How members of family-run restaurant companies lessen the strife

It’s tough to build a solid restaurant empire if family squabbles and decades-long rifts put large cracks in the foundation. That’s not to say our Power 20 family members run their businesses without disagreements and periods of discord. That would seem impossible.

In my own family, my brother’s constant barrage of questions, my younger son’s procrastination and my older son’s messy work habits would drive me crazy if we were working together. But I can see how essential it is to the success of a business to develop ways to get past these differences and annoyances, as these restaurant families have. Here are some of the smart strategies they shared with us.

Learn to let go of the founder role

Loosen the strings to allow your kids to create their own extensions of the business, to tap into their own talents, says Lidia Bastianich. Both her son, Joe Bastianich, and daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, are partners in her restaurants, but Tanya takes a special interest in managing Lidia’s retail food line and Joe pursues his passion for wine through the Bastianich winery in Italy.

Wait to be asked for advice

Jean-Georges Vongerichten has been fully supportive of his children’s endeavors, says Louise Vongerichten, business and brand development director of Chef’s Club by Food & Wine. But he never offers advice to her and brother Cedric, executive chef of Perry Street restaurant, unless asked. By allowing his children to “make their own mistakes,” says Louise, they have learned to become more independent thinkers.

Take some time apart

“Sometimes the best vacation for everyone is the one away from each other,” says Chance Carlisle, CEO of LYFE Kitchen. That being said, there’s no such thing as claiming “it’s just business. Everything is personal and everything matters.”

Agree to disagree

It’s no surprise that siblings Molly, Jerrod and R.J. Melman, managing partners in Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and children of founder Richard Melman, don’t always agree. But they keep the peace through an “unwritten sibling policy:” Whoever argues most passionately wins.

Work outside the industry—and the family business

When she left White Castle to pursue her MBA, Lisa Ingram, now president of the fourth-generation family-owned company, spent a summer working for Hewlett-Packard on European channel strategies. “It was a great chance to learn about competitive marketplaces and how to be distinctive,” she says. Dad Bill Ingram, former president, valued the experience, too. Although Lisa had given up a senior position to enter grad school, he asked her to rejoin the company as director of restaurant operations.

Find your niche

Each of Junior Bridgeman's three children have naturally found their distinct place within Manna, Inc., the parent company over Bridgeman's diverse foodservice operations, which include 240 Wendy's and 124 Chili's franchises. "We're in three different parts of the business," says Ryan Bridgeman, who works with the company's franchises, including eight of his own Taco Bell locations. Sister Eden handles marketing for its Chili's operations and oldest brother Justin oversees the brand's partnership with Aramark. "[Our father has] created it so there's never any, 'Justin's doing that so why can't I?' or 'Ryan's doing that so why can't I?' We're all in different areas that we chose," says Ryan, noting that personality is what led each sibling to find his or her area of the business.

Never walk away angry

From Al Zehnder: "When I leave work, I want to feel good to go to your house for dinner. I don't want to feel uncomfortable ... It's not like we never have lively discussions, but if I ever feel like I've offended anybody, I go apologize. It's about getting along, respecting yourself and your people."

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