Zach Sharaga, CEO, Dear Mama Coffee On Living Life with Fearlessness, Serial Entrepreneurship, and the Importance of Self-Awareness and Balance

Name: Zach Sharaga

Title/Role: CEO

Name of Company: Dear Mama Coffee

Based in: Harlem, NYC

Age: 35

Zach Sharaga is the CEO of Dear Mama Coffee, a coffee house and up and coming lifestyle chain that has attracted a cult following of customers for its homey, neighborhood atmosphere and food quality that makes one hard pressed to think DMC is simply just, a cafe.

Zach and I talk the things that have kept him going, from opening his first bar at age 20, to working on 4 Dear Mama Coffees with more to come, and of course, his thoughts on wellness & mental health.

When did you incorporate your first Dear Mama? July 2016
Sharaga's career trajectory and his plans into 2020:

Opened Louis 649 in 2004
Co-Founded Mace in 2015
Founded Dear Mama Coffee is 2015 / First location opened in 2016
Opened new DMC in March 2019 - 4700 sq ft in West Harlem at Columbia University Manhattanville campus
Projected to open two more locations in 2019 likely in Harlem and The Bronx
2020:Continue to build the brand and open more shops
Expand to other cities and eventually internationally

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1. When you started your first operations in hospitality with Louis 649, what did you first begin operations with? Did you start with drinks, food? Did you hire a whole team of bartenders or was it just you and your cousin at first?

Drinks, small plates sourced from local East Village/Lower East Side purveyors (Eg. Russ & Daughters, Japan Premium Beef, Rick’s Picks, Luke’s Lobster, Salumeria Biellese, etc…) live jazz every night and mostly me behind the stick each night. I didn’t begin to hire bartenders and managers until my 5th year in business.

2. You started and sold your first business in your early twenties. Tell me how that worked out, and what things influenced you to become a business owner at such an early age when most people are too busy just thinking about how to get to school or finishing school. (You noted you were a promoter and that transitioned to this business endeavor, but was there a particular trigger? Was it merely to be independent? on a whim?)

I opened my first bar (Louis 649) at the ripe age of 20 years old. I saw a listing on Craigslist and had always aspired to open my own business – I had no clue the ride I was in for! I wanted to be financially independent from my parents so I prioritized working over finishing school. I still want to complete my Bachelors and get a Masters eventually. I haven’t figured out what major yet but I’m going to do it.

3. You exhibited a certain level of fearlessness when you embarked on this hospitality journey, who or what do you think you attribute it to? Or is it inherent, do you think?

I approach that mentality with everything I do – my drive and work ethic comes from my father who has never shied away from hard work, cutting corners or putting in the extra time. I also attribute it to pure naivety. At that age, I didn’t think fear actually existed. I still kind of don’t.

4. Who or what sources do you go to for creative inspiration?

The usual suspects: My wife, Anthony Bourdain, Richard Branson, Lucille Ball, Jay-Z, Nas, Danny Meyer, Wu-Tang, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Pirsig, Phil Jackson and of course my dear Mama. Also a well-curated Instagram feed.

5. What does wellness mean for you?

SELF-AWARENESS – if one isn’t self aware about their physical and mental health, everything suffers.

6. You’re opening highly curated cafe services in neighborhoods that are not yet being paid attention to by leading hospitality and food purveyors en masse. Why these boroughs?

I wanted to bring something to a neighborhood that didn’t yet exist – I wanted to raise people’s expectations, expand their palates and provide a level of hospitality that was of the highest standard yet approachable and felt like being at your mama’s house.

7. How do you maintain your balance considering that you are juggling the expansion of your team, a massive new year of business in collaboration with Columbia University, taking care of a toddler, and physically managing the little aspects from design to construction?

Knowing my limits and being 150% present in all that I do. I’m not much of a multi-tasker believe it or not.

8. How can people looking to make a change in their life (say, open up a bar) take first steps? What do you consider as the most important step one should take towards taking things in one’s own terms? Is it the mental determination? Deliberately planning and saving?

Being true to oneself about your goals and being very deliberate in one’s actions.

9. Three things you are grateful for?

My family, my team, and the many experiences and opportunities I have been given that have led me here today.

Dear Mama Coffee is thriving in keeping identity at its core as it continues to expand and serve communities far beyond its East Harlem origins.

Interview by Susan Y. Im

Photos provided by Zach Sharaga/Farhad Parsa

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