A self-described gathering place for fun, Tattooed Mom has been a long-standing Philly institution on South street for the past two decades. We get to know TMom’s owner, Robert Perry, in 20 questions!
1. What’s the first thing you read in the morning?
Like most modern tech addicted humans, the first thing I read is on my phone, but I try to wait until I’ve done some of my “ease into the new day routine” before going there. Once I do, I first read at any late night work texts I may have missed. Then I usually check out The Guardian to see what new insanity the world is dishing out that day (aka The News).
2. What was your first job?
I was mowing lawns and weed whacking gardens at 12. My first paycheck job was working in a clothing store called the American Denim Company at the Pearlridge Mall in Hawaii. I was 15.
3. Who has influenced your career?
My mom and dad have always unconditionally supported and encouraged my career paths. They were the foundation for me being able to take huge risks and leaps of faith and trust that one thing would lead to another.
Kathy, the original Tattooed Mom, has been a big influence. She gave me the freedom and opportunity to create whatever I wanted both at Sugar Mom’s and Tattooed Mom. And all the creative people I’ve had a chance to work with in my many careers have altered the course of my life. Each one has shined a light on something that has enriched my path and has opened me up to endless new possibilities of what creativity can manifest.
4. If you weren’t a _____ what would you be?
If i weren’t a bottle washer I’d be … I dunno?! I’ve been extremely fortunate that one thing has always lead to the next thing in life. I’d love to take Tattooed Mom into “official street art museum” status so museum director maybe, but only if it’s a weirdo museum of uncurated beautiful chaos with no real director? Or maybe embrace my full on loner yogi side and go be a monk in Japan. The possibilities are endless!
5. 3 qualities that have helped you in your career?
Saying YES to creative possibilities and opportunities. Being OPEN to continually evolving and learning. Allowing SPACE and FREEDOM to those you work alongside with to let their talents shine.
6. Favorite perk of the job?
Getting to know folks from so many different creative communities who gather at TMom. Meeting local and traveling artists and seeing their work come to life here. Working with and welcoming so many lovely humans as guests.
7. Worst part of the job?
A common struggle for so many independent business owners: an out of whack work-life balance. Never enough hours in the day. Always having a list that you’ll blissfully never get to the end of.
8. Change you’d like to see in your industry?
The end of the “back of the house” / ‘front of the house” bullshit philosophy. It sets up a horrible dynamic that is counterproductive in every way to a successful business. We’ve always been very fluid with staff working many different jobs and wearing many different hats. There’s only ONE house, it’s the House of TMoms (shout out to Pose!).
9. How do you unwind after a bad day?
Tea, cats, Sky Cafe take-out, herbal baths, blankets. I don’t care if I sound like your hippie grandma!
10. When do you feel the freest?
I’m incredibly lucky to walk into a place everyday that is about artistic and creative freedom. It’s hard not to vibe off of the kaleidoscopic energy of fresh stickers, wheatpastes, tags and stencils that greet me each day. It’s a constant affirmation to stay open and loose.
11. How much risk do you like taking?
I’m in the restaurant/bar biz where we have a 40% chance of survival in the first three years.
12. Who’d you invite to a fantasy dinner party? Anyone dead or alive.
I’ve never wanted to meet my pop culture heroes and have little interest in celebrity culture dead or alive. That being said I’d love to invite all the good folks I’ve known over the years (dead and alive) and have a big dinner party where we all hang out and they can all get to know each other.
13. When do you get nervous?
When I think about how utterly surreal and terrifying this country’s path has been over the past two years.
14. What do you think about Love?
It’s got to be at the heart of all of our actions, beginning with ourselves and radiating out to every encounter and every decision we make. If we start from a place of love, kindness, respect and compassion everything else will flow.
15. What are you most grateful for, right now, in this moment?
The beautiful day I’ve had, all the folks I’ve been so lucky to interact with today, the purring kitty at my side as I write this. Thanks for reminding me to take a moment to be thankful for my incredible life.
16. I am proud to have _____
A fantastic community of people around me. From the wonderful family I was born into to, to the family of beautiful misfits and weirdos who I am lucky to have as friends, neighbors, coworkers and Tmom’s guests.
17. What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Who listens to advice at 18? You just do the damn thing and make it up as you go along (as you should). The only youth that is wasted on the young is the rear view mirrorism “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” of looking back and trying to rewrite your past.
18. What would you like to leave behind once you’re gone?
I hope the spirit of what we’ve created at Tattooed Mom can continue to live on: a place for diverse creative communities to meet and exchange ideas in an uncurated, anarchistic ever changing street art museum space.
19. What’s something that makes you hopeful?
Meeting so many self-motivated, abundantly creative and deeply caring young people. Talk smack on millennials all you want, these folks are creating a new and better future that I can’t wait to live in.
20. What was a defining moment in your career?
Taking the reins as sole owner of Tattooed Mom in 2012. I was able to embrace what I saw as the heart of our place and move us in some exciting new directions while staying true to our spirit. I’m grateful to Kathy/Mom for giving me that opportunity, and to the TMom’s family for believing in me and stepping up with their creative talents to take us into our second decade of love and good times!
Robert Perry’s headshot photographed by Elijah Synder-Vidmar.