Even though I am a true Jersey Girl, I will brave traffic and head to Brooklyn. Why you ask? There is just too much awesome happening there between people and places. And one of the places I happen to be a HUGE fan of is Ode to Babel, a quaint yet chic bar that is co-owned by a set of incredibly stylish twins. One of those twins is Marva Babel-Tucker who I first met in 2011 when she was a designer for a big name department store. She was super sweet and down to earth so we stayed in touch and became friends. So it’s safe to say that this interview is a bit biased since I am fully aware of Marva’s awesomeness and her black girl magic, but this is what made it easy to choose Marva for a Passionista Profile. What can I say, it’s impossible not to love her.
What I love about Marva’s story is that it reflects a very funny aspect of life, how the career we choose for ourselves evolves into something bigger or much different from our original intent…
Beth: Why did you become an interior designer?
Marva: I’ve always been aesthetically driven and for me creating spaces that are beautiful and could be tangibly felt by anyone, regardless of wealth, was very appealing to me.
Beth: What did you love about design?
Marva: I love primarily designing public spaces because I love that its accessible to everyone. I remember being young and going to certain amazing stores and being affected by that. It’s like saying my home isn’t like this, but you can walk into a space and see what’s being done in the world and experience it regardless of what your income is. That is what pulled me into interiors, just knowing that I could have that impact.
Beth: That’s a good point, it is an experience when you see something beautiful. Even talking about it makes my heart go pitter-pat. So you’re an interior designer and now we’re here inside of Ode to Babel. Tell me how you got from there to here?
Marva: (laughing) You know how some people go from A to Z but then there’s people who go from A, F, W, X, and then Z, well I’m definitely of the latter. I had the initial intent of having a space providing products and pieces for the home. Once I started to do the research and saw how much it cost to sustain a business like that in New York, I realized that it wouldn’t be financially sustainable for me. Then the idea of introducing spirits into the business model and seeing how the profit margin was impacted made sense to adjust the business model, it created much more financial sustainability.
“I’m jumping off the cliff and building the parachute as I go.”
Beth: You have now been up and running since August which is almost six months and it really does not feel like it’s been that long, well to me. (Laughing)
Marva: It definitely feels longer for my sister and I because having a business and leaving corporate america is so scary. Every moment is questioning what you’re doing, like is this the right thing. And figuring out how you can be profitable, how you can sustain your business, how you can pay yours bills and operate, and finanially go up instead of down.
Beth: What are the three biggest lessons you have learned so far?
- Being flexible and being willing to adjust.
- Learning the business in and out and not relying on delegation. It’s ok to delegate, but you should be able to jump in when need be.
- Accepting your weaknesses and being ok with that, and being able to ask for help. People are supportive when you are transparent, and we have had cheerleaders and silent champions.
Beth: That’s a great point, where do you see more support coming from? Is it from family and friends or from outsiders?
“There are people that I’ve known for years, people that I’ve donated to and supported, and I don’t see any of those people coming by to say hi or even have a cup of tea.”
Beth: Yeah, I think that’s every entrepreneurs reality check.
Marva: It’s so weird. There are people that I’ve known for years, people that I’ve donated to and supported, and I don’t see any of those people coming by to say hi or even have a cup of tea. It’s almost hurtful, like wow.
Beth: How do you balance being a mom, wife, friend, and entrepreneur?
Marva: This goes back to transparency, I can’t say that I balance those parts well. I could probably be a better wife to be honest, I think I’m a pretty good mom. When I’m with my daughter I’m 100% there, I don’t answer emails or even check my phone. In terms of being a friend, I go back to them and apologize if they don’t hear from me or if I forgot to respond. I really wish I could be a better wife and friend, it takes a lot and its hard. I’m doing what I can.
Beth: Where do you see Ode to Babel 5 years from now?
Marva: I would love to position ourselves as a brand that has several bars, events, and spaces. The Babel brand would be an umbrella with various business ventures and financial success, that can also help other businesses.
Beth: What would you want Passionistas to know?
Marva: That having that quiet support is more valuable than people realize. And what I mean by quiet support is the word of mouth and that power that it has can help push our businesses forward. Every business has off days because life happens so we shouldn’t bash each other, and not that it’s a excuse it’s just a reality of life.
Beth: Who are you?
Marva: Just a woman who is trying to learn a lot because there is just so much that I want to know. And that I’m really trying to understand the life that I am choosing and the roles I have including being a wife and mother, and I’m just trying to do the right things. “Life is about becoming.” I’m jumping off the cliff and building the parachute as I go.
Beth: The best lessons are from experience so build away.
Marva: Exactly, you just have to pick yourself up and keep going.
Beth: What would you like to leave us with?
Marva: We are here to serve our community. We want to be the space that Brooklyn once was, where there were black-owned business that people of color could come and feel comfortable. We are here for your use, not for a special occasion but for you to just come even on a Wednesday night for a beer, we are a lifestyle.