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Westchester Mom & Pops: Their 'Secret Sauce' For Surviving, Thriving

Hilary Assael, left, with her sister, Elissa Weinhoff of Sugar Hi in Armonk. Photo Credit: Holly Berfield
The Somers family behind Frank's Pizzeria in Croton Falls. Photo Credit: Facebook
Laura Kracko with her dad, Elliott. The two are the owners of The Modern Paint Group. Photo Credit: Submitted
Gina and Steven Wallach run Wallach Jewelry Design in Larchmont. Photo Credit: Wallach Jewelry Design

There may be yelling.

But it's that honesty, along with loyalty, trust, and a "say anything" mentality that keeps the lines of communication open -- and the wheels to a family business turning, and ultimately, succeeding.

At least that's the consensus of four Westchester family businesses. The husbands, wives, siblings and kids behind Sugar Hi in Armonk, Wallach Jewelry Design in Larchmont, The Modern Paint Group based in New Rochelle, and Frank’s Pizzeria in Croton Falls admit working with family is both exhilarating and challenging and often requires a unique set of hurdles. 

For one, there's the meshing of the personal and the business. For Frank Lulgjuraj who runs his pizzeria with his wife and children, family functions like birthdays or weddings often mean at least two of them can't go. "Someone needs to be here to run the business," he said.

Similarly, there's the "when do we stop talking shop" situation. Gina Wallach who has worked side by side with her husband, Stephen for more than 20 years says it can be hard to draw a line. Work, she said, always seems to follow them past the time they've locked the door of their store. Differing viewpoints can escalate.

“It can be hard to get away from business talk and stresses; even on off-time," she said. "Business is always top of mind and in the conversation."

The challenge is trying to leaving work at work, agreed Laurie Kracko, president of The Modern Paint Group, LLC. which she runs with her father, Elliott. "We tend to discuss business a lot outside of the office and don't make any decisions without consulting each other." 

That often means talking after hours and yes, that means weekends. "A text or email will come through and we start discussing," she said. "As you can imagine, my mother loves that!"

Being cognizant of what you can -- or shouldn't -- say comes into play much as it does in any workplace. 

For Kracko, who has worked with her dad for the past two and a half years, that can translate to feeling as she's being treated as "the child." 

"I hear all the time how he's been doing this a long time," she said.

For Wallach, it can mean thinking before she speaks. “When you're talking to someone you're related to, you might forget to measure your words and your tone because of your comfort level," said Wallach. "That can then lead to problems at work."

Or, it can go the opposite way. 

"My sister and I are best friends but sometimes we need to yell at each other to get things done," admitted Hilary Assael who runs the dessert emporium Sugar Hi with her twin sister, Elissa Weinhoff and other family members.

The tenseness, she says, passes, as both understand each is passionate about the business and is doing what they think is best in order for it to succeed.

“One of the major things about a family business is that there has to be open communication,” stressed Assael. “You have to just say it, even if it sounds terrible at the time and you’re mad at each other for a minute, it has to get out there. You cannot let things fester.”

The positive of working with someone you know so well is that you're acutely aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses, using those to the business's advantage.

That, itself, say many, is often what makes their companies thrive. All agreed any negatives of working with loved ones are outweighed by the positives.

“[Working with family] is different than working with others because family is like an extension of yourself,” said Lulgjuraj. “We all have one common goal: making our pizzeria the best that it can be.”

Plus, there's a “built-in trust and loyalty” to the business and the feeling that when you when you work with family it “doesn’t feel like work.”

Added Wallach: “Working with a spouse to start and nurture a business is like bringing up a child together; watching it grow and evolve and flourish brings an added bonus to the relationship.

“It's something special that we share that most couples don't have, and it brings us closer together."

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