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Inside The Home Of The “Princess of Harlem” & How She’s Continuing Her Family’s Legacy

DarDra Coaxum, Harlem Shake social media manager and HRLM Champagne co-founder
Welcome to How You Living, a new series from Unbothered where we take a look at Black spaces and the design, decor, and people who make them home. This week, we tour Co-founder of HRLM Champagne Dardra Coaxum's family Brownstone in Harlem, NY.
If you ask around Harlem — the true heart of Harlem — most people will immediately know the “Princess of Harlem.” It’s a nickname affectionately given to Dardra Coaxum, Harlem Shake social media manager and HRLM Champagne co-founder, for her commitment to serving members of her community.
Internationally, Harlem, NY is known as the “Black Mecca of the world.” To those born and bred within that 45-block stretch, it’s a community that shares an affinity for being there for one another. Coaxum not only believes in the power of the people of Harlem but she also shows up for her community through both of her businesses and in the media. 
As a member of the Harlem Shake restaurant team for almost a decade, Coaxum is responsible for ensuring the burger joint remains an homage to Harlem by having creative input into how both the Harlem and Brooklyn spaces are designed. The retro interior upholds the vibrant spirit of the Harlem Renaissance. Each year customers vote on a Mr. or Miss Harlem Shake, and the winner receives prizes such as a year of free burgers, a monetary gift, and a spot for their picture on the Wall of Fame.  “My dad always taught me that success is great, but success is not great when you’re by yourself,” Coaxum says, adding “when you get successful, you bring the people around you with you.” With Harlem Shake, Coaxum says they hire people from Harlem first. They have also done local drives to give out free meals to the Harlem community. “We did a sponsorship with the Apollo [Theatre] and Coca-Cola during the African American Day Parade. For me to be a part of something like that made me proud.” For HRLM champagne, it was important for Coaxum to have a beverage to celebrate Harlem and create a sense of pride for those born and raised there. The values passed down to Coaxum through her family have empowered her to ensure the feeling of belonging in Harlem is never lost.

There are times I come home and look out my window and people are sitting on my stoop... I feel like people see our home as a haven. It is really important for Black people to have ownership. When you get a piece of something, you hold onto it.

DarDra Coaxum

The Start of A Generational Legacy

Born and raised uptown, Coaxum comes from a large family. Her grandfather, Donald Coaxum is one of Harlem’s most successful real estate developers and is known to look out for members of the community. “My grandfather and his mother had a storefront in Harlem on Manhattan Avenue,” Coaxum tells Unbothered. “Everybody from the neighborhood knew they could come to Donald and his mother’s store for food, even if you were short on money. He was known in his community for truly being a stand-up guy.” 
Coaxum’s grandfather went on to have multiple children, including her dad, Dard Coaxum who was just as much of a social butterfly as his father. “Although my father didn’t take the real estate route, he did take on the entrepreneurial part of it and then my father passed that down to me.” With such a strong standing in the neighborhood and as her parent’s only child, the Princess title naturally latched on. 

In the Business of Putting Our People On

Harlem has changed a lot since growing up in the 90s, Coaxum says. By walking around the neighborhood with her father, Coaxum was able to truly see her community. “My dad is such a social person. Not to make this about astrology, but he’s a Gemini,” Coaxum shares, adding, “My community got to know me just from being with my dad.”
It was important for Coaxum to put her friends and neighbors on to new opportunities. “One thing my dad always taught me [is that] success is not great when you’re by yourself. You put your friends on, you put your neighborhood on. With Harlem Shake, we start by putting people from our community on first. “
Harlem Shake was founded in 2013 by Jelena Pasic, and Coaxum joined the team to ensure the authenticity of Harlem shone through the menu and overall vibe. The spirit of support and community are literally all over the walls, which are adorned with autographs from famous patrons such as Remy Ma, Janelle Monae, and Maya Angelou. The restaurant’s  aesthetic was inspired by a former popular diner called Pan Pan, where Alicia Keys filmed “You Don’t Know My Name.” The establishment has since burned down, however, Coaxum’s memories of going there with her grandmother are fresh in her mind. “When I was brought into the Harlem Shake project, that’s what I wanted it to feel like. I want the food to be consistently good, every time you have it. Our waitresses have the same smiles on their faces every time you walk in. Our customers see that and appreciate it.” There is also a Brooklyn location in Park Slope with its own flair. 
By prioritizing the hiring of members of the community first, Coaxum notices the difference in service. “They’re already familiar with our neighborhood and how we communicate with one another as New Yorkers. When it comes to the champagne, it was very important for us to have something celebratory of our own.” It should be noted that “champagne” technically only comes from France. To avert that confusion, off the streets HRLM Champagne is simply known as HRLM. “This is for us. This is something for people from Harlem to be proud of.”
Many television shows, movies, and music videos have been filmed in the Coaxum home, which is featured in Unbothered’s How You Living. More importantly, Coaxum’s grandfather had a vision for that home to be a safe space for members of the family, forever. “There are times I come home and look out my window and people are sitting on my stoop. It might seem bizarre but it’s not abnormal to us. I feel like people see our home as a haven.” Coaxum stresses, “It is really important for Black people to have ownership. When you get a piece of something, you hold onto it.”

Finding Home In Harlem & Continuing To Give Back

“I went to college in Ohio. After I finished college, I went back to New York, and when my mom got sick I moved to Cleavland,” Coaxum shares, explaining how leaving Harlem changed her life. Coaxum’s mother, Karen Greene, sadly passed away in June 2016 and six months later Coaxum lost her mother’s house. Despite suffering tragedy, Coaxum maintains that everything happens for a reason. “I really don't think that our businesses would have been able to develop and my personal development wouldn't have happened if I didn’t come back to NY.” Harlem may call  Coaxum a princess,  but she believes every young girl and woman is one, too. “It’s about finding that inside of yourself, putting your own crown on, and holding your own head up.” 
Coaxum would love to see both establishments worldwide, in airports and stadiums, and HRLM champagne lifted up for every celebration. Coaxum would also like to continue to do food drives in which they give free meals to community members. When it comes to continuing to leave her mark on Harlem, Coaxum looks to her grandfather. “Whether it’s something small like hiring somebody or letting them film in our house or whatever it may be, I would like to continue my grandfather’s legacy. 
Dardra Coaxum's Harlem home is also featured in the Unbothered series How You Living.

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