If a mullet is business in the front and party in the back, you might say Buzzed by Zea is party in the front, hair in the back, and business through and through. Combining a salon with a drinking establishment feels simultaneously like a fresh, unique concept and an inevitable idea that was always waiting to happen.
Zea Salon Debuts and Thrives
In 2000 when they launched Zea Salon in Chicago, Lee Rosenboom and Jerry Maldonado gave their new business their all. For the 20 years that followed, the salon remained a successful focus for the pair, a couple in both life and work, with a split of business tasks and each owner handling his own hair clientele. Lately, though, they’d begun to feel that itch—the yearning to grow, the need to try something new.
“We started asking ourselves what we were going to do with our lives,” Rosenboom recalls. “We thought we had more in us and were desperate to do something more with our careers.”
And then, as so many stories about pivots go, the pandemic hit.
Adding an Industry
The salon was large, and by early 2020 Rosenboom and Maldonado were kicking around the thought of installing a bar in the space.
“Jerry and I enjoy entertaining our friends and holding cocktail parties,” Rosenboom explains. “We started researching the idea of bringing a bar into the salon, but we didn’t have any experience in the bar business.”
The three-month Covid lockdown provided the perfect opportunity to take a breath and do some research. That was when Rosenboom immersed himself in cocktail culture.
“We really dove into the project,” he reports. “I picked out the spirits and created the cocktails, and we did the necessary construction by repurposing the salon to devote half the space to the bar area. We were banking on people wanting to get out when the pandemic was over. We took a risk because we really wanted to do this.”
As we now know, the pandemic lasted on some level well past the lifting of the lockdown, but that was all right because a business, or even an expansion to a business, doesn’t pop up overnight.
“We went through all the steps—landlord approval, getting a liquor license, jumping through many hoops with the city,” Rosenboom says. “It took some time, but we believed in the concept.”
Just Add Honey
The next task was to come up with a name for the new business. Learning some time ago that the survival of bees was threatened, the Zea Salon owners had been helping to save bees by sponsoring a hive and promoting locally sourced honey. With a bar joining the business, they decided that honey could play a starring role in their cocktail recipes. The name “Buzzed” struck a chord, and naming the business "Buzzed by Zea" creates continuity for people who recognize “Zea” as the original salon name. The tag line is: Salon & Bar.
“‘Buzzed’ covers everything,” Rosenboom says. “It’s how you feel from drinking, it’s a haircut, and we sponsor an apiary. Honey is now a prominent ingredient in some of the cocktails, and even our ice cubes for Old Fashioneds have a stamped logo of a bee.”
In addition to honey, the cocktails incorporate freshly squeezed citruses and signature touches like infusing jalapenos into tequila to give the drink a spicy taste. Blue curtains grace the bar, which has what Rosenboom calls a “loungey” feeling.
“We wanted to create an environment where people could come in, catch up with friends, and have a beautiful cocktail,” he notes. In June 2021, they opened their doors to their new double business.
How It Works
Nearly two years later, Buzzed is, well, buzzing. The owners and their four stylists continue to do hair. Four additional employees tend bar, and Rosenboom says he sometimes tends bar as well. The salon operates until 8pm Tuesday through Friday and 6pm on Saturdays, and the bar opens at 4pm, so there’s some overlap but not a lot.
“We’re getting booked out for corporate events, birthday parties, bachelorette parties—and that’s just the bar,” Rosenboom reports. “At 8pm, we dim the curtains, turn up the music a little, and you hardly know there’s a salon.” While he says most of the “bar regulars” do not get their hair done at the salon, now and then someone comes in for the bar and, upon discovering the salon, books a service. Cross-business travels more in the reverse direction, with salon clients ordering a nice cocktail to sip while they’re being styled.
Nighttime Revenue Stream
Now that they’ve entered a second industry, Rosenboom and Maldonado see that not every business faces the slim profit margin that salons typically encounter. From supplies to commission-based wages, the beauty side expenses eat up far more gross profit than the bar side does.
“We have all of the evening hours as an additional revenue stream,” Rosenboom elaborates. “Our bar employee payroll costs 8%-12% of bar earnings, while the salon’s payroll accounts for 40%-50% of total salon revenue.”
Of course, having two businesses is more work than having one. Still, the owners are considering adding food for an hors d’oeuvres menu and exploring other ways to grow.
“It’s a lot of work—24/7,” Rosenboom notes. “Jerry and I are trying to learn how to have more balance in our lives and take time off, because there’s always something to do. But it’s gratifying to bring in more money and challenge ourselves. Life can be mundane, and you can find yourself going through the motions. The bar changed that and, for now, we’re taking the time, love and energy to put into it.”
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