Social occasions in Fairfield County are a competitive sport, with success measured by the buzz heard long after an event has ended. Follow that buzz and odds are it will lead to Rosinne Chlala, the force behind Festivities, a special event design and catering company she founded with her brother Bill Kaliff.
The buzz she has generated while perfecting the art of entertaining for more than 35 years is reflective of the great memories she sets out to create with every occasion.
"Celebrations provide a foundation for shared memories on which relationships and community are built," said Rosinne from her 6,000 square foot Norwalk "campus", which houses a full kitchen, warehouse, and store. "Memories make us who we are. People stop me all the time to talk about a party I planned, and they tell me details that resonated with them. It might have been 25 years ago, but they remember me and they remember the details. Creating that memory is central to everything we do."
Rosinne's success as a hostess belies a personality trait that is at odds with her profession. A natural introvert, her discomfort in social situations nurtured a unique sensitivity to the guest experience. "As we built this business, the empathy we had for people who feel left out was always at the front of our minds and we worked to translate that empathy into a business philosophy. Hospitality is everything. I want every person that comes through the door to have a wonderful time."
The oldest of six children in a family of Lebanese descent, she grew up in a home where hospitality was part of the culture. "I learned by watching. In a Lebanese home, there is always food and drink on hand for guests whenever they should visit. The consideration hosts have for their guests stayed with me."
Merging that hospitable nature with her timid personality took time and traces back to her arrival at Thomas School in Grade 9. "There were 23 girls in the class, and being Lebanese, I felt different. In retrospect, it was more my insecurity than anything else because the girls were great, but it took me until the end of the year to let my guard down and make friends."
Once her wall came down, the friendships flourished: she and her classmates still gather regularly and Rosinne is currently planning a weekend getaway with classmates. The celebrations and memories she shares with her Thomas School friends have yielded deep connections and inspire every event she creates. "We all became close friends and are close still; we celebrate milestones together. I really keep that shy girl in mind when I am creating events."
After high school graduation, Rosinne headed to Sweet Briar College and then to the American University of Beirut. "It was interesting because there I was different in that I was the only American, but I did not feel different. Everyone could pronounce my name. So I really wasn't different there."
She met her husband in Lebanon and returned to the United States where they were married on a beach in Providence. "True to Lebanese form, my dad kept inviting everyone he saw that day to the reception. By the time we got to the buffet, there was no food left and I didn't know anyone. It was very funny."
Though her father's approach was extreme, every event Rosinne plans is meant to ensure that nobody is left out. "As humans, we all have a need to connect and a need for traditions that keep us connected. Celebrations provide that. We have that shared wedding, that Christmas Eve, the various milestones that bring us together. We have those shared occasions in common. That is the basis for community."
In addition to building community through special occasions, Rosinne and her brother have created ways to give back to the greater community by establishing Pass on the Love, a Festivities Foundation with a mission of supporting safe and healthy homes.
"We wanted to find a way to make lightly used table top items benefit local families. We created the foundation to do that. If someone has a party and uses 50 paper lanterns, often the lanterns end up in a basement closet never to be used again. With the foundation, people can donate those extras and receive a tax receipt. We sell them in our store, and all of the profits go to the Center for Family Justice in Bridgeport, which works to end domestic and sexual abuse and violence in our communities."
Rosinne's commitment to community extends beyond her foundation as she partners with several nonprofits in Fairfield County. The community, in turn, has celebrated her generosity: Near and Far Aid presented her with the 2018 Jeannie Fay Award for volunteerism. For Rosinne, everything she does is in the name of community. "What else is there? Relationships and our shared memories and the impact we have on each other is all we have."