It’s not uncommon these days for companies to describe their staff as a family—or for employees to refer to their “work wives” or “work husbands.” But in an actual family business, these honorifics aren’t just metaphors; they’re accurate descriptions. Meet three Pearl companies whose organizational charts bear a striking resemblance to family trees. By Alison Stein
As anyone who practices yoga knows, contemplation, coordination, and flow are an integral part of the experience. So it’s not terribly surprising that YoYoYogi, a bustling yoga studio on Hoyt Street, is able to manage the complicated sequence of running a successful and growing business helmed by people who also happen to be close relatives.
The business started when avid yoga practitioners Terri and Alex Cole took a break from their jobs in corporate America and decided to visit 100 yoga studios up and down the West Coast in 100 days. When they returned to their then-home in Lake Tahoe, they decided to make a permanent change and open their own yoga studio. “Of all the places we’ve been and visited on our trip and in our lives, there was none other we wanted to be more than Portland and the Pearl,” says Terri.
That was in 2010. They started with a small space in the Gadsby Building and steadily expanded to their current three studios. While it’s often a challenge to work with a spouse, “we both have different strengths, which gives us crossovers to cover the whole gamut,” she says.
When their daughter, Kristi Cole Vote, joined the business in 2013, followed by her husband, David Vote, in 2014, it was another adjustment. “If you’ve been a mother, you feel like you’ve kind of been in charge your whole life,” says Terri. “When Kristi first started, I felt like her boss, but I knew it was important to stay fluid.”
“We try to maintain an open-minded perspective,” adds Alex. Terri and Alex are 63, while Kristi and David are in their thirties. “There is a generational difference—they’re seeing things so much differently than we do, so we try to embrace each other’s ideas,” says Alex. “As a collective, we’re much more powerful.”
The biggest challenge the family has faced has been establishing boundaries between work and not-work time—particularly when they’re doing family things, like having lunch or taking family vacations. They make an effort to limit the time spent talking about business when they’re spending personal time together. “We’re trying to draw that boundary,” says Terri. “We do the best we can.”
There aren’t many circumstances in which it might ever be appropriate for an employer to give an employee a big kiss in public. But when Pascal Attar, 27, corporate kitchen manager at World Foods Portland, gets a kiss from the company’s executive chef, Mirna Attar, it’s nothing more than a little embarrassing, because she isn’t just his boss—she’s his mother.
The beloved gourmet food enterprise, owned by Mirna and her husband, John Attar, has always been a family affair. In 1999, the couple opened Ya Hala, the highly regarded Lebanese restaurant on Stark Street, out near 82nd Avenue in Southeast Portland. As the city’s taste and palate expanded, the Attars found they were ahead of the food curve in terms of what most supermarkets stocked, and they opened World Foods market on Barbur Boulevard in Southwest Portland in 2004, stocking international, and especially Middle Eastern, items like sumac and za’atar that had been previously hard to find. They opened a second World Foods location on Everett Street in the Pearl in 2014. “I believe Mirna is the best Lebanese chef in Portland,” says John. “She’s very passionate about what she does, and she does it from the heart.”
The business has also been at the heart of their family for as long as their two kids, Joyce and Pascal, can remember. Joyce, 31, now serves as the company’s director of operations. She hadn’t intended to work for the family, but when the Pearl location opened, it felt to her like a natural move from her career in supply chain management. “I’m extremely grateful to work in an environment where you can be completely honest with your co-workers and bosses—you really can’t find it anywhere else other than working with your parents and sibling,” she says.
But it does create a requirement to restrain some ingrained family instincts, says Pascal: “When Joyce and I are sitting in a meeting, and there are other managers around, my innate quality as a little brother might make me want to say something that might not be so professional to her,” he says with a laugh. “You learn to bite your tongue.”
Back Pedal Brewing
Bikes, beer, and barges—a brother, a sister, and a friend. It sounds like the setup for a sitcom, but it’s actually a fair description of BrewGroup, a Pearl-based company that provides unusual methods of beer touring along with its own first-rate craft brews.
In 2011, Andrea Lins, now 32, launched Brew Cycle—a company that rents multiseat bikes for people to explore local breweries. She soon convinced her two-years-older brother, Christopher Lins, to join the business. They expanded into beer barges—similar to the cycles but for paddling on the river—and then opened a nanobrewery.
During the company’s early days, software entrepreneur Greg Passmore and his wife, Erica, happened to befriend Andrea while on a Brew Cycle excursion. “I followed the business’s progress, and I was impressed,” says Passmore, a longtime home brewer. Upon learning they were opening a brewery, “I got kind of jealous—like, hey, that’s what I wanted to do!” They teamed up, and Passmore became Back Pedal Brewing’s brewmaster. The collaboration has proved successful. They’ve added more bikes and barges, and the brewery is now doubling its footprint by expanding into the space next door. They’re also opening another location at RiverPlace on the South Waterfront.
“Working with family has its advantages, clearly,” says Chris. “The dialogue between us isn’t necessarily what you would normally encounter in a professional work environment; we don’t have to worry about offending. It’s my sister, and I’m her brother. We’re not going to be reprimanded if we get right to the point—we can cut out the B.S.” Adds Andrea, “I get to work with my brother, and he’s my best friend—and I think it’s great.”
As for Passmore, he takes a more structural view. “I’ve known a lot of people who’ve gone into business with family and friends. Generally, I’d say not to do it. It’s often a struggle for power and control,” he says. “But in this business, we have the brewery and pub side, which Chris and I run, and the bikes and barge side, which Andrea runs. And we all have our authority and autonomy. While we collaborate on the business as a whole, our roles and responsibilities are clear and crisp.” ○
Sib Love – Two more family-run shops to try
For a sweet taste of New Orleans in the Northwest, head to NOLA Doughnuts (noladoughnuts.com) for beignets and king cakes, and—naturally—doughnuts. The company is owned by siblings Connie DeMerell and Robert Herkes, with help from brother Stephan Kuhn. “The only people who know our doughnut recipe are Robert and Stephan—it’s a family secret,” says DeMerell. “Running the business together has really given us an opportunity to support each other’s interests and dreams.” It also keeps them connected to their late mother, she adds, who passed before the business started. “She would have loved seeing us all working together.”
If your favorite part of baking cookies is licking the bowl, then Cookie Dough Café (thecookiedoughcafe.com) has your recipe for happiness. The café—the first retail location of a business that mostly sells through supermarkets—serves delicious egg-free cookie dough scoops. Sisters Julia Clark and Joan Pacetti formed the business in 2011, having hatched the idea over dinner one night. They found that their mutual love of cookie dough dovetailed with their similar senses of style. “Working together is all advantages,” says Clark. “Since we both have a similar style, we can look at a package and know what needs to be tweaked, or taste a recipe and know if the salt needs to be upped.”
– Alison Stein | Photos by Matt Gonzalez Photography, Michelle Mitchell, Matt Gonzalez Photography, Courtesy Back Pedal Brewing and The Cookie Dough Café