Tiffany Bowen

Tiffany Bowen

Proprietor of Harlem Hookah

I have to admit that I love school. I love learning. So keeping myself educated is easy. Anyone who looks at my resume can see that. Now that I’ve completed my doctorate, I find myself taking online classes and signing up for webinars all of the time. There are great resources like General Assembly that are low cost and free. I also read hospitality and business-related books. I recently signed up for Masterclass -- which has mini-lessons from industry experts. I love it.

I find inspiration in other black hospitality leaders who have worked tirelessly in this space for people like me. Be it, the late great Sylvia Woods and her granddaughter Tre’ness Woods-Black of Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem, Melba Wilson of Melba’s also in Harlem, Larry Morrow who owns Morrow’s in New Orleans or Monique Greenwood of Akwaaba Bed and Breakfast Inns. I’m fortunate enough to be able to pick up the phone and get advice and mentorship from some of these leaders. Others I’ve never met but I’m always watching their moves and observe how their businesses are ran. Black people are the root of the hospitality industry. That is what we’ve been doing since we came to this country. However, we’ve often been pushed out of leadership in the industry. It is that much harder for black people to build their own business and we all know how difficult it is to stay in business.
The biggest lesson that I have learned is that this job is never done. I had this false sense throughout the opening process for my establishment that once I reach this goal - I can relax. First, you just want to get the place open. After spending so many months with permits, licenses, designs, contractors, and planning, you say to yourself, "Once I can get these doors open, I can take a break." I quickly realized that wasn’t going to be the case. I have to work each day to improve. I Improve the offerings, the systems, the employee benefits, the actual space. There is never a day that improvements aren’t being made in some area of the business.
The second biggest lesson that I learned is that your team has to be developed. I wanted to hire people who knew everything already. I realized that hiring the person with the most experience or the fanciest degree was not working. Hire for character, train for skill. I tell people who I feel have potential, “I’m hiring you because of your work ethic, I can teach you the business."
The job that had the biggest impact on my career happened when I started in hospitality at McDonald's when I was 16. My primary station was the drive-thru. I loved it. I still tell every kid today to work at McDonald's if they can. Though I was young I was able to figure out that Mcdonald's worked so well because there was a system for everything. There was even a particular way we had to salt the fries. I loved talking to the customers. Even at a drive-thru window, I had regulars. We spent only a few moments together at that window each day, but it didn’t stop us from forming a bond. There was so much about business that I learned from McDonald's. They ran a tight ship. Even as a teen, I loved that.
I really pride myself on how well we support our staff and keep them motivated, and educated. I recognize that this is not easy. Hospitality is difficult work. When you throw in the nightlife aspect of it and a boss with extremely high standards, stress is inevitable on some level. However, we seek to balance that out by supporting our staff. During our daily pre-shift meetings each day we ask every single staff member “How can we better support you today?” Sometimes they provide work related answers such as “I need help learning the new POS system.” Other times they tell us “I broke up with my boyfriend, just know I’m a little off today.” Whatever the answer is, it helps us to know how to best interact with them. We don’t need to get into their business, but we can consider the fact that outside of the walls of the establishment we are all real people with real lives. In addition, we offer employee medical benefits & commuter benefits. We host regular workshops on topics like, "How to Start Your Own Small Business" and "How to Better Manage Your Finances" by industry experts. We do regular company-sponsored employee outings and employee-led charitable initiatives. I think I’m most proud of how we’ve improved this aspect of the business over the past two years. 

I think this notion of a work/life balance is a myth for entrepreneurs. However, there are a few steps you can take to help the situation. At times, I have to tell my team not to call me unless it is a dire emergency. That also means not answering the phone which can be frightening because you wonder if something really important has taken place. However, if I don’t force myself to put the phone away, my family won’t get the attention they deserve and I won’t ever have a moment to recharge. Also, I travel. It is only when I travel that I feel true freedom from work. If I am halfway around the world, there is little I can do to solve any issues. So that helps me to disconnect.
I am a huge advocate for therapy and I look forward to my sessions with my therapist, Vladimire Calixte of Life Rebuilding. I believe therapy is necessary for all, even if you feel you have no major events to discuss. It should be part of your regular check-up.
The one thing I can’t live without is my computer. My laptop is my sidekick. I pull it out while I’m in the salon under the dryer to check on sales, or on the beach to read the manager shift notes. Any system that we use whether it is our POS, security, or HR files -- needs to be accessible to me anywhere in the world or I’m not interested in signing up for it.

Disclaimer: Individuals featured in the Inspirational Career Timelines section have been nominated by peers, colleagues and/or other members of the hospitality industry. It is to the best of our knowledge that each individual has demonstrated leadership and acted as a positive role model for others.

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