Life

All in the family: Lessons on thriving with your spouse, sibling as business partners

We can all learn something from these savvy business owners, who just happen to be related. Sound like a nightmare? Think again — these family-minded entrepreneurs weigh in on their experiences and best advice.

Aida Scarpati, Ferdi restaurant, front of house and service manager; Fernando Scarpati, executive chef

This Westchester-based duo opened the Italian restaurant Ferdi in July 2022 in the West Village and “make a great team,” said Aida. It creates some challenges, but the siblings think it’s worth it.

“When I tell someone I have a business with my brother, nine times out of 10 they’ll say to me, ‘Oh, I could never work with my sibling!’ While every family is different, I feel fortunate to have gone into business with my brother,” she said. “I know as my business partner and my brother, he has my best interest at heart.”

Fernando echoed that sentiment. “Family is honest with you, and that is what you need to build a successful business. We push each other to be better and improve one another.”
Aida stressed the importance of laying out ground rules.

“It’s easy to let family slide on performance. However, that would never be the case if your boss was not your father or sibling,” said Aida. “Treat your family members as business partners at work, hold them accountable and call them out when they start to underperform.”

Fernando advised remembering that you are family above all. “When your business partner is your sister, it is easy for your entire relationship to be about work,” he said. “Don’t let the pressure and stress of owning a business interfere with your ability to enjoy family time outside of work with your siblings, parents, grandparents, etc.”

Bottom line: Running a small biz with your sib is tough, but it’s well worth it. “Family-owned businesses are a complex topic — so much so that my alma mater, Cornell, has an entire class dedicated to family businesses,” said Aida. “Succession planning, management and salaries are much more sensitive topics when dealing with a family business, and improper handling of such issues can ruin the business your family’s legacy was built on.”

Lauren and Lee Gonzalez have been opening and operating hostels together since 2006.
Josh Chang

Lee Gonzalez and Lauren Gonzalez; principals of L&L Hospitality

These sisters have been opening and operating hostels together since 2006. Now, Lee is based in Greenpoint while her sister Lauren is nearly 3,000 miles away in Portland, Ore., but the space between them is hardly a barrier to having a strong working — and sisterly — bond.

“We owned, and since sold, two small hostels in Barcelona, Spain, and are currently running the Local, a 150-bed property we opened in a converted warehouse in Long Island City, Queens, in 2014, and Lolo Pass, a 280-bed hotel/hostel hybrid property in Portland, Ore., that we opened last year,” said Lee.

Their vision started small with 10-room “boutique” hostels “where we cleaned rooms, worked overnight reception and sold beers and Nespresso from the reception desk,” said Lee.

With time and experience, they’ve grown more ambitious. Their Portland property, for instance, was a ground-up construction and now houses a restaurant, café, rooftop bar and art gallery.

“We fundraise, conceptualize, design, source, staff and operate,” said Lauren. “We hire great teams to run our businesses and work with amazing contractors along the way but, as of now, we are incredibly a two-woman show.”

Sometimes, launching your business can feel like an uphill battle. “Many aspects of what we have done and continue to do are stressful but there’s a certain levity that comes with doing business with your sister that has made all of this bearable,” said Lauren, who also noted that “there’s a lot of goofiness underpinning most sibling relationships and serious business is a lot more fun when you have the precedent of playfulness.”

Lauren underscored the significance of writing an operating agreement.

“When you’re dealing with family, falling back on a legal defense is the worst and last case scenario,” she said. “Create a softer operating agreement that provides for likely events or changes in your personal relationships — marriages, moves, succession plans, unilateral exits, etc. We start our discussions with, ‘How do we define success and how do we define failure?’ ”

Lauren and Lee also routinely check in with each other about their general “happiness” levels. “This is something non-family business partners are less likely to do but, when you’re an entrepreneur and your business bleeds into your life, is the most important. If we’re not happy, why are we doing this?” said Lee.

Rebecca Bullene and Adam Besheer serve as partners at Greenery Unlimited.
Rebecca Bullene and Adam Besheer opened their online shop together in 2015.
Shelby Pine

Rebecca Bullene and Adam Besheer; partners at Greenery Unlimited

This husband-and-wife team in Greenpoint opened their online plant shop in 2015, and their retail store in 2019. Their first business together, Greenery Unlimited, which opened in 2010, is a botanical design company that specializes in large-scale installations of plant life for corporate and commercial spaces.

“We’re true partners in every sense of the word,” said Rebecca. “We run our daily operations together for both of our businesses, and raise our two children in Brooklyn, with a third on the way.”

The couple “loves having a shared vision and total trust that each of us is working as hard as we can towards the same goals,” said Rebecca — as well as celebrating each other’s successes.

“We often joke that our relationship is a quintessential mom-and-pop shop story. We have our own defined responsibilities, but we have to be willing to jump in and help the other at a moment’s notice. For better or worse we live in each other’s heads,” said Adam.

Not surprisingly, communication is key. “Run every major decision past each other, and make sure you’re both on board and have looked at all the possible outcomes. We give each other veto power over any decision,” said Adam.

In the last 12 years, they’ve cherished the opportunity to watch each other evolve alongside their work. “Working with plants is a tough business. We started out in a little loft space in Bushwick on a third-floor walk-up, carrying 50-pound bags of soil up and down the stairs. Today we have a 20,000-square-foot warehouse in addition to our retail store, and work with some of the largest and most innovative companies in the world,” said Adam.

And at the end of the day — hectic or calm, good or bad — they have each other at their sides.

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