from the sky. And when I landed it was picked up by Travel and Leisure and The Points Guy. And then out of like, literally the woodworks, Random House reached out to me and asked if I ever thought to write a book. And it's crazy because it was the one imprint of Random House that my old literary agency didn't pitch to. And so if they did, they would be able to get all the like the advance from it. Because they were the ones to find it. But I dropped her at that point. And this was the only imprint that she wasn't connected to.
It was like, okay, full steam ahead, you can do this. I met with my editor there, Cleo. And I showed her my whole book proposal that I already had ready. And she was like, “Yeah, let's do it.” And at that point, I was like, “Oh, shit, I still have a full-time job. Like, what am I doing?”
And I was, I almost felt like Hannah Montana, because I was doing like all this cheese stuff in the morning and then at the same time, going to the Late Show and putting back on my assistant hat. And it just got to the point where I just had to weigh out my options and I'm like, “This is a once in a lifetime experience. And I need to put all of my energy into this book.” Just so you know, I can't do it at the same time as Jon Batiste and I don't see myself growing here.
I talked to him and decided to leave. And that was in March of 2019. I wrote the book all summer, and then did a few fun, like cheese travel trips in the fall 2019. We release the preorder in winter. 2020 happens, plan the whole book tour myself, because it's another thing like publishing companies don't really help you with book tours.
I kind of, again, took my experience in music and applied it to the tour where I'm like, “Alright, I want events and we're going to team up with hotels.” And we had this whole 16-city book tour planned. I was going to be on the Today Show, everything was like set, ready to go. COVID happened. So then everything got canceled, obviously. And it was this weird time where I was just like, “Oh, well, how do I even promote this book if I'm not doing my book tour, and I'm not going on TV.”
What I did was kind of like turned to my community. And at that point, I built a community of about 100,000 people. And like I said earlier, I didn't really show my face that much. My face would be here and there on stories, but it wasn't a persona behind That Cheese Plate. It was more just like That Cheese Plate felt like a brand. So I was like “You know what, I'm going to talk to the audience and I'm going to do these things called Lunch Date with That Cheese Plate every week where I make lunch on Instagram. I'm going to host Instagram happy hours where we just sit together, give you a shopping list. Let's make a cheese plate together.” And it really felt — it was amazing for me because I felt so much more connected to the people who followed That Cheese Plate. And I think for them, it gave my brand a personality.
It was just — it fueled me through the pandemic. It was having these weekly happy hours, I was living at my parents’ house and they were like, they looked forward to every Saturday. They would sit in the other room as I was in the kitchen, like doing the thing. I had them on, like making cocktails from here, and from time to time. And yeah, then the book came out in May. And what's funny is that like, what could you do in COVID, besides grocery shop and make cheese plates? So it actually did really well, better than we expected. The initial printing was 17,000 copies, which they were like, “Okay, this will last us through however, like — this is the run we're doing. That's it.” And today, we've printed 225,000. So it's insane.
It ended up being in Anthropology, Paper Source, Urban Outfitters, all those stores.
Everything on like, my vision board kind of came true, which is insane. And after that, it was like COVID happened, COVID’s still happening. 2021 was kind of a strange year, because I feel like there was this momentum from the book release. But then I didn't really have another project to do. And this was like this in-between limbo time, which I've learned that I'm really bad at. I'm not very good at sitting still. And having this time of you know, not feeling creatively inspired.
Diana: So many hints to your astrology right now. Just in so many ways. Okay.
Marissa: 2021, I think it was, it almost felt like this year of actually having to stop. So many people I talked to were like, “Oh, 2020 was my year of taking a break and resting.” It was opposite for me, because I was just hustling to get this book out. And then in 2021, moved into my own apartment by myself for the first time, living alone was alone a lot, it was still kind of like COVID-ey and things were closed here. And I just felt very isolated and very uninspired and just at this point where I was like, “Now what?” And I think like the energy of like hustling in the music industry and hustling to get this book out, and just nonstop, nonstop, work, work, work. And then you stop, you're like, “Woah, what, who am I? Like, where have I been?”
I started therapy, which was great and started to just kind of work on myself a little bit more. And really just like, take a look within and be like, “Why do I associate so much of my productivity, my self-worth to productivity, and my self-worth to validation on Instagram.” And I was getting so obsessed with the algorithm and making sure that I was getting these likes, and comparing myself like no other to other charcuterie accounts. Because it's like I technically started the trend. And now there's like, hundreds of thousands accounts out there. And it really, I think it was a pretty intense time for me mentally 2021. But then towards the end of the year, I started to kind of pick it up a little bit. And the inspiration spark came back, which is what I'm learning, it's like, you need to take a break in order to feel inspired again. You can't just keep going like a machine.
That's when I got the idea to write my second book, which is called That Cheese Plate Wants to Party. The first book is all about how to make a cheese plate step by step, it's called That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life. It's all about how cheese plates are a form of self-care. Once you get the cheese by numbers method down, it's like no stress, and you can just make the plate. Now we're taking it to the next level. What's the vibe of the room? Like? What does your tablescape look like? How do the colors on your cheese plate match your florals? What music are we listening to? I have a Spotify playlist for every plate in the book so you can make your plate while listening to the music. Again, everything is cheese by numbers but it's kind of about gatherings and how just the importance of people in a room is just something to not take for granted and how parties aren't just a physical act, they’re a mindset.
Going into that theme, I started writing again and I started feeling so much more creative again. And I've just learned for me, I just always need to be creating. And I think something that I learned over the past few years as well as that I am a deep feeler, and if I'm not channeling my emotions in a way that is creative, it's hard for me to channel them. I don't really cry very often. I'm always just kind of from the outside just as this happy, even-keeled positive person, but I do have emotions and it took me a while to figure out how to channel those feelings.After that I started a podcast with my friend Leslie, who is the owner of Doug the Pug and we both kind of came together and we have a very similar story. She also was a personal assistant in music, left her job to run Doug the Pug full-time.
We both have had experience being like the help bottom of the barrel to being the talent per se. And so we started a podcast called Diving In talking about the vulnerabilities behind the entertainment and content creation industries, and doing that podcast, in turn, helped heal myself. Because talking about all these issues and themes of comparison, imposter syndrome, self-worth, the social media algorithm, all of these issues that I had inside, I was able to kind of talk to someone about who understood it so well, and then in turn, have people listen to it and be like, “Oh my gosh, same, I feel so connected to that.”
It goes back to COVID when I turned to my community and felt so much more connected to them. It's like you realize that at the core of all this, it's just human connection that is the most important. It doesn't matter what you're building, what you're doing. It matters about, like, how does it make people feel? And how does it bring people together in this way? Long story short, that's kind of my Cliff Notes, which was probably like 40 minutes, I’m sorry.
Diana: No, there's no sorries here. This is exactly what we're looking for that
Marissa: As Shoshana would say, I'm sexy.
Diana: I know, I'm sexy, we always use that. I brought that into my coaching group. So we don't — we say sorry too much as women. Yeah, I love all of this. And it's so fun because I know a lot of your story. And I got to witness pieces and parts of it at different stages. And it's so fun to see and hear the nuances within that. And, I'm the same way where I'm not a crier. I don't really feel my feelings a lot, which kind of scares me sometimes. I'm like, “Oh, you can really compartmentalize how you're really showing up, for example, in this breakup, like really well.” and I'm like, “Oh, that's because I can just put on maybe that's our astrology.” Yeah, I'm like the face, but it's genuine. And then over here, like, I need to feel my feelings so, so interesting, going through all of that.
I just think the biggest thing for you is like, you're not just the cheese plate girl. You know, you're so much more than that. And I love how you're creating community through this and making it mean something. It's not just like, “Okay, here's this talent that I have.” And “Oops, I blew up on Instagram.” It's very intentional. And it's very heartfelt and it's more about being human than anything. And I've loved how it's about self-care. And it's about connection. So that's so cool. And I also want to just give you a shout-out, because we have a lot of creatives in the audience, that this cookbook was not shot on a professional camera. Can you talk about that?
Marissa: Yes. In my initial meetings with my publisher, we were talking about the details of the book, and they're like, “Who do you want to shoot it?” And I was like, “Well, I do all my photos myself on Instagram. And I feel like they look pretty good.” And they're like, “Okay, yeah, you can shoot it.” And I was like, “Can I use my iPhone, though?” And they're like, “Let's check the specs and the dimensions.” And I sent them the dimensions. And they’re like, “That should work. Okay.” So I shot the entire cookbook on my iPhone.
Then I bought the iPhone 13 and shot my entire second cookbook with the other iPhone. So the second cookbook quality is a little bit better because the iPhone got better. But for me, it just makes it so easy. Because you can, frame it up exactly how you want it, you can edit it, you can save it in folders, organize it so nicely. And it's just what I knew.
I guess like for me, the creative aspect of it is so important to me and the aesthetics and the vision behind it is so important that I didn't want to give that up to someone else to do with the illustrations though, my illustrator Sarah. So, one on the Late Show she did the first book illustrated the whole thing. She did the second book, too. And it's funny because her style has evolved as well. So the second book is really cool, because it's like her illustrations almost look like photorealistic in a way because like she's upped her craft, and then my photos look better because I know how to actually edit photos now on Lightroom instead of like VSCO Cam. It definitely feels like a more elevated version. But yeah, and I say too my cheese classes, I'm like, all you need is a nice backdrop, indirect natural light, and your phone. I did it with this cookbook, you can do it too. So it makes it really easy and accessible.
Diana: All of those people saying they can't create content, and they need a professional camera and all this stuff like props. And also isn't it — was it technically like the first cookbook shot all on an iPhone?
Marissa: I think technically. I was trying to get a hold of Apple to be like, look guys. Isn't this cool? But they never answered me on paper, I don't think a lot of people know that it was shot on iPhone. It's like it's one of those things that I say in like cheese classes and in workshops and stuff, but there's no like public forum that's like this book is shot on the iPhone. So it's almost like a fun little easter egg.
Diana: Yeah, I love that. So I do want to get into our story. We'll get into that. But I don't want to lose track on this question. I want to talk about follow-up and reaching out, like pitching yourself. And I love, love, first of all analogies are my favorite thing ever, and just like how you applied the music industry almost as an analogy for your other business, That Cheese Plate. With what even the Jimmy Fallon thing? Like the follow-up email is so key and I'm always telling people like, my love language is you popping an email to the top of my inbox. God, pop it to the top of my inbox, because I looked at it saw it was important and would take me more than 15 minutes. And I left it on snooze and then forgot about it.
So it's like, you have also done that so much with even say, reaching out to hotels for this tour, reaching out for partnerships, and you do a lot of brand influencing. Do you have like tips and tricks for this? Especially when it's a cold reach out? Obviously, we use our contacts as much as possible. But even when you were trying to get your resume out there. What did that look like for you?
Marissa: Yeah, that's a great question. For me, it was before the email even starts. It's like figuring out who I want to email and being very strategic about that. Because I think a lot of the times, if you go on LinkedIn and look at like, the president of this company, and email them, they're probably not going to see it because they get so many of these emails every day. Figuring out is there someone that there is a like connection to. For example, the person that I got in contact with at the Late Show was someone that my brother went to college with. It was a mutual friend mutual connection, he could vet me, he knows like, oh, that Shane’s sister, I know that she does ABC, I'm going to forward along this resume.
You kind of need to make sure that they trust you and they like trust that their word for you make sense, which is hard when you're trying to like break into something cold turkey because it's like, it's so easy to just kind of get lost in the internet. I think for work for That Cheese Plate though a lot of it. I mean, it sounds like crazy, but I'd say like 80% of what I do have been brands reaching out to me. And I'm very, very lucky for that. And I'm very grateful for that. But even in the beginning, it was like I'd take time and like go on Instagram and sit actually sit in college and go through every single hashtag cheese, cheese plate, charcuterie, charcuterie board and like every single photo in the hashtag. Which back on Instagram in the day, it was like that worked to get followers.
I think also in the past too like, the connections you make on Instagram felt more genuine than now. Because it's so it was so much less saturated. So I kind of entered the scene in this space where I was the only cheese plate influencer account. And I kind of created these relationships with brands on social media just by liking all their photos. And we became friends on social media and Instagram. But it did it did require a lot of in-person networking like I went to the Cheesemonger Invitational and the Fancy Food Show. And like I went out of my way to do a lot of these like really niche cheese events, which I totally fell out of my element at because I'm not a cheesemonger and I'm not a caterer and I came from the music industry.
Meeting people face-to-face and just introducing yourself and talking to them so they see you, not just your email, is really beneficial. And from then they would pass along my name to a brand or pass along my name to a dairy farm that wants me to come visit. A lot of it was kind of like in-person networking, and then on social media, just befriending a lot of people and brands. But yeah, for the most part, a lot of what I've done have been just people showing up in my inbox and then me vetting them.
It's interesting like right now — I like this question because right now I'm in this point where things have been a little slow in terms of brand deals. And I don't know if that's like, because social media is just so oversaturated at this point, or brands are shifting how they want to spend their money. But I'm at this point where you know, the next book’s coming out, I have all these ideas of how I want to collaborate with brands, and I have to do the reaching out now. I'm like, “Okay, how should I reach out?” I'm so used to getting all this attention to me that I almost became, not lazy, but like used to it. And so now I'm kind of in this point where I'm like, “Well, I want to do all this really cool big stuff. How do I do this? And how should I reach out in this way?”
For me, like a lot of the times what helps for me is like sending someone a DM first and seeing if they answer and then they can look at your page and see what you're all about and get a visual on you. And then you follow up with the email. It's just hard with emails because it's like emails can get lost so easily and if it's not something that's super compelling right off the bat people will skip over it. Yeah, so having something that stands out I think definitely connecting either in person or through a friend or even a phone call or something that just they can get a sense of your personality definitely helps in like the cold calling, cold reaching out.
Diana: I love that. And I think there's so many times when we're say even my clients are like, you know, I'm not getting any traction. It's like I'm posting on Instagram. I'm doing the things I'm showing up. But it's like, have you reached out to your network? I shot for Rachael Ray. So we both had a Rachael Ray moment, which I love because I used to watch her as a kid. I my pasttime was the Cooking Channel. Yes, like I remember her teaching me how to cut cherry tomatoes, like all at once between two Tupperware lids. I got reached out for that, from an old-time coworker who had a friend who worked at Rachael Ray, who needed someone who could do food styling and photography at the same time and not need to have two people there.
It wasn't because they didn't have a budget. It was because where they did their food photography for their Instagram is a closet. Like literally. Rachael Ray was behind a curtain next to me in like a four-by-five room, doing voiceovers while I was shooting and styling, like the food she had just made on the show.
Marissa: Oh my gosh.
Diana: You think these brands are big and glorious and amazing? They're just brands and just —
Marissa: Exactly. And like what you realize too, is like people do read their DMs like I have 300-and-something-thousand followers and I read every DM that comes my way. So it's like, if you think you're shooting into the dark, send a DM. They might see it.
Diana: Totally. Yeah. And I think it's just like social media is so powerful. But there's so many other tools just like you said, you're going to the Fancy Food Show you're going to the cheesemonger events, you're doing these things, you're even which I hate to say for the person in Wichita, Kansas, but you're putting yourself in New York City, and being around the people that make the decisions and have influence that's important. And that's how I've gotten a lot of my stuff too is just being literally in the vicinity of people and in-person networking and stuff like that. So I think that's super important for people to know. And just get a little grit and a little hustle and write the emails. The goal is for letting people come to you, I always say like, be the flower, not the bee. Sometimes, we have to be like, hey, I have a new flower over here. Like we exactly know about it, too.
Marissa: That's funny you say about New York City and like these brands and experiences because that's how we met. And I'm thinking back to when we first met it was this Refinery 29 event. It's like an influencer event. And I got hooked up to them, because of a friend from high school’s friend from college, worked for sweetgreen. And sweetgreen was like, Oh, we want to do this activation. Do you know anyone who makes like grazing tables? And she was like, oh, I think my friend's friend does.
It was one of those like, friend of friend of friend. It wasn't like, oh, we need That Cheese Plate for this event. Because at the time it was, I think 2017 or 2018. You know, it was before any of this happened with my brand. And we did this event and you were there being a photographer, and you took the most badass photo of me. It's still one of my favorite photos ever standing at this grazing table. And I remember like seeing that shot being like, whoa, this looks like pretty legit. Like, maybe this could be a business like I don't know.
Diana: Then it got used in your box.
Marissa: Yes. And then it was like, the biggest the biggest article that like blew up is like Diana Davis. Right there.
Diana: So fun. Yeah, let's talk about that for a second. Because same, I shout out to a bunch of people here. But I actually was doing photography for events, which wasn't my favorite thing. I'm not going to lie, but it paid the bills and these supplemental stuff, right? I'm never going to say, you know, I'm a big advocate for working with dream clients. And that's so possible, but also sometimes you just have to like take a gig to pay the rent, and it can lead to XY and Z and us sitting here now. So you never know.
I was shooting for Six Degrees Society, which is my friend Emily Merrill's networking company, and someone reposted something a story of me shooting that event. It was with Bumble and a friend of a friend of a friend saw that story. Her name is Rupa she works I don't know if she's still at sweetgreen or not.
Marissa: She was she worked with Danielle at sweetgreen.
Diana: Okay, yes. So marketing for sweetgreen all of a sudden I get this you know in your requested folder like don’t follow you the creepy DMs this random DM from Rupa and I don't know this person she has a unique name I'm like who the heck is this? And she's like I want to talk to you about doing some shoots for sweetgreen and this was a time too when I was like oh my god my life is over no inquiries are coming in. I should just get a job and then sweetgreen randomly connects with me you know.
Yeah, big brand and like very aligned and so yeah, I started doing these events shooting events for sweet green met you and honestly, you were like the only person you're I was zeroed in on you. Everyone else there was kind of like just being very much. I don't know if catty is the worde or like doing their own thing.
Marissa: It was, like I remember there was a flower company. And then there was like a drink company. It was like little like pop up situations. And it was my first time I ever ha done an event like that. And I think everyone else was like seasoned vets. They're like, we do these events every day. I'm like, I literally asked Jon, if I could take like the afternoon off. So I could run over to Refinery 29 and set up this grazing table because I still was working a full-time job.
I remember you being just so nice. And so just like warm and welcoming. And we like instantly connected. And I was like oh, Diana’s so fun. Like, I love her. Yeah. And I felt like it was you were like, my first connection like outside of music, like in the cheese world that I was like, or the influencer world, whatever. Because that was like my first big event that I had ever really done. And the first time someone took a nice photo of me doing it, and so it definitely I was like, oh, yeah, there's something about Diana.
Diana: Yeah, ditto, ditto. Everyone else, you're always the awkward photographer going right? Like, hi, guys. How's it going? And they're like, yeah, you know, I don't need to make small talk and like, okay, going to float over here now. So yeah, that's how we met with sweetgreen, which both of us had to have friends of friends of friends of friends to even be at this event, first of all, and then I think it was the next thing is you reached out to me about quitting your full-time job.
Asking about contracts and like honey book and, you know, legality stuff. And there was a lot of like, comparison at the time, like, what do I do about these brands? Who are copying me all this stuff? And I remember sitting at Clean Market. Yes. Shout out to Lily. And we talked about this stuff. And I look back now and I'm like, okay, this was kind of coaching, like this was what I was doing without knowing I was doing it.
Marissa: Exactly. And I remember you had so much knowledge about, you know, freelancing, and how to keep organized, how to invoice and all these different tips and tricks. Like I always would think about you whenever I had any questions like that, because you were like this wealth of knowledge. And it does make so much sense that you're coaching now. Because like you would, I feel like you would just openly do