Nominated by Child & Family Center and Foundation
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Laina Castellani was the firstborn daughter of George and Marilyn Castellani in Walnut Creek, Calif., in 1967. Her excited parents, both teachers, created a stimulating environment for their little girl, filled with activities love and lots of great Italian food. That early love of food has remained with her and inspires her even today.
Laina's little sister, Kerry, was born two years later, and the Castellani family was complete. A love of learning permeated the home, and Kerry is a schoolteacher today, following in her parents' footsteps.
Laina excelled in school. The family moved to Modesto, where she attended Central Catholic High School. She was a hardworking student, but she always had time for an active social life with lots of extracurricular activities. From Central Catholic, she was accepted into UCLA, and she made the move to Southern California for her big college adventure. She was excited to study and to have a great college life, and she was accepted into the Delta Gamma sorority.
Her sorority sisters, including best friend Lynn Jansen, are still her good friends today. Laina was hardworking and some might say "choosy, " and her sorority sisters used to tease her and say she would be the last one of her group to get married. That turned out to be an ironically inaccurate prediction.
During her time in Westwood as a communications major, she began to hone her hard work ethic so evident today. She worked as many hours as she could find in local restaurants. She took any job with as much responsibility as she could be given, and she paid for her tuition, books and supplies, rent and everything else a college student needs. She developed an entrepreneurial spirit, and knew that she somehow wanted to parlay her communications skills with her knowledge of the restaurant business. She had big dreams.
After graduating in 1988 with a degree in communications, she applied and was hired at the Cheesecake Factory in Marina Del Rey, and she also did work in television doing research for the television series about the Vietnam War called "China Beach. " But the Cheesecake Factory had special appeal, because it was there that she met her future loving husband, Rob McFerren — another dreamer.
The couple was married in 1992 — the first of her sorority sisters to marry — and settled in Westchester, close to the restaurant. But Laina and Rob were always thinking about doing new things and dreaming together.
In 1992, they saw an opportunity to move to Santa Clarita. Laina had gotten to know the area because China Beach was filmed here; the area was beautiful and home prices were affordable. They were both still working in the restaurant business when baby Mandee was born in 1994. Now they were dreaming for three, and one Christmas, Laina bought Rob a home brewing kit, which led to the crazy idea of opening a restaurant of their own with a brewery on site.
They saved money, got family and friends to invest and received a Small Business Administration loan to get their dream off the ground.
They opened Wolf Creek Restaurant & Brewing Co. on April Fool's Day in 1997. They had no money in their checking account, but their hopes sustained them as they dreamed of people coming through the doors of their little neighborhood pub.
We all know how that turned out, since today, 20 years later, Wolf Creek is celebrating its 20th anniversary of successful business in the Santa Clarita Valley. (Not to mention their 25 years of marriage.)
But we jump ahead.
In the early days of Wolf Creek, Laina and Rob combined the hard work of establishing a business with parenting their first baby. Toddler Mandee was a constant fixture at the restaurant. Then, just as Mandee was getting established in school, along came baby Gillian in 2000. Two beautiful daughters, and their family was complete.
Laina had to divide her time between school volunteering, ice skating practice, tennis lessons and every other activity the girls got into, as well as her growing business. Over the years, Laina has become an expert in marketing the brewing and restaurant business, and she serves on the board of the Los Angeles County Brewers Guild. But what we celebrate tonight is something over and above all of this, as great an American story as it is.
We celebrate Laina's extraordinary contributions to our community through her true passion for civic engagement and volunteerism. "From before Day One, " as Rob says, the Wolf Creek business plan was to give back to the community that was supporting their entrepreneurial dreams. Laina, being the "non-quiet personality " in the McFerren duo, was the partner who led the charge. But for Laina, that devotion to supporting our community has expanded far beyond a business plan. It has become a serious part of the fabric of her life.
For 20 years, she has given extraordinary time to the Child & Family Center and Foundation through her volunteer efforts and leadership making Taste of the Town the incredible event that it is, as well as visioning and working on many other fundraising projects for the agency. She has volunteered in "worker bee " jobs and leadership capacities for the SCV Boys and girls Club, College of the Canyons and Circle of Hope. Her instructive and hands on support continues to make a major difference for these and many other non-profit organizations in our community. And while doing all of this and more, she has made time to be an active Mom volunteer, and fabulous homemaker and a hardworking and effective business partner.
"Community outreach " is a term often used but not always fully realized as it has been for Laina McFerren. Laina has amazing qualities of hard work and dedication with a passion for improving her community. Even though she has an astronomical amount on her plate as a business woman and volunteer, she still finds time to spend with her family, her husband and partner, Rob, daughters Mandee and Gillian, and close friends.
While 20 years is a long time and she as accomplished so much, she still has big dreams, and through it all, she has no thoughts of slowing down any time soon.
— SCV Man & Woman of the Year Committee