If you haven’t been to Richmond, Va., Benita Johnson just may give you at least two reasons to get on the road or grab a flight to join her next month. As the founder of The Exclusive Blacklist, an annual event that celebrates black winemakers around the country and the producer of the Behind the Business Conference -East in partnership with Cuisine Noir, Johnson is a true ambassador for her beloved city also known as RVA.
Johnson is set to host The Exclusive Blacklist Weekend scheduled for February 8 – 11 that will include a mixologist competition, wine symposium, wine gala, wine-paired brunch, business conference and evening jazz concert. We caught up with her with just weeks until it all happens to learn more about her journey as an entrepreneur and for a little glimpse at what is sure to be a wonderful weekend.
Tell us a little about your professional background before becoming an entrepreneur and business owner.
I was a bored accountant. In my spare time, I would write business plans for folks who had aspirations to be entrepreneurs. The “bug” bit me and I left the security of corporate for the gamble of a lifetime. That was in 2005.
Describe your transition from employee to employer.
Easy! I was raised by an entrepreneur. I already understood that it was feast or famine at times. I already knew that you worked all of the time and work was hard. But corporate had taught me to work smart. I combined education and experience and stopped counting other people’s pennies and started on a quest to be able to count my own. Lots of long nights but I refuse to wake up to an alarm clock. I love it!
What lessons have you learned along the way that you now share with others?
It is a lot easier to give it 110% when you are doing what you love. Following your passion isn’t easy but it makes looking at yourself in the mirror, knowing that you are living in your purpose, a lot more pleasant. I’ve learned that you can’t please everybody so just be honest, authentic and stay focused.
This February you are hosting the 2nd Annual Behind the Business Conference – East. What can we look forward to?
For the first year, I set my own bar high. I gathered some of the best that Richmond has to offer and created lively panel discussions capped off with an inspirational message from Chef Rock Harper. People made great connections. For our second year, expect more engagement with the panelists, meet some of the hottest home cooks and chefs, learn about trends in the food and beverage industry, and network, network, network. I am also excited to have Chef Kevin Sbraga join us as this year’s keynote speaker.
We say that business is a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly. Knowing this as a seasoned entrepreneur, what would you tell yourself as a young entrepreneur today.
Live with your parents until they put you out! Live a little, see the world before you have responsibilities that force you into a job that you can’t walk away from. Network with seasoned professionals and entrepreneurs. They can tell you that you will make mistakes and that you need to get up, let it go and keep it moving.
A full weekend pass is able for $175 that include access to all of the events. Tickets are also sold separately for each event. For more information, to purchase tickets and register for this year’s Behind the Business Conference, go to www.thevinewineclub.com.