A packed lecture hall in FAMU’s School of Business and Industry rumbles from the conversations of over-animated freshmen. As professor White quiets the pupils to begin the test review, she remembers being a student in those classes less than 10 years ago.
Ironically, business owner LaTanya White supplemented her SBI education with a degree in the adult beverage field. The Miami native is owner of 71 Proof LLC- the area’s only bar cater. For four years, White has offered 71 Proof’s full-service bar labor for weddings, tailgating events, birthday parties and more in Tallahassee and Tampa. One of four other subsidiary companies under White’s umbrella corporation, Concept Creative Hospitality Group, 71 Proof is part of a “spirits industry professional services enterprise proudly serving responsible adult drinkers,” according to 71proofllc.com. In addition to bar catering, White also offers custom cocktail development and an occasional bartender-training course to Tallahassee residents.
White said she had never considered the beverage business until after an impulsive commitment to bartend an event for her line sister.
“One of my sorority sisters asked me to bartend her birthday party,” said White. “I don’t know why she asked me. I thought that she thought so highly of me to ask, that I didn’t want to turn her down. The saving grace was that I wasn’t really bartending- at least from what I know now (to be bartending).”
A five-year member of Tallahassee’s Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, White says she was number 71 in a group of 73. The name of her business, 71 Proof, reflects her line number she said. Line sister Kara Palmer offered White her first bartending experience, but had no idea it would be so influential to her career path.
“I was turning 27 at the time and she was coming to the party, and I needed someone to be a bartender, so I asked her,” Palmer said. “She ended up really liking it and decided to go into business for it. She told me later on that was her inspiration, so to speak.”
White said she found it most beneficial that she was able to “enjoy the party without having to party.”
White, a 2003 graduate of SBI’s five-year Master of Business Administration program, has stepped from behind the bar and back on to the Hill as an educator. While White wasn’t offered an instructor position until last August, she has been working with another component of the SBI program since early 2010.
“I started as the accreditation support coordinator in January 2010 working with the Accreditation Steering Committee for SBI as we seek third-party accreditation for our curriculum,” White said. “This fall I was actually offered a position of visiting instructor for entrepreneurship and fundamental concepts.”
While White received her college education at FAMU, interning in cities from Buffalo to Chicago, she said three years into the pharmaceutical sales field she felt ‘burnt out and wasn’t valued by clients.”
“Ha! What are you doing?” asked White’s aunt and FAMU head softball coach Veronica Wiggins, in response to White’s decision to go into the adult beverage industry. “It was a shock pretty much to all of (our family) because two of my sisters are evangelists. But it’s a family and you support (because) that’s what she wanted to do. You don’t see what an individual is like until you see them doing something they enjoy doing. It bought out Tanya. Then she got all of the nieces and nephews and cousins involved, and it’s like whoa!”
White moved to Tallahassee from Miami not only to attend college, but to be with family as well- especially her grandmother Willie Mae Firsher. White lived with until she was about 14 years old. Wiggins, who considers herself White’s second mom, credits her and her entire family with influencing the young entrepreneur to be a Rattler. Equally though, Wiggins also credits White with influencing her younger sibling and cousins.
“Tanya influenced my kids,” Wiggins said. “My son graduated from the business program. When you go to college and smaller siblings or cousins see that, that’s a benefit as well.”
White said reconnecting with professors like Colin Benjamin, who taught her and later encountered at a wedding 71 Proof hosted, brings her education on the Hill “full circle” as she applies concepts she learned there. As a first-year instructor, White is striving to have the same impact.
“I actually want to start a collegiate chamber of commerce,” White said. “What I want to do with that, based on my experience and involvement with the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, is bring those kinds of resources (to FAMU). Putting student entrepreneurs or student’s who own their own businesses in the same room with each other so that they can network, exchange business cards, exchange contact information, exchange ideas and start to do business with one another. That’s what we do at the greater chamber: we do business with who we know. I want to bring those types of resources and mentoring on entrepreneurship together.”
Published accolades, from being featured as one of Tallahassee Democrat’s 25 Women You Need to Know in 2009 to making it as Essence magazine’s Side Hustle of the Month in April 2007, are evidence of White’s success as a business owner and entrepreneur. Still, Wiggins says that White is personable. True to her “business-oriented” mind frame though, friend and business mentee Danielle Ardister said it isn’t often that she convinces White to step from behind the bar.
“Its funny. There are very few times I can get her to let her hair down,” said Ardister, a team leader for 71 Proof. “Every once in a while I can get her to go out and just have fun especially if it was a rough week. We went to Tampa for a business meeting. After about 6 p.m. we went out to dinner and had a ball. We don’t really talk about business when business isn’t going on.”
Multi-tasking between her business, where she has to stand her ground against over-indulgers from time to time, and classes as a beginning instructor, Ardister said White has yet to lose focus of her initial priority.
“She has her mind on her ultimate goal and she will not settle for anything less,” she said. “Concept (Creative) Hospitality Group, that’s what we hear. I’ve heard it since day one when I met LaTanya White. She eats, sleeps and breathes what she wants.”