Passing Down the Family Business
Where does our influence end and personal passion begin?
“Net Marie, why do you want to start a business?” It was Spring, 1994. I had left my corporate job for personal reasons (dating the boss whom I later married) when my father asked me that question, emphasizing the perils of owning a business.
After several visits to the Pacific Northwest, I had been inspired by their coffee culture, and drew up plans to open Cincinnati’s first drive-through coffee shop (long before Starbucks’ popularity in that vertical). My logo was designed by a local creative, with ESPRESS-WAY imprinted on pavement, and steam shaped like a winding road wafting out of a cup.
I wanted my father to be proud of me following in his footsteps. Not literally, because by then, the family shoe store had split apart. But I tiptoed in those footprints figuratively
This morning, I peruse my emails, including my son’s latest post on Substack. Davis is new to Substack as a writer, I am too. The platform suggests you find your motto, your gist. My focus is on life’s leanings. His range finder is locked in on golf.
His writing gets to me not simply because of the story. But because I recall my father’s words. It wasn’t that he didn’t support my efforts. He just didn’t want to see me expend long hours (I rose 4:30 a.m. every morning to run the coffee joint) with no guarantee of a satisfying return.
My son’s blog reads as if I am strolling with him on a sun speckled day and whacking at golf balls as we go. I rarely play alongside the kid who I dragged to putt-putt and driving ranges whilst knowing nothing of the game (please don’t ask him about the golf cart I once hit). Whatever he has learned, it has been in his acute study of the game, the advice of a few mentors including his grandpa, uncles, and stepdad, with a little help standing on the shoulders of his dad who passed away before he could watch Davis’s game and life grow. No other skills of the game have come from me except for passion and perspiration.
There are parents who impress upon their children the importance and convenience of familial vocations. Doctors whose kids become doctors. Nepotism in legal firms abounds. Restaurateurs who learned at the apron strings of the family cook. Golfers like Tiger Woods who pass down their aptitude to their children—I don’t want to think my golf prowess was handed off to Davis. He might blame me for the next errant shot.
While success brewed at Espress-way, a better opportunity percolated eighteen months after I conceived of and launched the coffee bar. My husband and I, expecting a child, moved to the Oregon Coast instead of imbibing the burnt chicory essence of it. A little regret bubbles up when I consider my Espress-way venture and how I was once approached by a corporate manager at Skyline Chili about franchising and my “numbers.” I had other important work to do in the northwest, including spawning my writing and birthing Davis, whose words come out a lot easier on the page than he did from my womb.
We all want to read stories where the writer has chiseled his way to the core. Maybe I passed that down to Davis. Mostly he’s developed it on his own through the timeless and time-consuming effort of digesting and distilling sports stories where there’s always a life lesson to be drilled down to the basics.
There’s not a week that goes by when he doesn’t text me with a feel good link, The Fight of Marcus Rashford’s Life, Miami Marlins Hire Kim Ng, or a smarmy post from a Bengals fan about my Cleveland Browns. I see how he’s arrived at this place in his life. Sports was the common language we shared, as mother and son, without our third person. It was a common language with his young friends, some who didn’t understand what it meant to grow up without a father, and it was a bond with his bonus dad. Sports was a platform he jumped off of when speaking to his Gpa and Gma, with whom he shared one great loss. Unless you’re playing serious golf with Davis or stranded at the airport for an unexpected delay, his easy going and heart-filled style is a voice meant for our times.
The pride of ownership kept my father glued to the family business. His brother, a co-owner, was called the “shoe professor,” and my father developed his own identity. When young, I thrilled to watch as he picked up mail at the post office, made deposits at the bank, checked on the other stores.
His interactions with the postmaster, the banker, the UPS delivery person, would later inform my own in the community.
My favorite mornings at the coffee shop were spent waiting on the regulars: the nursery manager from Natorps (straight, black), the guy in the SUV with two kids in the back (double latte), the CEO of BASCO. (“whatever you’re making me today”). And as it would be revealed later, the man who became my second husband (I never recall his order).
My father operated in the background behind an older brother. My tiredness was a postscript to any morning rush. Much is the same for writers who must let the work stand alone, always wondering if your kids read your writing, a by-product of the profession.
That thick skin we plaster ourselves with as parents is the same one needed as a writer, and validation rarely comes from inside the house, unless you randomly receive a text that reads, “just say your post for Nonna, that was lovely. Needed that today.”
We’re not talking a Succession level of transactions or trickery as family enterprise. After the Januzzi Shoe Corporation split, my father sold real estate. Though my first husband once called me VP of Januzzi’s II, Espress-way was sold to a Kentuckian, and Oregon brought a joy and heartbreak that could only be packaged on the page. There’s no billion-dollar conglomerate in the writing world for me to hand over nor have I named a literary POA. And Davis has his own trajectory in the corporate world. This is a side gig, after work—and golf.
The family business isn’t a good or a service, but how we use words to serve one another. Still, I’ll gladly read the writing of the next generation and think, maybe Davis picked up more from me than how to swear on the golf course.