We are beginning a new series here on The91Rewind. We are bringing you stories of transformation, empowerment, and moxie. Today we have the opportunity share the story of Kelli Lemon, whom you may know as likethefruit on Instagram. This woman wears MANY hats and has exciting things on the horizon! You can find her around Richmond, VA interviewing folks for Coffee With Strangers RVA, hosting events, and soon you’ll catch her at the Urban Hang Suite. (If you don’t know Kelli yet, we are delighted to introduce her to you today.)
1. So we know that you’re involved with the podcast and co-founded Richmond Black Restaurant week, but is that all?
That’s not all, but the funny thing is none of this was ever part of the plan. I did one thing, and suddenly someone saw me and called me to do more stuff. Great example is that I’m the weekend “on air” personality for Radio One Richmond (iPower 91.2 and KISS), but this kinda just happened. I was working at VCU and doing sideline broadcasting for basketball. One day Jeff Anderson tracked me down through the VCU directory to talk to me about being on the radio. Nine years later and here I am STILL. Now because of this, (and some other things), I get asked to host events all over. I make sure that I only agree to host at events that I would actually attend (Event for 20-somethings? Nope, I don’t know what a 21 year old wants.).
The podcast happened because I serve on the board for the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club. We do a lot of events to get the kids connected, and one of the guys on the board, Matt Pochily (producer of the podcast), said he seen a show I did on NBC12 called RVA Grooves. I think we can do something with that like a podcast. We started talking about what this would look like, and I said, “So you want me to just have coffee with strangers?” Then we had a name, and the rest is history.
2. So let’s get this straight, you’re on the radio, doing the podcast, co-running Richmond Black Restaurant Week, doing events, and opening the Urban Hang Suite. Is that it?
Well when you say it like that, it does sound like a lot. Everything I’m doing is with other people, except The Urban Hang Suite. I co-founded Richmond Black Restaurant week with Shamika Bellwood and Amy Wentz. Coffee Strangers is with Matt Pochilly. The events around town are DJ Lonnie B and I together, but some are ones he’s created and some we’ve been asked to do together. Like the Art of Noise is something he created, but we always do it together. We have other events like hip hop bingo that we’ve come with by asking ourselves, “What is our age group missing?” and then we do it. Then there’s Urban Hang Suite which will open later this year, and that’s the one that is all mine.
3. You’re doing lots of great things around Richmond! What is the most rewarding thing about your venture?
It’s definitely helping people.
Helping people find their happy, their greatness, or what it is they want to do. The word I keep hearing from people is that….
Transparency is a big part of this. People expect you to be happy all the time, but I’m not and I try to be honest about it. I’m honest and open about suffering from depression. It’s challenging. You smile through it. You know that this too shall pass. Thankfully I have a great support system: my therapist, my friends, my village. They are there to pick me up. People like to say I have the luckiest job in the world and that I get to do the cool stuff. But they brush off the fact that I’m working, even if it’s a fun event. They get to come, have fun, and go home early; but I’m there after they’re gone, often until 1:00 AM. All that to say, it is work, but it’s not completely work when I love what I do.
3. Authenticity is important to us on The91Rewind and you seem to be living that out. What would you say has been the most challenging part of your journey?
I try to tell the real story, Good and bad, and not hide anything. But because I’m media and very much seen, I sometimes I have to bite my tongue when I don’t want to. What I have learned from a business standpoint, is that I won’t agree to do things I don’t believe in. But media, they just want you to get the information out there; they don’t want your opinion. When something is dead ass wrong I just want to say it, but I have to hold that back. If people are saying something that is wrong, you want to speak up. Thankfully I have a village that I send stuff to to get their feedback or support to determine how to respond.
4. What has surprised you the most?
The need for these things. We never would have started Richmond Black Restaurant Week if it wasn’t needed. I never would have created any of these unique opportunities for my age group if they were not needed.
Coffee with Strangers is our social outlet, but it’s also a chance to be nosy and see what people are doing. It’s still needed because people have said they’ve moved to Richmond because of it. They’ve said they can see themselves reflected in the lives of the strangers. There are cities more advanced than us, but people are choosing RVA!
The other surprising part is how people feel about me. People really feel like they know me. It’s scary sometimes. They hold me at a high level, but I’m just Kelli. People will use the term local celebrity, but I hate it, I’m just a local that happens to know a lot of people.
5. Take us back to the moment you decided to embark on this journey. Let’s focus on your baby, The Urban Hang Suite. Why did you start this?
It’s funny you ask this, because I was just thinking about this. It started when I was sitting in Mama J’s…
I had left my job at VCU to go work there. People thought I was crazy to leave a good paying state job, but I knew I wanted to be in the hospitality business. I love the entertaining part of it. When I was burnt out from the restaurant part of things, I knew I wanted to do something that would stimulate the social part of me. People would come into Mama J’s and sit for hours because they have no other place to go. People will call and want to know where I am or where I was going because they just wanted to kick back. In the midst of that, Coffee with Strangers was really picking up, and I was beginning to appreciate coffee. I was also seeing what the coffee shop environment can bring people together. Then I started looking at the things I had done in previous jobs and what I loved about them. Four things stuck out: I am socially connecting people through food, sports, arts, and educations. These are the things I’m good at and getting the conversations to happen so people will talk. I needed to create a place where people can connect.
The premise of The Urban Hang Suite is that I wanted a place where people could catch this “grab and go” vibe. If you only have 20 minutes but you want to see what’s going on, come in, and then go. If you have time to chill, come sit down in the back and hang out. The front of the space will be like a Starbucks on steroids, and the back of the space will have music, sports, games,
The place is for the creatives, the introverts that want to be near people but still have a corner to be safe. There will be some structure with planned events, but I want most of it to be organic. Selling culture in a cup: coffee + connections + culture. These are my main three focuses. We are setting this vibe where people didn’t think it could happen, but everyone is welcome. For example, special needs that are hanging out nearby, blue collar worker who takes the bus to work for an hour each day, the politician, educator, lawyer or person needing a space to hangout, all commingling. This spot is for everyone and THAT is something I gotta make sure I feel and see. This area is changing, and I want to see us create a downtown city culture that gives you a place to sneak into.
We are excited to come hang out at The Urban Hang Suite. When can we come get a little culture-in-a-cup?
My goal is to be open by 8.04.2018 because that is RVA day. This will be a soft opening, and we hope to be open for real in September. The Urban Hang Suite is a Virginia place. I hope that 80% of everything purchased or sold in The Urban Hang Suite will be from Virginia. I’m trying my hardest to be loyal to local. Local artists will do the art in the space and we’ll be open for first Fridays. I’m looking forward to seeing the connections people make here.
Thank you for allowing us to interview you Kelli!
We hope you enjoyed getting know this awesome Richmonder. If you are fortunate enough to already know her, we hope you learned something new. Either way, we hope you’ll checkout The Urban Hang Suite when it opens. Iin the meantime give it a follow on instagram so you can keep up with the progress (the counter and back-splash are awesome)!