One on One Interview w/Tara Boyd Owner of One of The Hottest Wine Bar & Lounges on The East Coast
SO: Tell us about yourself. What do you want people to know about you?
Tara: I was born and raised right here in lovely Newport News, Virginia. I came up in a big family so those 36 years were filled with fond memories of fish fry’s on 27th street, birthday celebrations every month of the year, huge holiday dinners, and a lot of love and support. I graduated from Warwick High School in 2000 after attending various elementary and middle schools in the area. Days before my high school graduation I learned that I was with child and the news was a shock to my parents at the time. I was nonetheless excited and it did not hit me that I was bringing a life into this world until I was almost 6 months pregnant. Pregnancy was a very interesting time in my life as it put college on hold, allowed me time to decompress from 12 years of education, and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. On February 7, 2001 my beautiful daughter was born, and the title of “Mom” was one that I would take seriously every single day. It wasn’t about just me anymore; I wanted to give my little girl the world, and everything I did from that day forward was to make her life better. After a short maternity period, I returned to the workforce as a server at Olive Garden and started school at Thomas Nelson Community College to pursue a degree in Accounting. Just as life was starting, and I was adjusting to being a young adult, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease (a form of cancer) right before my twenty-first birthday. I remember experiencing all the normal emotions “Why me?” “How did I get sick?” “Am I going to survive?” And the most vain of all, “What will happen to my hair?” It wasn’t easy to say the least, but my medical team was amazing and though I did not have the emotional support I expected during this time of uncertainty, fighting that battle made me stronger and have a different take on life. After three solid months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation treatment, I endured two pic lines, lost all my hair, and wore a surgical scar on my chest that would be with me forever. But in January of the following year, the doctor told me I was cancer free and I’ve never looked back since. I went on to transfer to Old Dominion University, where I changed my major to Political Science. I pledged Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Incorporated and was not only active in my chapter but proudly served as the National Pan Hellenic President for two full years. I graduated with a Bachelors of Political Science in December of 2006. The following summer, I interviewed for the Department of Defense, and civil service became my official new career. I graduated with my Master’s in Business Administration in 2010 from Averett University. By this time I was established, had purchased my first home, was enjoying the co-parenting of a vibrant nine year old, and progressing in my civil service career. I felt quite accomplished as I approached the age of thirty, but I was ready for the next phase of my life - whatever that was to be. In 2012, I met the man who would become my husband. We had a very rocky engagement but I was in love and the one thing I loved about him and I was that we had fun together. Unfortunately, love and fun is not enough to make a marriage work, but we figured we’d give it a try anyway. Wedding planning went on for over a year, and being a simple woman I chose to have an easy going destination wedding in beautiful, and far away Jamaica. Unfortunately, at the turn of 2014 my mother grew very ill from lung cancer and ended up passing away only weeks before our wedding. This bittersweet time made it hard to embrace the excitement of getting married but the talks we had when I was by her side gave me the courage to keep living life no matter the circumstances. The one memory that always stands out is one day as she held my hand she told me she wasn’t ready to die. Instead of the usual religious response, I told this rationalizing story of what it would be like if none of us died and everyone lived forever, and how we’d all start falling off the edge of the world into the ocean. I remember telling her “Mom I know you know you wouldn't even want to be alive at the age of 250” and she laughed. My overly practical story brought her so much comfort and I remember the peace I saw in her eyes that day. On April 4th I buried my mother and on the 26th I married the man I was to spend the rest of my life with.
SO: Wow! Well with your background, and career choice tell us why and how Avenue Blue was birthed?
Tara: In May of 2014 my husband and I were newlyweds itching to go out one night. At the time, there was only one option for nightlife on the Peninsula and we wanted a change of scenery. The debate over driving to the Southside to go out or not turned into us reluctantly staying home. The next day I looked at him over breakfast and said “I want to open something.” He looked at me and made the biggest mistake. Without any questioning, he said “Ok!” I attended some out of state training over the next few months and when I returned home from San Diego in July, I presented him with the first draft of the Business Plan. He looked at me and said “What’s this?” I smiled and responded “The Business Plan!” With big eyes and heavy inflection in his voice he said “You were serious?” So from that day forward, all my energy and effort went into what was to be Avenue Blue. Once my cousin learned of my plans he expressed interest to invest and the venture quickly evolved into a family business. We all toiled over the perfect name. Our original location was on Jefferson Avenue in the Shoppes at Oyster Point (pilot house shopping center).
Being a local, Jefferson Avenue has been the heart of the city for years and the lounge was to be centered around music. I had expressed the desire to my husband and cousin to have something related to blues and avenue in the name. One day I woke up and sent a text to my cousin that said “Blue Avenue.” He sent a text back saying, “Avenue Blue.” I absolutely loved the name and decided to go with it! Unfortunately, the location fell through because the owners did not believe that we would stay true to our concept. They did not like the word “lounge” in our business plan and they kept asking questions that indicated they did not believe our aim was to open an upscale nightlife environment centered around live music with an age restriction. So we had the perfect name and no location. The same day I received the call from the property manager that our lease offer had been retracted. The three of us met at Hyashi in Peninsula Town Center to discuss the retraction and sulk over dinner and drinks. A former neighbor, who would become one of Avenue Blue’s faithful regulars, was dining at the bar at the time and chimed in on our conversation. He recommended us inquiring about a location in Peninsula Town Center that might be perfect for our concept. Coincidentally, the previous business that occupied that space was named after myself, had a similar concept, and I used to patronize 2-3 times per week when I lived in The Chapman. I reached out to the commercial real estate company and within one week we had toured the space, negotiated the lease, and acquired the official future home for Avenue Blue Piano Bar, LLC. We signed the lease in January 2015, and in June of that same year we opened our doors to the music loving, mature locals of Hampton Roads.
SO: What makes Avenue Blue unique and different?
Tara: Avenue Blue is unique because we designed our concept to cater to the locals. For years, the options on the Peninsula for nightlife have been inconsistent and short lived. Our distinct concept was designed with longevity in mind - the age restriction, the dress code, the live entertainment - to attract the right patrons and keep them coming back. We put a great detail in the decor, selecting the right bands, adopting a scrutinizing hiring process so that we acquire the best staff, and the menu. Over the years we’ve made changes based on what works and what doesn’t but throughout the evolution, we’ve managed to stay true to our original concept.
SO: What advice would you give another entrepreneur wanting to start their own business?
Tara: I’ve been asked this question many times and my answer stays the same. I would have been lost opening a restaurant without my years of experience in the industry paralleled with my Master’s Degree in Business. While formal education tends to be overrated for some professions, I would not have understood how to analyze my profit and loss statements, manage inventory loss, identify seasonal patterns and that relation to business projections, the importance of FIFO, and a host of other things that I don’t believe on-the-job-training would not have taught me. Outside of experience and formal education, you have to have the appropriate start-up capital. Always plan for the unexpected, so if you think you’ll need $50K to open a business, double that because there are so many things you haven’t even thought about because you won’t know until you get there.