May 08, 2018
Meet Our Mom-trepreneurs
On Mother's Day we often celebrate Mom by honoring the maternal, loving, caring and giving attributes of our leading ladies.
This year, we're looking broaden that greeting-card definition of what makes a mother special, by shining a light on the hard-working, multi-tasking (still with love, of course) mom-trepreneurs that are progressing Ward Village forward each and every day.
To be sure, it takes determination, caffeine, and a heightened level of selflessness to balance the demands of work and family. Ward Village is home to many women businesses owners, and these three women in particular stand out for their contributions to their businesses, and their families. Amy Wong, owner of Big Bad Wolf, Marcy Uyehara, general manager of Kaka'ako Kitchen, and Jin Choi, general manager of Salon Bobbi and Guy, are known for getting it done at work, and at home. These ladies agree, it's no easy task to anchor a business and a family, but it's the most rewarding job on Earth. Happy Mother's Day and cheers to you and yours.
Salon Bobbi and Guy, founded and owned by Bobbi Choi, has been a staple at Ward for more than 30 years. Bobbi's daughter, Jin, grew up in the salon, watching her mother cut hair, mentoring other professionals, and running the business. Eventually, Jin moved to the mainland to pursue other goals, but moved back to Hawai'i 15 years ago to help out with the family business. Bobbi wanted to retire. Bobbi held Jin to the same high standards she held her other employees and expected her to learn all aspects of the business before she could take the reins. She even encouraged Jin to return to school to get her esthetician and barbering licenses, and Jin had to apprentice under her mother for a couple years. Finally, Bobbi handed the keys to Jin.
"Bobbi was always good with people. She would drill into my head that I have to take care of the employees as well as customer," Jin says. "She mentored me to talk to the employees the way I wanted to be spoken to, and to treat everyone with respect, whether they are a housekeeper or a CEO." Currently, Jin handles the admin side of the business and is a full-time mom for one-year-old twins. "It's overwhelming and rewarding at same time to come home to my babies and see what I'm working for. I'm loving it," she explains. "Family comes first, but the balancing act can be done. No matter how much stress and anxiety, you just have to take it one day at a time and focus on what's in front of you at the moment."
Risk and Reward
"Being a business owner is a lot of hard work," says Amy Wong, founder of Big Bad Wolf and mother of a 5-year-old daughter with another child on the way this summer. "You are creating something out of a vision and you need to put a lot of heart into it. Being a mother is the same. To be both, you have to learn to balance business and family, and that's where it can get tricky." Becoming a first-time parent is a journey into the unknown, full of risk, uncertainty, and huge rewards. Becoming a first-time business owner presents many of the same challenges, minus the diapers. However, the uncertainty didn't stop Wong from accomplishing her life goals.
As a business owner, Amy's commitment to her craft has yielded a fashion-forward apparel store for kids that's unlike anything else on the Island. The motifs and prints that define the boutique are inspired by local streetwear culture and the arts. Being an entrepreneur wasn't something that Amy had always longed for. In fact, Amy was inspired to create Big Bad Wolf by her daughter and husband, artist Jasper Wong. The business venture also served as a way for Amy to take control of her own future. Thanks to a penchant for learning and setting a high bar for her own personal achievements, Amy has found success learning on the go, both at work and with her daughter.
So what's her secret? Amy doesn't try to divide her time equally between work and family, but instead has found simple solutions to balance her responsibilities. She lives by her to-do list, a means to pace herself to complete all her tasks for the day. Amy is also cognizant of spending ample quality time with her daughter, sans work.
"My challenges as a mother are being patient and being a stepping stone for my daughter," Amy says. "I want to make sure I am there for her, to provide the tools and answers for her to become her own person, and to let go and have her make her own mistakes, knowing that I will be there to guide her when she is ready for me to do so."
Marcy Uyehara is officially the general manager of local gourmet plate lunch favorite Kaka'ako Kitchen, located at Ward Village; however, she prefers to be called Mama. Marcy is hands-on with every aspect of the business and has a knack for team building. But Marcy has her own way of getting results. She calls it tough love. She expects her crew to work hard, respect one another, and their guests. Marcy admits, she doesn't spoil, but instead calls it how she sees it. "My management style is that my staff are welcome to come to me if there's a problem. But I hold people accountable. If they made a mistake, I give them the opportunity to better themselves," Macy says.
Marcy also takes advantage of her role as Mama to personally help her employees. She believes that school should always come first and loves to write positive recommendations to bolster self-esteem and confidence. She's also not afraid to lend a hand to staff struggling with their own problems at home. Marcy says that unless someone goes out of their way to disrespect her or her family, she will always have their back. "I'm strict, but I'm not an unfair person," she adds. "It's endearing. You spend more time at work than with loved ones at home, so make the best of work and make sure you're having fun."
In addition to her Mama moniker at work, Marcy is also Mom at home, and has a daughter attending college in New York. Macy says she held her daughter to the same high standards she holds her restaurant staff. While some parents might take it personally that their child would have other goals than taking over the family business, Marcy understands her daughter has a whole life of her own needs and wants in front of her. "She's studying advertising and marketing, but not sure what she wants to do," says Marcy. "It's her life. I'm hands off. You can't force kids. They need to be happy...we all do."
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