“We not only make sure we have good food and drinks, but the ambiance, music and decor is just as important to us as well,” Dillard told Project Q Atlanta. “All of this creates an unmatched vibe.”
Even if Dillard’s name wasn’t at the tip of your tongue, her reputation for collaborations and clientele precedes her.
She owns Crave restaurant in Little 5 Points and the downtown VIP lounge Members Only. She also co-owns a triple-restaurant venture with rapper 2 Chainz – Escobar Restaurant & Tapas Lounge, Escobar Southside, and as of December, the new Esco Seafood lunch spot.
“You never know what celebrity, influencer or special guests may show up,” Dillard said. “Escobar and Members Only are truly Atlanta tour spots. Most visitors have to try one of them when they come into town.”
Dillard, 35, is a self-made LGBTQ success story. Her road from teen mom in Nashville to high-profile Atlanta entrepreneur included discrimination based on her race, gender expression and sexual orientation.
“When I first embarked on my career, I wouldn’t necessarily get a seat at the table,” she said. “That’s when I knew I had to find a city that not only tolerated me, but celebrated me. Atlanta is that city.”
That celebrity life
Being based in Atlanta also serves Dillard relatively well during the coronavirus pandemic. Even with a long list of pandemic protocols in place, she feels “blessed” to be open at all, compared to limits in other cities.
“It’s hard because we want to make money and please our customers, but we have to take on the responsibility of helping reduce the spread of COVID with many new restrictions and policies,” she said. “It’s definitely an added expense as well.”
Masks, sanitizer, plate covers, gloves, thermometers, social distancing and online ordering are now the norm. But Dillard and her staffs make it work. Overcoming, after all, is part of who she is. Hard work and collaboration are also what connects the restauranteur to a certain internationally famous rapper.
The name 2 Chainz draws attention and some clientele to the Escobar eateries, but he stays busy with his music and a variety of other business ventures.
“We met because I owned the Hookah Hideaway and wanted to open another restaurant in the Castleberry Hills area,” Dillard remembered. “Our realtors hooked us up initially, and when I decided to open up Esco Seafood, I was going to do it alone, but I decided to share the concept with him and continue to expand our already successful Escobar brand.”
The rapper lets Dillard do the heavy lifting on their restaurants.
“I enjoy working with him because he trusts me and lets me run these businesses,” she said. “He knows that I have the experience, and he is thankful of our relationship.”
The celebrity connection usually pays off, but not always. When one of the restaurants got dinged early in the pandemic over missed COVID restrictions, it made headlines outside Atlanta.
“It’s good when the press is good, but it gets bad when we make mistakes since they are broadcasted nationally due to his fame and notoriety,” Dillard said.
Diversity and adversity
Dillard had an eye on Atlanta even as she ran her earlier establishments in Nashville.
“Atlanta seemed like a city that promoted Black entrepreneurs,” Dillard said. “As a gay female, I knew it also had a big gay population, and I wanted to have better choices in terms of my dating pool and finding true love.
Her instincts were on point.
“Atlanta has treated me well,” she added. “I have several restaurants, beauty suites and a few real estate projects here that have really taken off.”
Even in the more welcoming environment in Atlanta, some gender prejudices were still in play. Dillard altered her self-described “stud” style to get started in the local restaurant business.
“I also used to wear my hair in my dainty styles, but after my success, I moved to my braids looks,” she said. “It represents me and my lifestyle perfectly.”
But make no mistake. It wasn’t always easy, and the “Snoop” brand never forgets where she came from. Dillard is thankful and plans to pay her success forward, she said.
“I am very grateful to have overcome adversity and trials and tribulations to be where I am today,” she said. “I look forward to helping the younger generation get to where I am today by way of my mentorship programs, a Youtube channel and courses.”
In the meantime, if you’re of a mind for food or a lounge, Dillard has you covered with that famous “Snoop” vibe.
“What are you waiting on?” she asked.” We not only have some of the best food in Atlanta, but we always have a good crowd and employ some of the best DJs, so the vibe is always on point.”