A coffee with ... Tabatha Coffey
"Are you Tabatha? My wife recognized you."
Standing at our outside table awaiting an answer was Al Sadegi, owner of Compu Signs, who was having dinner with his wife, hairdresser Sheri Sadegi of Bazak Hair Care by Sheri.
Yes, it was that Tabatha.
Reality TV star Tabatha Coffey, host of Bravo's "Tabatha's Salon Takeover," was in Austin — it was her first time here — to promote her recent book, "It's Not Really About the Hair: The Honest Truth About Life, Love and the Business of Beauty," ($21.99, It Books). The 212-page memoir and advice book was co-written with Richard Buskin.
Coffey and I have ties to New Jersey. She grew up in Australia and moved to New Jersey in the 1990s. I'm a native son. Diners play a big role in New Jersey life. So we met at 24 Diner on North Lamar Boulevard.
The blond Coffey was dressed in her signature look: head-to-toe black. She wore black booties that sparkled and big sunglasses.
By now, reality TV contestants and personalities are a dime a dozen. Coffey is one of more memorable reality stars because of her brash, tough-as-nails personality. During our conversation, diners and passersby pointed and waved at her and took cellphone photos of the private Coffey.
Coffey, 41, was introduced to viewers as a hairdresser contestant on Season 1 of "Shear Genius." Her tough personality earned Coffey her own show. In March, Bravo announced she would get a second show, "Tabatha Takes Over," where she helps and tells off struggling small-business owners.
Coffey wrote her book while filming Season 3 of "Tabatha's Salon Takeover."
Sitting at our table, she told me the book is about more than hair. She said she hopes the book helps boost people's confidence and gets them to stand up for themselves at difficult times.
"(Fans and readers) felt enabled and strong to change a situation they were in," she said sipping on a Diet Coke. "I never would have thought I would have written a book about myself."
Coffey learned about standing up for herself in her native Australia, where she learned many of her life lessons and hair lessons from transgender performers who worked at her parents' clubs.
She has struggled with obesity, which is a big focus of her book. She also came out to her mother as a lesbian, and she has had to deal with her feelings about her father's faked suicide.
I asked about her partner, who she mentions briefly in the book.
Coffey paused and then declined to talk about her, saying the woman never signed up to be in show business. The only detail she offered me was that the two had celebrated 13 years together earlier this year.
Being in the public eye hasn't been easy, she said. Early on she made the mistake of looking at blogs, which were laced with insults about her.
"It bothered me," she said.
One insulting word used to describe tough women came up again and again. She told me it was important for her to reclaim the word as beauty, intelligence, tenacity, creativity and honesty.
"I'm nice," said Coffey. "I think that's a misperception. You see a portion of me. You're also seeing one part of me. It's work Tabatha. I'm not mean for the sake of being mean."
For every insult, however, she hears from business owners who have changed their businesses. During a stop in Atlanta, she said someone came over to her and said: "I fired my first person because of you.''
So what's something people don't know about the real Coffey? I asked.
"I read a lot," said Coffey, who was traveling the next day to Los Angeles. "When I'm not traveling and doing stuff like this, I'll read two books a week. I like it to teach me something. I like the escape of a good book. I love to cook. I don't have any crazy hobbies."
When she's not traveling or filming, she still works in her New Jersey salon.
"I still do clients," she said. "I still do hair. I'm lucky. I have a really great team. They know the drill."
However, she's not quick to revisit herself on the little screen each week.
"It's too emotional for me," she said before jumping into a waiting Town Car. "When I go back and watch them and I'm right back there. I'm angry again ... . I love teaching people and sharing with them. I'm fair, and I will show you a different way of doing things."