‘Selling Sunset’ Star Emma Hernan on Following Your Passion and Finding Balance

UPDATED: January 25, 2024
PUBLISHED: June 5, 2023
Emma Hernan, from Netflix's Selling Sunset

If you’re among the millions of people who devour Netflix’s Selling Sunset, you know Emma Hernan. And if you know Hernan, you know about Hernan’s empanadas. 

Since joining the show, which follows the goings-on at high-end West Hollywood brokerage firm The Oppenheim Group, in season four, 31-year-old Hernan has established herself as a fan favorite. Her empanadas, meanwhile, have become a cast favorite, reliably appearing alongside the Selling Sunset star at all kinds of gatherings, large and small—including a date in season five. 

“The empanadas definitely took off on the show, and it became ‘Emma’s empanadas!’ in like, every scene,” Hernan laughs of her culinary co-stars. She’s taking our call outside of her Los Angeles home on a slightly overcast morning, not that she minds: “Because it’s sunny all the time, when we get days like this it’s actually secretly oddly satisfying and cozy,” she says.

Emma Hernan’s early entrepreneurial spirit 

The empanadas—famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) as they may now be, thanks to the show—are just a part of Hernan’s entrepreneurial vision, which was sparked long before she became a Selling Sunset cast member and Oppenheim Group agent. Growing up in Massachusetts, the daughter of a firefighter father and a stay-at-home mom, she saw how owning your own business was a pathway to financial freedom. Her grandfather founded a company called Yankee Trader Seafood, which is still in the family today; Hernan has invested in and helps run the seafood operation. 

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” she says, reflecting on a childhood spent squirreling away and investing money from babysitting gigs, an ice cream shop and eventually modeling jobs. “I always knew that I wanted to be a CEO one day. I knew that I wanted to be to a level of success where I was going to create generational wealth, so I started at a really young age.”

Hernan may have invested time and money in the family business, but even as a young person she had aspirations beyond seafood. She knew that she wanted to start a company of her own, and so she did—a frozen-food brand called Emma Leigh & Co

Growing her entrepreneurial empire

But she didn’t just start her own food company. “A lot of people will look at it and be like, ‘Oh, Emma’s empanadas,’ and think that’s one item that I have,” she says. “But I actually have a whole slew of items, and I own not only my company, but my manufacturing facility—so I co-pack for all of these huge, nationwide brands on the East Coast.” 

The co-packing (contract packaging) operation has been one of several streams of revenue for Hernan. “My next box to be checked off was real estate,” she says. “That was so, so, so important to me to start building my portfolio, and the earlier the better.” 

She got her real estate license, started investing in property and now she’s a star on Selling Sunset, which aired its seventh season in November. (Don’t worry: We won’t spoil any of the drama for you here, though if you expected more dust-ups with fellow Oppenheim Group brokers, you would be right.)

It sounds like a lot of work, and, well, it is. She’s also an angel investor—did we mention that? When asked how she juggles realtor responsibilities, appearing on Selling Sunset, running the food manufacturing operation and investing while keeping all the balls in the air, she jokes, “Well… I’ve probably dropped a few balls.” She’s the first to admit: It’s a lot to handle. 

“There are some days where, at the end of the day, I look at the clock and I’m like, ‘Wow, I have been on my feet for 18 hours. I don’t understand how this is possible,’” she says. Some weeks are more of a struggle than others, and the time commitment is one of the reasons she went back and forth about doing the show in the first place.

But despite the long days, Hernan has much to look forward to: She started the new year filming season eight of Selling Sunset and is currently expanding Emma Leigh & Co. to Europe. 

“During the winter break in filming, I traveled to London, as I am very keen on taking my business from the U.S. to Europe,” Hernan says. “I instantly fell in love with the city, and I cannot wait to go back. My schedule often does not allow for me to travel far away, but I have made it my New Year’s resolution to travel more in 2024!”

Emma Hernan’s advice for young women

Running Emma Leigh & Co. and appearing on Selling Sunset has also been extremely rewarding, she says, and very much worth it. “I didn’t come from a lot, so I created the life that I have pretty much all on my own,” she says. While it’s daunting to appear on a show watched by so many people who will almost certainly judge and form opinions about you, she feels that the real Hernan—genuine, hardworking, honest, a good friend—shines through, even in the midst of all the drama. And as a self-made businesswoman and reality TV star, she often gets messages from people—many of them young women themselves—who have been inspired by her story on the show. 

Often, they’re asking for advice, which Hernan is more than happy to offer. “A big piece of advice is, whatever your passion is, go out and put everything into it,” she says. For her, it was empanadas, one of many things she grew up cooking alongside her grandmother—“my best friend in the entire world,” Hernan says.

Many of the messages she fields are from women who just don’t know where or how to start, and Hernan’s feedback is straightforward: just start! “I feel like a lot of people are afraid to take that first step, and that’s my biggest thing,” she says.

If you’re feeling stuck, Hernan also advises getting out of your head and switching up whatever environment you’re in. Go to a new coffee shop or park and just sit and brainstorm in a new space. “Write everything down—I’m a writer, so for me, when I started my business, I wrote everything down,” she adds. “I had a huge notebook.” 

Emma Hernan on honoring commitments…

Generally speaking, she’s a visual, creative person: “Even this year, I made a vision board! It sounds like, oh, you’re in high school, making a vision board—no, I made a vision board this year,” she laughs. “Chrishell came over to my house, and we made vision boards together.” 

One thing you won’t catch Hernan doing? Bailing on the people she loves to make her career aspirations a reality. With a schedule as busy as hers often is—think 1 a.m. bedtimes after long days of work—it can be tempting to look at your social calendar and push plans back, rescheduling the dinners and drinks with friends and prioritizing the business side of things. But that is not the Hernan way. 

“I am not a rescheduler,” she says. “I am a make-it-happen type of girl, and I think it’s so important… because it’s so good to have strong relationships in your life.” Hernan is still incredibly close with her parents, too. “If they’re not here visiting—which, they literally were both just here visiting—I’m on the phone with each one of them probably three times a day in between all of my busy calls,” she chuckles. 

…and finding balance in life

Of course, even ambitious multihyphenates need to take some time to unwind. For Hernan, that often looks like unplugging for a bit to take a hike with her dogs. This year, she also started fostering kittens—two tiny orange male cats and one gray girl. Later this afternoon, in between showings and business meetings, she’s squeezing in time to take the trio to the vet. 

Yes, it’s another thing to do, on top of everything else. But it also feels therapeutic for her, and giving back in this way is something that makes her happy. 

​​“Take time for yourself,” she says, in another bit of wisdom for would-be entrepreneurs, “whatever that means.”

Above all else, Hernan says it’s important not to be discouraged by setbacks, which are an inevitability for any business owner, especially someone who’s just getting started on their entrepreneurial journey. She urges folks who are just starting out to expect there to be challenges, and to push past them. 

She’s a born go-getter who thrives on being busy, loves the work and is deeply driven by building generational wealth for herself and for her family. So, you know, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not a real estate agent/entrepreneur/reality TV star/angel investor by the time you’re in your early thirties. 

“I wouldn’t be sitting out here on the phone with you—listening to the birds chirp and looking at these cutie kittens—if I wasn’t a hustler and I didn’t work so hard to get where I am today,” Hernan says. 

Photo by Jason Kent

Cassel is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor, a co-owner of Racket MN, and a VHS collector.