Black LGBTQ Entrepreneurs Find Success, Community in Atlanta

by Darian Aaron

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday February 24, 2021
Originally published on February 11, 2021

(l to r) Perry Meeks, Mychel 'Snoop' Dillard
(l to r) Perry Meeks, Mychel 'Snoop' Dillard  (Source:Grain Grooming Studio / The Art Department)

In Atlanta, there's no shortage of towering Black religious leaders who profess a calling to ministry, but not every influencer in one of the South's most progressive and LGBTQ-friendly cities occupies a pulpit—some are in nightclubs, restaurants, and hair salons—they're Black Atlanta LGBTQ entrepreneurs and they're doing ministry differently.

Mychel "Snoop" Dillard is one of those entrepreneurs. The self-proclaimed serial entrepreneur owns eight Atlanta businesses, including three salon suites and five restaurants, two of which, Escobar Restaurant and Tapas and Esco Seafood, she famously opened in partnership with Grammy-Award winning rapper 2 Chainz. A Detroit native and graduate of Vanderbilt University, the Nashville transplant says her success was not overnight and was almost completely derailed early in her career after opening The G-Spot, a Nashville club that opened and closed within three months, squandering Dillard's nearly $40,000 investment.

"When I moved to Atlanta, I said that I would never get back into the nightlife industry, that I would never open up another spot again. But I think it's a calling," said Dillard.

Mychel 'Snoop' Dillard
Mychel 'Snoop' Dillard  

The Members Only and Party Bus Kings owner says she partnered unsuccessfully with other entrepreneurs in the past, but she and 2 Chainz "clicked from day one."

"Before meeting 2 Chainz, I'd been partners with several different people and it really didn't work out. It was always me getting the short end of the stick," said Dillard.

"The relationship has been very successful because we both kinda stay in our own lane. My lane is operating the businesses, coming up with the menus, ideas, etc. My experience is in the hospitality industry; his is in music."

For Dillard, who identifies as a gay woman and is masculine-presenting, Atlanta offered an opportunity beyond business—an environment where she could thrive in both her personal and professional life.

"Being in a city like Atlanta was much different than being in Nashville because here in Atlanta, they actually support Black-owned businesses," she said. "You don't have somebody trying to close the door on you as soon as you walk in. In the LGBT community, I wasn't looked at differently in Atlanta the way that I was in Nashville. It was a much more supportive community and city," she said.

The Grain Grooming Studio
The Grain Grooming Studio  

Going Against the Grain

The success of Perry Meeks, master barber and owner of The Grain Grooming Studio, the first LGBTQ-accepting salon in Atlanta, located in the affluent Buckhead community, can also be attributed to community support. But at Meeks' salon, clients receive more than a fresh cut, they're invited to show up as their authentic selves without the threat of homophobia often present in Black barbershops. The same applies to Meeks' diverse staff of barbers and hairstylists, who are more like family and identify as LGBTQ or allies.

"My goal was to find good humans that love and respect everyone for who they are," said Meeks.

"It was a lot of people that were really skilled that I could tell would be uncomfortable with the environment we have...and I was like, cool, well this isn't for you then. It reminds you of the old barbershops where guys used to come and play checkers and hang and talk shit. Now we have a place where we can do that here. People always tell me that they're so grateful that they have a place to come where they can talk about Britney Spears or Wendy Williams," he said.

The Memphis native, who identifies as sexually fluid, says his clients' experience with homophobia in Black barbershops has been eye-opening and the exact opposite of his own as a masculine-presenting Black man.

"It was never uncomfortable for me in the barbershop. Honestly, I never thought about it until I got here and I started cutting hair, and I started becoming a popular barber in the LGBTQ community," said Meeks. "They started to give testimonies: 'Man it's so cool here. I've always been so tense in barbershops because they talk about basketball and sports, and I'm not into any of that shit."

Meeks says he doesn't consider himself a trailblazer, but it's a compliment that's often bestowed upon him by clients and others who view his success as a blueprint for their own.
It can be argued that Meeks and Dillard lead the pack on a list that grows every year of Black LGBTQ entrepreneurial success stories in the city once deemed "too busy to hate"— achieving wealth, respect, and loyal clientele despite the existence of systemic racism and homophobia. It's a monumental achievement with ramifications that reach beyond their personal portfolios, which neither entrepreneur takes for granted.

"It's very remarkable, said Dillard. I'm very appreciative of it. Hard work always pays off."

On Your Radar

In addition to Dillard and Meeks, here are four more LGBTQ businesses to check out the next time you visit ATL:

Virgils' Gullah Kitchen & Bar — Virgil's was created to provide a space to enjoy great food, amazing service, and an abundance of love while helping to preserve the Gullah Geechee Culture.

Grooming Quarter Barber Lounge — Master barber Tahir Woods offers clientele an upscale and modern experience in a private setting. As an openly gay barber, Woods aims to be inclusive while providing the most professional products and cuts in the industry.

Spa Sulit Wellness Studio — Licensed massage therapist Tao Finklea brings years of professional experience with professional athletes by providing tangible, therapeutic outcomes to LGBTQ clientele in his Midtown Atlanta studio.

Gocha's Breakfast Bar — Located in Atlanta's affluent Cascade area, Gocha's Breakfast Bar offers a modern, friendly atmosphere, exceptional service, and carefully prepared meals that "taste great and feel good."

Darian Aaron is Editor-At-Large of The Reckoning, a Counter Narrative Project digital publication covering Atlanta's Black LGBTQ+ community. He is also the creator of Living Out Loud 2.0 and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.