President • The Harlem Tea Room • New York City • Age: 34
Many dream about returning to their old neighborhood to accomplish great things but Patrice Clayton is making it a reality. In 2004, Clayton opened the Harlem Tea Room, a café serving hot beverages and light fare like soups, sandwiches, salads and desserts.
Clayton, who grew up between Harlem and the Bronx, left a promising career as a marketing manager with American Express Co. to start the restaurant with her own finances and credit cards. “A lot of people were surprised,” says Clayton. “I did well [in the old job] but it was an inner spirit that was calling me. I can always go back to corporate America.”
Clayton earned a B.S. in marketing from State University of New York at Oswego and a M.B.A. from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. She also studied in Budapest, Hungary, while working for global pharmaceutical giant, Merck & Co. Inc. “It was a life-changing and humbling experience that allowed me to work with and interact with people from all over the world,” she says.
Upon returning to New York City, she began compiling a laundry list of services the rapidly developing Harlem could use. She originally wanted to open her own business in five years, but figured there was no better time than the present. Her biggest challenge was overseeing the construction of the restaurant herself. “I had to do everything,” says Clayton. “It seemed like it was never going to happen.” Private functions have been the biggest source of business for the Harlem Tea Room, which accommodates everything from birthday parties to weddings. For more than two years, Clayton has opened the Tea Room to teens for poetry night. “Whether you’re alone or with one person catching up, with a group of 10 or even 20 people, The Harlem Tea Room is more than tea, it’s an experience,” she says.
After having underestimated the time involved in running an eatery, Clayton advises aspiring restaurateurs to be prepared for long hours and have their finances in place.