Meet Iulia Bejan, owner of Connect Lounge in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle, WA. When Iulia moved to the US from Romania to pursue her MBA she was hit with the “Seattle freeze,” like so many new to the city. She founded Connect Lounge to provide her community with a place to spark and engage in real, unplugged conversations between friends and strangers alike.

Get to know more about Connect Lounge in this week’s Business Spotlight Q&A. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How would you describe your business to someone who’s never been inside? So we are a gathering space that’s built entirely around the idea of human connection in real life. Everything that we have inside the lounge . . . really gets to people. We’ve got little phone boxes on all the tables that our guests can use to put their phones away to engage with their friends or new people they might meet here. We’ve got little conversation starters on a couple of tables. We’ve got a big chalkboard, we call it the Connect Wall, where guests share with us what’s meaningful for them in life. Our restrooms are also extremely fun; the walls are full of little post-it notes. . . . And it’s amazing to see how much positivity and fun actually comes from those messages. Menu wise — we’re really focused on drinks. And I’m originally from Romania, so during the pandemic I started a Romanian inspired drinks menu. So we have Romanian inspired cocktails as well as a really nice collection of Romanian wines. We’ve also been very focused, even before the pandemic, on events. Events that are built around bringing people together. So we used to have different social groups or business networking groups that were coming to the Lounge regularly. Once a month we used to do a cultural event that was . . .  a taste of Romania. We would have a full Romanian food menu available for that evening, and you would come just to sample and taste different Romanian traditional dishes. Going forward, [events] will continue to play a key role in our business. We’re working with the groups that used to come here to bring them back, or bring new groups. We’re also looking to partner with different chefs that can do pop-up events here, because we have a fully equipped kitchen.

As a business owner what’s the strangest or craziest thing you’ve tried? I think, actually, that what I’ve been trying to do with this concept is really out of the box. And for us . . . the pandemic has been really hard. Even before the pandemic, it took us a while to become a sustainable business because we’re not your typical bar. We do serve alcohol and, you know, we make money selling alcohol but our proposition is way beyond alcohol. It’s philosophical. You know? Nobody else does phone boxes — that’s something really unique — or even conversation starters. We’re a place where there are messages and things that make you think, and if you’re up for a really interesting conversation . . . you will find someone here who will talk to you about that. If not me, maybe my staff, or some of the regulars. I feel like the concept is out of the box and a novelty in itself. And I’ve worked in different ways to market [our concept] and . . . attract new customers. But whenever you’re creating something that’s a little different, some people understand it, some people maybe don’t understand. During the pandemic I also created — again as part of the whole vision of connecting with people — I launched a new concept on Thursdays. It’s called the day bar co-working space. So, because this space — our interior design — looks really good, we’re great to be a co-working space. Professionals can come and work here or meet different teammates and they can enjoy a drink, if they choose that. The idea came to me during the pandemic because of the work from home. And I started opening on Thursdays . . . and it’s been slowly picking up. 

What are some of your favorite local businesses and what do you love about them? I really enjoy Macrina Bakery. They’ve actually also been our vendor partner. I’ve always got the baguettes  from them, and I am a customer myself. . . . I really enjoy Vivace Coffee shop [Espresso Vavachi]. That’s a coffee shop that’s close to where I live in South Lake Union. I’ve been going there for like 10 years. I like their coffee, the employees are really friendly, and they have great service. Another local business is Yvey, my hairstylist. And [the owner] is also a friend. He’s an amazing artist and he recently went from working in a salon to opening his own business.

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