By Jasmine Shaw
For the Birmingham Times
Shatysha “Tysh” Billingsley, owner of Finale, a luxury wine and dessert company, believes she was born to be a hostess. The 48-year-old Birmingham native dreamed of creating an alluring experience that would allow guests to socialize in style and alleviate the pressures of the day.
“Finale is a luxury wine and food-tasting experience that specializes in [exposing] international and domestic wines, exploring the vast culinary skills of local chefs, [and featuring] entertainment and art,” she said. “Finale offers public tasting pop-ups throughout the Birmingham metropolitan area at various venues.”
Since its founding in October 2016, Finale has provided the appeal of an intimate, grown-and-sexy affair, attracted a wide array of patrons, and breathed new life into Birmingham’s social scene.
“I keep the guest numbers down, which allows for up-close-and-personal interactions through which wine educators, sommeliers, chefs, and artists can commune,” said Billingsley. “This isn’t the club scene or the big-box restaurants. It’s a place and time for a date night, girl squad, and even those who are single and chilling.”
“Fuel for the Journey
The idea for Finale was birthed at a time when Billingsley was overcoming grief and challenges. After losing her mother in 2012 and finalizing a divorce just one year later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2016.
“The diagnosis came two days after I had a dream about Finale,” she said. “[The cancer] started in my left breast, and the initial goal was to do a lumpectomy to try and save the breast. After two MRIs, the doctors noticed that [the disease had progressed] way more than they’d expected, so I decided to have a double mastectomy because there was no guarantee that the cancer wouldn’t come back in my right breast.”
Though this experience challenged her perception of who she was as a woman, Billingsley persevered through the surgery and has been cancer-free since April 2016.
“I consider this experience fuel for the journey,” she said. “If I could believe, pray, confess, and trust God to heal my body and mind, I could most certainly do the same for Finale.”
Billingsley, who’s been a flight attendant for the past 20 years, finds the service industry to be very rewarding, and she considers Finale a confirmation that she was made for the spotlight.
“I’m the girl that loves to entertain. I enjoy making people feel like they’re the best thing since sliced bread,” she said. “The freedom, relaxation, and chill moments [people] release during a Finale experience is priceless. I didn’t pick Finale—Finale picked me. I am just here to connect the dots and drink wine along the way.”
Solid Support System
Billingsley grew up in the historic Titusville neighborhood and remembers friends who lived a few doors down. She considers these interactions, along with her morning walks to Center Street Elementary, some of the best times of her life.
“[Growing up] I wanted to be a teacher,” Billingsley said. “My first-grade teacher, Ms. Echols, who also lived a block away and walked to school each day, was the most amazing example of kindness. She could make you feel as if you had the world in your hands, and she taught me to love learning. Even my 6-year-old self could identify with and emulate that warmth she had for children.”
Billingsley’s mother, Shelby, was also grateful for the communal spirit of their neighborhood while she worked to raise three children and balance the demands of her job as a secretary.
“I was raised by a single mother who had help from an entire village,” said Billingsley. “My mother was a bona fide go-getter. With each setback, she bounced even higher. Her hustle never stopped, and [her example] has been my motivation to continue pushing for what I know I have been called to do.
Billingsley continues to push forward as she pursues a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship from Ashford University. On track to graduate in 2021, she is excited to have her loved ones around for support.
“My family and friends have witnessed this journey from the beginning,” she said. “I remember telling them about my cancer diagnosis and that God gave me a dream to start a business all in the same conversation, and they didn’t know whether to cry or jump for joy. My church family and pastors, Doug and Shay Taylor, at Rebirth Christian Fellowship in Center Point have been not only a rock but also my refuge. When doubt started to creep around me, I had them to stand in the gap for prayer and strength.”
No Place Like Home
As a flight attendant, Billingsley spends a lot of time in the air but once she hits the ground she is in search of exciting new venues and vendors for Finale. Having hosted pop-ups at local staples, such as the Pizitz rooftop, the Canary Gallery, and Jazzi’s on 3rd, she hopes to increase the frequency of events and expand to other cities.
“Finale benefits the community by being a thriving small business that employs local people for these experiences. We also bring another dynamic to the entertainment community for those individuals seeking a different scene for nightlife,” she said. “Finale will be on a continuous journey of excellence. I would love to see us hosting multiple experiences monthly.”
While entrepreneurship has taught Billingsley the importance of setting her emotions aside for business by requiring her to be more direct and assertive while chasing new opportunities, she has learned to operate without the fear of rejection, trusting that destiny will lead the way to new customers. She also considers it her calling to offer guests a moment to give thanks and pause to reflect on their day.
“As a breast cancer survivor and entrepreneur, I knew I had been assigned to not just [create] Finale but also help others, whether that was with my time, money, hands or heart,” Billingsley said. “My goals are to continue seeking advice and guidance from my community to find possible opportunities to grow.”
Though Billingsley has never visited a place she didn’t love while flying, the hectic demands of her schedule often leave her yearning for home. In an effort to relax and decompress, she requests one full day of solitude before jumping back into her entrepreneurial routine.
“I love coming back home to B’ham. There’s no place like home,” she said. “I unwind with a moment of thanksgiving to be home safe, in a quiet place. I kick back and watch Netflix—with a nice glass of wine, of course.”