Insights and advice from couples who make it work 9-5 and then some
For love & money
By Ross Boissoneau | Feb. 8, 2020
Love and marriage are hard work, but some couples take this challenge to a new level.
Northern Express spoke with the rare breed that both live and work together. The couples shared their not only their concerns and challenges, but also what brought them closer together.
Amy Reynolds and Vic Herman
Horizon Books, Traverse City and Cadillac
The longtime bookstore owners have been in the news recently because of their plans to close the downtown Traverse City landmark store this year.
Their decision has nothing to do with being tired of one another; it’s simply a recognition that they’d like to spend more quality time together away from the business.
Their time started at the bookstore, which Herman owned when Reynolds came aboard.
“It’s been no challenge working together,” said Vic. “We worked together well as a twosome right from the beginning.”
“There’s mutual respect,” she said. “We both had a love of books and worked hard.”
Competitors never particularly bothered them, whether brick and mortar or online.
“We never paid much attention to competition. Borders took about 15%” when it opened, said Vic.
The growth of the area also helped.
“It was a bigger pie,” he said.
As for Amazon, Vic said he knows it had an impact on their business, “but we’ve always been profitable.”
They said the partnership also flourished during the store’s expansion phases, with the purchase and move to the former JC Penney building in Traverse City, as well as opening stores in Petoskey and Cadillac.
“That was exciting to be growing,” said Amy. “That’s fun … really invigorating.”
Now that they are winding down their time in Traverse City – Petoskey closed three years ago; the smaller store in Cadillac will remain open after the flagship store in Traverse City closes sometime later this year – the two are looking to spend more time together.
“We don’t have anything particular in mind. Do some traveling,” said Vic.
Looking back, what would they do differently? Apparently not much.
“It was all perfect,” said Vic.
Geoff and Gail Frey
Crooked Vine Winery and Vineyard, Alanson
For Gail and Geoff Frey, the timeline was marriage, wine, retirement, and then more wine as they started their first business together.
“The first year we were married I worked for a company handling Gallo wine at grocery stores,” recalled Geoff.
That was in 1973. His work took them to California and they visited Napa, even meeting Robert and Margrit Mondavi at a wine tasting.
They’d vacationed in the Petoskey area for decades and wanted to make it their home.
“We always wanted to retire here,” said Gail.
So, in 2009, they did, but they still had the wine bug. Three years after retiring, they purchased 40 acres, planted vines and began building their tasting room.
“We’d built a number of homes and thought we could tackle this,” said Geoff.
Today Crooked Vine Vineyard and Winery is part of the Petoskey Wine Region. The challenges the Freys face stem mostly from the fact that the winery employs just two people full-time – the two of them.
“We have to rely on each other,” said Geoff.
Asked how they handle the communication and division of duties, Gail said they just naturally divide it up.
“One does (something), the other picks up the slack,” she said.
The two mostly fill different roles. Geoff is often out in the vineyards, while Gail is the hostess in the tasting room.
They say the most trying time is when it’s busy, and as time goes on, it’s getting busier.
“It’s the crowds. With the wine trail and publicity, you’re exhausted,” said Geoff.
“Especially the weekends. You don’t want to talk” after working all day, said Gail.
So how do they turn it off?
“We don’t live on the property,” said Geoff. “We turn off the light and go home.”
“It helps to get away,” agreed Gail.
Dr. Scott and Denise Sheperd
Great Lakes Oral and Maxillofacial, Petoskey
For oral surgeon Scott Sheperd and his wife Denise, their relationship may have predated their business, but not their common field of interest.
“We met while in (dental) school,” said Scott.
He then joined the U.S. Air Force while she finished her dental hygienist program. After their marriage, the Michigan natives were stationed in New Jersey when Denise got him his first civilian job.
“We moved back here in 2007 and opened in February 2008,” Scott said.
The two worked side by side the first year, before the business got legs and Denise was able to move away from full-time dental hygiene to more of an office management position.
“As we grew my job moved from operations on the front desk to the back,” she said. “That gave me flexibility for our kids.”
Not that they had any work conflicts.
“It’s a field we’re both passionate about. It wasn’t hard to work elbow-to-elbow,” said Denise.
Today the office has 10 employees, including both the Sheperds. Another oral surgeon has joined the firm, allowing Scott a day off during the week.
They said any challenges came from the intense schedule they first maintained and also those caused by growth.
“We did what we needed to do,” said Denise.
Now the building puts a limit on how many patients they can assist.
“I was seeing significantly more patients, so now my schedule has gone down,” said Scott. “Now we stagger the schedule, but there are not enough rooms to run the way we want to run.”
Another concern has been alleviated as the business has grown.
“The third year, one day I went in and we were booked out (only) two days,” Scott said. That meant if the phone didn’t ring, within three days they would be out of patients. “Within a month we were booked out a week, then two to three weeks.
“It’s better to be busy.”
Pearl and Pete Brown
Old Mission Bakery, Traverse City
Old Mission Bakery came about as the result of a family meeting. Pete Brown was running his own recruiting agency from their home when the Great Recession hit. Pearl was home-schooling their kids, and they had to find a way to bring in money.
“Our son said, ‘Mom, you make a mean loaf of bread,’” said Pete.
That was the beginning of Old Mission Bakery. Before that, Pete had been the breadwinner, first as a coach, then a corporate recruiter.
“We realized we wanted to eat and pay our bills,” said Pearl with a laugh.
They moved from back to the area (he’d grown up in Frankfort) and Pete started working for a recruiting agency in Grand Rapids before going out on his own.
Then came the recession, followed by the fateful decision to trust their future to Pearl’s recipe for multigrain bread.
“We poured everything we had into it,” said Pete about the 12- to 15-hour days they put in. “We had to learn how to leave the work at work.”
The couple have what they call “plan meetings” to discuss the business, said Pearl. That’s changed over the years, in part because they’ve been able to grow and hire additional staff and take some of the burden off.
“The first couple years we were never not working,” she said.
Today, Old Mission Bakery breads are available in stores across the region, as well as the bakery itself, now located at 813 S. Garfield Rd. Needless to say, the partnership has flourished, in part because it has always been more than a partnership between the two: Their children all worked with them.
“The three oldest each gave up a year of college to get us started,” said Pearl.
Gretchen Bookeloo-Nahnsen and Matt Nahnsen
The Roadhouse Mexican Bar & Grill, Benzonia
Gretchen and Matt met at work before starting a relationship. Gretchen owned the restaurant on M-115 in Benzonia when 15 years ago, she hired this “young punk,” as bartender Matt Nahnsen describes himself
“I enjoyed working there, and after five years I got a crush on my boss,” he said.
She was divorced, and so they started dating.
“It was weird at first,” admitted Matt. “I made sure I wasn’t taking any ownership. It was a balancing act.”
Gretchen had grown up in the restaurant business. Her parents owned Denny’s in Beulah, which eventually became the Brookside Inn.
She ended up working at Crystal Mountain Resort in food and beverage. When Jim Barnes, the owner of the Roadhouse, told her he was looking to sell, she jumped at the chance.
“I knew Jim had something going,” she said.
Eventually, so did the owner and the bartender. They married in 2014 but don’t work much together. Gretchen spends most of her days at the restaurant, but typically leaves shortly after it opens at 4pm.
“We work opposite shifts,” she said.
Their challenges stem from their different roles. Gretchen is still the owner, while general manager Chris Wells runs the daily operations. Matt is the bartender who’s married to the owner. While it could have been awkward, both say it’s worked out well.
“I like it because he’s there when I’m not,” said Gretchen. “I love having him there, his eyes, his experience, watching over things.”
“For me, I like what I do. I’m a people person,” said Matt.
But he still takes care not to be perceived as the boss.
“I go in when she says to go in,” he said. “She is an awesome boss.”