In 2015 I retired from my professional career as a Vice President of Training for one of the largest restaurant companies and, the 26th largest employer in the US. At the time, I lived in Orlando full-time and had a beach house in Treasure Island, FL. Two years prior to retiring, I started a home decor/gift store and interior design business called ZaZoo’d. Once I retired, I decided to move to the beach in Treasure Island full-time and place all my focus on ZaZoo’d and the interior design side. ZaZoo'd is an award winning store and design business with an eclectic array of gifts and decor items with a vintage or coastal flair.
Now after 8 years in business, I decided to open a speakeasy and dance bar in one of my hotel commercial design projects. The Saint is a speakeasy loosely based on the Catholic religion. In true speakeasy fashion, you must know a password or, in our case, “a sin to get in”. Once inside, you can sip on one of the Seven Deadly Sins while enjoying some of the many rare Catholic artifacts and art from local artists. The all red bar is full of Instagram worthy posts. The LGBTQ+ dance bar, COCKtail is a fun place to hang with a group of friends and take in some of the best entertainment 6 nights a week. We have feature programs like The Big Gay Sing Along (Live piano sing along) , Sissy That Walk Saturdays (2 action packed drag shows) and Thank GoGo it’s Friday (GoGo boys and great dance music).
The future looks bright as well where in March, I will open a pool and bar on the side of the hotel called The Wet Spot. The historic hotel is also undergoing a renovation at the same time and will be a new LGBTQ+ hotel in the heart of St Petersburg, FL.
Community is all about the environment you create to make people feel included. In St Pete we have an extremely small business and LGBTQ+ friendly community. In my businesses, the teams work hard to create that same community by embracing everyone who walks in as family. All three businesses have been very successful and a big reason for that is because we are so welcoming and inclusive.
The LGBTQ+ community has been extremely supportive of all 3 businesses. Many thank me for developing businesses focused on/welcoming them. We have the busiest LGBTQ+ dance bar in town and, in just 3 short months, won awards for Best Dance Bar and Best LGBTQ+ Bar. Their support is amazing and we would not be here today (and thriving) without them.
All three of my businesses contribute and engage with the LGBTQ+ community. At ZaZoo’d, we donate and design the Equality Florida Gala which raises over $500,000 for that organization; we decorate for the holidays at the Metro Inclusive Health, an LGBTQ+ focused medical facility; and, we carry a large selection of LGBTQ+ focused gifts and merchandise. At The Saint, we participate in, and donate to, St. Pete Pride and The Taste of Pride. And, at Cocktail, all of our programming for entertainment is focused on the LGBTQ+ population. We are a major sponsor of the LGBTQ+ Metro Welcome Center which is focused on welcoming and offering services to the LGBTQ+ community.
Daylight is transforming the banking business in a new way by offering a product that no other bank has excelled at. They are laser focused on supporting the underserved LGBTQ+ community and, as a member of that community, that excites me. We need more trailblazers in this arena and they inspire me to think different about how I offer support to the community.
I would have to say Ellen DeGeneres. She made being LGBTQ+ normal to a large part of the world and that is how acceptance and understanding starts. She continues to push forward with a softer approach on how she educates people about our community and I believe that makes all the difference in the world. We need more people to step up and be as brave as she was when she decided to come out on national TV.
I am excited to continue my journey of providing businesses tailored to the LGBTQ+ community and evolving my thinking/support on how I grow to do that better daily. The future can be brighter for so many if we all do our part to educate and bring us closer to a world that values everyone's contributions.