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life + work + parenthood + COMMUNITY

  • Writer's pictureJill Devine

Small Business Shoutout: Robust Wine Bar

Robust Wine Bar
Stanley and Arlene Browne

Once the pandemic was declared, I started reaching out to various business owners to see if they wanted to share their story. The story you and I don't know, but we should know. Being a business owner is stressful in itself, but then you have to shut down (in some way or another) because of a pandemic ... stress is understatement. I wanted to give these business owners a voice. The general public needs to know the inner workings of a small business. My hope is after reading some of the thoughts and stories from these business owners, a little more compassion will be had by everyone on the outside looking in.

Every Friday, I plan to feature a small business in a "Small Business Shoutout" feature. This Friday belongs to Arlene Browne, co-owner of Robust Wine Bar. I met Arlene in November of 2019. Side note - it feels like we've known each other much longer than that. She was a guest on my podcast, Episode 22: This Mom, Along With So Many Other Moms, Needs To Cut Herself Some Slack. Arlene is a woman you want in your corner. She cheers for you. She roots you on. She looks out for you. She supports you. She is so kind and she has lifted my spirits on a number of occasions in the last few months. And let me tell you, when you mention her kids or she tells you a story about her kids, her whole body melts and radiates the love she has for them.

I'm so proud of Arlene and what she wrote for this week's "Small Business Shoutout":

I woke up this morning and my heart was pounding...again.

I have a lot of new ideas swirling in my head and I want to get started right away.

Nothing like another ten things to add to my never ending to-do list.

It isn’t always like this. Sometimes I wake up at three am and try desperately to fall back to sleep, but the worry creeps in. What if it doesn’t work? What if we don’t get the loan? What if one of us gets the virus? What if we lose it ALL. Waiting. Worrying. Finding the space to breathe. The cycle is daunting.

Robust Wine Bar

When you own your own business, especially a restaurant, you are trained to stay positive for the public, to always have a smile on your face and to act like business is for the most part, GREAT. It’s a double whammy for me because I own two businesses: a restaurant with my husband and a communications consulting firm on my own. It’s literally in both my jobs to manage crises and to find a positive at all costs. But this pandemic hit us harder than I could ever imagine and although I’m always looking for that positive spin, these days, I don’t always have the wherewithal to find it.

The truth? Over these past few months, I just don’t feel positive. Like many people, I’m not happy every day, nor every other hour for that matter. I am anxious, guilt ridden, exhausted, and sad. I have tried to keep my two children content and busy, shielding them from the anxiety and worry I feel every single day. In the beginning, I tried keeping the house clean, cooked all of their favorite meals, stayed on top of their “homeschooling” and tried to make sure they got some exercise. Today, I am just doing the best that I can.

Currently, social media and I have a love-hate relationship. In my business, it’s how I get my story out and the stories of other people and their businesses. In my personal life it’s how I connect with the people I cannot touch in real life. It’s how I gather information and respond to customer’s wants and needs; it’s a place for me to laugh, smile, enjoy the positives, and sometimes vent.

“I’ve been calling for hours and no one answers! I guess you don’t need my business.”

“Your prices are too high! How can you price gouge during this crisis?”

“You won’t see me. I just don’t trust that you are implementing the safest practices.”

“The person who I spoke with on the phone was very rude.”

Every negative post, every angry message was a punch in the stomach. I answered each message in the most polite and proper manner with tears streaming down my face. They never saw the tears or felt my heartache.

Day after day, it was the same. I couldn’t wait for the evenings because that meant the day was over. I wanted every day to be over, just in case the next day would bring promise. I still feel that way sometimes but promise doesn’t always come. A lot of times, I’m just numb and paralyzed.

It hasn’t been all bad. Out of crisis comes creativity. At first, the ideas were flowing rapidly. There was even a bit of momentum that fueled my spirit, because for a while, I felt every single one of our friends, co-workers and the community was really pulling for us.

I have so many things to do, yet, I just can’t find a way to do them. My list grows, my heart sinks; I stare out the window, and I feel like giving up. I have wanted to give up so many times. I still do. But I don’t kids. Since the day they were born, most everything I do is for my kids. It’s their faces I see at the end of every finish line.

Needless to say, it is not easy to own a business with your spouse. Marriage alone is complicated and along with parenting, the challenges can be monumental. Doors are slammed. Voices are raised. Feelings are hurt. Words are said. Lots of tears have been shed--some bad, but many good too. We bring different strengths to the table, and for that, I am grateful.

So how do I cope with this emotional rollercoaster ride from Hell? I work out. I pray. I cook. I dance in the kitchen. I “houseparty.” I hug my kids and tell them how much I love them. I stay socially distant but find ways to keep in touch with friends and family. I send and receive “love texts” from friends who continue to virtually hold my hand day in and day out; they will never know how much they have truly kept me from jumping off the cliff.

I have a life-line. I check-in regularly with a fellow small business owner who is going through similar days of light and dark. My friend, Rachel, owns a women’s clothing boutique called Leopard, is the type of person everyone must have in their life. She’s a woman business owner with two kids--a younger, spunkier version of myself. She once told me, “You have to surround yourself with people who lift you UP!” And since then I have really made a conscious effort to do just that. Sometimes Rachel and I text, just letting each other know we are not alone. Sometimes we talk in person, 6 feet apart, just blurting out every feeling we are feeling at the moment and longing afterwards to give each other a reassuring hug. Rachel is not just strong and full of grit; she’s a survivor who’s helping me survive too.

There is something reassuring about having my family all under one roof. It’s comforting to hear my little boy in his room playing Fortnite with his friends, knowing my daughter is content in the corner experiencing TikTok, and catching the occasional glimpse of my husband getting wine refills during his Netflix binges. All the while, I’m on my phone, answering texts, Slack, and social media posts in the kitchen with a pot simmering quietly on the stove. After more than 15 years of marriage and nearly 13 years of owning a business, my husband, Stanley, and I find ways to make it all work. We are stronger together.

What have I learned so far?

Indulge in small victories, no matter how fleeting they seem to be. There will be another victory around the corner and eventually they will all add-up.

Do things that come from a place in your heart; you cannot go wrong.

I am a fighter. Strength and grit are my cornerstone; now is not the time to give up.

Faith is my friend.

And my family remains my first priority.

Robust Wine Bar-

SUNDAY TO THURSDAY: 4pm - 9pm FRIDAY AND SATURDAY: 4pm - 10pm PHONE: (314) 963-0033 EMAIL: ADDRESS: 227 W Lockwood Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63119

Past "Small Business Shoutout"recipients:

*PAINT Nail Bar St. Louis

*Steve's Hot Dogs

*STL Veg Girl

*Go Fit Mom

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