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National Restaurant Association - Restaurants: a family affair

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Restaurants: a family affair

Chico Pope is among the 61 percent of restaurant owners say family members work in their businesses. When Pope and his wife bought the Buckhorn Supper Club 18 years ago in Milton, Wis., his children were in college, searching for direction. Today, their son is the chef, and their daughter is front-of the-house manager.

For the Popes and many other restaurateurs, family is business. Many inherited businesses from their parents or grandparents, such as Paul Cunningham of Schreiner's Restaurants in Fond du Lac, Wis. Others were inspired by another relative, such as Josh Hahn, managing partner at EatWell DC in the nation's capital. And many, like the Popes, watched their children grow into the business.

“In our absence, we know that they’re here, and that’s comforting,” says Pope, 62. He hopes to leave the restaurant to his children, but doesn’t want to pressure them into it.

Cunningham is part of the second multi generational family to run Schreiner’s Restaurant, which he visited frequently as a 10-year-old. Eventually, he managed to get a job as a dishwasher, but with long-term ambitions. “I knew then that I would own it someday, but I didn’t tell [then-owner] Mr. Schreiner.”

After Cunningham worked his way to the top, he and his wife, Joan, bought the restaurant, launching a new family business at Schreiner's. “Our oldest daughter has worked with us since she was 14," and she now works in the restaurant office with her mother. In turn, the daughter recruited another family member: "She met her husband in college, and he has been working with us for 10 years."

Josh Hahn started his restaurant career at a catering company when he was 14. When he moved to Washington, D.C., in college, he began managing Grillfish, a restaurant owned by his uncle, David Winer. “I would be lying if I said I didn’t get into the business because of David,” Hahn says.

Although he had an "in" with the boss, Hahn still had to prove his worth. “I spent two weeks on the floor shadowing servers, then a week behind the bar, then a week in the kitchen, then four to five weeks training on floor shifts before I was let alone,” he says. Hahn has risen through the ranks to become a partner, but he still works shifts every week. “When managers go away, I step in. It’s my job to cover for them.”

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