Gal on the Go: Ultimate Boss Guide to Charlotte, North Carolina

CREATE & INNOVATE in collaboration with Marriott Hotels

photo credit: Taylor Heery Photography 

What more do you need from a trip than amazing coffee and a perfect spot to lay your head? Something to fuel you as you traverse a new city? And a pillow to catch you at the end of a well spent day?

That's just what Coco & the Director (above) provides-- the coffee part, at least. It's a locally sourced coffee shop right inside the lobby of the Charlotte Marriott City Center, which recently celebrated its grand opening. And we got our fill of expertly roasted beans, the most tech-savvy lobby we've ever seen, and boss women in the Queen City when we headed to Charlotte last month. 

Like our past City Guide's, we met and profiled women who are at different points in their careers, each with a different focus and personal definition of success and balance. Women who have made the decision to strike out on their own-- and haven't looked back yet. Queens in the Queen City, if you will. 


photo credit: Julia Fay Photography

Lauren Hooker started her design business Elle & Company in 2014, after reneging on a childhood pact she made with herself to "never, ever own a business."  

"My dad owned a gym in our small hometown when I was growing up, and after seeing all the stress and time he poured into that venture." She says she swore up and down that she wouldn't follow suit. Instead, she pursued her life-long passion for design, nabbing a BFA in Visual Communication Design from Virginia Tech. From there she landed a design position at a startup. But her boss, a 45-minute commute, and lack of creative freedom left her feeling lackluster about her position. "So," she says, "I did what any creative who hates their day job would do; I started freelancing." 

It was during this time she felt the freedom that comes with owning your own business. 

Since then, Elle & Company has grown from a design studio to a business resource for creative entrepreneurs. "I love what I do," says Lauren. She's also the current household #breadwinner while her husband Jake, is back in school. 

Lauren says, "I'm happy to be the 'breadwinner' of our family during this season. I know Jake would do the same for me if I ever chose to go back to school. 

More crazy than being the sole provider these past 3 years is that my business has not only been supporting us, but it's allowed us to pay for his schooling and save for our future. It's been a huge blessing."

Even though she's found herself in this role, Lauren says she never imagined she'd be an entrepreneur. "I'm a workhorse, but I've never considered myself a visionary.

Over these last three years I've come to learn that there's two kinds of entrepreneurs: those who were born entrepreneurs and are always looking for the next business idea, and those who were born creative and want to start a business to carry out their ideas on their own terms. Jake is a natural-born entrepreneur; I'm a natural-born creative. We make a good team."

"I'm a workhorse, but I've never considered myself a visionary."

Tweet this.

This past year she's been able to bring on two part-time assistants, increase her prices, and focus on some passive income streams. And Charlotte is the perfect place for Lauren as she continues to grow. "I'm a southern, East coast girl, through and through. Charlotte is a good mix of southern charm and city life. It's clean, it's growing, and it's close to both the mountains and the water. We love it here."

She's sharing her favorite spots in the city below. 

Best spot in Charlotte to hear live music: Neighborhood Theatre

Grab a morning cup of coffee: Not Just Coffee

Grab an afternoon cup of coffee: Amelie's Bakery (see above images) 

Tourist spot in Charlotte that’s a guilty pleasure:  Romare Bearden Park

Tourist spot that you’ve never visited:  U.S. National Whitewater Center

Your favorite spot in Charlotte to sit and be still: Freedom Park

Favorite date night spot:  Napa on Providence


photo credit: Julia Fay Photography

Marsha Barnes started her career in the banking world, a place that provided her great opportunities, but the finance guru says that her true calling is much different than a banking setting. "There is a huge gap and percentage of people who are under-served on their financial journey," Marsha says.

"The world of personal finance is very similar to gaining levels of education, you begin with the basics and navigate your way up depending on your situation. I wanted to close that gap."

So she created The Finance Bar, a mobile finance station designed to service everyone stressed about their financial standing. The idea came about specifically to "not exclude anyone," says Marsha. "It allows me to travel to organizations, corporations and educational institutions and connect with people in a non-traditional financy type of way." 

She also recently launched her Coaching Suite, what she calls a much more intimate experience than the mobile unit. At the suit she's offering  1:1 support for singles, couples and entire families that need guidance.

Marsha wasn't always so money savvy. "As a young lady I wanted all the things that I knew my money could buy. When I received my first promotion in the corporate world the first thing I wanted was a BMW and I didn't earn BMW type of money back then. I wanted my title at work to match my lifestyle. Totally the wrong thinking process. Terrible actually."

"I wanted my title at work to match my lifestyle. Totally the wrong thinking process."

Tweet this.  

But she is keen on sharing her know-how and how-to, especially during the spendiest season of all. "During your down time stop and think about the life that you truly desire for yourself. Is it to vacation more, create your own business, spend more time with family?" she asks. "Believe it or not, money affects a lot of what we do in life. Be mindful of your dreams-the holidays will come and go but will your dreams?"

Here's a list of Marsha's favorite and financially smart places in Charlotte. (Why spend $$ when you can hit up a spot for free?)

Favorite spot to have a cup of morning coffee: Not coffee, but definitely hot-chocolate at the bookstore with my husband.

Best location to watch the sunset: On my porch.

Grab a post work drink with a friend: Jade Asian Fusion

The one place in the city where you’ll splurge: Books-A-Million

Where you can get the most bang for your buck: The library. It's full of free learning. 

Favorite spot to sit and be still: The library and my porch.

Awesome neighborhoods you got to explore while taking the mobile hub on the road: Any neighborhood in my community. You never know what people are experiencing unless you are willing to meet them "where" they are. 


photo credit: Julia Fay Photography

"I often want to scoop it all up. I am a true shopaholic and I am thrilled to have the job that pays me for it," explains Holly Hollingsworth Phillips, co-owner of The English Room, an interior design business originally run by Holly and her mother, Nancy Hollingsworth.

"My mother does not accept the word 'NO,'" says Holly. "She is persistent to a fault sometimes. That has served me well to get things done and maneuver difficult situations." 

It's something Holly's been actively doing for over 20 years. Immersed in the world of design at a young age, Holly went on her first buying trip to Europe at 12. 

She also learned to be "kind to everyone you meet. The subs and people who do lots of the actual install make this business happen," explains Holly. "Those relationships should be cherished and well-respected." 

They are relationships that she's built over the last 20 years, but don't think that makes her unadaptable. "Access online has broadened knowledge and sources for everyone-- clients and designers alike," she shares. "I have a love/hate relationship with Pinterest because the client can peruse ideas for days and get so confused. Yet, it has become an integral tool for me with secret boards for each project. It is a way for clients and I to share ideas easily." 

Iris Apfel is another huge influence on the designer. A woman who Holly says is a true design icon. She has been, "an interior designer, a textile designer, a business owner, a shopaholic and she has now become a fashion icon. I respect her desire to not be swayed by trends bit to dress for herself," Holly says. "I have always abided by her 'more is more and less is a bore' philosophy."

"I have always abided by her 'more is more and less is a bore' philosophy." 

Tweet this. 

Things have also changed a bit since she was 12 browsing antiques in faraway places, but the travel component of her work has not. To get into travel mode Holly says, "I research like nobodies business! I cull my design friends for their knowledge of the location. I research travel guides for each location ad nauseam to find all the best spots prior to a trip. I make a Pinterest board. I map everything on Google maps and make a very set itinerary." And yet she's remains open spontaneity. "Plan and over plan so you can go with the flow and relax knowing you didn't miss a thing."

Don't miss anything on Holly's list of her favorite spots in Charlotte below. 

Best spot in Charlotte to be inspired: The Mint Museum 

Grab a morning cup of coffee: At home, my husbands coffee is the best. Love Amelie’s in Noda or Little Spoon for a weekend treat.

Grab an afternoon cup of coffee: Starbucks because it is 100 yards from my office. I wish Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf was in Charlotte. 

Tourist spot that’s a guilty pleasure: Pinky’s Westside Grill - Get the Pimpin’ Fries smothered in pimento cheese…worth the heart attack. 

Tourist spot that you’ve never visited: Nascar Hall of Fame 

Best under the radar shopping spot: Hidell Brooks Gallery for incredible art, Sleepy Poet for an occasional random design score.

Find amazing vintage: Slate Interiors 

Your favorite spot in Charlotte to sit and be still: Foxcroft Wine Company with great bottle of Cali Chard and cheese plate. 

A restaurant that has amazing food: Kindred in Davidson is by far the best restaurant in the area! 

A restaurant that has amazing interior decor: Kindred or Reid’s for chic french bistro style…or Halcyon at The Mint Museum. (This is not Charlotte’s forte…I would love to design one chic interior.)

Be sure to check back on our final stop of the year with Marriott Hotels. Up next: we are heading to Seattle, WA.