Better Bar's Stephanie Rice on side hustle success
By Elaine Simon
Whether just because of a desire for a creative outlet or because of the necessity for extra income, side hustles have become a common part of life for many women.
Sometimes the idea for a side hustle isn’t born of necessity but is founded upon the idea that there’s a better way to do things. That’s the case for Better Bar, which is the brainchild of Stephanie Rice.
Rice, who has worked at Yelp for a number of years and currently is senior manager, business development & data licensing at the company, started Better Bar, a private event service specializing in low- and no-alcohol bartending, in 2021.
Rice was a speaker at the Red Roof Forum on Leadership for Women Entrepreneurs 2022, which recently was rebranded the SHE Leads Forum. The 2023 SHE Leads Forum will be held Sept. 28-29 in Dallas.
In this interview, Rice shares the story of how her side hustle Better Bar came to fruition and her advice for other women who are interested in branching out beyond their regular day-to-day job.
Share your story of how Better Bar came about.
“I spent the majority of my career at Yelp doing corporate events and I’d always been fascinated with the art of gathering. I was planning very high-level executive events and always looking for creative ways to engage with clients that weren’t centered on drinking. There was a confluence of a couple things that happened that created the ideal environment for Better Bar: 1) COVID caused people to re-examine their relationship with alcohol 2) Sobriety/sober curiosity started to become cool 3) There was lots of product innovation in the low and no alcohol space.
“I started trying all these low- and no-alcohol drinks and throwing Better Bar parties for my friends in 2021. They were such a hit that my friends suggested I create these bars for other people and here we are!”
Why did you decide this was something you wanted to take to a broader audience instead of just practicing for yourself?
“I’ve always had a passion for curating new experiences that bring people together. Once I saw the positive impact low and no alcohol could have on the way we gather and socialize, I felt like I had an obligation to share with a broader audience.”
Did you always have an entrepreneurial disposition or was this something new?
“Oh yes, definitely. I would say I’ve always had a motivation to lead and have a positive impact both personally and professionally. Better Bar is the first business I’ve started but in my previous roles I’ve always been the first to volunteer for taking on new projects or teams that have never been tested before. I’ve always enjoyed experimentation in my career.”
How did you figure out all the pieces? Was this something you did on your own or did you reach out for help? And if you did it on your own, is that something you wish you would have done differently?
“While I am a sole founder, I had a tremendous amount of help along the way and Better Bar would not be what it is without the input of many brilliant people. One of my early advisors is one of my best friends who also has a side hustle doing brand strategy consulting. In its infant stages, Better Bar was a fun creative outlet we would chat about during COVID. It truly didn’t feel like work since we were both so excited about the concept. I’ve also received invaluable input from beverage brands, bar owners and restaurateurs. Once I flushed out the idea, I leaned on my skill set in event execution and some basic ‘how to start a business’ Googling to get Better Bar off the ground.”
What were your biggest challenges at the beginning of this endeavor and how did you deal with them? How have those challenges changed over time?
“One of the biggest challenges was establishing product market fit with the beverages. Given the low- and no-alcohol space is still fairly new, there was not a lot of data around what drinks people enjoyed, what kinds of menus would resonate at different events, etc. It was trial and error to find our sweet spot at events. We learned over time that folks gravitate toward low- and no-alcohol versions of classic cocktails they know and love. So we focused our menus on things such as the ‘Lower Manhattan’ and the ‘No-mosa.’ Now, the biggest challenge is figuring out how to scale into new markets and broaden the kinds of events we take on.”
What have you enjoyed most about having a side hustle?
“I’ve had so much fun on the creative side of the business—building a brand that is a true representation of me and the gift I want to give to the world. I’m sure you’ve heard entrepreneurs call their business their ‘baby.’ Now I feel like I finally understand what that means!”
Is there anything unexpected—good or bad—that having a side hustle has brought to your life?
“As a woman, having the experience of running a successful business from idea to execution has brought a whole new level of confidence into my professional as well as my personal life. On my low days, I tell myself, ‘You know what, Steph, you have built something meaningful and, look, people are noticing, supporting and joining you in this movement.’ It’s been a powerful way to pick myself up again and again and give me the motivation to keep going.”
What are your plans for Better Bar—do you anticipate continuing it indefinitely?
“Absolutely, I will keep Better Bar going for as long as people continue to want low- and no-alcohol cocktails at their parties.”
Would you consider making it your full-time job and if so, how will you know when it’s the right time for that?
“Right now I don’t have plans for that. I’m always open to opportunities that the Better Bar journey takes me on.”
Would you ever consider starting a second side hustle?
“I actually just got my 200-hour yoga certification and have been teaching community classes for fun in my spare time. I wouldn’t call that another side hustle but I’m passionate about learning new things and sharing them with my community.”
What’s your advice for other women who might be interested in starting a side hustle?
“Just go for it! You are never going to feel like you’re 100 percent ready so stop waiting for that feeling to show up. Trust in yourself, your capabilities and your ideas and you will never lose. The worst that happens is you learn a thing or two about yourself and that to me is never a bad thing.”
“You participated in last year’s Red Roof women’s forum - why are women-focused events like this so important?
“Women need to see other women doing cool, fun, inspiring things! It makes reaching for the stars so much more attainable when you see people who look like you out in the world trailblazing. Events like the women’s forum give women the opportunity to see and be seen in the business world, which hopefully opens their eyes to new opportunities and adventures.”
Visit www.she-leads.com for more information about Red Roof’s SHE Leads Forum and for tools to help you manage your business, rise in the ranks and find the confidence to become a successful business leader.