This December we are thrilled to highlight Iulia Bejan, owner of Connect Lounge, through a three-part small business story series! Connect Lounge, is an immigrant-owned “social bar” in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood that prioritizes human connection through conversation. In this third and final installation of our Connect Lounge series, we further explore the ethos of Connect Lounge as well as what’s in store for Connect Lounge’s future.
When you enter Connect Lounge you’ll notice a long colorful mural known as the “connect wall” where patrons doodle and write encouraging messages like “new neighbors embracing cultures together.” It is just one tactic Iulia uses to encourage regulars and people to experience their first phone-free happy hour to have a conversation – an experience that is truly priceless, especially for those new to Seattle. “I’ve had people tell me bars are supposed to be social. I’m taking this to the next level,” Iulia commented. “How many bars have you been to where the owner of the bar introduces you to somebody five minutes after you sat down, because they see that you’re open to talking to somebody, but you don’t know how?”
Connect Lounge also facilitates conversation by placing philosophical conversation starters on tables beside “phone boxes,” where people can hide their phone and have distraction free interactions. Social oriented events including storytelling nights, social, professional and startup meetup groups, also draw in people who are looking to connect. Among these social events include evenings with Internations (a group for expatriates and those who like to travel), Fun Social Singles, and Drunken Philosophy. “They have really genuine energy and they happen to like to drink and eat, and they talk like crazy,” added Iulia. Iulia also hosts a monthly Romanian culture night, making Connect Lounge the only establishment in the city with authentic Romanian food.
Friday, December 6th Iulia experienced her busiest day all year and she said she’s had a steady influx of business since opening a year and a half ago. December was her best month in 2018 too, but January and February were tough. “Everything dies after Christmas,” she remembered, and the “snowpocalypse” that pummeled Seattle in February took a toll on many businesses. But the future is looking bright for Iulia who is working on a membership program where members get access to events designed specifically for them and where they can meet like-minded people. It will be “like a social club for people with cool stories.”
Iulia’s proudest moment as a small business owner is watching people leave her bar inspired and then come back. “Here we bring people up,” she added. When I asked Iulia what it takes to do this work and to be an entrepreneur, she said it all has to do with mental strength. “Entrepreneurship, it’s all mental. If you break down, you’re out,” she said. “People who are mentally strong can do a lot.” Luckily for Iulia, she has mental strength in spades, and she cultivates this by being her number one cheerleader, catching up with friends and family, exercising and spending time outdoors. “After I come back from Zoomba, I’m like a new born baby!”
She added that the experience of opening her own business has taught her a lot. “I learned to become more accepting and able to deal with the fact that not everything is perfect. A business like this is complex. It has many different moving parts. It starts with the real estate piece, and the building piece, and the space piece and it ends with the customer piece, and marketing and business development. You’ve got a lot of things in between, like the food, and the beverages, and the permits, and the staff, and taxes and accounting. So lots of moving pieces.” As the sole owner of Connect Lounge, a lot of decisions fall on Iulia, but she’s learned to break down her long list of tasks to the top three things that need to get done that day. Iulia added that her faith in the business is greater than it has ever been and that in tough times she just remembers why she started Connect Lounge. “I see Connect as a movement. It’s a human movement.”
Visit Connect Lounge and experience the movement yourself. On Saturday, December 28, and the last Saturday of every month, Connect Lounge hosts their famous Romanian Night. On January 23, 2020 they’ll host their first storytelling night of the year.