‘I Make It Happen’
Pregnant with her only child, Beatriz Chavez’s mother found work as a nanny in Georgetown. Twenty years later, and pregnant herself, Beatriz returned to the neighborhood.
It was the late 90s, and the first-generation Guatemalan American had been pursuing a music career. She had dreams of working behind the scenes, merging hip hop with Latina culture--a style that didn’t yet exist. The ‘female, Latina Quincy Jones.’
‘When God gave me the gift of being pregnant, I had to change my outlook on everything. I had to start a career. Sales was something that came easily for me. It was talking to people and being able to connect.’
Beatriz’s friend recommended her for a corporate sales position at the Kinko’s in Georgetown. She dropped out of college, had her son, and excelled in the new job.
Ten years and several industries later, another friend suggested Beatriz interview with Greg Casten. The restaurateur owned Tony & Joe’s and Nick’s Riverside Grill at Washington Harbour and was struggling to find a director of event sales; someone who knew DC and the people in it, and was willing to chase after business.
‘He brought me in for the most untraditional interview ever,’ Beatriz says. ‘He just asked me a few questions, and after 10 or 15 minutes he’s like, ‘Do you have any questions, because I’m sold. Normally when you’re talking to someone, within the first seven minutes you’ll get an idea of where their head is, and it didn’t take much to get to know you.’’
Every minute since has been a career love affair for Beatriz, who knew nothing about the restaurant business when Greg hired her--once asking her co-worker what a rail drink was. But what she lacked in experience she made up for in personality and perseverance.
‘If I meet you, chances are I’m gonna get the event. It’s not about my pitch. It has to do with feeling comfortable and like, ‘Ok, she gets it.’ It could be their first event or their 100th, but I don’t want them to feel like it’s just another event. It’s like being a patient with a doctor. You want to feel special. And even if I know nothing about the event, I make it happen. I’m constantly thinking of a solution.’
Beatriz works best under pressure--no stranger to literally running from an early brunch at Tony & Joe’s, to a lunchtime Bar Mitzvah at Nick’s, and back again for an evening holiday party. From Howard Homecoming to small engagement parties—‘I hear the speeches and I’m in the corner crying and trying to keep it together’—Beatriz says every event means something to her.
‘From the beginning, I had a love for the work. It was the love of sales combined with the behind-the-scenes planning. I may get a corporate event and they’re really nervous because they’re bringing their top clients, and on the final day you see how calm they get, and this sense of relief that it all worked out. That is the best feeling.’
She considers the kitchen and wait staff her backbone through it all, but credits her parents for instilling in her a solution-oriented love of hospitality, production, and serving others.
Beatriz’s parents moved to DC in 1968, six years before she was born. They grew up in a very poor part of Guatemala, and dated there briefly before her father left on assignment with the government. When he returned to look for his girlfriend, she was already in the United States.
‘Everyone was like, ‘Didn’t you hear, she moved to DC?’ It’s a third-world country and there were no telephones, but my Dad’s like, ‘No Dear John letter, no nothing!’ But my mom had the opportunity, and nothing stops my mother. A few months later, my father came to the U.S. to make enough money to finish his degree in Guatemala. The DC community was small at that time, and he went to a party and saw my mom there. And here I am. My dad says I’m his college certificate.’
Beatriz’s father found janitorial work—walking from 16th Street to Bethesda when the buses weren’t running—and her mother became a housekeeper and nanny. She never learned English, and Beatriz was forced to speak on her behalf from a young age.
‘If someone said no, it wasn’t enough for her. It was frustrating for me ‘cause I’m like, ‘I’m six years old, how am I supposed to make this work?’ But she’s pushed me to be this strong.’
Growing up, Beatriz’s home was always open for anyone who need a meal or a place to stay. Her mother still hosts families who have recently immigrated, and nearly single-handedly supports a children’s center in her hometown--collecting clothes, selling them at yard sales, and sending the money to Guatemala to pay for tuition and three meals a day.
‘She called me one day and asked for a ride to the Embassy of Guatemala for what she said was a little award for her work, and I got there and the First Lady of Guatemala was presenting it. That’s how humble she is. And don’t let me complain to her. One day I said, ‘I’m so tired, I never have a day off.’ She said, ‘At least you can work. I’m 75 years old and I would love to still clean a house.’ My mom has always been that person that is like there’s always a will, and a way to make things work. It’s taught me to be that way.’
Now the mother to a 20-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter, Beatriz is instilling the same spirit in her own children. Her daughter is graduating from high school a year early and pursuing art, and her son is following is chasing her first dream—music.
‘Maybe now it’s his turn. I couldn’t really finish it, so now he can do what he needs to do. I just keep telling my kids to do what they love, because I love what I do. Greg has given me the opportunity to shine, and I’ve even started some side ventures with music. It’s kind of interesting how it all comes full circle. It started in Georgetown and I’m gonna say it will end in Georgetown.’