(Photo: Frank Ishman; illustration: Jessica De Jesus)

The Secret Ingredient to a Brooklyn Bar’s Success

Delissa Reynolds is being honored by In Her Company, a campaign celebrating the power, creativity, and impact of 30 inspiring businesses—and the visionary women leading them.
Oct 19, 2014· 2 MIN READ
TakePart Staff

An established New York stage actor, Delissa Reynolds found her life’s focus changing after the 9/11 attacks. The importance of giving back to her community and fulfilling a personal dream of financial success took hold, and Reynolds opened Bar Sepia in 2004 as a meeting place for her Prospect Heights neighbors. A decade later, the establishment has become a thriving cornerstone of the community that reflects the beauty, charm, and diversity of its residents.

Bar Sepia
HQ: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Industry: Bar/restaurant (hospitality)
Founded: 2004
Over the past 10 years, Bar Sepia has grown to be a unique restaurant, meeting place, and thriving community hub for neighbors and friends of Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

TakePart: How did you come up with the idea for your business? Was there a turning point that convinced you to start your own business?

Delissa Reynolds: After 9/11, our neighbors pulled together to support one another. I started an informal gathering at my home on Sundays so that folks could eat, talk, and spend time to get to know one another better. Soon after, the Brooklyn Museum began its dynamic renovation, and I saw that the neighborhood was standing on the precipice of a huge change. I wanted to find a way to be a part of that change and contribute to the community, create financial autonomy, and find a way to move my simple gathering to a larger venue.

TakePart: What excites or inspires you? What do you care about?

Reynolds: Paying the rent and a perfect Manhattan cocktail! Action, artistic expression, and creative problem solving excite me. I am inspired by true public servants and people who work toward the betterment of all people. I care about social justice, economic equality, and environmental responsibility.

TakePart: Do you see any common challenges among female business owners and entrepreneurs?

Reynolds: Women are remarkable and are incredibly powerful physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially. The only challenge I see for women entrepreneurs—which is slight—is truly embracing these strengths, trusting our visions, then taking action toward realizing them.

TakePart: What’s been the proudest moment that made you feel like your hard work was worth it?

Reynolds: My proudest moment was when I was given the start-up capital by a bank and equally when I made the final payment on that loan in January of this year. It took 10 years, but we made it happen. Also when I realized we had created a sense of mutual credibility with my neighbors, being a 2005 Eileen Fisher Grantee, and winning the 2013 [Brooklyn] Small Business of the Year award from the city of New York.

TakePart: What’s one thing you wished someone had told you about your first year in business?

Reynolds: That sleep is wasted on the young!

TakePart: What’s the best mistake you ever made?

Reynolds: The best mistake I ever made was undercharging for an event, then realizing that from that gesture, I had generated more business.

TakePart: What’s your dream for how your business should look in five years?

Reynolds: I envision owning the building where Bar Sepia operates and hopefully incorporating a retail arm—affordable butcher, green grocer, and fish market—that will serve the community in multiple ways.

TakePart: Why is sustainability important to you? How do you incorporate sustainability into your product and business practice?

Reynolds: The definition of sustainability is extensive, whether through recycling, responsible farming, employee incentives, thoughtful development, or reasonable rents. I believe that if we are to be truly committed to our environment, we will work to preserve our historical and cultural identities, curb expansive development—both urban and rural—and strive for economic equality in this ever-changing and transient global market. We do our best at Bar Sepia to recycle, consolidate our delivery dates, use seasonal ingredients, and collaborate with our vendors, and to create a cohesive and encouraging working environment so that there is less employee turnover.

(Photo: Elia Lyssy)

TakePart: What’s one financial lesson you learned the hard way?

Reynolds: That you have to risk spending in order to generate. Also, savvy purchasing.

TakePart: What’s surprised you the most about starting your own business?

Reynolds: That after 10 years, I’m still here!

This post is part of the series "In Her Company," created in collaboration with Eileen Fisher and designed to celebrate the power, creativity, and impact of women-owned businesses. Check out more stories at takepart.com/in-her-company.