Working with family members can be wonderful, but it takes a lot of work and the willingness to be flexible.
David and Hiromi Vardy have owned O ChamŽ, in Berkeley, Calif., for 10 years. David is the chef and Hiromi runs the front of the house. They enjoy working together.
“With all the hours we put in the restaurant, we wouldn’t see enough of each other if we didn’t work together. It’s become more play than work for us. It took time, not now everything is clicking,” said David. “As long as we keep the front and the back of the restaurant separate, we have harmony.”
Hiromi and David have learned to take things that happen a lot less seriously. “Sometimes we that our work problems home. But we have had to stop talking about those things at the dinner table,” explained David. “We have worked at addressing those things as problems separate from our personal feelings. Also, there are times when I step over boundaries. I have learned to stop giving Hiromi unwanted free advice.”
The couple has three children who also spend a lot of time in the restaurant working or just doing homework. The family was put through the test last year, when their house burnt down. For nine months, all five of them lived in a one-room studio while they continued to work together successfully. After that everything else seemed easier.
Nickie and Pete Zeller own Pearl, a restaurant located in California’s Napa Valley. They met while they worked in another restaurant over 16 years ago. They were both involved in other relationships and became good friends for six years. In 1991, still both single, they opened a restaurant together, which they ran for six years. They eventually fell in love and got married.
Their passion for the restaurant business, plus their love of good movies and food, has kept them together. “We don’t argue that often anymore. We now resolve things by talking.” That wasn’t always easy, admits Nickie, especially early on when they were working 80 hours a week and barely making ends meet. Yet their love got them through some very tough times. Now that Pearl is doing well, their challenge has been to keep their private and work lives separate. “Pete and I have had to agree not to talk about work at times. It can be a struggle to not call work when we are off.”
When they are off, they don’t sit around thinking of work. Instead, they make an effort to see the city and eat in other restaurants.
If you’re a couple working together, here are some tips:
Recognize that under the best of circumstances, there will be a blurring of personal and professional issues.
Try to anticipate possible areas of disagreement, then create a process for resolution
Commit to a time where you will not talk about business; right before sleep, at meals or during particular hours.
Make a list of all the positive reasons you work together. Refer to that list when problems arise.
Don’t let resentments and arguments stay unresolved.
Make sure you include personal recreation time in your schedule.
Talk to other people who have successfully worked with family members.
Remember that you’re a team and that nobody will watch your back better than a family member.