Friday, February 8, 2013

The Spot Owner Stephanie Soto

Nothing is harder than the first year for a business. From getting the doors opened, to getting people through those doors, to keeping those doors open, that first year makes or breaks all businesses. For Stephanie Soto, the first year made her, nearly broke her, and made her stronger than ever.

Soto is the owner of The Spot, a bar and lounge, performance spot and restaurant, and all around hang out spot. From humble beginnings in a small bar in Oshkosh, to its current place on Highway 76 in Neenah, The Spot has taken Soto on all of the ups and downs that business has in store for people.

The Milwaukee native and mother of three has survived all of the ups and downs, and has prospered when most people would have packed it up and quit.

“There are times when I have stood in the middle of this bar and said ‘wow, this is mine’”, Soto said as we sat in The Spot for the interview. “I refuse to fail.”

She knows that she couldn’t have done it on her own, and the people around here are just as happy for the success of The Spot.

Tim Calloway, who is the brains behind Fox CitiesCollaboration, works closely with Soto on various things, including the highly successful Sexy Heels Contest, which is slowly becoming a Thursday night staple at The Spot.

“Working with Stephanie and the Spot was a great opportunity that presented itself and I jumped on it! I knew there would be some challenges with promoting for a club that relocated and is not in the traditional area of the targeted customer base. With that said, there a lot of opportunities that exists because of the exact situation so it’s a matter of minimizing the weaknesses and maximize the strengths,” Calloway said. “Stephanie is a hard working woman that had a vision of what she wants her establishment to be and grow into; she is about the community, friends, and family. She is someone that you can feed off her energy because of her passion so working with Steph for The Ladies night where we also do a contest where we award a prize for the best heels in the house is awesome. Some owners are hard to work with because they feel they have all the answers and are stubborn; I am not saying it’s easy and she just agrees with everything I bring up, but she is open to new ideas and is a great person to brainstorm with.”

Leanne Douglas, the CEO of 1000 Words Photography, understands the professional side of Soto, but also loves how she can keep everyone smiling while getting down to business.

“It’s always a pleasure to work with her and she makes it a point to lighten the mood which is of course refreshing and we all need a little lightheartedness in our lives,” Douglas said. “Stephanie has grown as an owner to reach a larger crowd and I look at that as SMART, everyone has a vision, but you got to put on some glasses called reality and see it clearer and she has done just that.”

Soto and I sat down in her bar recently, as she was preparing for the year anniversary party on February 9th.

So, you are a year in. What have seen that you were completely NOT expecting?

I was definitely not expecting to go from Oshkosh to Neenah, and changing from 25 and older to 21 and older. It’s been a really smooth transition, but it just was something I wasn’t expecting.

What was behind the transition from 25 and older to 21 and older?

I was leasing from an individual out in Oshkosh, and unfortunately, they weren’t paying the property taxes on the building. The city wants their money. And because they WEREN’T paying the property taxes, the city pulled the liquor license. So I had about 2 weeks to decide what I was going to do. Was I going to close up and say that’s a wrap, or pull everything out of me to find a way to keep going with my dream? I got the opportunity to come out here to Neenah, and within a month and a half my bar closed in Oshkosh, and opened up here in Neenah.

So that was the reason for the move from Oshkosh to Neenah?

Yeah, that was the only reason to move.

What was the hardest part about this first year?

Just getting people to know who we are. Getting them accustomed to what we do, what we serve, and the kind of atmosphere we have. The first year of business isn’t easy for anybody. It’s a constant struggle and battle, not only within me, but fighting for the business too. A constant struggle to have The Spot in peoples’ mouth and talk about it.

What have you learned about yourself in this first year?

I am NOT giving up!! (Laughs). I am not giving up by any means. I moved here from Milwaukee. I made the choice to move here for the better schools, better place to raise my kids, and we have had bars and restaurants in our family for over 22 years. I know what it takes to do it. It’s not like I woke up one day and said ‘I’m gonna open a bar today’. Coming here, and going through all the schooling (Business Management) and raising three kids, I am bound and determined to be successful;  to have something for my kids when I pass on, and have a good place to go out and enjoy my time.

Originally, The Spot was 25 and older. What was the reason behind that?

I wanted a place that was more of, um….how can I say this without sounding bad? I wanted a place where we can go and kick it. I am 37. I wanted to go out with people more my age. That was whole reason behind 25 and older. I had to have something that my bar was that no OTHER bar was. And that is where 25 and older came in.

You have had some issues with a couple performers, especially Jae Mills. What ACTUALLY happened there?

The full story is this. We had him booked. He came. He had drinks. The twist came in when their manager sent the promoter the wrong music. He was adamant that he could not go on without the music he had put together to perform that night. Because he didn’t have the music, it started to get out of hand. He wanted to leave at THAT point. WE had the promoter and my COOK of all people helping him download his music so he could go on stage. There WAS a solution to the problem. During this time, I was completely unaware that he had already gotten paid BEFORE performing. While they were downloading his music, he basically said “f**k it” and left. Dennis, I followed this man to the car. And I have 300 people in the bar at this point that not only WANT to see this man perform, but PAID to see him perform. I went outside to try to get him to come back in, and I literally jumped in his truck to get him to come back in. I was NOT going to let him leave and have my customers be disappointed. At that point he made a comment that the only reason I was trying to stop him was that I was trying to safe myself. I was thinking ‘we are in this TOGETHER’. Yes it is to save myself, but it is also to save YOU from having all these fans be disappointed by having you come in, having drinks, taking pics, taking their MONEY, and LEAVING! At that point, it was already too late to bring him back and put him on stage. We had done too much arguing by then.

So when things like this happen, even though it is out of your control, it makes YOU as the bar owner look bad. How do you deal with that?

Well, it’s almost impossible to get back the same 300 people that were in here that night. For our 1 year anniversary, I am hoping that a lot of them would come back. At that time, it’s going to be more of a customer appreciation to let them know that I appreciate them coming to The Spot first and foremost. My goal is to show them that this is NOT the way The Spot does business.

For a while, The Spot was a Ruff Ryder clubhouse. What happened there?

We basically decided to go about our OWN business separate from each other. We unfortunately couldn’t come to an agreement on some key points that stood out, so it was in our best interests to go our own ways.

This is a much bigger venue than the place in Oshkosh. Has that helped you or hurt you?

It helped me. It was an upside, because even though I was leaving Oshkosh and coming to Neenah, I was going to stay in business. I went from a 100 capacity place to a 350 capacity place, and being able to hold on to that image of a cool place to hang out, and not have any issues. We are a year in, and have had ZERO fights in my club. That is almost unheard of. We have not had ONE fight in here.

In this business, you run into people that don’t have your best interests at heart, but more so ‘What can I get out of it”, or people that look at you as just a woman. How do you deal with people like that?

I think the biggest thing that I get when I am speaking with promoters and managers and different performers and genres of music, the first thing they see is a pretty face. And they see a woman. But people don’t know I am NOT brand new to this. I grew up in a family that ran bars. I grew up in a family that ran restaurants. Everything I have collectively learned over the years gives me that experience. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying I have done this by myself. I have had a number of people help me. From Spotlight, to Ruff Ryders, to Collaboration. My biggest thing is I stand for what I stand for. I am going to make The Spot what I want it to be.

What do we have to look forward to in the future?

We are really picking up on a lot of national artists. The Spot has one of the biggest stages in northeast Wisconsin, and artists want to be on stage. And THAT stage sells itself. We have Do or Die coming in in February. We are looking at some other big names coming in, but don’t quote me on those just yet. We have the comedian Shawty (of “Wild n Out” fame) coming in. The sky is the limit right now.

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