Story and photos by Jocelyn M. Goode
Hollis, Queens is famous for its rich legacy in producing Hip-Hop greats like Run-DMC, Jam Master Jay, Russell Simmons, Davy D., LL Cool J, Ed Lover, Irv Gotti and Ja Rule. Marketing mastermind Orville Hall has found a way to tell the story of his historic neighborhood lovingly dubbed "the Motown of Hip-Hop". On July 4, 2008, he opened the doors to Hollis Famous Burgers and the Hollis Hip-Hop Museum. The two-in-one combo offers a menu of soul food favorites with dinner plates at $7 and a $1 mini-burger which is made from fresh ground beef and seasoned to order. On Saturdays patrons can watch popular Hip-Hop and sports shows on flat screen televisions while enjoying the day's special of steamed crab legs.
Owner Orville Hall personally serves patrons every weekendThe restaurant and museum have two flat screen televisions and a computer with internet connectionHip-Hop memorabilia adorn the walls of Hollis Famous Burgers, including an oversized, airbrushed mural of the late musical genius Jam Master Jay. Gold and platinum encased records, autographed photographs, swinging pairs of Adidas and other artifacts of Hip-Hop history certify that restaurant truly houses its own museum.
FAIM Internet Magazine, which is presently stationed in Hollis, Queens, had the chance to learn about what it really takes for Orville Hall to be a Hip-Hopreneur. The following is a paraphrased interview held on Sunday, June 28.
FAIM: When did you first open the doors to Hollis Famous Burgers and the Hollis Hip-Hop Museum?
OH: July 4, 2008.
FAIM: What is the significance in establishing Hollis Famous Burgers?
OH: This neighborhood has the most music culture in NYC.There was a time when we knew that, because we lived it. But we have forgotten it. The spot is here to remind young people of this neighborhood of who they are, and to inspire them. Hollis is one of the last American neighborhoods. Everybody knows each other. My kids have kids whose kids come here. We take pride in feeding people here.
FAIM: As an entrepreneur, what we were the factors you considered when making the decision to open?
OH: My entrepreneurial spirit made me try it! This was previously a restaurant that had been here for over 30 years and was closing down. Everyone on the walls of Hollis Famous Burgers had eaten there. It was a community place and a popular hangout for many people. It would have been terrible to lose the place. Where would everyone go?
I took out 401K money and just did it. I didn't think that much about it.
Chef Unique had been doing business with me for a while. Having her made it feel easier because I knew I had a cook. Not knowing about the business beforehand, I came up with a good selling structure where I don't have to waste much.
It was the entrepreneurial spirit that made me jump and do it.
It's a very hard business--the food business. But I didn't think much about it.
FAIM: What is your professional background and training? How did they impact your capabilities for this venture?
OH: For 15 years, I was the Director of Urban Marketing for Adidas. In 2008, I became the Global Marketing Consultant for FILA. Also, I am Director of Marketing for Polo Grounds Music/J Records which is home to artists like Hurricane Chris, Pitbull, Nina Sky and Yo Gotti.
The part of my experience that I utilized most was the marketing side--recognizing a great story, telling the history of Hip-Hop in Hollis, Queens and packaging the story of this neighborhood. We didn't ask anyone for help, not from none of the celebrities on the wall. We built it.
FAIM: What were your first 6 months like?
OH: We had to learn how to buy food and how to manage amounts to make a profit because at the end of the week you need physical cash to pay everyone.
I also knew that I had to make the place bigger than the people who stand outside of it. We keep our doors open for people to hang out and talk, even after we shut down the kitchen. We have held free Thanksgiving Dinners, Free Kids days in the park and toy drives for the Britney House which is a shelter for young mothers. This is a community business--anyone who comes in here and is hungry, we feed 'em, we don't turn anyone away.
FAIM: What role do you want the community to play? How do you want them to interact with your businesses?
OH: I want them to support it. I want them to eat here. I built in their face so people could see the process from scratch. Some businesses cover up their front windows when building so it can be a surprise when it opens. We didn't. We let everyone see that we built this ourselves. We don't hide the struggle of running this business from the community. It's hard! Everyone saw when they came and repossessed my car right from in front of the restaurant. And everyone saw when I got it back.
FAIM: What has been the greatest surprise, something unexpected but a blessing that happened?
OH: We got a write-up in the New York Times for our grand opening. It was a great surprise because the NY Times goes out to the world. They really praised us.
Just as important is the exposure we received from The Village Voice, History Channel and BET Behind the Scenes.
Tourists have come from Japan, London, Norway and Australia. It's validating because they expect it not to be as good as what they have heard and they leave here happy.
FAIM: What advice do you have for those considering becoming entrepreneurs?
OH: When you are an entrepreneur, look at everything as money. Look at how you can connect your dots, find a way to make it all work together
I want people to take from this that it doesn't matter what you want to do, just try! It's not gonna be easy, it's not gonna be peaches and cream but you hang in there.
To learn more about Hollis Famous Burgers and the Hollis Hip Hop Museum, visit www. hollisfamousburgers.com