On March 9, the businesswomen behind the hip Filipinotown, Los Angeles bar, Genever, will celebrate their first anniversary. They will open up their doors early in anticipation of a steady stream of dedicated customers in search of playful cocktails and a warm, welcoming atmosphere. For what began as just a playful New Year’s Day conversation has turned into a thriving success story of entrepreneurship for these three girlfriends: Roselma Samala, Patricia Perez and Tinette [Christine] Sumiller. Aspire Editor Gayle Jo Carter talked with them – and shed some tears with them – recently to learn how it all began, the trials and tribulations of opening a business and why they encourage all women to find a support team to turn their dreams into a reality.
Q. For many, business is ‘going it alone.’ Why did you do you it together? What are the advantages and disadvantages to that?
Roselma: “The idea was formed on a New Year’s Day sleepover. We were just kind of lounging around on the couch in pajamas, sipping mimosas at 10 a.m. and catching up with each other. We were talking about our lives, our frustrations with some of our careers and looking at how we can manage our wealth. So were just talking about it all together, and said, ‘If we were to do something together, what would it be?’ And we asked, ‘What do we like doing together?’ And the thing that came out was drinking and celebrating. So we were like, ‘Should we open a bar?’ We kind of came up with it together. It naturally evolved that we started it together. In general, we’re just sort of communal people. There’s a strength in doing it together. We all come from different backgrounds and can bring our different perspectives and professions into what we wanted to do.”
Patricia: “Having already owned a business, from a practical standpoint, I knew that having partnerships – as opposed to people doing it alone – allows you to share the workload, the collaboration and the teamwork that is essential to a thriving business. If you’re a solo entrepreneur, especially for women and the way we are treated in the financial realm, it is already a disadvantage. Doing anything on your own makes it more difficult. Knowing that there’s more than one person gives you coverage, another set of eyes and another set of ideas. It’s more expansive.”
Tinette: “Because there are three of us, we can take on each other’s loads if one of us becomes busy, as all three of us are still doing our own professions outside of the bar. Again, strength in numbers. We are able to help each other out in that way, especially with life happenings. When the other one is down, the other two can lift the other one up and vice versa.”
Q. Where are you each from?
Tinette: “Patricia and I were born in the Philippines. We immigrated here to the United States and Roselma was born here.”
Patricia: “I came when I was 6-years-old with my mother and father as part of the immigration wave when the United States was recruiting nurses [from the Philippines].”
Tinette: “I immigrated here when I was around 9-years-old. My grandparents and my uncle were already here. They first moved to North Carolina, so I would have been a North Carolina girl. My uncle had moved to North Carolina specifically for Duke University to continue with his medical programme. But then he was moved out to the VA [Veterans Affairs] programme at UCLA in West L.A. and that is how we immigrated to Los Angeles. I came here with my mum and my older sister.”
Roselma: “I was born here. My parents immigrated in the mid-to late ’60s during the martial law time. They were able to immigrate because my grandfather on my mum’s side was actually part of the U.S. Navy, when the Philippines was a territory of the U.S.”
Q. Has your immigrant story made you stronger? You’re the faces of why America thrives from immigrants. Does it feel like you lived the American dream?
Patricia: “As Filipino women, specifically within our culture and this definitely applies to other immigrant populations, we can just draw from our specific personal experience. Based on that, we grew up knowing about the pursuit of the American Dream. It was definitely a high motivation that’s been ingrained throughout our years. With our parents, the message was always: ‘We came here to be better. We came here to do better. We came here for better opportunity.’ The message was always ‘Do better. Be better.’”
Roselma: “We’re getting emotional [voice breaking] because our families worked so hard…”
Patricia: “They made a lot of sacrifices to get us here.”
Roselma: “We struggle also, it’s not easy. But if our parents weren’t here, we may not have had the same sort of opportunities either. So we are trying to make our families proud. Also being thankful for what we’ve been able to have – the resources that we’re able to access, the freedoms that we have here that we may not have had.”
Patricia: “The strong feelings we have, our personal endeavours and our personal courage in this specific collaboration is a tribute not just to our families but our ancestors. It’s a way to pay it forward to future generations of not just young women but to anyone aspiring to really make it.”
Tinette: “I’m trying to keep it together because your question really takes me back to when I immigrated here. I have very clear memories of when I immigrated here. It was just my sister, me and my mum. She was a single mum. Of course, my story’s a little different, maybe, because my grandparents were already here and we had somewhere to stay. But it was still a huge change for my mum, starting over here. And to think that she did that as a single mum. Yeah, it’s just a soap opera thinking back to it.”
Roselma: “That’s what made me emotional too because families have to separate for a long time in order to immigrate here. People don’t realise that. In my family, my middle sister had to be left behind. So she didn’t immigrate here until she was 9-years-old. My parents were with my oldest sister. It’s not easy to immigrate here from another country.”
“I carry my passport with me all the time and not just because I want to travel all the time but because I’m slightly paranoid. Even though I think we’re lucky for living in Los Angeles, you just never know. We still get comments, we still get treated as if we’re foreigners. We’re U.S. citizens. I was born and raised here. It’s hard. You never know who you are going to encounter.”
Q. Do you feel particularly moved right now because of what’s happening in the country with the current immigration battles?
Tinette: “I can’t say I’ve been an activist ever. But when I think about the limitations on immigration and look back at what would have happened to me, what would have happened to my mum and my grandparents. Just knowing the history of Filipinos here in the United States and how long they’ve been here, we can go back to the 1800s, and to think that all of a sudden… I was just talking about this with the bar staff the other night. Sure, the Asians have this ‘model minority’ but that can flip anytime. It’s all of a sudden, everybody who is a minority has to think about things we haven’t thought about in years.”
Roselma: “I carry my passport with me all the time and not just because I want to travel all the time but because I’m slightly paranoid. Even though I think we’re lucky for living in Los Angeles, you just never know. We still get comments, we still get treated as if we’re foreigners. We’re U.S. citizens. I was born and raised here. It’s hard. You never know who you are going to encounter.”
Patricia: “What’s most upsetting for me during these times is the children that are getting separated from their parents or their guardians. I couldn’t imagine being young, especially immigrating here at 6-years-old, and being separated from my family. How can anyone? How can any human being allow that with children who haven’t even fully psychologically developed? They don’t even have language or the writing skills. That to me was one of the most upsetting realities we’re dealing with during these times.”
Q. Thinking about your experiences, what would you tell other women who want to start their own business?
Patricia: “You really have to trust the strength of your partnership because sometimes that’s all you have to be able to fight in every situation, especially when you’re dealing with an all male cast who have their cultural dispositions and prejudices against us, subconscious or not. There’s a strength about being together as women. They may have to start to take you seriously.”
Christine: “We always say: ‘Before you even start, you really have to know who you are going into business with. It really does matter. And it’s not the stereotype of ‘Oh, never go into business with family’ or ‘Never go into business with friends.’ It’s really, individually, who are you and what do you bring to the table? Also, to understand everybody’s strengths and where, perhaps, other people would have to help out in their weaknesses, right? It really does matter because if you’re going to go into a partnership, you really have to know who you’re going into partnership with.”
Roselma: “For us too, patience was a big key: patience with yourself, patience with others, patience with processes. I tell my friends ‘If you want to strengthen your patience, open a bar, any business in general.’ Like what Patricia said, when you’re working with an all male cast of characters, knowing your own strengths and being confident in what you are bringing helps because a lot of times we have to tap into that patience and just listen. But then with a smile, assert ourselves and let them know that you can’t mess with us, you can’t f*** around with us.”
Tinette: “We’re not going to stay quiet. We’re not going to just take it without speaking up.”
Patricia: “We always know when we’re right.”
Q. What qualities do you think women bring to entrepreneurship that are an advantage?
Roselma: “Definitely collaborativeness. Women just in general are collaborators. It’s more about how best to get something done, not who gets the credit.”
Tinette: “Or how to do it the fastest. There really is a cerebral process that most women go through before doing something. We’re multitaskers, not to say men aren’t, we’re just better at it. Sometimes, there tends to be a ‘get it done’ attitude, get it done without thinking it through [for men].”
Trisha: “Our maternal instinct, our natural ability to be more sensitive, our administrative and organisational skills are definitely more highlighted than men. And if anything, to start a business, it really is about paperwork and details. Women, generally speaking, we’re so much better at it. I think it has a lot to do with having a nurturing quality to us. We like to take care of things, so that completely puts us ahead.”
Roselma: “Especially in our field, in the hospitality world, that’s what we like to focus on at Genever is the hospitality. We do welcome anyone. We don’t have a dress code. We welcome people of all ages.”
Patricia: “The only dress code is that they are dressed. We’re not a nude bar.”
Genever Bar Los Angeles | Facebook by @Genever
Winter Cocktail at Genever Bar Los Angeles | Facebook by @Genever
Q. You talked about financial barriers that as women you face in business. Are their also barriers because of your heritage, because of your being Filipino?
Tinette: “It isn’t a direct hit, like ‘Oh you’re Filipino, this is why I’m treating you this way. But I honestly, I believe because we are Filipino, we tend to look younger than our age, so they will often consider us as newcomers and little girls and will treat us like that. They will push as hard as they can when you’re in the middle of a negotiation. But because they underestimate not only our experience because they think we’re young, but also they underestimate the power of our partnership and that we have done our due diligence – they are surprised that there is no pushing us around.”
Q. You raised some of your opening funds on Kickstarter. How was that experience? Was it a good thing to do?
Roselma: ‘For sure. It took a lot of work. We were basically one day every day of the month doing something for Kickstarter. We not only raised the money – we weren’t actually sure we were going to raise that amount, so we put a cautious amount – but it also really developed a community for us. Talk about due diligence. We met with some of our friends who did Kickstarter campaigns in the past and they told us: ‘We don’t know if it will get you the money you need but it will be a good marketing push.’ It’s gone above and beyond that for us. It’s really developed into a community for us. People are bringing their friends into the bar and showing them some of the things they bought with their Kickstarter funding: their name on the wall, or name on a stool or seeing the cocktails cocktail named for them. It helps to contribute to who else is telling our story.”
Tinette: “It also reminded us about our outreach in the community and really what kind of community we have because all three of us, though raised here in California, grew up in different parts of California. I went to an all-girls catholic school. All of a sudden, those women were here to support me. When they found out about a bar wholly owned by women, of course, they were all for it. It allowed me to reconnect to with my community at large.”
Q. And you purposely chose a location in the Filipinotown neighbourhood?
Patricia: “There was something in the stars that aligned up for us to find it. We did identify neighbourhoods that were similar to where we are now. Burgeoning neighbourhoods, as we want to be part of a community. It was an online listing and when we went to see it for the first time, we couldn’t believe our luck. It was in the middle of Filipinotown. After that first visit, we did feel strongly and intuitively that place was meant for us. We had this sense of homecoming.”
Q. With community a big part of your business, what are you doing to be socially conscious?
Rosemela: “Right now we are running a series of female guest bartenders, titled “It takes a village,” which is primarily inspired by our opening bar manager who is currently on maternity leave. It’s something she had wanted to start. We have female bartenders or brand managers in the L.A. area come in and do a guest bartending series where they highlight their brand or their cocktail skills. We then donate a portion of the sales to the Downtown Women’s Center, which is the only homeless organisation in L.A. specifically focused on women. I actually did a lot of work with them as my background is in philanthropic giving. We thought it would be nice collaboration to give some of the profits to them. We do that often or we will open up our space to nonprofit organisations as well to do things.”
Tinette: “Back to the stars were really aligned: We had a booking for a party that sent out their invitations, even before we knew our construction would be finished before that date. It just so happened to be that the week we opened for our soft opening was the week of International Women’s Day, 8th March. It was kind of kismet that we had our soft opening then. We were able to highlight that day and then we were able to create a cocktail for that day where a portion of our sales went to a nonprofit that benefited women who are victims of domestic violence.”
Q. And now you have your first anniversary coming up, any special plans?
Tinette: “March 9th is when we’re celebrating. The planning is still in the works. We usually open at 6, but we’re going to open a couple hours earlier for our Kickstarter supporters and friends and family. We’ll have food. As Filipinos we love to give food to our guests, maybe we’ll do a tarot reading or have live music. Something simple but also celebratory.”
*Interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
When not at the bar, here’s where you’ll find the ladies behind Genever:
Work: Patricia is a Co-Founder and President of Pho Show restaurants, with two locations in California; she also owns the 310 Coffee Company in Mar Vista. She currently serves on the Board of the California Restaurant Association, LA Chapter, as Treasurer.
World: Patricia volunteers her time helping teach dance and song for the non-profit organisation Kayamanan Ng Lahi Philippine Folk Arts.
Life: Patricia holds a degree in English Literature from UCLA and professional designation in Graphic Design from L.A.’s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising.
Work: Offers philanthropic advisement services to foundations, corporations and families.
World: Roselma also serves as Chair for the Center for Pacific Asian Families Board of Directors and is a member of the Los Angeles Steering Committee for Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) from which she received one of 25 Leaders in Action Awards in 2015.
Life: A native of Southern California, Roselma graduated from UCLA with a BA in Sociology and Asian American Studies, and later received her MBA from the Yale School of Management.
Work: After 12+ years’ experience in finance, specialising in middle market commercial finance with Wells Fargo Capital Finance; Tinette has ventured into business for herself. Now working small businesses, families and individuals, financial planning for business succession, cash flow management, insurance and retirement has been her focus for the last 6 ½ years. She has managed personal real estate over the last 13 years.
World: Volunteers as an Associate Dance Director for Kayamanan Ng Lahi, a Los Angeles-based Philippine Folk Arts group, where she has been a member for the past 20 years.
Life: Tinette holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Economics with an emphasis in East Asia from UCLA and is a Certified Financial Planner candidate.