Versatile creator: From short-term rentals to food tours, Chattanooga woman offers lessons in adaptation

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Chatt Taste Food Tour founder Briana Garza-Wilson poses at The Westin in June.
Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Chatt Taste Food Tour founder Briana Garza-Wilson poses at The Westin in June.

Briana Garza-Wilson has learned some entrepreneurial lessons the hard way when it comes to owning short-term vacation rental properties, and she hopes to spare others those experiences.

"I love helping them learn a new skill, and I'm very transparent with the teaching process," says Garza-Wilson, who has taught classes on short-term rental ownership through the Chattery, a non-profit learning collective. When she began teaching the classes in 2019, they were in-person and in high demand, she says.

"I go through the process with all the mistakes I made, how to avoid them, what to expect," says Garza-Wilson, who started out renting a room in her home for extra income in 2015. "We talk about optimizing the space, safety - and then COVID hit."

Now Garza-Wilson, 30, is developing an online version of the short-term rentals course to go along with the COVID-19 response playbook she's created and shared free on social media.

The owner of one long-term and one short-term rental property, in addition to her own home, she has become an expert in the Tennessee Pledge, which details safe ways to operate during the pandemic, from cleaning protocols to how to handle a report that a guest has tested positive for COVID-19.

"It's been therapeutic for me to help people through this process," says Garza-Wilson, who was part of a hospitality industry panel hosted in June by the Tennessee Department of Tourism.

In addition to her expertise in the short-term vacation rental industry, Garza-Wilson has carved out a niche in the local restaurant scene, launching the Chatt Taste Food Tour with money she squirreled away from the rentals.

"I used my profits to launch my passion project, which is Chatt Taste Food Tour," she says. "I'm not afraid of learning and I'm not afraid of 'no' and I really enjoy the process of it all, creating something from scratch and sharing it."

The tour of local restaurants has taken a hit during the pandemic, but Garza-Wilson created a virtual version that got her through April and May. In-person experiences kicked off again on Juneteenth (June 19) with small group tours of restaurants along the M.L. King Boulevard corridor. Masks, social distancing, sanitation processes and outdoor dining are all central to the Chatt Taste experience now, Garza-Wilson says.

"Every guest gets hand sanitizer, and we are only going to locations that are following CDC guidelines and the Tennessee Pledge for distancing and occupancy," she says.

Garza-Wilson is no stranger to adapting to new circumstances. By the time she moved to Chattanooga in 2007, she had lived in five countries on three continents, courtesy of her father's Army career.

"As soon as I was able to make my own decision, I planted roots," Garza-Wilson says. "If you're going to be somewhere, Chattanooga is a gem of a city."

At the point when she was considering college, her family was stationed at Fort Campbell near Clarksville, Tennessee, and Garza-Wilson ended up at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she earned a degree in public administration and nonprofit management in 2011.

"I fell in love with the city and I really blossomed," she says. "As an Army brat, you really don't let a lot of people in, and I finally felt comfortable being somewhere."

She oversaw health services for more than nine years at Orange Grove, launching her entrepreneurial ventures on the side, but the pandemic cost her the day job earlier this year, Garza-Wilson says.

"I was going from two small businesses that were thriving and a healthy salary to zero income for about 90 days," she says. "It was scary, it was rough."

But she is determined to make a place for herself helping others navigate these challenges and growing the businesses she loves, Garza-Wilson says.

"Times of crisis are a creative playground, and I am not the only one going through this," she says. "This extra time has been so beneficial to my mental health and business development. I am a true believer that God has a plan."

Briana Garza-Wilson

* Business: Short-term vacation rentals expert and owner of Chatt Taste Food Tour* Personal: Garza-Wilson and her husband, Justin Wilson, have a daughter, Constance, 8

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