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James Grella: 18-Year-Old Kava Bar Owner

Name: James Grella

Hometown: Caledon, Ontario

Year: Freshman

Age: 18

Major:  Psychology

Her Campus (HC): What inspired you to open up your own bar?

James Grella (JG): When I was 15 I had a lot of friends who were drinking and smoking and I was not a fan of it. I always felt out of myself and embarrassed. I didn’t want to do it anymore so one day while I was getting my hair cut by my barber and explaining this to him, he said that there was a kava bar that just opened up which was walking distance from my home. So then I went over, begged and pleaded for a job. Thankfully the owner was working; he gave me a job as a promoter for the kava bar and I did well. I became a barback, then a bartender, then the manager and then the assistant district manager. It was really fun. But I saw the ins and outs and there were a lot of things that I was uncomfortable with. I offered them my input and they weren’t taking it which was fine because I had to go to college anyway.

HC: Had you planned to open up a bar of your own or did this just happen?

JG: Yeah, for a year. All throughout senior year I did all the planning I could, I got all of the connections set up and I met with a lot of investors.

HC: Why kava?

JG: Kava is a root from the south pacific islands. It’s a 3,000-year-old drink that is made into a tea. It’s a muscle relaxant and has been shown to cure anxiety and depression. With kava you never lose your clarity, cognition or your judgment. It has a reverse tolerance effect. You start with a high tolerance and over time your tolerance goes down and down so you end up saving a lot of money. Before I needed about five shells, now I just need two and I’ll be feeling great.

HC: What do you feel your business has to offer compared to other bars in Tallahassee?

JG: Alot. One, it gives an alternative to drinking. It’s a much safer and healthier alternative that at the same time saves people money and gives them an amazing feeling that, in my opinion, is better than drinking. So there’s an alternative to nightlife. You can make new friends every single day when you come here. We have tons of events; you can play Cards Against Humanity on Tuesdays or you can watch a movie on Sundays. It offers a different vibe, but on top of that you can save money and, for lack of better words, get f*cked up while doing it. I don’t know any college kids that wouldn’t take that.

HC: What is the most challenging aspect of owning a bar?

JG: There’s no hard part. If you like it then there is nothing that is difficult. Or there shouldn’t be.

HC: What is the most rewarding part?

JG: Getting to see that I’m helping people on a daily basis. I have a few professors that are regulars here and come in every other day. They used to have a ritual where they would go home, have two beers and a glass of scotch. They don’t drink anymore because of kava. This place does stuff for people and I’ve seen it all happen. We’ve had a victim of domestic abuse leave her relationship while she’s here. We’ve just had a lot of people be helped here.

HC: What do you like to do in your off time?

JG: I don’t have off time. I work about 100 hours a week here. Then I have school and then I sleep occasionally. Sleep is probably the answer, but no you don’t get off time when you own a business. This is my off-time, though. Don’t be mistaken that when I say I don’t have off time that I’m always working and I’m not having fun, I just happen to be behind the bar. I love this place. It’s number one. All the bartenders are really close friends of mine now since I’ve hired them. So whenever they come in and work an over shift I still stay just because I like hanging out with them. All of my customers are becoming my friends.

HC: How do you balance school and work?

JG: It’s hard. You just do it. Turning things in like an hour before they’re due is very important. If you want to do it, then you can do it. I knew I wanted to go to Florida State, I knew I wanted to open up a kava bar and I did it. All work that you do in school is not hard. People just make it out to be hard.

HC: Where do you see yourself 5-10 years from now?

JG: Alive. The goal for the business is to see it expand in a variety of ways. We have plans for location two pretty soon. We’ve been able to see such dramatic changes in peoples’ lives. I want to keep bringing that to other college campuses. I see about four or five locations opening up in Atlanta, Fort Myers, Jacksonville and I have a few ideas in California.

HC: What advice would you give to someone who wants to own a business?

JG: Don’t do it. It’s so hard, but it’s not hard if you like it. Train yourself for several months how to not sleep. I was saving a lot of money, I budgeted, after that, it was just a lot of speaking to people. It was just a lot of stress before the place opened. Starting it was harder. We have a good amount of people coming in so maintaining it has never been the hard part.

HC: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen or heard at the bar?

JG: We do a thing at 11:45 p.m. where I walk around the bar and get everyone’s order. You order as many singles as you want to do. At midnight they have until 12:01 to drink them all and if they do, then they pay half price. We had a kid come in around 6 p.m. one day and he had a good amount of kava and he said “I love this drink. I love this place.” And I told him that he could save money by coming in before midnight and he was really into it. So he leaves and comes back at 11 p.m. holding what looks to me like a giant black Q-tip. It’s like a staff, it’s huge. He comes up to me, no hi or hello, just “I need a cup of water.” So I pour a cup and I give it to him and he says, “No, an empty cup of water.” So I pour the water out, give it to back to him, and he says, “Thanks” and goes outside. I start explaining kava to a group of people when suddenly I hear the guy on my far left say, “Holy sh*t!” I look over, and the kid was just spinning and spitting fire outside of my establishment. He does that for like 45 minutes, finishes and comes inside, orders 12 and does it in half the time and breaks the champion’s record. This all happened in the span of one hour. That was some wild stuff. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in my life. MY hero. He’s a legend here; we’ve never seen him again. 

Hope is a Junior double majoring in Media Communication Studies and Sociology. She enjoys listening to music, traveling, and spending time by the pool/beach.
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