On somewhat of a whim and with a fierce bootstrapping mentality, hospitality and special-events queen Kim Hanks built her vast kingdom, coming to reign in the Wedding Capital of Texas.
This is a story about romance, relationships and fairy-tale weddings. After all, driving down the winding backcountry roads that lead to the luxury resort at Camp Lucy, it’s near impossible to not fall in love—with the Lone Star State, with Dripping Springs, Texas, with the venue itself. Leaving Highway 290 for Creek Road, city stresses slip away, carried downstream under one-lane bridges that guard the quiet realm of the Texas Hill Country.
But like every fairy tale, there’s more to the story at Camp Lucy, which is quickly apparent to anyone who spends time with Kim Hanks, who oversees the property as CEO of Whim Hospitality. Not only did Hanks turn a fledgling party-rentals business into one of the most innovative event services companies in the Austin area, she also grew Camp Lucy into one of the premier venues that earned Dripping Springs the moniker Wedding Capital of Texas.
This is a modern fairy tale and its princess is an entrepreneur, less damsel in distress, more badass heroine who writes her own narrative. And while every entrepreneur faces obstacles, Hanks’ unique journey demanded the defeat of personal demons on her pathway to success.
ONCE UPON A TIME
Hanks’ story starts in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, not a town exactly known for fairy-tale beginnings. The daughter of a traveling evangelist, Hanks grew up mostly with her mother and both sets of grandparents, first in Arkansas and then in Bakersfield, Calif. Ambitious from the beginning, she got her first job in Bakersfield at 18, working as a lab assistant for biotech giant Amgen.
“I just consistently showed up and asked them for a job,” Hanks says. “I would microwave their pipettes and put wiffy water [water for injection]in bottles. It was so exciting to put on a lab coat. I thought I had made it. They made cancer fighting drugs and there was a lot of satisfaction from the feeling that I was helping to save lives.”
Hanks quickly progressed from lab assistant to management in the manufacturing department. She met, married and started a family with another Amgen employee. They moved to Puerto Rico, then back to California. On paper, everything was perfect. But something wasn’t quite right. She had taken time off to focus on their two sons, but when it came time to resume her position at Amgen, she found herself missing the close-knit community of Puerto Rican women.
“So, I did what any normal person would do,” Hanks says with a smile. “I binge-watched a bunch of Jennifer Lopez movies. She’s Puerto Rican, and I was missing that Puerto Rican sisterhood. And who hasn’t been impacted by J-Lo?!”
Hanks recalls coming across Lopez’s movie The Wedding Planner one night and hearing an almost audible voice telling her she would become a wedding planner.
“Something just jumped inside of me,” she says. “It was confusing because I had probably been to two weddings in my life at the time. But I just said—over my wine and my popcorn—yes!”
And so, a dream was born. With no fairy godmother to wave a magic wand, Hanks took matters into her own hands.
A DREAM COME TRUE
“The first thing I did was educate myself,” Hanks says. “I bought bridal magazines, immersing myself in Martha Stewart and just learning what brides want.”
At the same time, her husband also longed for a career change, and the two landed in Texas to be closer to family. They chose Dripping Springs, not yet the Wedding Capital of Texas. Looking to launch her wedding-planning services, Hanks developed a twofold strategy. First, she started knocking on doors to find experience. She quickly learned the biggest need was for party-rental services, so she started her first company, Dripping Springs Party Rental, while side hustling as a wedding planner at Red Corral Ranch in Wimberley, Texas.
Meanwhile, she also joined the Dripping Springs Visitors Bureau’s board of directors to build rapport with fellow business owners and local venues.
Pam Owens, current president and CEO of the Dripping Springs Visitors Bureau, helped the city earn its official designation as Wedding Capital of Texas from the state Legislature in 2015. Hanks’ hard work with her party rentals company and her work with other venues “was one of the reasons we were able to make that happen,” says Owens, who ran a print business at the time and partnered with Hanks to create brochures for events.
“I find her very inspirational because she is a goal setter and so disciplined,” Owens says. “I saw how hard she worked then, so it was a natural progression to see how her company has grown. She’s just continued to build upon that first business.”
BREAKING THE SPELL
During this same time, Hanks started to identify unhealthy patterns in her marriage. Her husband’s controlling tendencies early in their relationship developed into verbal abuse.
“I chose my [first]husband because I came out of an abusive childhood,” Hanks shares. “You usually model what you grew up with. My husband would tell me how stupid I was. He would make up songs about that and teach them to the kids.”
As the verbal abuse escalated, Hanks knew she had to get out—for her sake and for her kids. Gathering her courage, Hanks left her husband and struck out on her own. She thought it would mean the end of her company but managed to survive by banding together with two other single mothers pursuing similar businesses: a florist and a caterer.
“Working with them,” Hanks says, “I learned that if I could sell one service and build that trust, people would come to me for multiple services. That was really powerful for me, and I liked the idea of more employees and creating a healthy family that I didn’t have.”
Dripping Springs Party Rental expanded from event rentals and management to floral services and catering. As the business grew, so did Hanks’ confidence. She filed for divorce, finally spelling the end to the negativity she’d be listening to for years.
“You almost feel like you’re in this shroud,” she says through tears. “You’re covered and you can’t breathe. When that person’s gone, the shroud just lifts. You can breathe! You can see!”
There is no timeline for healing from verbal and psychological abuse. Fractured bones may heal in three to six months and stitched wounds mend in two weeks or less, but a broken spirit?
In her book The Verbally Abusive Relationship, author Patricia Evans describes the damage of such a relationship as a kind of battering. While lacking the bruises of physical abuse, the effects can last much longer. Among many consequences (Evans lists as many as 19.), verbal abuse results in a loss of self-confidence, growing self-doubt and an internalized critical voice. The abuser’s external lies become indistinguishable from the victim’s internal monologue.
Hanks compares her own experience to a tape she couldn’t stop playing in her mind. That tape only stopped as recently as 2017, she says, but she started the brave work of unspooling it by walking away from her abuser seven years ago and by fastidiously growing her business since then. When the negative tape starts looping, Hanks fights back with affirmation.
“At first, I would write down small accomplishments,” she says. “I would just say, ‘I don’t believe that about myself,’ or, ‘I know I’m not stupid because I’m getting all this new business. I’m promoting myself. I’m producing really great events. I’m paying my bills…and I’m running a household. I can do this.’ I fought it with truth.”
In this fairy tale, the damsel in distress saved herself.
BUILDING A KINGDOM
As she healed, Hanks’ business grew. Her work brought her into contact with Whit Hanks, a local architectural antiques dealer and owner of Camp Lucy. She recalls her first visit to the venue and finding Whit Hanks on the bell tower of the chapel.
“I had heard a lot about this developer, how he was so smart and influential,” she says. “I also learned that he’s really curious, so when I first met him, he’s up on this scaffold trying to figure out how they’re putting all the bricks on the mortar and how it’s all going to work.”
The chapel was the first structure erected on the Camp Lucy site, moved in its entirety from Vietnam and reimagined for its Texas setting with design inspirations from Whit Hanks’ travels. Limestone covers the arches of the bell tower, placed in a Machu Picchu-style layout and inlaid with tiles from Mexico. Whit Hanks gleefully rings the 500-pound bell to prove the superior sound of bronze. As the round, mellow chime resounds through the Hill Country, Kim Hanks laughs.
“As you can see,” she says, smiling, “Whit’s passion is really the spaces, whereas I’m always thinking about the programming.”
In order to expand the venue itself, Whit Hanks hired Kim Hanks to grow wedding and event services at Camp Lucy, which she managed while continuing to develop her party-rentals company. Frustrated by the constant budgeting demands of the event-services industry, she considered closing her business to move back to California. Whit Hanks offered financial assistance to keep the business running, and the two joined forces, combining the names “Whit” and “Kim” to create Whim Hospitality.
As both the venue and the company grew, so did a mutual admiration for their shared curiosity and drive. It was strictly business at first, Kim Hanks says. Eventually, not unlike Kim Hanks’ old film friend, The Wedding Planner, their appreciation “grew to respect. Respect grew to like. Then like grew to love.”
“We’re attracted to each other because we are so different,” Whit Hanks says. “So, we’re trying to understand the other person’s world and yet, we have some core values that we share.”
Some of these core values became the company’s core values, now displayed in a kitchen at Camp Lucy and on printed cards for new employees. They include passion, respect, dependability, honesty, creativity and resourcefulness. As she was overseeing a constantly expanding empire, Kim Hanks’ own passion soon blossomed beyond the wedding industry. She discovered her true joy is gathering people together and creating moments. This broader vision, “bringing people together,” became the tagline for Whim Hospitality and enabled her to hire experts and specialists instead of orchestrating every detail.
“That’s when the company really exploded,” she says. “Once I allowed myself the grace to say I’m not great at everything, I hired people that were smarter than me and we grew overnight.”
HAPPILY EVER AFTER
Between catering, event rentals, lodging, floral services and showrooms in both Dripping Springs and Austin, Whim Hospitality now employs upward of 260 people in peak seasons. Meanwhile, Camp Lucy comprises three separate wedding venues, 27 guest rooms (soon to be 90), a vineyard and a restaurant. Helmed by Executive Chef Brandon Martin (formerly of Odd Duck and Barley Swine), Tillie’s opened in October 2018 and already earned a spot on Texas Monthly’s rundown of the state’s top wine lists.
For Kim Hanks, all this is just the beginning; her happily ever after is just the start. Her goal is to grow the hospitality side of Whim, expanding further into Austin. She also hopes to add internal hiring structures that would allow for recruiting and supporting employees from underprivileged and underserved communities, including victims of trauma and abuse. Giving back is just part of who she is, her husband claims, noting her desire to help others stems from her faith, which helped her overcome her own troubles in life.
“It’s amazing to see her blossom so well,” Whit Hanks says. “In my experience, you normally can’t shake a rough early life experience. She’s really done an awesome job of shaking it, and I think she’s done that through her strident belief in God. It’s very core to her views. She has a personal relationship that makes her not alone. If you feel like God is your best friend, you are never alone.”
Meanwhile, she plans to continue expanding Camp Lucy as a template for future resort properties throughout Texas, then across the globe. And finally, her goal is to tell her story.
“My biggest struggle was feeling like I couldn’t ask for help, like I had to do everything by myself,” she says. “Now I understand that’s not true. When you’re sharing both your vulnerability and success, it’s beautiful. It doesn’t make you less powerful; it makes you loved.”
Kim’s Tips for Relationships
“If you plant a seed in unhealthy soil, it never blooms,” Kim Hanks says. “When I moved into a business partnership with Whit, I was finally planted in good soil and I could bloom.”
She shares how to distinguish good from bad soil in relationships and in business.
THE SEEDS OF SUCCESS IN RELATIONSHIPS
Your past doesn’t have to shape your future—or your wedding: “Because I was so ashamed of my abusive past, it shaped who I married and how I married. I didn’t think I deserved the big wedding and the white dress. … But we all have the right to design our own lives.”
Abuse doesn’t discriminate, and it escalates: “You think abuse happens mostly in lower socio-economic circles, but it’s corporate wives too. My first husband had controlling tendencies but not daily explosions in the beginning. You just start to adjust, and it comes in grades.”
Good relationships aren’t based on fear: “I knew I was in a healthy relationship when Whit would let me make my own mistakes in business and learn from my failures. He never used my mistakes against me as a power play. It was the complete opposite of fear; it was opportunity.”
Find someone who wants to grow too: “It’s important to choose someone that wants to grow, someone that’s curious. Curiosity is the key to success, both in business and relationships.”
THE SEEDS OF SUCCESS IN BUSINESS
Build relationships with a community bank: “You need to have money to make money, but if you don’t fit the mold at a larger bank, it can be harder to get a loan. A community bank will get to know you and advocate for you.”
Hire people who are smarter than you: “I think too often we feel like we have to have all the answers, but the best decision you can make is to hire people that are smarter than you.”
Learn how to self-promote: “This was hard for me at first, partly because of my past and because we are taught to be humble. But I know I need to be current and relevant to get great employees. When I apply for awards, it’s to attract really talented people.”
Have compassion for yourself: “I’ve learned to check in with myself when I’m feeling triggered. It gives me the chance to hear myself and speak the truth. You can have a lot of people that love and encourage you, but sometimes you need to hear from the person who knows you best: yourself! Don’t you think we’re all a hot mess inside? Nobody has it all together, so we have to encourage ourselves, as well as each other.”
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