Divvy up duties, experts advise, when working with a spouse
Three falafel balls or two? That’s just one of the potential conflicts the husband-and-wife founders of Amsterdam Falafelshop faced. Now they’re franchising their concept, and can expect more.
For almost half their marriage, Arianne and Scott Bennett have been more than life partners—they’ve been business partners. Now the couple, whose Amsterdam Falafelshop has become a favorite in Washington, D.C.’s, Adams Morgan neighborhood, is ready to grow their family—through franchising.
Arianne, president and CEO, and Scott Bennett have been business partners for almost half their marriage.
“We looked at our big picture of what we wanted to do in 10 years,” says Arianne, the company’s president and CEO. “It wasn’t that we wanted to deal with 10 restaurants on our own. We wanted to mentor other people to have the same positive experience.”
Two franchises are up and running, one in Boston—operated by former customer—and another in Annapolis, with additional units in development and a growth plan focused on key metro areas such as Atlanta, Miami, Philadelphia and Chicago.
After 23 years of marriage and 10 years running their own restaurant, the Bennetts know working with a spouse comes with challenges. But it comes with rewards as well; you just have to know how to handle both.
Launched in 2004, Amsterdam Falafelshop is the result of the Bennetts’ visit to the Netherlands capital, where they fell in love with falafel, and decided the seasoned chickpea fritters would make a unique restaurant concept for the U.S. Neither had owned a restaurant before—Arianne held various administrative roles in downtown D.C.; Scott was a longtime bartender—but they created a concept and wrote a business plan with a three-year revenue outlook that impressed a small bank looking to invest in minority community startups. (Scott is Native American.)
In the beginning, there were plenty of opportunities to clash, and sometimes over seemingly innocent things: “‘Do you put three (falafel) balls in the pita? Do you put one on the paper?’ These were the types of arguments we had,” Arianne says. “But if you love the person you’re working with, it makes it easy to work those things out.”
Divvying up responsibilities also makes it (somewhat) easier. Both agreed Arianne should take the role of CEO/president because of her administration experience. Scott admits to liking the front-of-the-house role better.
“Couples really need to establish ground rules and set boundaries,” says Cheryl Babcock, director of the International Institute for Franchise Education at Nova Southeastern University in Florida and an International Franchise Association Education Foundation trustee. “They need to clearly define their roles.” Not doing so, she cautions, often results in one spouse micromanaging the other.
Honest and open conversation, “even about the tough questions,” is necessary and can uncover things such as rivalry issues between spouses. “Problems at home can make their way into the business and vice versa,” Babcock says. “Couples need to discuss how they’re going to manage the day-to-day tasks and find a way to achieve that work-life balance.”
The Bennetts’ Amsterdam Falafelshop is a favorite in Washington, D.C., and now two franchisees have opened stores.
Tilting the balance
Ron and Debra Lynch found out how difficult achieving balance was after they purchased the franchise rights for Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery in 2005. The couple had previously opened more than 100 Schlotzsky’s Deli franchises but this was their first foray into the franchisor world.
“It’s hard, of course, to leave it all at the office,” says Debra Lynch, remembering the 15-plus hour days she put in during the first three years as franchisor. “You learn the hard way that you can’t do everything well.
That’s when you recognize the need to hire quality employees.”
Bringing in a financial adviser is especially important when working with family, says Lynch, because the adviser can help address issues, such as one of them wanting to leave the business. “It’s important to have those exit strategies set up in advance,” she says. “Our financial adviser wrote up polices to have in place from the beginning.”
For Ron, the challenge was giving up control as the corporate office grew and Tilted Kilt expanded to 90-plus locations. Although it was hard to step back, Lynch says her husband can now work “on the business, not just in it,” and that includes developing a strategic plan and identifying other profit centers, such as merchandise, for their franchisees.
“Our ultimate job as franchisors is to make our franchisees more successful,” Lynch says.
The Bennetts also take franchisee success seriously, which was one reason they worked with FranPoint Partners, whom Scott says took a deep dive into their concept to determine if they had an appropriate model for franchising.
“We’ve put in place the infrastructure of a larger business so everything is consistent,” says Arianne. “We treat it like a corporation, like we’re accountable to someone other than ourselves. Because we are.”
The Bennetts credit their business success in part to their strong marriage. “When you begin to work with each other you really begin to see that your spouse has talents you just didn’t see outside of work,” Scott says.
“We’ve grown into roles that we weren’t in when we first met each other,” Arianne says. “After a lifetime, we won’t come back to each other when we retire and say ‘I don’t know you.’”