My Queue

There are no Videos in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any video to save to your queue.

There are no Articles in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any article to save to your queue.

There are no Podcasts in your queue.

Click on the Add to next to any podcast episode to save to your queue.

You're not following any authors.

Click the Follow button on any author page to keep up with the latest content from your favorite authors.

My Worst Moment

This Entrepreneur Fought Her Neighbors for Her Right to Open Her First D.C. Restaurant and Won

It took this restaurant owner three times as long as expected to get her liquor license after a community battle with men who accused her of trying to open a brothel.
This Entrepreneur Fought Her Neighbors for Her Right to Open Her First D.C. Restaurant and Won
Image credit: Kate Warren
Owner of Compass Rose and Maydan, restaurants in Washington, D.C.
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In the Women Entrepreneur series My Worst Moment, female founders provide a firsthand account of the most difficult, gut-wrenching, almost-made-them-give-up experience they’ve had while building their business -- and how they recovered.

Rose Previte moved to Washington, D.C. after college and balanced nonprofit policy work with waitressing at a Capitol Hill dive bar for seven years. Briefly, she and her husband moved to New York and later Moscow to pursue career opportunities, but they ended up back in D.C. in 2012. At that point, Previte knew she couldn’t wait any longer to follow her lifelong passion of opening her own restaurant, Compass Rose. She found a business partner in her old dive bar boss, Mike, found her dream location and applied for a liquor license.

During this process, some lawyer neighbors tried to stop her from opening what they thought would be a loud bar (or worse). Opening the restaurant took three times as long as expected, and cost three times as much, funded personally and by friends and family. But Previte fought to obtain the license by making connections in the community -- and won. Today, she owns a second D.C. restaurant, Maydan, which has garnered a James Beard nomination.

What follows is a firsthand account of this person's experience. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

“In D.C., every application for a liquor license can be contested by neighbors. It’s archaic, almost like in the way that strip clubs can't just open anywhere. But if you don't get your liquor license, you don't open. We ended up being in the middle of a battle between a few old-time residents who didn't like the new development of the neighborhood. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears -- mainly tears -- to fight these people who were trying to keep me from having a business.

You're expected to go to community meetings and explain who you are and what you're doing. Then individual boards have to pass you. You would think that you were literally trying to open a brothel -- which, by the way, some of the neighbors did say, ‘they're going to have a club, maybe she's going to open a whorehouse.’ I do think that's directly because I was female. Who would say that to a guy?

Related: This Venezuelan Chef and Winner of 'Chopped' Sought Political Asylum to Pursue Her Entrepreneurial Dreams

When I started this process I was 33. They said, ‘She doesn't have any experience, and her partner owns a bar. So, they say they're going to open a restaurant, but they're going to open a bar.’

We were going, as most of the businesses around us do, for a ‘tavern license.’ You could be in violation of a restaurant license, because there's a certain amount of food to alcohol ratio that you have to meet. If you're a busy restaurant where people drink a lot during dinner, but you're small and affordable, the numbers can be skewed. They also used that against us, even though we gave the business case.

We wouldn't start construction until we knew we had the license. And I was living upstairs at the time. I kept saying, ‘For God's sake, I'm living in the building. What do you think, I want to live in a club?’ It was so counterintuitive.

When you've never owned your own business, it’s scary as hell. It was a pretty traumatic time, especially because I was so close to getting what I'd always wanted and really felt there were these people who just wanted to take it away from me.

People who love me and advised me would say, you should really start looking at other places. And I knew in my gut when I first walked in that it was my place. I didn’t have a plan B. Hope is what got me through. And probably a little stubbornness.

The lesson learned was the importance of explaining to neighbors what you're doing and that you want to be part of the community. Many people in the community felt like they were fighting the good fight for an entrepreneur whom they knew had good intentions. By writing letters and fighting for us in community meetings, they were part of our success. The fight had this unintended consequence of actually getting us a lot of press before we opened and a pretty dedicated following.

At the end of the day, all that matters is I got what I wanted. The lawyer from across the street, he has apologized profusely and has come in many, many times. The first time he came in, I was like, you've got to be kidding me. This man caused me so much stress and anxiety. But I fed him, and I gave it to him for free. I told him, ‘I accept your apology,’ and we are at peace.

Related: 4 Proven Ways Women in Male-Dominated Fields Can Establish Themselves and Feel Fulfilled at Work

Did this process help grow my confidence? Absolutely. It probably served me well when staff started showing up, and all of a sudden, I was a boss for the first time in my life.

I’ve since been able to help other people get their licenses, because I'm knowledgeable of how it works. And I don't cost as much as a lawyer, obviously. They can just buy me a coffee.”

More From Women Entrepreneur

Side Hustle

Women Should Consider the Short-Term Rental and Travel Tech Ecosystems to Fund Their Businesses

Both segments have become catalysts to female financial independence worldwide and are a springboard to a career in tech.
Success Strategies

Laughter Is a Key Component to This Specialty Magazine's Success

The founder of 'Darling' magazine discusses her business's fun and communal work culture.
Ready For Anything

To Break up the Boys' Club, Ladies, Why Not Start Your Own Venture Capital Firm?

Women in VC roles can't rely on public relations fixes, token nods or the chivalry of their male colleagues. They have to do it themselves.
Starting a Business

Michelle Pfeiffer's Fragrance Brand Took 20 Years (And Plenty of Rejection) to Build

She wanted the fragrance industry to be more transparent.The fragrance industry said no. So the actress took matters into her own hands.

More from Entrepreneur

Brittney's a Certified Financial Planner who can help you manage your business and personal finances and navigate the ups and downs of starting a business.
In as little as seven months, the Entrepreneur Authors program will turn your ideas and expertise into a professionally presented book.
Are you paying too much for business insurance? Do you have critical gaps in your coverage? Trust Entrepreneur to help you find out.

Latest on Entrepreneur