Takeaway: High Spirits Hospitality CEO talks building and growing startups

Tammy Johnson, right, CEO of High Spirits Hospitality, speaks at the Facebook Community Boost’s #shemeansbusiness event. Photo provided

By Emily Dyer, associate, Complete PR

What: Facebook Community Boost’s #shemeansbusiness
When/Where: May 29 at the Greenville ONE Center

Who Was There: Tammy Johnson, CEO of High Sprits Hospitality, and about 75 Greenville businesspeople attending through Facebook Community Boost

To Tammy Johnson, success means simply having a good day. Whether that be planning the annual Tacos n’ Tequila Fiesta or throwing a thrilling trivia night at Topside Pool Club, the young entrepreneur has had a lot of good days. The journey to a blossoming business has had a few bumps in the road, but that has never stopped Johnson from pushing the limits.

Spending the summers at her aunt’s gift shop in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Johnson caught the entrepreneur bug at a young age. Gaining opportunities to order merchandise, hire staff, and learn a thing or two about bookkeeping was enough to hook Johnson on the idea of one day opening her own business. Shortly after her aunt sold the shop, Johnson started traveling around the country working various jobs in the hospitality business eventually landing in Greenville at a local catering company working as the marketing and catering sales manager in 2010.

“I was learning the ins and outs of the restaurant and catering business, and was loving the job and loving Greenville. However, one day things took a turn. A client was asking for an alcohol permit for an upcoming event. I asked our CEO if that was OK, but the CEO denied the permit because the company wasn’t making enough money in bar catering sales and told me to find a local bartending company. The event was set to happen in three weeks and I was striking out on trying to find the right bar catering service in Greenville because there really wasn’t one. I started thinking back to that dream of opening my own business. That became Liquid Catering.”

Getting Started in Business

Unsure of what the future held for her first startup, Johnson kept her position at the local catering company and pulled in a lot of late nights and more than 90 hours per week. However, once word spread about this newfound bartending catering service, the calls started coming in and didn’t stop. With major clients such as Greenville Health System and the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, Johnson decided to leave her job and make her sole focus Liquid Catering.

“Like any new startup business, there were a few roadblocks and tough years. I powered through by literally working out of my garage. I wondered what my neighbors thought when they saw hundreds of empty glass bottles in my recycling every Monday. It was fun as I learned what I needed to.” 

Growing to a New Level

In the spring of 2012, Liquid Catering had finally taken off and gained a home base at a renovated warehouse on Broad Street.

With the business finding its footing in Greenville, Johnson started to seek out more opportunities around the community. She came across The Old Cigar Warehouse and had a gut feeling that this was exactly what she needed to expand her business. Opening the event space in February 2013, The Old Cigar Warehouse is now home to corporate events, weddings, and the annual Tacos n’ Tequila Fiesta.

“I was actually trying to book the site for a euphoria event. The owner called back and said he was having some issues getting the site going. We grabbed brunch one day. He showed me his concepts and then we drove to the site. It was pretty much a vacant shell, but the potential was there. He saw it, and he trusted me with taking this building and turning it into something amazing.”

However, Johnson soon realized that with big events come a few headaches, one being finding the right security company.

Johnson got the entrepreneur itch again after dealing with countless security companies that were deemed “flaky” and rude to guests. She decided it was time to take matters into her own hands. With the help of a retired police officer in her leadership class, Bravo1 Protection was created in 2014. The security company has since had the opportunity to work major events around the Upstate such as Fall for Greenville and euphoria.

Just within the past year, Johnson has also added High Spirits Events and Topside Pool Club to her ever-growing list of successful startups. With so many companies under her belt, Johnson knew it was time to upgrade spaces at a much bigger office on McDaniel Avenue, where the company’s home base is today.

“Someone once asked me how I ‘fall forward.’ I had to ponder this for a second but realized that every time I was knocked down and didn’t think I was going to make it, I took a step back and was completely honest with myself. I never sweat the small stuff and I keep moving forward.”


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