Power Women of the Diaspora: Two Females Forge Global Bonds in the Heart of Harlem

How Harlem Shake founders found success in meshing cultures and diverse talents

Harlem Shake founder and managing partner, Jelena Pasic, and partner, Dardra Coaxum (Image: Harlem Shake)

Harlem Shake founder and managing partner, Jelena Pasic, and partner, Dardra Coaxum (Image: Harlem Shake)

When you see a partnership like Jelena Pasic, 39, and Dardra Coaxum, 26, you’re reminded of the tremendously awesome things that can happen when one embraces diversity, not only in ethnicity, but in culture and professional experience.

Partners at New York City’s Harlem Shake, the brainchild of Pasic, these women have learned to take key elements of one another’s talents and backgrounds to create a restaurant that embraces and promotes the proud heritage of Harlem, serving burgers, shakes, hotdogs and fries while incorporating the community via promotions and events that position them as friendly neighbors just next door to the infamous 125th St.

BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Pasic, a native of Croatia, and Coaxum, who grew up in Harlem, to talk about how they’ve forged a global bond in Harlem and how building healthy female partnerships can lead to success.

What inspired you both to get into the food industry and this venture as partners?

Jelena Pasic: I’ve always had a connection with food, even as a child. I used to cook when I was 8 or 9. I was in Corporate America for a while and I just felt it would be a great experience to come back to my passion and incorporate my background in business. I decided to get involved in the restaurant business.

Dardra Coaxum: I worked in real estate management, and I studied marketing and advertising at Miami University. Being from Harlem, having a business here was just a natural aspiration. In having my professional background, I’ve learned a lot of lessons about customer service, and listening to the customers makes such a big difference in marketing and making this a vital part of the community.

Talk a bit about your partnership. As women in business, what has the experience been like for the two of you with Harlem Shake?

Dardra Coaxum: I’m new to this business, so I’m still learning, and I’ve learned a lot from and admire Jelena, who is very familiar and seasoned in business.

Flexibility and communication are definitely important. I’m from Harlem, and Jelena takes an interest in understanding and respecting insights from my experience as well. We maintain an open communication and everything works out that way.

Pasic: It’s a lot of hard work—very long hours—and it takes determination and flexibility to make it. We work together, with determination, to get the job done.

With Harlem being a center of culture for black culture, how have you two been able to make it part of that legacy?

Coaxum: Harlem has changed so much over the years. It used to be predominately African Americans, and now there are people here from a multitude of locales including Croatia. For Jelena to bring her knowledge here, to the community, for all of us to work together, is such a big deal and such a wonderful things.

The exposure is global, yet it’s great to keep things local and support the community of Harlem at the same time.

Pasic: With anything you do in a different locale or globally, understanding the cultural environment, traditions and systems that are in place is key. I have a lot of fun living and working in New York. It’s very motivating to me.

What advice would you give to other women in terms of partnerships and forging career advancement?

Pasic: I feel that women should continue to push forward, not dwelling on challenges, but showing people who you really are through success.

Coaxum: Make sure you’re doing something you love to do. If you have a passion for something, do it. It all requires dedication and truly making the effort every day.

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