December Cover: Leah Wiseman Fink
If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life it would be pizza. To me, it’s the perfect food: salty, saucy, sometimes crunchy. The acidity of the tomatoes, the meltiness of the cheese, the bread-iness of the crust. My Instagram feed has entire posts dedicated to it. It’s my desert island food, if you will. So when I’m asked to write the cover story for someone who owns pizza shops with her husband, I’m all in. Leah Wiseman Fink and her husband John Kutinsky started Williamsburg Pizza in 2012, and have since opened five more, including their most recent unlikely location in Omaha, Nebraska. Leah believes pizza to be a superfood that brings people together. A Leadership Coach by day, Leah is gifted at creating a sense of community and views it to be the foundation of building a great life—and a good business. Helping people who are starting a business or striking out on their own, get to the next level is her specialty, but she says the community aspect is super important. “It’s always helpful to have entrepreneur friends because they know the ups and downs, the problems and struggles, and can give great advice,” she said. Building support systems, leaning on each other, growing with each other, and learning from each other—these are her pillars. After speaking to her I suddenly have the urge to start a book club, a neighborhood mom group, or a monthly happy hour with my friends. The grind of daily life can make it seem impossible to prioritize these kinds of plans, these kinds of commitments. But Leah’s point is that it’s precisely these kinds of gatherings that actually help get through the challenges we face every day. Connecting with others shouldn’t be viewed as a burdensome task, but instead as a necessary supplement to living our lives to the fullest.
So what’s next for this community-building, pizza-supplying, mom-connecting Leadership Coach? “I actually really want to host retreats,” she told me. “Maybe you’ll come on one.” Maybe I will, Leah, but I need to know…will there be pizza?
Psst…check out the Ultimate Holiday Gift Guide for Everyone in the Family 2023
CP: Tell me about your family.
LF: My husband Johnny and I have been together for 17 years. We were fixed up by family in Michigan. In Detroit, everybody knows each other in the Jewish community. So my dad and Johnny’s uncle fixed us up once. We emailed back and forth, but never met. Two years later, Johnny’s cousin and my cousin, completely unknowingly fixed us up a second time so we went on a blind date. That was 17 years ago this week and now we have two kids—Sammy is 10 and Sydney is six.
CP: The holiday season is here, what does your family celebrate?
LF: We celebrate Hanukkah. Years ago, my friend and I started this Jewish organization called B’nai Brooklyn, for reformed Jews. We used to have these Friday night pizza Shabbats and we decided now more than ever we should reignite it. So we’re going to do a big pizza Shabbat in the church basement. I like the joy of the holidays- how New York gets all lit up. I’ll take Sydney to see the Nutcracker. December is just a time of lights and joy. Everybody’s in a good mood.
CP: It’s a very magical time in New York. Do you have any family holiday traditions that you’ve resurfaced with your kids from when you were a child?
LF: The funny thing is I grew up dancing in the Nutcracker as a little Jewish girl in Detroit. We performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at the Fox Theatre—Aretha Franklin came once; it was a big deal. So it’s really cute that my daughter’s also dancing in the Nutcracker and then we’ll go see the show at Lincoln Center.
CP: You mentioned a pizza Shabbat, I know you and your husband own Williamsburg Pizza. Can you tell me about that?
LF: He said he always wanted a piece of New York. One day he came home from his banking job and said he had an idea for a side project. He told me he wanted to open a pizzeria, the landlord offered him a space he had his eye on. It took about nine months. I got pregnant the week we opened- 11 years ago.
CP: You’re married, does that mean you both work at the pizzeria? Is it a partnership?
LF: In the beginning, I started all the social media accounts, and I helped with PR, but I’m a life coach. That’s my main business now.
CP: So you pop in and out when needed.
LF: Exactly. I love a pizza party so in the beginning I threw a ton. Now we have five locations in New York and one in Omaha, Nebraska. Once we opened in Omaha, they needed a little bit more PR help, schmoozing, and outreach, so I have jumped back in to fill in some of those gaps. My favorite thing is bringing pizza to parties, and sending pies to people, and actually, it’s a huge part of our marketing strategy.
CP: Tell me about how leadership coaching became a thing for you?
LF: It started when I got pushed out of my education job while on maternity leave with Sydney. Just a really terrible experience, but honestly all for the best now that I can look at it in hindsight. I’m such an entrepreneurial person and I like being creative and having a flexible schedule, so from that experience, I started doing what I was good at, which was starting new mom groups. I would do moms nights out, I did B’nai Brooklyn and then a couple of years into that I was like, this is all great, but I wanted to figure out how to start making money from all of it.
CP: Sounds like you’re a natural connector.
LF: Exactly. And I was really good at it. And I was super busy, but there was not a thread that connected it all. So I hired a business coach to help me. And within the first couple of meetings I was like, oh, coaching is the thread that ties it all together. And so I got trained as a coach, and then it pretty quickly took off and has been a wonderful, amazing, meaningful career path. I always find people who are trying to crack the code to their next level. I coach a lot of mom entrepreneurs. I help a lot of people figure out how to spend less time on their businesses so they can spend more time with their families. Less time for more money, even just finding more time. Thinking about how stay-at-home moms can have more time. How do you delegate things to your partner? How do you make time for yourself?
CP: Would you say that time management, and finding pockets of more time in people’s lives, is one of the most common things people come to you for? Is time revealing itself to be the most valuable asset we have?
LF: Yeah, I would say so. I mean, we’re busier than ever and always looking for time. I think it’s how to make the same or more money using less time. That’s the math equation. And it’s possible, it really is but it takes some mind tricks to figure out. For example, when you charge more. You have to charge more to get more time, and the mind trick that I’m talking about is knowing you might go down for a little while, you might not get as many clients, but if you can keep your eye on the prize…
CP: Full disclosure, I don’t really know anything about leadership coaching. I’ve never spoken to a life coach. For readers who might be skeptical of life coaching and its results, what would you say to them?
LF: It’s a good question. For one, it’s not for everybody, right? I think the clients I see the most results from are the ones who are motivated to get to where they want to go. Like when I was getting kicked out of my job and I was really motivated to create a certain life for myself. It’s like having a trusted person to pull out of you what you actually want and then walk you down the road to get there. So generally I knew how to do that myself, I just needed someone to pull it out of me and see the vision.
CP: My understanding of entrepreneurship is that it can be a very isolating, lonely endeavor, especially if you’re starting a business by yourself. I imagine a leadership coach to be a good supplement to that, someone on your side who’s sort of pushing you and motivating you and holding your hand as you go.
LF: Another thing that’s so important in entrepreneurship is community. Even in our pizza world in Brooklyn…our kids go to the school down the block, and we know all the other business owners, Brooklyn feels like a very small town to us. And I don’t know if that’s neither here nor there, but it just feels like an important part of the story.
CP: Where do you think your love for, and reliance on, community came from?
LF: From growing up in Detroit with aunts, uncles, cousins that we would see every weekend for recitals and soccer games and brunch. It was just like a little village, my aunts would pick me up from school, we’d all go on vacation together. I think coming to New York, I just recreated that sort of naturally. A lot of people’s families aren’t nearby, so you’re getting together for holidays and happy hours and brunches. You just recreate that village.
CP: How does your love and passion for building community intersect with your business and passion for life coaching?
LF: You know what really helps build community? Pizza. You can invite anyone to anything and just be like, there’ll be pizza, and everyone will come. It’s like an automatic community builder. I think the common thread is supporting each other. That’s the heart of it. People knowing each other, supporting each other, leaning on each other, learning from each other. I think coaching is the same. Getting to know each other, the intent to learn and grow together. Even now, it’s such a hard time in New York and Brooklyn as a Jewish person. So what’s the first thing we do? We bring people together and throw a pizza Hanukkah Shabbat.
CP: It sounds like they’re both their own versions of a support system. How do you apply your coaching skills to the way you parent your kids?
LF: I think it’s a deep sense of listening. And being attuned to them. The more I can be patient and present—those are skills that I practice a lot when I’m coaching people. But again, time is the biggest gift. Uninterrupted time, not on your phone, not on your screen, is the best thing. But it’s hard to do, especially as a person that runs her own businesses, a lot of what I do is on screens, on social media, for better or worse. When that can get shut off and I can be present is the best parenting.
CP: If you could give one piece of advice, something a bit universal, for someone who wants more success in their life, what would it be?
LF: Invite people in—into communities or pizza parties or friendship circles. Just be really generous with yourself and your world. Talk nicely to yourself, give yourself a break. And remember everybody’s dealing with a lot so give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume they have the best intentions, though I have honestly found that really hard to do in the past couple of weeks.
CP: What have been your tactics to get through the past few weeks of what’s been going on in Israel, and its effect on your life in NYC?
LF: Leaning on my people, has been the number one. There have been groups of people who have been so kind and supportive—and not even just Jewish people. My mom friends, entrepreneur friends, just saying to me, we’re here for you and we see you. One of my close friends asked if she could send us dinner, which is so funny because in New York we can all order our own takeout, right? But it was just such a kind gesture.
CP: Well, food is love. I think you guys have proved that. I almost want to say your best piece of advice is: when in doubt, throw a pizza party.
LF: Oh my God, yes.
CP: I know that in Jewish culture, because my Italian culture is very similar, the way you show love is often through food.
LF: People ask me what to do for someone who’s suffering in any way and for me, you just send them food, send a pizza. I love doing it for people.
CP: What advice do you have for someone who wants to check in on their Jewish friends but isn’t quite sure how?
LF: I think it’s really simple. Something like, thinking of you or I hope you’re doing okay. And a tangible offer is always good. Can I send you dinner? Can I take you on a walk? Do you want to have coffee? I actually think that goes for any kind of suffering. Like, if somebody’s sick or has lost someone.
CP: I know from your website you’ve done a lot of coaching with new moms. I’m wondering, is the advice the same for a new mom in your life? How do you show up for them in a way that’s not burdensome?
LF: I think it’s a similar combination—thinking of you, hope you’re doing okay. I think saying no need to respond is a great new-mom tactic. Sending food is amazing, and tangible offers like, do you want me to come over and hold the baby while you take a nap? Do you want to get out of the house and take a walk? Do you want me to check back in, in a month?
CP: When I was a new mom I would have loved any of those offers.
LF: Also, I had postpartum depression with both my kids, so even just saying hey, this happened to me. I’m leaving that door open for them to sort of come in if they want to talk.
CP: How did you recognize it? What was the red flag for you?
LF: I just was still not feeling right after a year, but the problem was there was no real red flag. It was just yellow flags that weren’t going away. And I just knew something was not right, it felt like a fog. And once I addressed it, the fog lifted.
CP: I think that’s interesting and useful to hear because I think a lot of women know only the extreme versions of postpartum depression. But it manifests in many ways, and just because it’s not manifesting in you in one way doesn’t mean it’s not manifesting in other ways.
LF: When it happened the second time, I felt it coming. I knew what it was.
CP: Did it feel the same as the first time?
LF: I don’t know, I didn’t let it last as long, because I just felt it and immediately knew what it was and addressed it. I was even able to tell my friends it was happening. My friend walked over, she had a baby too at the time, and she’s like, I’m just gonna stand outside until you come outside. Whenever you’re ready, come down, and we’ll go eat breakfast. I was like, Okay, I guess I’m going downstairs.
CP: When you say address it, you mean talk to your doctor?
LF: It was therapy and medication. I think telling people the second time it happened was really helpful, telling my friends and letting them be there for me and show up at my door.
CP: Community again.