Get To Know US: An Interview with Lana Mahmoud

We’re featuring members of our staff during this downtime on the blog, read on to get to know some of your US and JJ staffers more. Please consider making a donation to our Staff Relief Fund while you’re at it.

Lana Mahmoud has been an essential part of the Jammin Java team and has worked with them for years! Since starting, Lana has now become a huge part of operations at Union Stage and Union Pie. While things may be crazy right now, we here at Union Stage wanted to take this time to appreciate our amazing staff! So here is our interview with the incredible Lana!

UNION STAGE: How did you get your start at Jammin Java and what made you fall in love with the venue and its crew?

LANA MAHMOUD: I’ve had a pretty wild journey. Jammin Java was the first concert I’d ever attended- I was 14 or 15 at the time. When I was 19 (you had to be 21 to be hired) I applied for an internship, and was hired and started off as, for lack of a better title, the “Poster Girl”- I was responsible for keeping all the posters up to date and looking nice. I was determined and stayed in that position until I was old enough to be hired.

When I turned 21, they weren’t hiring…so one day during a private event I just started helping during the clean up. Told the manager at the time that I would just keep working until they were ready to hire me. I was officially hired one week later. I started prepping food during the daytime, then working in the kitchen at night, started serving/bartending, then started managing shows, eventually moving to become the club’s (first female!) GM.

Last year, I was moved to become the Director of Operations (mind you, we totally made that title up…ha!) for all of the businesses. It feels like just yesterday I was filling out the internship application…what a crazy ride!!! I fell in love with this place because the staff truly became my family. Going to work felt like going to my second home (still does). Everyone was so….well, WEIRD…but in the best way. The group of humans that work at Jammin Java are some of the most genuine, kind and caring people I have ever met. It is truly like it’s own community, and a really solid one at that!

US: What is your job title and what does a day in the life at Jammin Java/Union Stage/Union Pie entail?

LM: Director of Operations. My days are always interesting- it’s never predictable, and that’s what I like best about it. One day it could just be day-to-day administrative tasks filled with emails and phone calls, another day I could be on the floor filling in as a server/bartender during a show, I could be decorating/renovating one of the clubs, or I could be driving between all the locations to check in on things and be a part of the “scene.” It’s definitely different than being on the floor every day- and sometimes I really do miss that- but it’s also awesome to be in a position where I can have a little bit of both worlds and be able to be a part of all of it.

US: Was there any challenges you encountered when you started to help out at Union Pie (in terms of the food/vendor experience vs concert venue experience)?

LM: I’d never worked in true food establishment- of course I’d worked in the kitchen at Jammin Java, and had experience working tables and behind the bar- but a pizza shop, and furthermore a kiosk, was a whole new beast. I’ve learned that at a venue, people tend to be a bit more patient…they’re distracted with live music, drinks, etc. At the kiosk…. They are standing, watching and waiting for their food. That’s it. So it was interesting (and humbling..) to learn how to take a high-pressure environment like that and come up with efficient systems, and how to rework my outlook to keep customers at ease and keep the food coming out fast and accurate. We have a great staff there that works very hard- it’s truly amazing to watch them kick butt during a major rush after a 6,000 person show at the Anthem lets out at midnight. It’s unbelievable how many pizza pies can fly out of a small kiosk like that.

US: Out of all the countless shows you’ve attended, which one was your favorite, which one surprised you the most, and which one turned you on to a new artist!

LM: I love this question. My favorite shows (because there’s no way I could pick just one) from each venue:

Jammin Java: Jack Broadbent (everyone at JJ is rolling their eyes right now because I always talk about how much I adore him and his music), Ghost-Note, Ruen Brothers, Sam Burchfield, Twin Brothers Band, and The New Respects.

Union Stage: The Dip, THEY., and Caroline Rose.

I’d say that Sam Burchfield surprised me the most out of the JJ shows. He and his band were very kind, and so incredibly talented. I didn’t expect Sam to have a voice like the one he did- I remember seeing them load in and thinking “oh they seem cool” and then they started sound checking and I just stopped whatever I was doing and watched the entire soundcheck- which I think I’ve only ever done a handful of times.

THEY. was surreal to see at Union Stage because I had met one of the guys in that duo many years ago at a studio in Maryland. It was amazing to see him after all of those years and to see what he’d done!

US: DC has become such a hot spot for coffee shops and up and coming roasters to introduce their coffee to the world. What is your favorite coffee shop in all of DC?

LM: Baked & Wired has the most delicious cupcakes AND coffee. Hands down my favorite go-to spot when I’m in Georgetown.

US: What is your favorite part about the concert going experience? And more so, what makes seeing a show at Jammin Java and/or Union Stage so special?

LM: I love being able to connect with every person in a room just by listening to live music There’s something very unique about the energy in the room during a show- it’s almost addictive! It’s like this mutual amazement and excitement that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. Jammin Java is unique in that it is a venue that feels like home- for anyone. It has so much character and history; it truly is the only venue of its kind. Union Stage is a part of an incredible new community at The Wharf, which makes it special from the get go. Union Stage is in the sweet spot in regards to capacity, in my opinion. It is big enough to get some very remarkable acts on the stage, while keeping the show exciting and intimate. Jammin Java exists as an establishment for Music + Community, and Union Stage exists with the goal of the ultimate concert experience. What’s better than that!? Additionally, the employees at both clubs are truly invaluable. They are SO hardworking and are incredibly loyal and dedicated. I can’t imagine a better staff. If you’ve ever been to either club, I know you know what I’m talking about.

US: What’s some advice you would give someone who was interested in entering the live music scene?

LM: This industry is so fluid, and is ever-changing and evolving – so don’t get discouraged. Just get your foot in the door. Even if it’s just updating posters twice a week!

US: Finally, to get a little topical, have you taken up any new hobbies while home!

LM: I’ve reorganized my closet. Twice. I’m going through live music withdrawals as well as withdrawals from hanging with all of my incredible coworkers….we cannot WAIT to get back into action!

By Jake Tracey