“I used to be really aware of moon phases, but less lately as I’ve been so busy.” Sabrina De Sousa is transitioning from lunar cycles to business cycles. Along with partner Alissa Wagner, Sabrina is the co-owner of Dimes: a restaurant that caters to the flourishing breed of health-conscious city kids. Opened in 2013, Dimes is downtown in location and at heart, with a low key approach to what can be a shiny wellness scene. While her business is much about the unknown, Sabrina counts on the moon to bring her full circle. That is, when she has time.
“I wonder if it’s possible to encompass the feeling of having it all when in reality, things in life come at different times. Right now I’m just trying to maintain a sense of breath, it’s the one thing that I battle with constantly. It’s a necessity which I need to make time for, because if I don’t, the backbone of Dimes and myself won’t exist. It was something I was so in tune with, but I’ve been so caught up in the whirlwind of starting a business. We’re two women in what’s still very much a man’s world and we’re not just making vegetables look beautiful, we’re managing people, dealing with plumbers and electricians. It’s wild how I’ve lost track of those things that were so important to me.
Before Dimes, I was working front of house at Northern Spy. I needed to make a decision about my next step in life and was either going to study herbalism or open a restaurant. The owners of Northern Spy (Chris Hille and Chris Ronis) were so supportive, offering to help as much as they could. Alissa and I spent 3 months creating our business plan which we were so proud of, but when we took it to New York City Small Business they said our numbers were totally off. Even though we went back over it and were coached to present to investors, we didn’t have much luck. One potential investor told us our concept was all over the place, while another said our idea was great, but no. We tried to take out loans, but that didn’t work. In the end, Alissa’s mom and my sister and brother-in-law gave us a loan.
After opening, we soon realized the business couldn’t maintain itself only offering breakfast and lunch, and once we opened for dinner it all made sense. While the details weren’t clear at the start, Dimes has always been about offering simple food that is seasonal and affordable. We want to encourage the awareness of how important a whole food diet is and show that eating this way is approachable. To have that awareness is really important, without taking things too seriously. For example, Alissa and I keep a stash of cookies in the kitchen just for us.
We joke that we’re hypocrites, but we’re all human and have our vices.
I think being young female business owners has had something to do with our success, or at least attracted attention. At the same time it has its difficulties. In the restaurant business you’re constantly dealing with men. I just got an estimate from a contractor for $2,500 and I don’t understand why something so small is costing so much. I can’t help but be suspicious that I get quoted higher because I’m a woman. I didn’t understand any part of the build out process. I went with it, but spoke a lot with other business owners who I trusted. Now I know I need a certain language when dealing with that department—it’s using this firm tone that doesn’t come naturally to me.
I should be saying—I need this done and I need it done now.
Instead, I’m more like—Do you think you’ll be able to do this sometime? Oh ok, that sounds cool. We have a kitchen full of men with Alissa as our chef—but she doesn’t have that male chef ego. While there’s a great sense of camaraderie in the kitchen, I do think people respond to a more traditional totem pole hierarchy. In saying that, we made a conscious choice to avoid that structure from the beginning, encouraging everyone to have their own autonomy. So we’ve created an interesting dynamic, which I’m not sure is better or worse.
As women, we always feel the need to nurture something and sometimes we nurture the wrong things.
You need to learn how to pick your battles. Having a female business partner helps with that—you balance each other’s perspective and you both understand the emotional weight of doing something like this. It’s an interesting time to be a female business owner at an age where babies come into the conversation. At 30 I’m not terribly young anymore and I’m starting to think about that sort of thing. I try and plan things out in my head… if I find a boyfriend, then maybe in 3 or 4 years Dimes will have figured itself out and I can commit to raising a family the way I want to. It’s hard to imagine balancing the two, especially when your job is so demanding. I’m definitely in the boundary of where I want to be professionally, but personally, there are things I’m still searching for. I need to understand my existence, determine why I’m here and what I’m meant to be doing. Dimes is a beautiful vehicle for that.
I stand behind the integrity of what we do completely.
There’s no rush, and even though I’m trying to restore that balance I miss, I feel content. From when I was young, I’ve never resented anything in life and I think that helps. My holistic therapist is always going back to my childhood, but I’m like, there’s nothing there! I’m really still this optimistic 5-year-old girl.”