It takes a brave soul to go into business with your other half. Long hours, sweaty kitchens or the never-ending crunching of numbers are not known for being aphrodisiacs.
But just as diamonds are formed out of intense heat and pressure, the faces behind some of the most recognizable businesses in Alexandria have found a way to navigate the challenges of working together while keeping their love alive.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, the owners of King’s Jewelry, Sweet Fire Donna’s, St. Elmo’s, Alexandria Cupcake, Renner & Company and The Uptowner share their secrets to maintaining both a successful business and happy relationship.
Cathy and Norman “Brad” Bradford, King’s Jewelry
Cathy Bradford: “We’ve been working together for 35 years and married for almost 34 of those years. Most of the time it is ok. Brad doesn’t usually bring things home and we each have our definite skills for the store. There’s no question there can be only one boss, and that is Brad. He is the one that has the main vision. The rest of us, me especially, implement what he perceives. We’ve been out almost a whole year physically due to Covid, but the kids are here and we are still here mentally and very much involved.”
Brad: “Cathy’s really good at everything. I can’t even turn a computer on and will go to my grave that way. But I know this business. I started here in 1962 and never left. King’s Jewelry has always been a family business. My daughter Terry has been here since 1983 and our two sons are here as well. We all work nicely together.”
Donna and “Mango” Mike Anderson, The HomeGrown Restaurant Group
Donna: “We’ve been married 32 years and working together off and on for a couple decades. I got involved working part time when we needed people then got more involved in the restaurants in Del Ray. Then we built Sweet Fire Donna’s seven years ago and the rest is history. Two of our three daughters work with us. The oldest is our director of operations and our middle daughter is director of marketing and advertising. It’s been joyful to have the family working together.”
“Mango” Mike: “Donna runs Sweet Fire Donna’s – I am not involved at all beyond taking care of the maintenance. I found that we work best if we don’t work exclusively together. Having your whole family involved in your business 95 percent of the time is terrific. Five percent of the time you have some issues but it’s pretty satisfying when you have your whole team working together. The best part is that no one has a hidden agenda. When you have other people working for you they sometimes have a hidden agenda but when family is involved, everybody is concerned about making it successful, taking care of the customers and making sure we are one of the best operations in town. That’s the best part of having family involved in the operation.”
Larry and Christine Ponzi, St. Elmo’s, Market 2 Market
Christine: “We’ve been married 27 years and have two children, 19 and 21, and five restaurants. There are ups and downs of every day but overall I love working with him and wouldn’t change it for the world. We work well together. We are ying and yang – what he brings to the table and what I bring to the table are two very different things.”
Larry: “We really enjoy each other’s company. We split, divide and conquer responsibilities but we always end up back together at the end of the day. We get the best of both worlds. We are doing some things that interest us business-wise but we can also leave work at work and be normal people. We love our business, love our customers and love that we were able to raise two amazing kids and get them into college as a result of the growth of our business. It’s not easy on anyone but I think our whole family has learned to take the good with the bad and learned a good work ethic as well. Good marriages and good businesses are about compromise and we’ve been able to give and take throughout the years in our businesses and at home.”
Adnan and Kathy Hamidi, Alexandria Cupcake
Kathy: “We are celebrating our 7/13 anniversary – together for 13 years and married for seven. We have been working together for 11 years. I think what makes it work is that he is a big picture person and I am a detail person so between the two of us we cover everything.”
Adnan: “Working with your spouse is not for everybody. It takes a balance and a lot of patience. We have been lucky in that without even trying to find it we ended up having the chemistry to work together. A lot of people have tried it and it doesn’t work. I also don’t think for entrepreneurs it is possible to separate work and home – there’s a blend and in all reality we do sit at night and talk about work. But we are never at work together – we have two different locations and she has her own business that she runs out of the house. But look at Mike and Donna Anderson. They are living proof that with the right person, decades later it can work.”
Joan and John Renner, Renner & Company CPA
Joan: “We’ve been working together for 40 years and married for 18 years. John sets some very good rules for us to have a happy home life: We leave work at work and home is our refuge to be at home. It is really nice to work with someone who knows what’s going on at home and to be at home with someone who knows everything that’s going on at work. For me, I hope to be a good listener. And for us, this is really work-life integration at its best.”
John: “We’ve been able to separate work and home and that is extremely important. We don’t even try to work at home – we come to our offices since it’s so close. Being able to do that for 20 years has been great. It allows us to keep our work and personal lives separate but it’s still good to know what’s going on in both places.”
Lee and Du Choe, The Uptowner –
Lee: “We have been married for 23 years and have two children, 21 and 23. We have been able to divide up our work responsibilities. It is a lot of work, especially for Du, and we do sometimes get tired of each other. But at the end of the day we are happy to be together.”
Du: “A benefit of working together is that we don’t have to say things to each other – we instinctively know what each other wants and needs when we are working. We don’t have to communicate with each other the same way we have to with other employees. That helps make things easier for everyone.”