KEY WEST, Florida Keys — Daily between sunrise and sunset Florida Keys weddings are conducted on beaches and boats and in historic homes, hotels, guesthouses and gardens among other picturesque locales.
Nadene Grossman is the go-to planner for upscale "I Do's" in the heart of Key West. For a decade she has guided nervous brides and their traveling wedding parties and guests through complete nuptial gaieties with ease.
Founder of the wedding and events planning enterprise We've Got the Keys, the Long Island native said she was creatively influenced by her art-teacher mother. When she left the farmland surrounds of her upstate New York campus after college, she didn't anticipate embracing matrimonial planning as a career.
Nevertheless, in October 1991, with two suitcases in tow and $250 in her pocket, Grossman arrived at Key West to manage High Tide Gallery after being asked to fill in for a gallery owner friend while he was on his honeymoon.
"My first customers were a set of grandparents, a feather boa-clad woman leading her husband into the gallery by a studded leather leash," Grossman recalled. "I got a crash course in Fantasy Fest and it sparked my passion for people."
At that time, of course, Grossman couldn't have predicted her ongoing connection with the world-famous Fantasy Fest costuming and masking festival held in the island city each October. In 2003 she was crowned Fantasy Fest queen, a title bestowed annually upon the queen candidate who raises the most money for the local AIDS Help organization.
With zesty creative flair and suave people skills, Grossman quickly discovered that her art degree and sociology minor made a serendipitous combination that snowballed into a successful career. The gallery springboarded into what she calls the "three Cs" of surviving Key West island life: cocktailing, crewing on a catamaran and concierge services.
Grossman excelled at all three, earning kudos and serious know-how in sales, overseeing corporate groups and catering. As concierge of the Key West Hilton she explored wedding planning and had an entrepreneurial epiphany.
"I knew I could do this on my own; the corporate world taught me well to plan great events," said Grossman, who worked solo for the first 18 months of her new career.
Her faith in herself was confirmed when her first wedding customer tipped her as much as the planning fee.
Today, We've Got the Keys employs four event planners who specialize in weddings and other group gatherings. In addition, We've Got the Keys has been the creative driving force behind the Key West Songwriter's Festival for the last 10 years, and launched the inaugural Key West Film Festival in 2012.
Now 42 and married with two adopted dogs, Grossman admits she still indulges her artistic side by "doodling," and art is still part of her daily existence. These days, however, her sketches help convey ideas to clients.
Grossman and her team assist groups of from 40 to 200 people arrange destination weddings with everything from their personal website to planning a mini-vacation for guests. They strive to take care of every detail necessary to craft an ideal wedding experience — right down to advising clients where to get the best Cuban coffee, slice of Key lime pie or fishing charter while on the island for a nuptial event.
"I am surrounded by talented people," Grossman said. "If you're good at something and have a name for yourself, you'll do well."
On the Web: wevegotthekeys.com
Grossman's company, We've Got the Keys, coordinates weddings, corporate and destination events in Key West, including the annual Songwriter's Festival and Film Festival. Image by Rob O'Neal
A popular wedding spot in Key West, at the Casa Marina Resort.
Away from work, Nadene relaxes with her husband and adopted dogs for a day on the water.