…Nothing is predictable, especially when it comes to opening a full-liquor bar in Los Angeles. Persistence is needed to get past hurdles like delays in obtaining a permit, surprises that lead to longer construction, negotiating contracts especially lease agreements. Together, we pushed through to get the bar open and continue with minor and major challenges of running the bar. Now, with challenges like closure due to the pandemic, still, we push through and adapt to ever-changing circumstances.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Roselma Samala, Christine Sumiller, and Patricia Perez — co-owners of Genever.
Roselma Samala, Christine ‘Tinette’ Sumiller, and Patricia Perez are the women entrepreneurs behind Genever bar, a gin bar in Los Angeles’ Historic Filipinotown. Driven by a desire to have control over their futures and their wealth, they decided to open a bar that would speak to women’s empowerment, especially women of color, while paying homage to both Filipino culture and food, and also to a community, Historic Filipinotown, that is in a state of flux. It is unusual for three women to own a bar, and even more so for three women of color, and ‘Genever’ comes at a time when there is a national conversation taking place about inclusiveness, and womens’ place in the workspace.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Roselma: The three of us met as young college students at UCLA and have gone through many new Year celebrations together. We all come from different professional backgrounds — myself in philanthropy, Patricia in IT, Christine in Finance — but brought together by our love of celebrating. This one particular New Year’s Day, we wanted to change our lives a bit. You see every New Years’ Eve for the past decade or so we’ve spent together and ended up sleeping over at a friend’s house. And January 1 2013 would be THE New Year’s morning that sparked the decision to go into business together. And I would realize later, that each of us was tapping into an entrepreneurial spirit passed down to us through our ancestors.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Roselma: Simply put — in following the adage of “you should do what you enjoy” when you start your own business, we asked ourselves what do we enjoy doing together? As we sipped mimosas on New Year’s Day, we realized it was drinking! And celebrating… That’s when we asked, what would it take to open a bar? Little did we know that we would be the only full liquor bar in Los Angeles owned by women of color! This drove us further to meet the goal of changing how women are perceived in the spirit world and to fulfill a desire to bring our Pilipino culture into our flavors.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Christine: Not sure I’d say I was a natural-born entrepreneur, as I followed the corporate life after graduating from UCLA, but I was surrounded by entrepreneurs all my life. As much as many of my family members had corporate careers, many also had side businesses. From my grandmothers to my aunts and uncles, to my mom and now my cousins, someone always had an entrepreneur hat on, even if some had 9–5 jobs.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
We were inspired by female speakeasy owners like Texas Guinan, who was notorious for owning famous speakeasies during the prohibition, that much well-to-do clientele frequented. She was so successful and attracted so many people to her speakeasies that she was always getting arrested but always managed to get out of jail every time.
Personally, we were inspired by the women in our lives. During our Kickstarter campaign, we highlighted our “Lolas”. Lola means grandmother in Tagalog. We honored their persistence and perseverance, and the sheer strength it required to raise their children, our parents and were pillars in our family.
Christine: I am particularly inspired by my mom. She was and continues to be a big inspiration and influence, immigrating to the United States to be with her aging parents, and creating businesses to raise 2 young daughters as a single mom.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We are proud of our hospitality. Filipinos are known for their hospitality and we wanted to bring that into Genever. We would like for anyone to walk through our doors transformed into a time of speakeasies, (the Great Gatsby side with a feminine touch), greeted as they walk past the vestibule, and sit down with their friends and family as if they were in their own living room, only this time being served some unique cocktails.
We also built a bar, for all to enjoy, but focused on women: from ambiance to design to spirits. It was important to us to create a space for women to come in and feel safe enough to come by themselves to enjoy a drink. In fact, we have women who come by themselves, then sit at the bar with a laptop or book propped open while enjoying their drink. WE LOVE THAT! We also considered women’s needs in our design: purse hooks at the bar and in the bathroom, comfortable banquettes, poof seats, and bar stools. We also stock the bar with spirits that were touched by women, from distillers, owners to products influenced by women.
We create spirit-forward drinks, flavors influenced by Filipino culture with an intentional rotation of menu themes.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Roselma: patience, patience, patience
Throughout our process from concept development to construction to opening, if I hadn’t told myself “patience is a virtue,” I would have gone crazy and given up a lot earlier. Although I wanted our Licensing Hearing to happen earlier, the fact that the department had a fire delaying all permit hearings was out of my control. We had to work together and remind ourselves: what can we work on as we waited for certain things that were out of our control to move forward.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Patricia: Every advice is valuable, even if it seems triggering because a lesson to learn awaits. Advice is still advice, and the ones followed that you wish you did not receive served their purpose to still expand you. Maybe, it was as simple as it did not apply to you as it applied to someone else.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Christine: Communication is key: checking in with the staff to see what works, what does not work, especially at the start, because the entire operation was new, the staff as a team was new, and management was new. It was also important for owners to emphasize from the very beginning that we, together with staff, will be a small squad, a tight ship, therefore everyone had to pitch in. We all had to pull our own weight and we constantly checked in to make sure not any one person was overworked. We also encourage a learning environment where everyone can grow and improve in their craft. So, menus were built together and the staff was challenged to submit their own cocktail recipes. We are open to suggestions, and we celebrate hospitality together as a team. Those who joined after we opened, and anyone who has served behind the stick, had to have the same DNA for the working relationship to be healthy and productive.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Roselma: Remaining true to your vision… and when you don’t, own it. Or make the change.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Roselma: I think it grounds you and reminds you of why you’ve devoted so much of your time and resources. It’s important to take responsibility for your actions. We’re healing from a period in the US where our leadership blamed others for their ignorance and bad choices. Now more than ever honesty and openness are important in all sectors of society.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
- Roselma: All founders make mistakes. That’s integral to being an entrepreneur — it’s how you learn and grow. I don’t necessarily know if it’s something that should be avoided… We had a different name for our bar/lounge when we were gonna open, and when testing it out with friends and community people, we realized we were so wrong! Our name now as Genever has such a stronger connection to who we are and our identity — it signals we are a gin lounge and connotes a woman’s name.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
Roselma: Although many of our “9 to 5” jobs feel like it’s 24–7, owning your own business blurs those lines further. As the owner, you are responsible for everything, from the small details to the larger strategic decisions. And when you’re used to trying to meet perfection or your boss’ standards, as an entrepreneur you set the standard. It makes you take a real look at what’s important and worth fighting for.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
We celebrate all things worth celebrating so pinpointing to one story is difficult. However, opening after 5 years of planning and 2 years of construction was a definite high. All of our firsts were also highs: passing permit inspections, getting our liquor license, passing the first health inspection. We also celebrate anytime we are featured, like in the Louis Vuitton Guidebook or Los Angeles Times Magazine as part of the 13 Powerful Women Who Are Making LA a Better Place, or several airline magazines and of course, by writers for online magazines. It was also high that our Spectrum News story inspired Steve Harvey to reach out to us. Of course, anytime we meet people at the bar who come to visit us from different places is exciting for us, like the couple from Berkeley who celebrated their anniversary and made Genever one of their anniversary stops! We get excited by people coming through our doors, especially when we make random connections just by sharing stories about growing up in Los Angeles!
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Roselma: Having to shut down immediately after celebrating two years of being open last March. We not only had to face a health danger but uncertainty of whether or not our business would survive, whether or not our staff would survive… there were so many unknowns. And we’ve put in so much of our time, heart, and personal resources it was scary that it could all go away in an instant. I meditated a lot more during those first few months…
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Roselma: it’s a present moment experience… and hoping for the best that we do bounce back!
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Christine: I don’t think any of this would have worked without the partnership we have. It truly is important to know who you are going into business with. Our relationship started before that fateful New Year’s Day. Trust, communication, bringing in our own experiences, professionalism coupled with friendship, are integral to our partnership. We support each other and uplift each other in business and friendship.
Roselma: Part of our story is our Kickstarter campaign, partially represented by the 108 names disguised as feathers on the mural of our Lady Genever and her dress. They represent our family, friends, and all those that believe in a dream. And they continue to give. Our #BelieversInGenever demonstrate what a community can contribute to making a dream reality.
Christine: Nothing is predictable, especially when it comes to opening a full-liquor bar in Los Angeles. Persistence is needed to get past hurdles like delays in obtaining a permit, surprises that lead to longer construction, negotiating contracts especially lease agreements. Together, we pushed through to get the bar open and continue with minor and major challenges of running the bar. Now, with challenges like closure due to the pandemic, still, we push through and adapt to ever-changing circumstances.
Roselma: I don’t think I really need to share any more… ha!
Roselma: Faith in ourselves — we went from a small idea to a little bar, to a symbol of the power of women and Filipinas to create something from nothing.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Roselma: I tell you to look at any immigrant to any country to see what it means to be resilient. To face not only challenges living somewhere new but looked at as foreign and maybe even hated for that. And it is those who have made a life for themselves regardless of those difficulties, and whether poor or rich, made a new home with integrity and grace — that is resilience.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
Christine: Immigrating to the US as a child, completely changing our lives, leaving the comfortable life that I knew, adapting to a new culture, separating from a majority of my family, a total uprooting, was character-building and created a foundation for resiliency for me.
Patricia: Throughout childhood into adulthood, some experiences that have paved the way to inner knowing towards resilience are: coming to America from the Philippines as a young toddler, experiencing death and loss at a very young age, and being a survivor of sexual trauma. It is through our living through devastation and crisis, our best selves come forth.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Patricia: As an individual and as a group, because we value the importance of gratitude, humility, and hope, we practice to hold and keep positivity in all we do, how we think and approach life, and what energies we share to convey and embody to the community. What supports this is the daily practice of awareness about self and others through methods or modalities to steadily plant ourselves rooted in this value system of optimism. Most importantly, being able to lean into the lifeline of your support tribe is key and core to this positivity to lead to bounty.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Patricia: Positivity starts with the self. We are the leaders of our own lives. To lead others, we are meant to lead ourselves, in all our magnificence. Positivity requires work. It is truly diving into the abyss of who you are every day and embracing every single thing about you and all that you are even when you think your best is not best. With this compassion that grows within us, we extend that to everyone we meet and relate. A case in point is this surreal reality of Covid-19. When hardship hits (in any form or shape), the truest colors come out, and you surprise yourself with the creativity and strength that breaks through to survive something like this pandemic.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
Roselma: “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars. And see yourself running with them.” — Marcus Aurelius (It’s my email signature…)
Christine: “Even tiny raindrops form a mighty flood” and poems like Desiderata and Our Deepest Fear
Patricia: “To wake another day of loving” — Kahlil Gibran
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!