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Hidden Gems: Meet Monique Hayward of DRISCOLL Cuisine & Cocktail Concepts

Today we’d like to introduce you to Monique Hayward.

Hi Monique, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
A New York City native who also spent part of my childhood in Columbia, SC, I grew up pursuing my dream of being a journalist. I was the editor of my high school newspaper and idolized the fearless, intrepid reporters who I watched on TV every night and read their articles in magazines and newspapers. By the time I graduated from high school, I decided I wanted to be a political reporter at the Washington Post and enrolled at the University of Maryland College Park, a top-10 journalism school in the Washington, DC area. At age 18 in 1988, I was not prescient at all about how the internet would disrupt the newspaper industry, but I realized quickly that the best reporters don’t usually start their careers “at the top” at the Washington Post or New York Times. Rather, you’re expected to pay your dues, work your way up, and not make much money before even getting a chance to compete for those highly coveted jobs at big-city media outlets.

Determined to broaden my horizons and give myself more options, I decided to switch my concentration from newspaper journalism to public relations, which provided the foundation for me to pursue a career in Corporate America. I “sealed that deal” with an MBA in marketing from Case Western Reserve University in 1994 and was on my way to my first job as a marketing communications specialist for Tektronix in Beaverton, Oregon, a company and place I never heard of before a recruiter contacted me about the opportunity. As 1994 was a tough year economically for the country, it was my only offer in hand, and this East Coast girl took a chance on a brand new life in the great Pacific Northwest.

By my mid-30s, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my work in marketing and communications and wanted something more fulfilling. Having tried my hand at being a commercial model and spokesperson and serving as executive producer, writer, and host of my own talk show on a local cable TV station, I thought the next natural step would be pursuing entrepreneurship. When I was growing up, my late grandmother had a dual career as a nurse and beauty salon owner in New York City. As teenagers, my brother and I would visit her over the summers, and she’d take us to her salon in Harlem, where we’d sit for hours listening to the beauty shop banter and performing chores to help our grandmother out around the salon. While we were unappreciative and bored most of the time, enough of that experience stuck with me that I was inspired to start my own company, Nouveau Connoisseurs Corporation, alongside my corporate career.

My first venture was Dessert Noir Café & Bar, an award-winning restaurant in Beaverton, Oregon, and no one told me it would be so hard. Like a lot of would-be entrepreneurs, I bought into the conventional wisdom about having what it takes to be your own boss, following the step-by-step process to turn your idea into a viable business and working your plan to achieve success for your small business. However, when I, a woman of color, needed real-world, honest, practical advice about how to navigate the entrepreneurial terrain and to get the inside track on seizing opportunities, I had a very hard time finding it. Basically, the “School of Hard Knocks” taught me the lessons and that experience was the inspiration for my first book, Divas Doing Business: What the Guidebooks Don’t Tell You About Being a Woman Entrepreneur, which includes a foreword from my longtime mentor and advisor, Oscar-winning actor and screen legend Morgan Freeman.

While the Great Recession of 2008-09 ultimately forced me to close Dessert Noir Cafe & Bar, it didn’t extinguish my entrepreneurial flame. A few years later, I partnered with a former co-worker to launch Cerise Noire Software, a mobile software applications company that specialized in iPhone apps. Upon transferring my interest in that company to my partner in 2012, I focused on accelerating my corporate career and rising through the ranks to become a marketing executive at Intel and Microsoft. In 2014, I published my second book, Get Your Hustle On: It’s Not Just About Getting a Job, But Building a Rewarding Career, where I advise today’s young professionals and college students on how to chart a course toward a flourishing career path. In March 2019, a chance meeting with Brian Driscoll while I was on vacation in Scottsdale was the opportunity for me to bring another food and beverage venture to life.

Brian and I co-founded DRISCOLL Cuisine & Cocktail Concepts with the aim of taking in-home dining in Phoenix to a new level of indulgence and sophistication. We offer clients a unique combination of fresh, innovative food and drinks with an interactive, approachable experience that gives clients memories that last a lifetime. In short, we like to say, “Your home is your new favorite restaurant.”

Along the way on my 25-year career journey, I’ve received many awards and accolades – 2008 Make Mine a Million $ Business, Portland Business Journal 2009 “40 Under 40” award, Diversity MBA 2010 “Top 100 Under 50″ – and I’m blessed to have made a living doing what I love. However, that’s not how I define success or lay the groundwork for my legacy. Rather, I’ve made it my mission to arm current and aspiring entrepreneurs and professionals with the tools and firepower to tackle the unique situations that will test their resolve, strength, and spirit as they start and manage their businesses and careers. They may have a great idea, gut feeling, or vision to deliver a product or service to the market, but people may need a boost up the ladder to invent breakthroughs, rise above competitors, command the respect of peers, and pioneer trends. With that, as someone who’s “been there and done that” and has battled my way to success, I am eager to share candid how-to advice combined with experience on the ground and in the trenches that can help others avoid the pitfalls, obstacles, and challenges they’ll face. I’ve lived through the life of an entrepreneur and corporate marketing executive and now offer real-world experiences as lessons learned so others don’t have to take the hard road.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Author Malcolm Gladwell said, “A lot of what is most beautiful about the world arises from struggle.” We’ve all had one of those “the-last-straw-is-breaking-the-camel’s-back” moments. Mine came in early November 2006, when my entire life seemed to be falling apart. My restaurant venture, Dessert Noir Cafe & Bar, was creating extreme financial problems for me, including a multi-thousand-dollar lawsuit that jeopardized my credit rating and threatened my ability to secure additional financing. Add to that, my executive chef/general manager’s personal and family issues were affecting his ability to focus on running the restaurant. My husband, who had been extremely patient and supported me through both good times and bad, was at his wit’s end and was ordering me to shut my business down. At the same time, the demands of my day job were mounting as the company announced a major restructuring initiative that resulted in workforce reductions. I was laying off employees on my team, managing performance issues with those who remained, and taking on more responsibilities after our group fell into line with the rest of the company to do our jobs with fewer resources. Clearly a low point in my life, for sure.

Fast forward to 2020, and I don’t even have to tell you that a global pandemic forced a reckoning for DRISCOLL Cuisine & Cocktail Concepts. Our business launched in late 2019 with lots of interest from potential clients and a steady stream of inquiries that led to reservations on our books. By March 2020, that all came to a screeching halt due to stay-at-home orders and forced business closures. We had to shut down for almost four months without any path to recovering that revenue because once a client’s birthday passes or a holiday comes and goes, there’s no going back and making that up for most people.

In both cases, I overcame the struggles by going back to the original plan, revisiting the “why” of being in business in the first place and staying true to those intentions. I also sought the advice and counsel of my closest advisors, who could help me remain rational and strategic rather than emotional and panicky because no one makes good decisions when they’re not thinking clearly. Finally, like with most things in life, you make adjustments and create space for the most important things, and it’s amazing what you can do when you have the right priorities and proper focus on your goals.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
The idea for DRISCOLL Cuisine & Cocktail Concepts was 20 years in the making. Co-Founder & President Brian Driscoll prepared a special evening for a wife who wanted to surprise her military husband coming home from an overseas deployment. After witnessing their reunion, Brian knew he wanted to create more moments just like that one. He knew the minute the husband walked through the door and he locked eyes with his wife that he could build a business one day to serve clients looking for a unique, personalized experience at home.

DRISCOLL Cuisine & Cocktail Concepts is a standout personal chef company in the Phoenix metro area, creating an atmosphere and experience for small, intimate celebrations and special occasions in your home that rival your favorite restaurant. In short, we offer a variety of service options, including multi-course tasting menus with wine pairings, small plates and appetizers with cocktails, family-style dinner, and brunch. We also offer cooking demonstrations and work with clients on corporate parties and special events.

A strong network of experienced, award-winning chefs, servers, and bartenders differentiates DRISCOLL Cuisine & Cocktail Concepts. These culinary rock stars are artists who offer their “palette for the palate” of classy, contemporary, cool, and creative food and beverages that they exclusively tailor for each client. We deliver above-and-beyond service that creates memorable and engaging experiences and lays the foundation for long-term relationships with our clients. We’re proud of our 100-percent five-star ratings on Google and Yelp. That’s the testimony for our passion about this business and the experience we want our clients to enjoy when they work with DRISCOLL Cuisine & Cocktail Concepts.

Can you talk about how you think about risk?
I believe in the old adage, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” In both my corporate and entrepreneurial careers, I’ve taken significant risks. In some cases, the risk paid off, and in others, the result was a failure from which I learned and grew from the experience. In my early days as a corporate marketer, I was determined to build my career in a business unit that was responsible for major products that drove the company’s growth. At one point, I got the opportunity to get off that track and pursue my first managerial role on a marketing and communications team in human resources, a support function that wasn’t even on my radar at the time. Upon consulting with the company’s CEO and other mentors, I decided to take that risk for the benefit of learning a new area of the company and using my marketing and communications skills in a different context and to “build new muscle.” The result was a tenure that lasted more than five years, and I received two promotions.

From an entrepreneurial perspective, my restaurant venture, Dessert Noir Café & Bar, was risky by definition as restaurants are notorious for their high failure rates. Even though the odds were against me, I decided to take the risk, which ultimately didn’t work out in the end because the headwinds from a financial crisis and its resulting economic downturn proved to be too much to survive. I learned so much from that experience that sticks with me to this very day, and there’s so much about how I have managed my latest venture, DRISCOLL Cuisine & Cocktail Concepts, that wouldn’t have been possible without my experience with the restaurant.

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Image Credits
Christine Hyatt Photography

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What to check out next:
Aleasha Bahr is a sales & marketing strategist known for showing introverts and ambiverts the Secret Art of Subtle Selling.  She personally sold millions in revenue while discovering introverts are usually top sales people – as soon as they stop trying to act like extroverts.  We’ve partnered with her to produce Introverted Entrepreneur Success Stories. Check out episode 1 below:

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