It’s been a dozen years since Mychel “Snoop” Dillard moved to Atlanta, and in that time she’s grown a business portfolio comprising everything from a members-only VIP lounge to a salon suite to a newly opened seafood restaurant.
Originally from Detroit, Dillard studied business at Vanderbilt University and started her career in finance, but it didn’t take her long to catch the hospitality bug. She opened her first club in Nashville, Tennessee, in her mid-20s. A self-described “serial entrepreneur” seeking better business opportunities, Dillard relocated to Atlanta and began building her empire. Along the way, she partnered with rap artist 2 Chainz, and the two now own four concepts together.
Atlanta’s less restrictive COVID regulations made 2020 a profitable year for Dillard, who predicts more restaurateurs will flock to the city for its business-friendly policies. In February, she started a mentorship program to help other aspiring entrepreneurs, including members of the LGBTQ community, who wish to follow in her path.
How were you able to fare so well and open a new restaurant, Esco Seafood, last year?
Our economy was a little different in Atlanta because we were able to stay open; we only closed for a month. And we took advantage of the fact that people were coming to visit because a lot of other cities were shut down. We saw more revenue last year than in previous years, so it actually ended up being a good year for us financially.
I always had the idea of doing a seafood concept, and I also wanted to expand my Remedy Salon & Suites business so I figured what better time to go ahead and do both.
[Rap artist] 2 Chainz and I have been working together for about the past five years and own four restaurants and lounges together. We’ve got our Escobar downtown location, Escobar Southside, now Esco Seafood, and then we’ve got a lounge called Members Only.
What drew you to the hospitality industry?
When I graduated from college, I wasn’t totally sure of what I wanted to do. I started in finance and learned some things that I carry with me to this day, but it wasn’t something that I was totally happy doing. I ended up hooking up with a friend of mine and produced a calendar and started managing models and artists. To drive income and sell the calendar, we started promoting different nights at lounges and restaurants.
It gave me firsthand insight into the hospitality industry, and generally when I do something, I like to run things and be the boss. I started mixing with some of the managers and owners of the lounges and restaurants to find out more about the hospitality industry, and I realized it was something that I wanted to be a part of.
I opened up my first club when I was 24 in Nashville. I definitely did some things wrong, but I was able to learn by bumping my head a few times while I was young. I feel like we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes.
Speaking of learning, you recently created a mentorship program. How did that start?
My mentorship program started in February. I’ve been doing business consultations for the past three years, working with people one on one and being able to hear exactly what it is they need and are looking for. So I combined those questions with other questions people were asking me and [lessons on] credit repair and just put together a solid mentorship program.
Since then I’ve probably had about 15 mentees per month. I’m looking to build that program and kind of put it on an automation system. It’s very time-consuming, but I’ve been able to help so many people. Now it’s about finding a happy medium of being able to help others but not take up too much of my free time.
As a gay Black woman, are you seeing more representation in restaurant leadership?
I think we’re still struggling to get more voices at the table. Most of the people I know who are gay or lesbian are not owners; they’re promoters. So they still rely heavily on owners to open up their doors and accept them, accept their events, and view them as valuable. I only really know one other [LGBTQ woman] in my industry that’s a [multi-concept] owner. She lives in L.A. and has one spot in Malibu and just recently opened up a spot in Atlanta. She was just telling me that seeing me open up so many spots was very inspiring because you really don’t see that as much. I think that we need more representation, but it takes a lot of energy, it takes a lot of money, and it takes a lot of believing in yourself to go out and open up your own venue.
What long-term effects do you think the pandemic will have on Atlanta’s dining scene?
I think people want to open a business because they’re seeing a lot of restaurant owners or lounge owners who are becoming pretty wealthy from doing so. In Atlanta, the licenses and permits aren’t an arm and the leg. My friend who started in L.A. had to put about $150,000 in escrow just to get a liquor license. Here, a liquor license is $5,000 annually. It’s a godsend. I think a lot of people are willing to open a restaurant because of the perks, because of the way that Atlanta operated during COVID, and because the governor sided with business owners and allowed them to open. I think that we’re going to see more and more people come here.
What advice would you give someone wishing to follow in your footsteps?
My advice would be to get a mentor and really learn the tricks of the trade. For anybody that’s kind of looking to get into the industry, I’ve got plenty of courses online (visit whoissnoop.com). I do business consultations, and I have my mentorship. I put aside a sector of my time just to be able to help those that are looking to come up in this industry.