From Politics To Picnics

Picnic guests Rosemarie and Jay Olson

You might say life’s a picnic for Malibu resident Robyn Ritter Simon. If she’s not enjoying one herself, Ritter Simon is making picnics for others in her new business. And as you might imagine during the COVID pandemic, things are really taking off for her.

While it’s usually difficult for most women nearing 60 to change careers, the unfortunate closures of restaurants and the changing economics of dining and entertainment have shifted the logistics of how people gather and entertain. 

“In the middle of COVID, when it was a little crazy, I pivoted and transitioned my career from politics,” she explained. Before the shut-downs, Ritter Simon produced women’s leadership series for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and his wife Amy Wakeland on behalf of their Getty House Foundation. For the past 20 years, the Pepperdine University graduate school alumna also put together large-scale events that attracted a host of speakers, political events and fundraising.

“Like the rest of the world, we were stunned when the stay-at-home orders came out,” she said. “Everything got canceled. All of my large-scale events, fundraisers [and] women’s leadership series got canceled.”

Once Ritter Simon “got over the initial shock,” she said she asked herself what she would do to generate income. 

“I had always dabbled with tablescapes as a hobby. It was enjoyable and I would do it for friends. I always thought about turning it into a business,” she later described. “I thought, ‘In Southern California, the climate is perfect for al fresco dining. Why don’t I not only set people’s tables up in their backyards or outside, but take it even further and tap into our beautiful coastline?’

“I had this concept of creating picnics so people could have a way to celebrate their milestones safely in their own little pod,” she said.

The mother of three said she took her two decades of event producing, decorating, design and entertaining and pivoted to creating picnics and outdoor celebrations. 

“It’s been tremendously well-received,” she added. “People are so joyful when they show up at the beach. With everything going on in the world—so much despair—it’s two hours of peace.” 

As the Malibu Table Maven, the Malibu resident of nine years says all of her tablescapes are curated especially for whomever is purchasing a picnic.  Each picnic is “personally tailored for each client.”  

“I have a vast inventory of one-of-a-kind pieces,” Ritter Simon said. “My picnics are set up uniquely and I think that’s what distinguishes me from others. But I will tell you the other folks out there—we meet each other—it’s a wonderful community. Everyone is really collaborative. And we’re mostly women-run businesses.”

The picnic entrepreneur said she’s ecstatic about transitioning careers. 

“I’ll tell you, the climate of politics in the last four years especially has been so toxic that it has been so joyful to be able to deliver a little peace to people on the beach,” she said. “Living and working in Malibu—I say this is my office.”

Since launching the Malibu Table Maven last summer, Ritter Simon has been delivering picnics from Pacific Palisades to Zuma Beach and even to private homes and backyards. While food is not included, Ritter Simon helps to source whatever is desired. All cutlery, glasses, blankets, pillows, decorations, fresh flowers, tables, umbrellas and even a polaroid camera come with the package. The Malibu Table Maven even has a special tepee for two that Ritter Simon says has become very popular “for cuddling.”

Some of the business’s themes for picnics are bohemian style, beach themed and, one of the most popular, pink themed—“a blush pink for bridal showers or birthdays.” There is a limit of 12 guests so “I can keep it personal and focus on details.”

Ritter Simon laughed when asked if she would transition back to her old career. 

“No,” she answered. “I had amazing clients in public affairs, but it’s not where I want to spend my time. I don’t see myself going back. I want to be around happy people.”