“It means a lot for me to get on a plane. I don’t like to fly,” said Denise Coklow, President of DeMar Promotional Marketing Group. “Just to be invited and to meet so many entrepreneurs and people in the same business or different businesses it’s just awesome.”
Coklow flew in from Detroit to attend the first ever diversity event at Hyatt Santa Clara on Sept. 14. She was one of dozens of black business owners invited to attend the event that connected Bay Area hospitality groups with black-owned businesses.
“It’s an opportunity for us as a Hyatt to really focus on our diversity, equity, inclusivity goals that we have,” said Eron Hodges, the General Manager of Hyatt Santa Clara. “We have what’s called ‘Change Starts Here 2025’ and it’s really centered around who we employ, develop and advance. Who we partner with in the community and who we buy from.”
For Kelley Nayo-Jahi, owner of Oakland-based Body Butter by Kelley, the event was a chance to make her dreams come true and scale her business.
“I have always had a dream to have my product in hotels,” said Nayo-Jahi “[A sale here] means that I can move the products at a larger volume…if I can have a larger order that fuels the product at a different level without having to borrow—it’s really challenging for black-owned businesses to get funding. So, organic funding through the source of one big client can be a big, big turn for the business.”
Nayo-Jahi wasn’t the only entrepreneur to travel from the East Bay for the event. For Jerry Bailey, the event was an opportunity to introduce his product Ayaba Wines to potential buyers. Bailey works as a professor of entrepreneurship and business at an East Bay community college in addition to launching his new venture.
“We launched earlier this year…[the] opportunities to connect with a large corporation for our minority-owned business is huge,” said Bailey.
Anth and Lauren Hughey drove down from the Napa area to attend the diversity event and brought their daughter along so she could experience being in a room with a large group of black entrepreneurs. Both of the Hugheys work in hospitality and were hit especially hard by COVID. That’s when Anth created his own BBQ sauce and launched Hugheys Home Cooking.
“I just wanted to bring South Carolina flavors to California…Because I haven’t tasted good barbecue sauce here. So, I just decided to do it,” said Anth. “It was my first time doing it and having an event like this is amazing. Seeing all the people come together, all the networking. It’s just great.”
A few years ago, the Hyatt brand committed to spending a portion of its annual budget with black-owned businesses, but in the Bay Area, that was sometimes difficult for hotel managers. Businesses had to be identified and new relationships had to be forged.
“Once we started to get in contact with businesses out there that we thought, ‘Hey, this is a great resource.’…then it morphed into, ‘Wow. There’s a lot more out there than we realize; we just were never engaging.’ That’s what this is designed to do is bring everyone together, learn about their products and services,” said Hodges.
All 35 of the Hyatt hotels in the Bay Area were invited to the diversity event. Hodges hopes the event will become an annual occurrence where black entrepreneurs and Hyatt hotels can meet to form lasting partnerships.