True Grit in San Diego

San Diego’s buzzing with an entrepreneurial excitement, becoming more and more of a business hub every day. From startups, to small companies, to corporations and even movements, this Golden State metropolis is ever-growing. As one of the top cities for entrepreneurs in the US, San Diego’s diversity and prime location foster a talent filled community with a wide range of skill sets. And here at MIHO Catering Co., we’re happy to be caught up right in the middle of it. With our collection of entrepreneurial, small business, and corporate clients, it’s our mission to fuel the minds that power the city and stimulate growth in our community. One fine example of how we do this is through our partnership with Gritty Movement.


Gritty Movement, founded by two childhood friends with shared passions for leadership and empowering women in the workplace, is an organization focused on elevating women in business, and creating spaces for modern leaders to learn, share, and empower one another. Co-founders Sarah Panis and Jessica Miranda both have backgrounds working in male dominated industries and know firsthand the challenges that come with being a female leader. To combat limitations they faced, they started Gritty Movement and are using personal experience to advise women on workplace efficiency, personal development, and organizational strategy. In their own words their “joint calling to bolster women in not only leading, but leading well in a world where there is still such limited space for our voice, is what makes Gritty Movement the powerful beacon it is today.” Through workshops, consulting, holding retreats, etc. their organization is cultivating a community of confident, strong, and empowered women leaders in San Diego and afar.


Among the many facets of Gritty Movement, is their annual Gritty Leadership Conference, which took place last June and may be their most exciting event yet. This experiential conference focuses on three pillars: energizing the passions of women leaders, enhancing management skills, and creating a space for like-minded women to collaborate. Stacked with credited speakers and sponsors, local vendors, and passionate attendees, this year’s conference left guests with the knowledge and tools needed to be successful in today’s business society. And we were lucky enough to have a front row seat to the excitement and brilliance of it all - while providing the brain fuel of course. Last year, our menu was limited to packaged lunches, but this year we expanded our offering to include breakfast items like our yogurt parfaits, fruit platters, and pastries as well as our all-day coffee and tea service – just a few of the prime menu items you can get through our Delivery service! (Was that a subtle enough plug?)


In anticipation of our involvement with the event and the decision to feature Gritty on our blog, we actually got to sit down with Sarah Panis a week before the big day and talk about her inspiration for the movement and goals for Gritty’s future. And let me tell you, one hour with Sarah left us inspired and ready to get gritty.

Since she was young, Sarah proved herself a natural leader. From being the oldest of three siblings, to volleyball captain, and having a key role in her high school’s ASB program, assertiveness and leadership became major themes throughout her life.

After high school, Sarah migrated from the Bay Area to San Diego to pursue a degree in business administration and marketing from USD. Next came internships, and soon she found herself climbing the corporate ladder at a mortgage company, ultimately leading to a position as Chief Operations Officer. Throughout her journey, Sarah noticed several leadership qualities within the company she was unhappy with. She sought out conferences and workshops and soon realized the polarization of the different types of events she was attending. One being super professional with teachings she could learn from and adapt to her own leadership style, but lacking in passion and inclusion. And the other being super fun and inspiring, even Instagrammable, but that didn’t necessarily leave Sarah feeling like she learned how to be a better business woman. Through this realization, Sarah knew she wanted, and needed, to bridge the gap between these two groups. And thus, Gritty Movement was born!

So, why “Gritty?” is a question I’d wondered since encountering the event. Well, no one quite captures the meaning behind the word better than Sarah herself. When asked why this specific word was chosen to represent the movement, she answered,

I had been through so many highs and lows within that same company, watched the company grow, watched myself grow, and one thing that I realized really carried me through some of those rough times was grit. And to me grit isn’t just doing the same thing over and over again, it really is a combination of resilience - so, yeah like getting up when you fall down and making sure you keep trying at something - but also ingenuity. So, resilience and ingenuity, where you’re getting creative, trying new things, and trying to make yourself a better person, so that the next time a challenge like that comes around you’re always learning and always adaptive and kind of iterating on yourself. So, that’s why I’m so attracted to the word grit. And then secondly, because I felt like it wasn’t a very feminine word and wasn’t something closely associated with women and pretty things, and for me I wanted that juxtaposition of here’s this tough raw element and I’m going to make it fun and beautiful and attractive to our audience.

I know, your mind was just blown. And believe me, the passion and determination she spoke with was just as stimulating as her answer.

When the big day finally came, Sandbox Venue in Downtown was vibrating with entrepreneurs, creatives, and all types of bad ass business women. Produced by Modern Love Group, the inside layout was incredible with a one of a kind back drop by Backup Backdrops, balloon installations by Ashley Renuart, and a trendy lounge area with Folklore Rentals. To match the epic display were top of the line speakers split into two tracks, Entrepreneur and CEO. And from Tara Salinas’s lecture on “Disrupting Bias & Amplifying Yourself,” to a playful improv class with Kathleen Dudley, all methods of communication and effective leadership were touched on. In addition, there were panels featuring local business leaders like Geraldine Ridaura, founder + CEO of Holy Matcha, and co-founders of Kopari Beauty, Kiana Cabell and Gigi Goldman. So yeah, you could say there were some people there that know what they’re talking about.

Other complimentary perks available were B12 energy shots from The Hydration Room, hard kombucha from JuneShine, and fire cupping, acupuncture, and energy therapy services by Saffron & Sage… Are you purchasing your ticket for next year yet?

But besides all the goodies like the swag bags and happy hour, (did I forget to mention those?) the most inspiring part of the day, and real reason why you should put this event on your bucket list, was seeing a diverse collection of women connecting, collaborating, and empowering each other. After Mara Lecoco, entrepreneur and brand and community director for Fishbowl gave her keynote speech “Finding Career Fulfillment Out of Work,” the crowd was asked to share a business idea with the group. One woman stood up and bravely spoke about how she’s always had a vision of writing a book, but was too scared to bring herself to it. She started to cry as she stood in front of 200 plus women and expressed her fears and desires. The response from the crowd is something I’ll never forget. Everyone was supportive and ready to connect her with the people and tools she needed to succeed, other guests were given confidence to express ideas of their own, and the room was buzzing with an energy I’d never experienced before. As Sarah said in the interview,

All the swag and with the way we set up the venue - all of that is great, but it is secondary to what our mission is, to connect people who are in leadership positions. There are so many people in San Diego who have gone through your exact challenges and there’s so many people in San Diego that you can learn from. And so, the biggest opportunity for me is to go there and make the most out of your experience. Don’t just attend and watch and hangout with the same person, but really get after it and meet new people. Ask people real questions about some of the challenges they’re going through and try and use that one day to leverage connections for yourself, because I guarantee there are so many other people there looking for that same thing. And for me, I know how hard it is to meet somebody at an event and actually follow through, but it’s not just the speakers who have insights, it’s the attendees too.

So, what’s next for Gritty? Sarah mentioned plans to expand the movement and bring the conference to other cities. She also talked about how one of her and Jessica’s goals is to incorporate more voices into the Gritty narrative and expand the platform to include more women, incorporate more guest writers, and feature more people on social media. And a major plus, they’ve chosen to start by making all audio files from this past Gritty Leadership Conference available on their website! This way anyone who missed out on the event or is interested in the lectures has access to them. Those files will be available in the next few weeks, so be sure to keep an eye out! In the meantime, we’ve included a link to the Gritty Movement website below, so you can get ready for next year’s event!   

We hope you enjoyed today’s post and appreciate you taking the time to read! Feel free to leave any comments or questions below, and as always #staygritty!


Photos by Jackie Wonders.

Written by Rosemary Blesio.