From riches to rags: how one local businesswoman clawed her way back
Three years ago, Vanessa Beni’s world came crumbling down when the breakdown of her relationship left her unable to provide for her and her young daughter.
They moved out of their penthouse and in with her parents and Vanessa sold everything she owned to make ends meet. Her previously lavish lifestyle was over, and her life had reached a major crossroads.
For a while Vanessa, 32, enrolled at Identity School of Acting, but it was while working in her friend’s restaurant, that she came up with the plan to open her own karaoke bar.
Her dad – affectionately known as Uncle Benny – had owned The Cotton Club bar beneath a Chinese restaurant in Stamford Hill since the 1980s, which had lain empty for almost 20 years and he agreed to let her use it.
She said: “Luckily the space was pretty well set up for this – people pay a lot of money to have a space that looks old and quirky like this, but this is the real deal - we didn’t have to shell out on décor! The karaoke machine was my biggest expense and getting a license. I had big ideas of a neon sign but ran out of money in the end so spent £300 on a banner that does the job just as well.”
(The bar at Stokey Karaoke)
As well as a great quality karaoke machine and projector, Vanessa also invested in some fun props.
“The props really help people loosen up and because the décor is pretty basic people feel relaxed here – it’s not so starchy and modern that you’d feel bad if you spilt a drink,” she added.
She said: “Being in the basement means even when it’s daytime it always feels like a party atmosphere.
“I can be in a bad mood and then people start singing and it’s so heart-warming – it’s such good fun. I can spot someone who’s self-conscious and I know that in 15 minutes they’ll lost their inhibitions and start singing their hearts out.
“Dad loves it – it brings back lots of memories of the good old days when he and Mum had the bar- it was a cool spot.
Every Friday night Vanessa drops her seven year old daughter at her parent’s house in Stoke Newington and spends all weekend running the business.
Vanessa grew up in Stoke Newington, as well as the bar, her dad owned a bagel factory in Tottenham and various bagel shops. She always loved singing and briefly moved to LA aged 18 with just £80 in her pocket, in the hoped she’d get signed.
Eventually she came home and landed a job as a songwriter and singer, recording demos for a publishing house. She went on to work with a friend hosting VIP events at luxury West End clubs.
She added: “Having to start again was hard. I’m clawing my way back – I didn’t need all the crap I had, it didn’t mean anything, but it certainly made life easier. I’ve got a great sense of pride from what’s happened. As a woman, as a single mother running her own business, I know what I have to do to make a success of this – I’m the only one who’s responsible for this. I get out what I put in. And to be back in the area I grew up in is really nice.
(The space is also used for stand-up comedy or private hire)
Stokey Karaoke is open on Friday and Saturday nights and takes bookings for groups of up to 30 people. It’s also available to hire for children’s parties.
From April Stokey Karaoke is teaming up with Vanessa’s cousin comedienne Michelle de Swarte to host a series of comedy nights with comedians who are preparing for Edinburgh Fringe.
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