Gwen Wiess is one of our newest Tasting Room associates! She joined us at the tail end of summer at the perfect time to get acclimated to all things Cape May while helping out with the holiday season and taking care of our locals, who love to visit us in the off-season.
"Gwen has been a great addition to our Tasting Room family," says Tasting Room General Manager Chris Costello. "She has a great connection with all our guests and continually goes out of her way to show enthusiasm with every individual that comes through the Brewtique! Gwen also has a great eagerness to learn more and is not shy about figuring out what more she can do to add to the success of the Brewtique!"
She grew up in Philly—Manayunk specifically.
“Then we moved out to the King of Prussia area, and I went to high school up there,” she says.
Growing up, she was a swimmer.
“I competed in swimming in high school,” she says. “I was a sprinter. I wasn’t great, but I held my own. I had some A relays every now and then.”
“People used to make fun of us, or say that swimming wasn’t a sport,” she admits. “There was a pool at my high school, and everyone in their junior or senior year had to do a swimming semester.”
“So then, the kids who made fun of you all year would get into the pool and not be able to keep up and it would be a completely different story,” Gwen says with a laugh.
After high school, she went back down to Philly to attend Temple University.
“I wanted to go to art school, and I wanted to go to Tyler specifically,” she says.
(Ed. note: That’s Temple’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture.)
“There’s a national portfolio day for kids in AP Art in high school, so I went with a bunch of my classmates to that and got accepted to Temple on the spot,” she says.
“They said if I got in with Visual Studies, I could do a semester and transfer over to a BFA if I wanted to. I ended up really liking the Visual Studies department and what everybody was doing, so I kind of just fell into it,” she says.
Visual Studies is a relatively new major, and it incorporates a lot of really cool stuff.
“I had a philosophy minor, and studio classes for painting and other art. But I also did a lot of writing, analysis, critique, and curatorial work as well, which was fun,” Gwen shares.
“For my capstone project in 2012, I wrote my thesis paper about memes and the Internet and politics and how imagery and design is used to complement sending a visual message to your audience or base,” she says. “That whole major, we were looking at design and history and breaking it down from a visual aspect—understanding the images and what they’re saying as well as what’s between the lines.”
“Basically, I majored in reading between the lines.” Gwen laughs.
The major was a great fit—Gwen is an artist, and typically works with sketching and paints to create different pieces.
For paints, she often uses gouache: “It’s easy and cheap-ish. I use watercolor sometimes, too.”
“Mostly, I make small or medium pieces, like sketchbook size,” she says. “Gouache is something that I never used until after college, so it was cool learning that. It’s nice because you can take it to different places. It’s water-activated, so you can put it in a palette and go. I’ve taken it to airports and train stations, especially when I was abroad.”
“I draw a lot of different bodies and hands,” she says. “At first, I couldn’t draw hands for the longest time, and then something shifted and I started studying them.”
Her pieces often use colorful, bright colors, and sometimes feature flowers. She even did pet portraits for a while!
“My aunt wrote a kid’s book, and it actually just came out—you can buy it on Amazon,” she says. “It’s called Ari 419. She asked me to do all the illustrations for it. So I did that one and another one with her as well.”
It took Gwen a couple months to create the illustrations for Ari 419, and she worked on them in between working and moving.
“It was a great opportunity, and it’s nice to hang out with my aunt like that,” she says.
“She wrote everything and sent it to me. She had little ideas of what she wanted, and I went with that and incorporated what I was interested in drawing. It’s all based underwater. I never knew how hard it was to draw an octopus 12 times,” Gwen says with a laugh. “But it was a fun process. It’s cool to hold it in your hand.”
That’s not all, though. Gwen has had a pretty incredible life so far.
“I worked in some offices, I was a nanny, swim instructor, lifeguard,” she says. “I also spent about a year and a half working in a comedy club in Philly.”
(Ed. note: Wait—WHAT?! You know we had to hear more.)
“I started there as an usher, and I worked there during college, and worked up to being a server. I met a bunch of comedians and it was a lot of fun,” she shares.
“Louis C.K., Joey Diaz, Mike Birbiglia, Craig Robinson, and a lot of others performed there,” she says. “I used to work in the green room where all the comedians would hang out before the show, so I would hang out with them for a little bit. I was young, like 22, so I’m sure my team was like, let’s put the cute young girl back there!”
“One time, I was back there with Joey Diaz getting his order for food, and he’s sitting there smoking a joint,” she says. “He’s talking to me and giving me his order and then he’s just like, Oh my god, I’m so sorry. I forgot to offer you this.’”
Gwen laughs, shaking her head. “I said, oh it’s cool, I’m good. He’s like, are you sure? This is the shit that killed Prince. I’m good, I said, I’m going to go get your Diet Coke, I’ll be right back!”
Gwen smiles, laughing at the memory. “That’s one of my favorite stories to tell,” she says.
“Mike Birbiglia, he’s fun and a little bit dark. One time, he was getting ready, and he had on a button-down shirt with a bad undershirt underneath, like a gross undershirt. Something was wrong with the soap dispenser in the bathroom, and he told us that he almost got it all over his shirt. He was like, you guys should do something about that, but in the nicest way possible,” she says. “Just saying, oh, you should get that fixed.”
“He goes to the bathroom, and I’m taking the order of whoever else is in the green room and I just hear ‘OH SHIT,’” she says. “Mike comes out and he’s got soap all over his shirt, only like two minutes after he just told us about the issue. He had to do his set in the gross undershirt.”
While we’re sure that story likely made its way onto Mike’s set that night as well, Gwen mentioned that the comedians would also include the servers in their jokes as well.
“Craig Robinson would insert my name into the jokes throughout his set,” Gwen says. “He was there for a couple of nights, and I was his server the whole time. My tables each night knew who I was, too, so it was a good time. It was a fun place to work. He was a cool guy, too.”
Gwen shifted gears after that, working at a preschool for three years before moving to the Czech Republic and teaching preschool there for the past three years.
(Ed. note: You know, as one does!)
“I moved in September of 2017 to the Czech Republic, and then I came back in June of 2020,” she says.
“My visa was going to be up in September of 2020, and I was planning on renewing it,” she says. “I had gotten a new job to help me get through that process easier. I was living with a boyfriend, and then COVID happened, I lost my job, and I was like, okay, it might be time to go home. It was a little nutty, though.”
Like many of us, COVID wrecked a lot of carefully laid plans, but it was a whole new terror to navigate in another country!
“My boyfriend was Czech, so he would have to translate the news that was coming out for me,” she says. “I speak some of it, but they speak so fast of the news, and medical terms? No thank you. I worked in a preschool, so I learned phrases like, ‘I need to go to the bathroom,’ or ‘I pooped my pants,’ like, that’s the Czech that I know.”
“It’s not anything useful,” she says with a laugh.
“Of all of my friends who were also Americans over there, I was the one who understood the most,” she says. “I realized how much more of a rich experience understanding the language a bit more granted me.”
“It’s scary; it can be overwhelming,” she says. “It’s so funny, because sometimes I think about that feeling of being overwhelmed now that I’m back. Take something simple, like trying to get to work. It’s just so difficult, because everything is in another language, the people around you don’t necessarily always look like you. It’s crazy. Sometimes when I feel anxious here, I think, yo, I can read everything. Why am I nervous? It’s just funny, that difference.”
Back in 2020, when none of us knew just how long the pandemic would stretch out, Gwen had planned to spend some time at home and jet off to Korea to teach there, or visit some friends in Australia for the holidays.
“When I came home, I thought, I’ll work over the summer, save a ton of money, and I was teaching online after I came back, and I could do that anywhere,” she says. “Obviously, I couldn’t do that. And that job was gone within a matter of weeks when the Chinese government released some regulations that stipulated that you couldn’t hire foreign teachers to teach Chinese students.”
Right now, we’re incredibly lucky to have Gwen with us here on the Shore!
“My parents have a house in Sea Isle,” she says. “So I’ve just been crashing there, trying to save some money, because I didn’t know how long I was going to stay.”
“I like being down here,” she says. “It’s a good spot, and it’s quiet and I can hang out with my dog.”
Gwen’s pup in question is Rocco, a rescue from the shelter in Cape May Court House.
“We’ve had him for about a year. He was supposed to be my brother’s dog, but he ended up turning into mine,” she says. “He’s so cute. He’s got a little beard; he’s like an old man.”
Rocco is Gwen’s first pet, and he travels with her when they go back up into PA to see family.
When she’s not working at the Tasting Room, Gwen has a few different hobbies that keep her busy, including working out and baking.
“I paint a lot,” she says. “I have an Etsy that I run too, with stickers and prints. I read, watch movies, you know, normal stuff.”
“I like to take Rocco on hikes, too,” she says. “I try to find hikes around here, but everything is so flat, it ends up being more like a normal little stroll.”
“At the beginning of September, I went to Alaska with my friend. We were roommates in Prague, and she lives in LA now. There were mountains up there,” she says.
“I was like holy shit, what is this? There’s water here and then five feet away it’s 10,000 feet of mountain!” Gwen laughs, shaking her head.
“But it’s a nice change to be down here. I’d love to take Rocco on a hike up a big mountain some day, but he’s like eight years old, so sometimes we’ll go on forty-minute walks and he’s like, okay, I’m going to sit down now,” she shares with a smile.
“I’m reading this book now called Eight Pieces of Empire, which is about the fall of the Soviet Union,” she says. “I like it. The author was a news correspondent or diplomat or something, and now he’s in Georgia during the uprising there. I’m interested in that portion of history since I lived in Prague for a while.”
The last movie she watched was Midsommar.
“There were flowers and folk art on the cover,” she says. “I thought, oh, let’s try this out, not knowing what it was. I thought maybe they were going to dance for a bit.”
“I ended up watching it two nights in a row,” she admits. “It was tough. It’s visually very interesting, because it’s so bright compared to the actual imagery.”
(Ed. note: For those who may not know, Midsommar is a pretty unsettling horror movie, if you’re into that genre!)
“It’s unfortunate,” she says with a laugh. “But I like the seltzers. I’m excited for Snowplace Like Home, too, because I also love wine. I’ll bring beer home to my dad and get him a sampling of everything.”
“I used to drink so much mulled wine in the winter in Czech,” she says. “They also have honey wine over there. They would have a stand at Christmas time that had both, like two cups of joy.”
We’re stoked to have Gwen with us as part of the Tasting Room Brew Crew. The next time you see her in the Brewtique, make sure to say hi!