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Daily Inspiration: Meet Hilarey and Brian Leonard

Today we’d like to introduce you to Hilarey and Brian Leonard.

Hi Hilarey and Brian, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
Brian had been in the bar business since he graduated from college and always had the goal of opening his own place. I (Hilarey) had a career in television production but came from a family of entrepreneurs and after over a decade in the high-pressure environment of cable TV, I knew I wanted to work toward being my own boss. We married in 2012 and opened our first bar, Lost & Found, in 2014. It was in an up and coming neighborhood, Shaw in DC, and we were extremely lucky to be at the right place at the right time. The bar gained quick success, probably because we were the only casual place in the neighborhood, which was filled with fine dining and tasting menu restaurants. I was still working full time in production, and shortly we figured out we wanted to open another place that was all our own with no other partners or investors. In January 2017, I had quit my day job to open Free State in a basement space in the heart of Chinatown. It was risky since there was already so many established bars and restaurants, but we knew we would have built in business from the Capital One Arena’s sporting events and concerts less than a block away as well as close proximity to offices and of course tourism. We built the bar to be a neighborhood, family run place in a sea of chain restaurants. Our concept is showcasing local products made by small businesses from the Mid-Atlantic region.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Of course, it hasn’t been smooth all the time! We’ve struggled with everything from constant leaks from the restaurant above us (one night it was sake from an automatic dispenser), work/life balance, crazy wine tariffs, beer shortages, and of course this last year with COVID was the worst challenge we’ve ever had to face.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
We are most proud of the fact that we feature high-quality, local products from other small businesses. We’ve developed amazing relationships with local breweries, distilleries, wineries and food purveyors and have done some amazing events and promotions together. We truly believe as small business owners, we need to elevate each other instead of competing, especially after this really rough year. Our cocktail list features spirits from local distilleries and house-made ingredients like syrups and infusions and are created by one of our talented staff members. Our craft beer comes from breweries between Pennsylvania to North Carolina, creating a hyper-local selection of our favorites. We have visited most of the breweries of the beers we serve and have even collaborated with them making our own specialty beers for anniversaries and beer festivals. We don’t have a kitchen, but we carry snacks from local purveyors, most of which are made in The District. We also use our social media to promote our wonderful neighbors and other small businesses whenever possible.

Any advice for finding a mentor or networking in general?
Become friends with other small business owners, be kind to your neighbors, treat your staff fairly and with kindness (your staff is the key to a successful business), do your research, make mistakes and learn from them, be patient and listen! I wish we had more mentors, we could definitely use them! Most people we look to for mentorship are our other bar owner friends and old bosses, but mostly we try and figure things out on our own, for better or worse!

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Laura Hayes (the photo of Brian and Hilarey) Beyond Studios (the rest of the photos)

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