A POPULAR ADAGE GOES THAT IF YOU choose a job you love you will never work a day in your life, and this saying has probably influenced more than a few people who have started their own businesses. But what if, in addition to starting a business you love, you also work with the one you love? One business approach couples take is to start a restaurant together. However, Antonio and Diana Durante’s Caffé Toscano in Fort Myers is not the typical mom-and-pop. Unusual even for fine dining, chef Durante applied his experience from his previous profession in selling artisanally produced imported foods from his native Italy to opening the restaurant. He personally crafts every meal, melding the fine imports with the best foods of Southwest Florida to transport diners to his homeland. While he works artistry in the kitchen, Ms. Durante applies her expertise in wines to guide guests as they make selections to accompany their meals. She also handles the paperwork, given her previous background in finance. Just as fine wine complements gourmet food, complementary skill sets often lead spouses to success when they enter business together.
“We really don’t spend all that much time together because our roles are so different since he’s focused on the food and purchasing,” Ms. Durante said.
“We’re under the same roof, but we have way different duties to do since it’s separated between the two sides of the business, even though we’re together,” chef Durante added.
“Although we work together, a lot of times we don’t spend a lot of time together or even have a lot of time to talk,” she continued, “so sometimes we even have to set up a meeting to talk about things.”
Other in-business couples describe the value of complementary skills and the reality that business chores mean they aren’t together constantly. Paw Mikkelsen and Elizabeth Mikkelsen of Mikkelsen’s Pastry Shop in Naples also split duties along the kitchen and customer service/administration lines. Chef Mikkelsen brought to the shop his knowledge of baking European pastries that he learned growing up in his own parent’s bakery in Denmark. He bakes from scratch using high-end ingredients, such as Belgian chocolate and fresh fruits. Ms. Mikkelsen brought her experience in hospitality administration to run the customer service and paperwork end of the shop. When it comes to solving business problems, the Mikkelsens find them simpler to handle since they’re spouses.
“I think it was easier just because we could discuss any problems and not be afraid to step on somebody else’s toes or hurt their feelings,” Ms. Mikkelsen said. “We would talk it through together versus having to tiptoe around because of a co-worker or manager’s feelings.”
“You’ve got to have common goals, so you’re going the same direction,” chef Mikkelsen added. “In between that you can have some arguments about how fast you get there or how to do it. There’s give and take, and I’m not always right.”
“You’re not?” she interjected, laughing. “You said you are.”
“When I’m at the shop, I’m right,” he replied, chuckling.
“We always say the shop is his domain, and the home is my domain,” Ms. Mikkelsen explained, “so we divvy it up pretty well.”
“I say I might not always be right, but I’m never wrong,” he added.
“I do think one of the key things is to have a good sense of humor and be able to laugh, and we laugh a lot,” she concluded. “We feel it’s important to try to have fun when we’re working and have a lot of laughs.”
Whether scheduling time to talk, being able to jump straight to problem solving or sharing laughter, all of these factors hinge on spouses in business possessing excellent communication skills. Danny Nix and Carla Nix of Nix & Associates Real Estate in Punta Gorda emphasized this was key to their success as married business partners in their community-centered boutique real estate brokerage that handles everything from sales to construction to property management for both residential and commercial customers.
“It’s a gift to discuss direction, opportunity and challenges with somebody who really gets it more than the average spouse would because they’re in the trenches with you,” Ms. Nix said. “That’s a huge advantage I feel we have as a result of having that understanding at a deeper level.”
“Most people in their careers kind of get burnout or find an opportunity where they’re not real sure which way to go, and that’s a great opportunity for us because we’re in the trenches every day,” Mr. Nix added. “That can happen in the real estate world because, when you’re doing it right, it can get overwhelming. But it’s that overwhelming that you love, so sometimes you just need somebody to help you remember.”
While being married can add complications to being in business, it also can provide common goals and more incentive to work out problems that regular business partners would not have. Drs. Keith Cini and Bella Lauren are a couple who are holistic physicians and run Agape Healing Arts Health & Wellness Center in Tequesta. Dr. Cini specializes in men’s health, sports medicine and concussion therapy while Dr. Lauren specializes in women’s wellness. Their philosophy of helping patients achieve a healthy body, peaceful mind and joyful heart also helps them navigate being in marriage and business together.
“I don’t hold on to things because it would affect the work I do,” Dr. Lauren said. “Some people can’t let go, and they have anger and hold grudges. If you’re that kind of person, you shouldn’t do it (go into business together) because you won’t be married long.”
“There certainly will be challenges, and you’ll be pushed to your limit, but the love that you grow out of it will be your bond,” Dr. Cini said. “It’s not about me ruling the roost or her ruling the roost. It’s about, ‘How do we do this dance together without stepping on each other’s feet?’“ ¦
In the KNOW
12901 McGregor Blvd. #21, Fort Myers 239-415-8466 www.caffetoscanofl.com
Mikkelsen’s Pastry Shop
1068 Business Lane, Naples 239-596-5996 www.mikkelsenspastryshop.com
Nix & Associates Real Estate
2421 Shreve St. #111, Punta Gorda 941-225-4663 www.nixandassociates.com
Agape Healing Arts Health & Wellness Center
385 Tequesta Drive #4, Tequesta 561-762-4273 www.agapehealingarts.com
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