What do you love about being an entrepreneur?
I knew I wanted to own my own business from the time I was in college–but it took a while to bloom. At first, I thought I wanted to own a bar. By the the age of 24, when I got clean and sober, that idea had shifted.
My first sobriety sponsor used to make me cappuccinos from her little Krups machine in the late 80s and early 90s, before you could really get espresso drinks in Atlanta. I purchased myself a Krups that I would take out of town with me everywhere on consulting assignments. I was hooked on the best coffee I could find.
I landed an assignment in Seattle, the capital of coffee culture in the U.S. There, I fell in love with the coffee cart business and started my R&D into how these types of businesses succeed.
I saved my pennies and a year and half later, opened the first espresso cart in the city at Piedmont Hospital in June 1993, before Starbucks had even arrived in town. I went on to set up in five major hospitals in Atlanta, Georgia Tech and numerous other locations. A few years ago, I opened my first brick and mortar location, Highland Bakery.
Today, my businesses serves 3,000-6,000 guests a day and I have around 200 employees. In a couple years, I see that doubling as we open new locations.
Through it all, what I really love is the freedom of charting my own course. This is not to be confused with freedom to do whatever I want. I have found that my business often dictates how I live my life rather than me proactively structuring a business based around how I want my life to be. This is an area I am working on.
I also love providing for people. Whether it be food and nourishment for our guests, or opportunities for employees, my Italian and Southern heritage comes out. These days, there’s a real thrill for me in having an idea for a business or location and seeing it through to start-up and beyond.
What’s your “entrepreneurial superpower?”
I believe my Higher Power (God) helps me in all areas of my life! It’s sometimes hard to walk that fine line of being in control and making decisions and letting go of situations and letting God handle it.
Exercise has always been a must for me. Daily exercise is non-negotiable for me in helping to center me and have some “free think” time to let my mind roam. It’s the best time for creativity and clarity.
Who is the entrepreneur you admire most right now?
Leslie Zinn of Arden’s Garden has always been an inspirational entrepreneur. Leslie is a friend and mentor to me.
She not only has a business which has grown leaps and bound in the years I’ve known her but she also has grown her family tremendously during that time as well.
She juggles a successful business, family, friends, exercise as well as works on her commitment to her own spirituality as well. I continue to learn from her all the time!
What’s the BEST and the WORST thing about being a female founder?
I certainly have never looked at being a female in business as an obstacle.
I feel that if there is something I have wanted to achieve in life that I had to assert myself and go after it, regardless of whatever perceived limitations.
In my reflection, yes, there have been times when, if I have had a male counterpart sitting at the negotiating table with me, that seemed have more “clout” with the people on the other side of the table.
When that does happen, it’s comical to me, since I know the hard work I have put in to make my business a success. There have been big, brassy men who have come into my business with a cocky attitude but have left in tears because of the hard work that has to happen with the volume we put out.
The only other aspect is the age old perception that if I, as a woman, am determined, focused and unwavering in the quality and work that is expected and I express that to my staff or vendors, then I am the “B” word. However, a man with the same voice is not looked upon in the same light and may be labeled “determined.”
What is one tip you have for other entrepreneurs?
Try to set your business up from the beginning so you have a goal to have a semblance of work/life balance and a time frame to achieve that goal.
I have been “owned” by my business and my employees rather than “owning” my business.
We all know that being an entrepreneur means working hard at our goals, but I do feel that going into whatever business and mapping out the finish line could help to enjoy the journey more.
I really feel that the difference between male and female entrepreneurs lies within the individuals. I think we all have similar desires and internal drives that pushes into being entrepreneurs. Whatever that “thing” is that motivates us to take the risks and that leap of faith to create or own a business I feel is a commonality shared by both male and female entrepreneurs.
How can people “catch up with you?”
You can find me most days at our original location in the Old Fourth Ward on Highland Avenue!