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Meet Barbara Smith: Trailblazing Over Adversity

March 15, 2024

At the heart of the Gramercy shines Barbara Smith, the esteemed Concierge Manager and pillar of this Dweck Properties community. With a career that spans decades, Barbara’s story is a testament to her unwavering perseverance, an entrepreneurial spirit that dares to dream big, and a deep-seated dedication to service excellence that she brings to her leadership role. Her life, marked by resilience in the face of adversity, reflects a motto she holds dear: “You can be down and come right back.” Barbara’s infectious energy and positivity are not just inherent traits, but are deeply influenced by her upbringing during a time of stark racial divides. Growing up in an era marked by segregation, Barbara witnessed firsthand the gradual merging of these divides into a unified community. Her active participation in marches for Martin Luther King Jr. at a young age, with the protective gaze of her father ensuring her safety, exemplifies her commitment to social change. Barbara’s story is not just remarkable for her professional achievements but is a vivid narrative of transformation, resilience, and hope, embodying the belief that while perfection may be elusive, progress and a positive mindset can forge paths toward a better future.

Barbara’s journey began in 1958 at just 13 years old, when she landed her first job at an upscale boutique for fifty cents an hour. Though it was a small role keeping the shop tidy and neatly bagging purchases, Barbara relished the chance to earn her own money and gain initial exposure to the work world. She continued working weekends all through high school, forging a special bond with the boutique owners. They saw Barbara’s potential and took her under their wing, even gifting her a trunk of designer apparel upon her high school graduation to launch the next exciting chapter ahead.

Meet Barbara Smith: Trailblazing Over Adversity

Barbara’s early foray into the professional world was largely positive, yet it was here she encountered her first challenge with diversity and inclusion. A disturbing incident at the boutique involved a White woman in her late 50s who, in a display of blatant disrespect, commanded Barbara to pick up a tissue she had thrown on the bathroom floor. Barbara’s refusal to comply led to a confrontation and a complaint to their supervisor, marking Barbara’s first personal encounter with racism. Raised in a protective environment by her parents, who shielded her and her siblings within certain social circles, Barbara was unprepared for such blatant discrimination. This incident deeply affected her, prompting her to seek her mother’s advice. In a bold move of advocacy, Barbara’s mother confronted the woman the following day, demanding respect and an apology for her daughter, illustrating the family’s strong principles and unwillingness to tolerate disrespect. Barbara’s mother was reluctant for her to return to work at the boutique, yet Barbara begged her mom to reconsider.

Despite the initial turmoil, the situation took a positive turn when the owners of the company, recognizing Barbara’s value and potential, pleaded for her return. This experience not only marked significant personal growth for Barbara but also highlighted the varying degrees of exposure to diversity in the workplace. The woman who had disrespected Barbara, a product of a less inclusive era, ceased communication with her, a silent acknowledgment of the unresolved tension. Nonetheless, Barbara’s resilience, supported by her family’s unwavering stance on respect and dignity, paved the way for her professional success and personal development, leaving an indelible mark on her journey.

Meet Barbara Smith: Trailblazing Over Adversity

Barbara went on to attend Howard University, balancing her studies with various jobs at iconic D.C. retailers like Garfinckel’s department store. After graduating from college, Barbara steadily rose through management ranks over 22 prolific years refining her skills in high-end retail. Then a chance opportunity changed the entire trajectory of her career, as a contact offered Barbara ownership of his restaurant located in the prime Washington D.C. Design Center (now the Museum of the Bible). Though initially daunted given her lack of experience or capital in the food industry, Barbara embraced the challenge, successfully transforming the eatery into a bustling hot spot called Truffles on Two.

For over 14 remarkable years, Barbara operated Truffles on Two, elevating its reputation and cementing its status as a go-to venue. Her knack for hospitality and gift for connecting with people fueled the restaurant’s popularity. Truffles on Two hosted D.C. dignitaries, celebrities like Sissy Spacek, the Kennedy family, and major events like the annual Black Caucus galas. Barbara herself was widely featured in the media, a trailblazer as the first Black woman running a premier restaurant and catering operation in the nation’s capital. Her list of achievements is as impressive as it is inspiring. She garnered attention with two features in national magazines focusing on business and the restaurant, namely Black Enterprise and Upscale. Barbara’s culinary prowess was further recognized when Bon Appetit requested her recipe for Pineapple Cornbread to be published in their monthly magazine. Her impact extended beyond print media, as she was featured on television for three consecutive years during Black History Month. The recognition didn’t stop there; the DC Department of Sanitation awarded her restaurant as one of the top five in the city for cleanliness, highlighting her commitment to excellence. Barbara’s pioneering spirit was also evident when she became the first minority caterer to serve at the Commerce Department, breaking barriers and setting new standards in the industry. Despite encountering challenges, such as opinions on how she should style her hair, Barbara remained steadfast, preserving her individuality and refusing to let historical divides dictate her future.

Meet Barbara Smith: Trailblazing Over Adversity

When Truffles on Two eventually closed its doors, Barbara seamlessly translated her hospitality expertise to hotels, followed by a transition to luxury residential buildings under the Kettler organization. For over a decade, Barbara managed front desk teams before joining the pre-opening team for The Gramercy with Kettler back in 2008. Kettler not only recognized Barbara as Concierge of the Year, but she also led a team that created a company-wide Concierge’s Manual, a valuable resource to be used throughout Kettler Properties. Her wealth of experience, intuitive service mentality, and natural leadership abilities made her perfectly suited for the role of Lead Concierge Manager when Dweck Properties acquired the community in 2015.

Meet Barbara Smith: Trailblazing Over Adversity

In her current position at The Gramercy, Barbara oversees all concierge and front desk operations, managing a robust team to deliver 5-star service. On any given day, residents might find Barbara planning resident events, coordinating building services, troubleshooting requests, or simply mingling with her beloved residents. She particularly cherishes opportunities to forge meaningful connections with people from all walks of life. Barbara beams recalling one resident couple who credits her for introducing them years ago – they have since married and still keep in touch!

According to Barbara, success stems from the top, and it takes commitment from leadership to foster an inclusive, welcoming environment. She emphasizes the importance of communication, nipping issues in the bud before they escalate, and keeping culture positive by making sure employees feel happy and secure.

Wise from her wealth of experiences, Barbara stresses to young professionals that happiness trumps money, so focus on finding fulfilling roles that play to your strengths and interests. She advises paying your dues through hard work, practicing resilience in the face of obstacles, and having the courage to be your authentic self. Barbara thrives on whipping up delicious meals, getting lost in a good book, and cherishing time with loved ones.

Meet Barbara Smith: Trailblazing Over Adversity

Barbara’s career inspiration stemmed from three influential figures: her grandfather, a respected master brick mason who taught her the joy of craftsmanship; her mother, a determined entrepreneur who embodied resilience; and Hannah, a trailblazer who rose from stock girl to president of Garfinkel’s, showcasing the power of perseverance in a male-dominated field. These role models instilled in Barbara a deep appreciation for hard work, dedication, and the importance of recognizing and nurturing potential in others.

Barbara’s grandmother imparted a profound piece of wisdom to her: “Forgive, but never forget.” This guidance has been a cornerstone for Barbara, especially when recalling the racial challenges she faced early in her career, including the unforgettable encounter with her colleague in 1958. Throughout her professional journey, Barbara has confronted racism with grace, choosing to remember these incidents not with bitterness but as lessons that fuel her commitment to positivity.

Barbara Smith’s journey – from that first humble boutique job to trailblazer restaurateur to anchor of the Dweck’s The Gramercy community – proves good old-fashioned determination and love of people can carry you anywhere. Her sparkling spirit and commitment to service continues to uplift everyone around her, making the Dweck properties she touches just a little brighter.

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