Who’s Who of Downtown Women – Inspiring the World Through Strength & Compassion
March 30, 2015
By Cristina Manos
When you want to be inspired by strong and humble women who walk the walk and take care of their community, you need look no further than Downtown Tucson. There was no way to feature every incredible Downtown woman in this article, because there are so many – the following women were selected by way of community survey, and deserve this moment in the local spotlight.
Margo Susco – Hydra
Margo Susco has been a Downtown woman for over 20 years. She owns Hydra Tucson, an eclectic, legendary boutique located at the corner of Congress Street and 6th Avenue. Hydra has often been mistaken as a “fetish” store, when really it’s a boutique that houses a variety of items for any man or woman who’s seeking a way to express personal voice and fashion. Susco provides clothing for every occasion and will help each guest find his or her own unique style.
Susco is so much more than just a successful business owner. Her own personal style is derived from a sense of natural confidence, and her beauty shines through without being covered by globs of make-up or pretension. Her ability to set out into the community to fight for what’s right is effective because of her natural confidence, and she inspires women to love who they are, and how they are, without apology.
More so, Susco has been involved in the Tucson community as an advocate and leader who represents the underdog. She’s not the type to scuff off important social issues. She won’t remain silent when there’s an opportunity to represent a better choice. She collaborates with her community leaders to find a better resolution to social issues that affect all of us.
Susco has been involved in countless city council meetings, joined the Tucson Downtown Alliance in 1984 and became co-chair, and as the Alliance morphed into what is today our very own Downtown Tucson Partnership, Susco remains active on the merchants council and leadership board.
“Knowledge is power, but it takes a village. I can’t be complacent, we’re all one big family Downtown and it’s important that we respect and help one another. I’m not just here for myself, it’s a community,” Susco says. She wants us to “keep Downtown interesting. It has to remain the diverse hub of culture and art that brings everyone together.”
Sarah Tyler – The Hive Salon
Sarah Tyler is the “no drama mamma.” She’s the mother of two children, ages 11 and 13, and is the owner of The Hive Salon located inside Hotel Congress. Tyler is a single mom and a dedicated business owner. Of course, she didn’t start out that way.
Her story is one of strength. Tyler looked within and found the courage to transform, to stand up against oppression, and to walk away from drama. It got her all the way to Downtown, and put her in the position of realizing she was her own boss.
Tyler’s transformation came just a few years ago. She was inspired to shine by Lindsey Ross, who knew the key to strength, empowerment and success in the business of doing hair. Ross, who owned the salon at the time, hired Tyler and challenged her to realize that not only is it important to have self-confidence, but “fashion” is important in the industry.
Tyler didn’t waste any time taking Ross’s advice, and says, “I immediately started to transform myself, my self esteem was boosted, I lost 50 pounds, and I left my husband.”
Tyler came out of the shadows in one big burst and Downtown has noticed her ever since. Ross ended up leaving the salon, and Tyler took the opportunity to be a business owner and continue her personal transformation, while transforming clients. She shares an experience with her clients.
“I do me. The clients are my people and they are the people that want to see me,” Tyler says. She has just as much love for the people who sit in her chair as they do for her.
Suzana Davila – Café Poca Cosa
When you stop in to experience Cafe Poca Cosa, one of Tucson’s world-renowned restaurants, you get a sense of owner and world famous chef, Suzana Davila. You may get a peak of Davila when she comes out of the kitchen to greet guests, show you to your seat or ask you how your meal is, and she’ll hug you even if she doesn’t know you.
Davila was actually a local model here in Tucson many years ago. She’s a woman that has truly followed her dreams, and built her life and restaurants on the foundation of her own intentions. It wasn’t Davila’s intention to become famous for her cooking and the vast array of homemade Mexican cuisine that she may offer on her changing menu. Her journey started because she wanted to do what she loved, and her friends encouraged her to make a living at it.
Family has always been the foundation of Davila’s success. She started her first restaurant with her father, before moving on to establish the larger fine-dining establishment, now known as Café Poca Cosa. Her sisters took over the small restaurant and currently her daughter, Shanali works by her side during lunch hours, and also runs a vegan gourmet cupcake company called Cup Quequitos. Davila’s son works with her during the evening hours, running the bar and making fabulous cocktails. Davila is on duty during all restaurant hours and plays every role in the place.
Davila has a way of building up the community from behind the scenes. Make no mistake, Davila is not quiet, she actually has an extraordinary amount of energy and zest, which she wholeheartedly put into anything she does. This is part of what makes her a successful business owner, but there’s more to her story. You won’t see her fighting the good fight at a city council meeting or joining activism groups, and you may not notice her way of giving to charities and locals. Yet she’s been giving her whole life. She’s donated to local charities, national charities, villages, helped build a schools, helped build churches, and gives to struggling families for children to have money for education.
Davila doesn’t believe in bureaucracy. “If you want to do something, get up and do it,” Davila says. She’s helped a great deal because “it comes from the bottom of my heart and because I can.” Helping other people makes Davila happy.
Davila is there to encourage us all not to go to a job where we are miserable. She believes in the “passion of getting up and going to work to do something you enjoy and love.” She says that owning a business is not easy, but if you’re doing something you enjoy and you have the right team, you can open your own business.
Shana Oseran – Hotel Congress & Maynard’s Market & Kithcen
Shana Oseran is not afraid to take on challenges and has pretty much grabbed Tucson by the horns since she arrived in 1971. She finished her undergrad degree here at the University of Arizona and wanted to attend Kaplan Educational Center, but there were none in Arizona. By reaching out to suggest it, Oseran was actually hired a few years later to start the program in Arizona and directed the branches in Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff.
Many people don’t know that Oseran had her mind made up when she moved to Arizona that she was not going to get married. She met her husband, Richard, on a blind date, and they’ve been together for more than thirty years. The Oserans have three daughters, and have had no trouble managing family and business. As soon as the couple saw Hotel Congress, all boarded up and run down, they knew it was something special. Other potential investors didn’t see it.
“It really is a cultural hub, it’s amazing.” Oseran says, “We have an affinity for live music and we like art and we like the art community. It was fun for us to meet all of these creative, wonderful people who were lifting our spirits every day by the types of great energy they brought in.”
For her efforts Oseran received the first Mayor’s Heart of Downtown Award, the Governor’s Arts Award from the Arizona Citizens for Art, and two Lumies from the Tucson Pima Arts Council.
The Oserans decided to take another chance on Maynard’s Market & Kitchen in 2008, right when the economy was going bad. Again, people didn’t see the potential in Downtown during that time. Oseran values original, authentic buildings that haven’t been knocked down to put up a parking lot. Despite scary economic conditions, the Oserans wanted to show Downtown how Maynard’s should be done. Oseran focused on using and selling local products to engage in supporting a sustainable local economy. Oseran also released her own private label local wine earlier this year called Maynard’s AZ Red.
The Oserans have also been big donors to many local causes here. Shana still considers her family and children as her biggest personal accomplishment. She’s proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish Downtown and also feels it’s been a part of their purpose. Oseran has never lost sight of the importance of preserving Tucson’s culture and says, “Things are always changing. Stay true to who you are, it can flex, and it doesn’t go away, it morphs into what it’s supposed to be.”
Stephanie and Kate Johnston – The Surly Wench
Stephanie and Kate Johnston opened The Surly Wench 11 years ago, and it required a “terrifying leap of faith.” Stephanie had been working in bars throughout her young adulthood and when the space on 4th Avenue opened up she and her wife Kate talked to a lawyer, took a risk and got a loan.
These business owners started young. “My challenge was my confidence,” Kate says. “I wasn’t even 21 and now all of a sudden I’m a boss. It was a hurdle for me to accept that moment.”
The Johnstons had no business background but they had the savvy and the right people. There were no training manuals or handbooks to follow, but the Johnstons’ “go for it” attitude was just right for the timing.
“Our employees are our backbone, we’re a tight family and we could not have done this without them,” Stephanie says. Whether the Johnston’s knew what they were doing or not, it worked. Not only have the Johnstons had a successful business for 11 years, they also started Black Cherry Burlesque, which just had its 9-year anniversary show in February.
A traveling burlesque group that came through Tucson inspired the Johnstons, and they fell for the light, happy performance art. The arrival of burlesque and its integration into the punk culture that was the foundation of The Surly Wench, transformed the venue into a place of “glitter and grit.” The Black Cherry Burlesque show packs the house at The Wench. The Tucson Roller Derby also enjoys collaboration with the venue.
The Johnstons aren’t afraid to integrate anything and everything cool into their business. Their décor is a collage of donated items, personal picks, and stuff they find around that just seems like it should be featured in the venue. If you’re wondering about the stuffed animal heads – the Johnstons felt these furry misfits needed a home and consider them to be gargoyles.
Perhaps, most important, is the recent integration. The Johnstons just started a mentorship program called “Burlesque for the Soul,” for men and women ages 21 and up. The program is intended to provide mentoring and a healing space for women to deal with deep issues, such as personal barriers to self-confidence. Some members heal through preforming at benefit shows put on by the group. The proceeds go to charity. The next “Burlesque for the Soul” benefit will be held on May 23, and the proceeds will go to Bikers Against Child Abuse.
Aside from what the Johnstons do at The Surly Wench and to help the community, they also raise their three-year-old daughter, Evelyn Snow, together.
Carlotta Flores – El Charro & Sir Vezas
Carlotta Flores comes from a strong stock of women. She took over El Charro 45 years ago, after Tia Monica opened the restaurant in 1922 and managed it in three different Downtown locations before moving to the location at 311 N Court Ave during the urban renewal. The building was actually built by her great grandfather, and Tia Monica lived in the adjoining building.
Tia Monica was a spit fire, and something that many may not know is that when she wrote her checks to the IRS she would address the checks to “The Theives” and the IRS would cash them that way. Flores was inspired by her aunt, and almost all the women in the family became business owners at one time or another.
When Tia Monica was ready to give up the restaurant, Flores and most of the family were living in California. Flores went back to Tucson to look at the restaurant and decided she wanted to try taking it over. Eventually, the whole family moved back to Tucson.
As Tia Monica was ahead of her time, Flores is too. She introduced heart healthy foods and brought vegan, vegetarian and gluten free choices to the menu. Flores didn’t stop at owning just one El Charro, she expanded by opening several more locations and eventually engaged in a combined effort to bring Sir Vezas to town.
With opening multiple El Charro restaurants, Flores realized that the sauces and menu needed more consistency, as some of the other locations were slightly different from the original. So she decided to start a USDA factory, which she calls Carlotta’s Kitchen, in order to formulate sauces and bases to deliver to all of her restaurants.
Flores even sends sauces to her newest establishment in Las Vegas, Hecho. The Vegas restaurant features a different menu but the sauces are from Tucson and the tamale temptation is the same in Vegas as it is here.
Flores is well known for her support to other Downtown business owners, she constantly promotes the other Downtown restaurants. She’s currently writing thank you letters to Downtown’s newest business owners because she believes they are helping bring more people to Downtown and to the edges of Downtown that didn’t get attention in the past.
Flores has been active on 19 of the Tucson boards including the Tucson Downtown Alliance, and she’s received numerous awards. She’s spent decades giving back to the community, has always been involved with the city on social issues, and has worked with local universities like Pima Community College Culinary Arts School. She’s involved with Rio Nuevo, La Frontera, and the Lupus Foundation, to name a few, and feels it is very important to be aware of what you eat.
Flores encourages the blending of old and new. She believes that if you knock down an original building it is best to at least keep a wall, but when it’s not possible, the integration of new buildings with the old creates an eclectic blend that is both modern and historical.
“Good causes to make a stronger community, good reasons for families not to want to leave but to want to stay,” Flores says, “It’s important for the young business owners and the older folks to bring energy and to bring it all together.” She sees Downtown as an balanced integration of new and old.
And the list goes on:
One of the most mind-blowing facets of writing this article was learning about how many incredible females we have here in Downtown, Tucson. It was an honor to connect with these amazing women and has been one of the most inspiring experiences as a writer.
The following women receive a shout out:
Amy Hartman – Executive Director of the Tucson Presidio Trust
Christi Cisek – Johnny Gibson’s
Eleonor Leon – La Fashionista
Stephanie Bermudez – Connect
Carrie Brennan _ Tucson City High School
Jessica Baylon – Salon Salon
Sofie Gelb – Mast
Amy Pike – A Perfect Pantry
Ramsey Borrego – Flash in the Past Studio & Shop
Claudia Myers – Desert Bloom Boutique
Leslie Cho Newman – Tucson City High School
Ashley Bowman – Artifact Dance Project
Claire Elise – Artifact Dance Project
Kelly Gomez – Barrio Cuisine
Elizabeth Denneau – Candy Strike
Amy Rude – Exo Roast Co.
Jo Schneider – La Cocina
Lucy Mitchell – Small Planet Bakery
Carly Quinn-Trugman – Carly Quinn Designs