Widdi was one of our first storytellers. We found her through our social network; Sarah told her friend Laurie about this project, and Laurie said, “You need to talk to my friend from high school in Little Rock, Widdi.” As soon as Sarah heard the outlines of Widdi’s story, she knew that it was precisely the kind of story we were looking to tell.
Widdi is a great believer in serendipity: the universe providing. We might instead call this speeded-up reasoning or the sum of instinct, intuition, and intelligence. This openness to signals in the people and environment around her has opened Widdi up to trying all sorts of new things: everything from moving to multiple new states, trying numerous forms of employment, new hobbies, and making a myriad of diverse and enduring friendships. This diversity of experience, thought, input and advice is a powerful component of Widdi’s career toolkit. A natural explorer with strength for hard work, Widdi has a mindset of carefully thinking through opportunities, and then, when it feels right, grabbing them with both hands.
Widdi pursues experiences that have allowed her to create a path built of multiple simultaneous endeavors. She has an aptitude for observing people and building capability and insight based on those observations. Widdi has a real strength around courage; she’s not afraid to try new things in employment, play, or creating a business, while still aligning to her values.
My name is Widdi Turner, and I’m 58 years old. I was born in Taiwan to an American father and a Chinese mother. I’ve always believed in serendipity. It sometimes seems like I have more coincidences happen to me than other people do. But, honestly, I don’t think that these things only happen to me; they happen to everyone. It’s just that I’m always looking for connections between things and people and pay more attention than most people when they do happen.
Over my life, my career and my finances have waxed and waned. When I’ve been in a financial hole with no obvious way out of it, I’ve asked the universe, and the universe has manifested just enough to get me out of the hole. Though I sometimes look back and think, if I can manifest what I need, why do I always only ask for “just enough”?
When she was younger, my mom was quite money-oriented, but we weren’t wealthy. My dad worked for the US Department of Defense. We lived in Taiwan until I was nine when my dad, my sister, and I moved to the US. My mom stayed in Taiwan. In the beginning, dad said, “Mom’s coming; she’s staying behind to wrap things up.” But a year later, they divorced, and my father found himself at 60, raising 10 and 12-year-old girls. He used to tell us, “We don’t have money for everything you want, but we have enough money for everything you need.” But even so, he spoiled us. I think he was trying to make up for us not having our mom around. A few years later, my mom remarried a wealthy businessman, and they moved to New York City. I was and am very close to my mother. She and I have always had a special bond, and it was wonderful to have her living in the same country as me again.
Once mom was back in our lives, there was suddenly money available. She was always very generous and bought my sister a car, and she paid for some of my college fees. Perhaps, because of this, I look back and feel that as a child, I was very spoiled, had zero work ethic, and didn’t understand money.
I went to college, in Columbia, Missouri, as a theatre major. But my dad begged me to take some business classes as well. I ended up with a BFA in theatre with a minor in business and marketing. After graduation, I planned to move to New York City and attend the Circle in Square 2-year conservatory program. Even though I could have lived with my mom and step-father, far out on Long Island, I still couldn’t make the move financially. Instead, I stayed in Columbia and worked for a year and a half in the college admissions office.
One of the alums of the college was Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on the very popular, long-running TV show Gilligan’s Island. She would do some teaching at the college and quickly noticed me in her class, and we became good friends. Whenever she came into town, I’d pick her up at the airport. It was on one of these drives that I told I’d made the rash decision to try again to move to New York and had quit my job in the admissions office before getting a job in New York. I confessed to Dawn that I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I wanted to move to New York but now realized how impractical that was. Dawn had a house in Nashville, and she offered to let me stay there for free while she worked in Los Angeles. House sitting seemed like the perfect answer to my situation. I moved to Nashville, and that’s when I started to get acting roles. I was in a few plays, but I also learned how to wait tables like most actors.
I lived in Nashville for three years. Eventually, Dawn decided to sell the house. I rented my own apartment and supported myself by waiting tables in restaurants, doing office temp work, and acting. But I found that I couldn’t make ends meet, and I’d run up some credit card bills. So I moved home to Little Rock, Arkansas, for nine months and lived with my sister and her husband. While I was there, I auditioned for StageOne, a children’s theatre company in Louisville, Kentucky. I got the job, moved to Louisville, and was a member of this company for a year, enabling me to get my actor’s union card. At the end of the season, they offered me another year in the touring company. But I decided that touring was too physically taxing. I was considering moving to Atlanta, Georgia; I’d visited a few times when I lived in Nashville and loved the city. I also thought it would be fun to go somewhere new, like Santa Fe, New Mexico. So I flipped a coin and moved to Atlanta in September 1990.
I quickly fell into a relationship. I had known Pete in Nashville through the theatre community. He was involved with someone else at the time, who he later married. They eventually moved to Atlanta not long before I did. Soon after I moved there, he heard from a friend that I was living there and called me. He and his wife were divorcing. Less than two months later, we moved in together. We got married in 1994.
When I moved to Atlanta, I wanted to continue to pursue acting and assumed that this meant I would continue to wait tables. But I thought about it and analyzed my options. It occurred to me that it made more sense to go into film production as a way to keep me involved in the entertainment business, but with more employment opportunities. I managed to break into freelance production of TV commercials. I was the lowest person on the production career ladder, arranging the food services and doing other odd jobs on set.
In 1992, on my 4th freelance job, I worked taking script notes for a well-known commercial director in town, Rod Paul. Rod had a reputation for being very difficult. I’d never taken script notes before, and based on his reputation, I worried that I was being set up to fail. I came on set and met him and said that I’d never taken script notes. He said, “I’m gonna say the take number, and then at the end, I will tell you to put a star next to it or not. That’s all you gotta do.”
Surprisingly, he seemed to take a shine to me, and a few weeks later, he asked me to come to his office and said, “I need you to look at some footage for me and go through and take some notes. Every time you see the boom guy hair getting in the shot, take note of the time code.” For a while, I did this work for him, and soon, he started asking my opinion when he was doing editing with clients. Eventually, he asked me if I wanted to be his director’s representative. This meant going to the ad agencies around town and selling him. Rod acknowledged that he’d had a bad reputation in the past but claimed that he was a changed man, and he wanted me to sell his new brand. Rod said, “When people around town hear the name Rod Paul, I want them to think of you.” He said he would give me the title of Executive Producer and the opportunity to do some line producing. I didn’t know what I was doing but knew I’d somehow figured it out on the job. I did figure it out and learned how to line produce, which is the nitty-gritty of producing in commercials. I’ll forever be grateful to Rod for taking a chance on me, whatever his reasons initially. He gave me an opportunity to grow and learn film production, which opened so many doors for me later on.
I did this job for six years, still acting when I could. But I was a lousy director’s rep because I don’t enjoy the insincerity that comes with selling things or people. During this time, I had watched the agency producers on the set. It seemed like a far more straightforward, less stressful job than the one I was doing from my vantage point. So in 1998, I left my job and started freelance work on the ad agency side of TV commercial production.
I did like the job, even if it wasn’t joyful work. What I particularly enjoyed about producing was the problem-solving aspect of it. But it was inconsistent income. One day I decided that I had to find something, anything else, which was a more regular job. One day, I looked in the newspaper and saw a classified ad for a job at The Wildlife Preserve at Stone Mountain Park for an educational assistant. I knew that I was in no way qualified for the role, but I applied anyway. I wasn’t shocked when I didn’t hear anything back. But then, two months later, to my great surprise, I got called in for an interview.
The interview was with Cindy, who would be my boss. I didn’t know this at the time, but she’d also been a theatre major. She’d started out volunteering at the Atlanta Zoo for their entertainment shows. Years later, she had ended up working as the head of education for the WIldlife Preserve at Stone Mountain Park.
Cindy showed me around the park. I thought we were making small talk as we walked around, and she introduced me to the animals but, I found out later that she’d been observing me and how I interacted with the different creatures. As an actor, I had been watching Cindy and mimicking how she behaved around the animals. It seemed that it was the right thing to do because she gave me the job. But it only paid $8 an hour, a fraction of what I made as a producer. We came to an arrangement; I would work for the wildlife preserve when I didn’t have freelance producing work. I later found out that she hired me because she missed the theatre and felt an immediate connection with a fellow actor.
Unfortunately, I only worked there for a few months. The wildlife preserve was being closed and replaced as a petting farm. When my few months as their education assistant was at an end, they asked me to stay on and use my producing experience to document the animals’ move from the preserve to other zoos.
In 2001, days after 9/11, I was hired as a production coordinator for Alton Brown’s Good Eats show on the Food TV Network. Alton liked to use crew members as extras on his show and, when he found out that I was also an actor, he put me in a couple of shows with him. I also started getting more theatrical work around this time. Though the money was still better producing, the hours were better as an actor, and it had always been my first love. Even after I left work as his production coordinator, Alton continued to write funny roles for me on his show. To this day, it’s ironic that his show is my biggest claim to fame as an actor. I didn’t get the role because I was an actor who auditioned for it, but because I happened to be working on set.
At the time, I thought that I had figured out my career. My big pivot had been to go from acting and waiting tables to being a producer, making a decent salary, who still did some acting on the side.
In 2002 I went through a divorce and found myself single in my 40s. The divorce was amicable, and I remain good friends with my ex-husband. But even so, I felt like I could start enjoying life for the first time in a long time. I decided to explore new hobbies and took up ice skating, horseback riding, and belly dancing lessons, but none of them stuck. I started hanging out with some friends at a dive bar (Euclid Avenue Yacht Club) in 2008 in a part of Atlanta called Little Five Points. One of the bartenders, Jen, became one of my dearest friends. She had done baton twirling in high school and was starting a baton twirling troupe. She assembled an eclectic group of women in their 30s and 40s, including me.
I was terrible at baton twirling, but we had so much fun. We would dress up in crazy costumes and wigs, corsets, go-go boots. We twirled to old-time rock and roll. We needed money for all our costumes and props, so we started holding bake sales at the dive bar.
In late 2010, I was watching the TV show Top Chef Just Desserts. There was a contestant on the show, and every time she made a dessert, she’d say, “And I put a little whoopie pie on the side.” I had no idea what a whoopie pie was, and so I Googled it and thought, “That’s a cute little cake sandwich. I’ll do that for our next bake sale”. The week before, I took some beautiful pictures of the whoopie pies I’d made to promote the bake sale. The whoopie pies sold out fast at the bake sale. I still had ingredients left over. So, the next day I went on Facebook and posted, “If you weren’t able to make it to the bake sale, I’m making some more whoopie pies.” The Facebook whoopie pies also sold out.
Looking back, I had hit upon a business opportunity, but I resisted seeing it like that for a long time. Before, I started a crafts business called widdiwoo, upcycling old items and turning them into cute new things. For a while, I was sure that this was my opportunity to supplement my producing and acting work.
I continued to take some orders from friends for the whoopie pies. A month after the bake sale, I was at my chiropractor, and her massage therapist had placed an order for some more whoopie pies, which I’d brought with me. I’m in with the chiropractor getting adjusted. She’s become a friend over the years and is an entrepreneur, which I admire, and so her opinion means a lot to me. She said, “It really seems like you’re onto something with these whoopie pies.” But I still resisted, claiming that I was only making them for friends and family. I couldn’t shake the thought that profiting off something I loved doing somehow tainted it. And anyway, I wasn’t a baker. I’d never been to culinary school; people would think the idea of me running a bakery was ridiculous. There was all the difference in the world between doing something as a hobby and as a business. I told her, “You’d have to hit me over the head and drag me kicking and screaming to turn this into a business.”
I subscribe to this service called Notes from the Universe. Every day you get a sweet, optimistic, personalized email. The morning after I visited my chiropractor, I woke up, looked at my phone, and my Note from the Universe for that day said, “Do you really need someone else’s permission, acceptance, wink, or nod, Widdi? Or are you ready to give these things to yourself? I say, ready now. The Universe.” I look up at the ceiling and say out loud, “Ha, ha. That still didn’t hit me over the head. That didn’t do it.” But then I look at the P.S. There was always a P.S on every email. This one said, “Action Widdi. Take it, make it, bake it.” I couldn’t believe it. I phoned my ex-husband, who’d been the person who’d introduced me to the email service. I asked him if his email had said: “Take it, make it, bake it.” He said, “Yes, I didn’t know what that meant.” I told him, “Oh, I know what that meant.”
I began to think, “You ask the universe to give you a way to make a living doing something you love. And when it sends it to you, you say ‘No, I can’t make a living charging for what I love’”. I realized that the chance to make a living doing something I enjoyed was what I had been searching for and that it was now staring me in the face.
But I was still a little resistant. I’d worn so many professional hats in my life, but I wasn’t sure that I wanted my legacy to be as the Whoopie Pie Lady. The next day, my Note from the Universe says, “Widdi, it’s the way you think, that’s your purpose. It’s never been about what work you choose, what gifts you develop, or what niche you feel. Let these be for your pleasure. Think as only you can think, which will lead to feelings that only you can feel, from which connections will be made, lives will be changed, and worlds will come tumbling into existence.” And then the PS is, “Widdi. This is why you’re here.“
Reading that email, I felt like I now had no choice but to give the whoopie pie business a try. I realized that it’s not about being the Whoopie Pie Lady. My actions are going to impact other people in positive ways. My whoopie pies were and still are, a way that I bring a smile to people’s faces, and that had always brought me joy.
I know that a part of me always wanted to think it could work, but I didn’t have enough faith in myself or the idea. In the end, even though I do know that the email was a random one sent out to millions of people, it provided me with the external motivation I needed to have enough faith in my intuition. And even now, I tell people that I’m not a baker. I’m a whoopie pie maker. I couldn’t make a cupcake if you paid me.
I started the business, No Big Whoop! Bakery, but it didn’t get going properly until I moved into a commercial kitchen in 2019. Then COVID-19 hit early in 2020, and we went into lockdown. Given that most new businesses struggle in their first year, it’s a great achievement that we still managed to survive. I’ve found that the part of the business that I love is customer service. I love to go the extra mile for people and really delight them. I will lose money on an order just to make sure that my customers are happy with what they receive and when they receive it. I’ve personally driven whoopie pie orders across town when the post office misplaced the first order because I didn’t want people being disappointed. I’ve come to realize that making a great product is only part of what brings me joy. It’s really about more than that; it’s about taking care of people and how that makes them feel. As I’ve realized this, I’ve moved away from spending all my time in the kitchen doing the baking, and I now employ two friends who bake while I focus on growing the business and delighting my customers.
It would be nice to be financially independent. I certainly still aspire to reach a greater level of financial comfort. But money has never been my priority; I’ve never wanted it to be the primary driver of my behavior. I’ve never had a 401k. I have no retirement savings. I have no idea how I will pay my bills next year, but I believe it’ll work out; it usually does. There’s a freedom that came in my 40s. I’ve let go of what others expect of me. I’ve learned to measure my success by whether I feel good about what I’m doing and enjoying the ride. I’m in the business of bringing joy with my whoopie pies. Nowadays, I’m proud to be the Chief Whoopie Officer.