Local Mother-Daughter Businesses Are Succeeding
By Madelaine B. Landry
It’s always good to see women winning in business, especially when a mother and daughter succeed in an entrepreneurial adventure together.
The bond between mothers and daughters is exceptionally strong and forged by unconditional love. As Fallon Witherwax of Nina P’s Café notes: “If your daughter is young and you fight like crazy, don’t worry! One day you’ll be best friends!”
Businesses have the best chance of thriving if entrepreneurs know and trust their partner. When you consider that probably very few people know you better than your mother, and few people will be as brutally honest with you as a daughter, it makes sense that a mother-daughter business model has a good chance of success.
Today’s women have the resources and freedom to accomplish much more than ever before. When you consider that women were only given the right to vote a little over 100 years ago, it’s obvious that female-owned businesses have come a long way, and quickly.
Many local businesses are demonstrating how successful the mother-daughter business model can be. We asked four local mother-daughter teams to talk about how they’ve managed to capitalize on each other’s strengths and use current resources to their advantage. We talked with the owners of a gift shop, a café, a creative retail label and a hair salon — different businesses that share many things in common.
For Susie Book of Expressions, including three generations of her family in the business was simply a matter of feasibility. Her idea to open her gift shop started in 1989, while she was still in college. “My weekends consisted of participating in shows across Louisiana and Texas, selling anything I could make. In 1991, I felt the next step was to open a brick-and-mortar store. With nothing but a fine arts degree and a dream, Expressions was born.”
The business’ beginnings were humble, filled with all the usual start-up struggles. In the beginning, Susie couldn’t afford employees. “Everything in the store for a while was handmade. My goal was always to specialize in gifts. I find great joy in helping my customers find just the right gift for their loved one, and then wrapping it up with love.”
In her daughter, Jordan, Susie found a natural “influencer” who also helped as a shopping partner. Before she could even walk, Jordan “(was) a huge influence in the inventory selected for the store and continues to assist in that capacity today. My mother, Marian Book, has also gone to market with me, and still helps at the store when I am short-handed.”
Susie recalls her most endearing work-related mother-daughter moment: “You see, business was booming, and I could not physically handle it alone. Jordan was a lifesaver. She also managed to find time (while attending college) to help with our devastating clean-up after Hurricane Laura.”
Today, Jordan is a senior at LSU, chasing her own dream of being a doctor. But whenever Jordan’s needed at Expressions, Susie knows she can depend on her. “She will always be my daughter, my best friend and my business partner.”
Another retail mother-daughter business, Blackbird Decor, was the brainchild of Autumn Carroll, who came up with the idea of starting her business when her retail job of a decade was coming to an end. “I could see a potential market far beyond the one I was currently meeting with my hobby and wanted to see if I could reach it. I’d learned candle-making from the ground up.
“In the beginning, I was just producing what had been produced by someone before me. Over time, though, I was given the freedom to expand, improve and experiment with a few of my own ideas. Prior to the closing of his Eighty-One Antiques, Pierre Fontenot wished me well on my candle ideas; he was supportive in every way as I formed a business plan, name and website.”
In the beginning, Autumn planned on producing her products alone. “My husband is a good sport, so he was always willing to jump in and help. Being unsure of the financial changes ahead, I landed a part-time job with a local non-profit to help subsidize while I grew the market for Blackbird Decor. And then COVID-19 [hit]. That shut the part-time job down after just under a year.”
Enter her new business partner, daughter Rebekah [Bekah] Emard. “I wasn’t really considering joining my mom in business until COVID-19 began to make me second-guess my job in healthcare,” Bekah says. “I have four children whose schools were shutting down. I needed to be more available for them with the unpredictable outcome of the 2020 school year. I was concerned about the risks that I may be taking by remaining in healthcare, so I stepped away, and thankfully my mom had the ability to employ me temporarily while I made a lot of life adjustments.”
After two challenging years in the business, Autumn says they have now expanded their line to include hand-dipped incense, room and linen sprays and nearly 40 candle scents, both seasonal and novelty. They’ve also created a market for Private Label candles locally.
“These have been the most difficult two years I can remember,” Autumn says. “Operating through two major hurricanes, an epic freeze and a global pandemic while living in a camper as our gutted home was rebuilt … creating my own business has been a huge blessing at this stage of my life. We have a large family and maintain a large piece of property in Sulphur — it was important to make my own hours and be free to shape a business that complemented life in the retirement years.”
Bekah says working with her mother has offered her the freedom to raise her family and be creative. “Some days I get more satisfaction out of pouring a huge quantity of candles to catch up our inventory,” she says. “Other days, I like to work on social media content. Sometimes I also like to deal with our customers and make deliveries. There are so many aspects of running a small business as a team. If you get bored or burned out on one thing, you can easily swap to something more gratifying for the moment until you feel inspired again.”
For Paulina Siebarth, owner of Nina P’s Cafe, there is no business quite like the restaurant business. It was something that came naturally to her. She helped her parents and was co-owner at Dave’s Oyster House, a former Lake Charles restaurant. Her dad had retired from the USPS while suffering from pancreatic cancer. He and his wife made the business work for a decade until his death at age 58. “After that, my mother just couldn’t do it anymore,” Paulina says. “She’d always been the only cook — she was originally from France but had easily transitioned to become a great Cajun cook. She sold the business; she didn’t want to do it without her partner. But I really missed it. The restaurant business was just so cool — it was something that I really took to heart.”
Passing a “For Lease” sign posted by a building on McNeese Street was “either divine intervention or my daddy pulling strings,” says Paulina. She’d been substitute teaching until that day when “a light bulb just went off.”
Friends tried to dissuade Paulina, warning her that a café would never work on that side of a town. They said it was in a bedroom community; its location was too far off the beaten path. But her new landlord vowed to help her out, saying that he loved seeing a woman make it successfully in business.
Twenty-one years later, Nina P’s Café is teeming with business and has some very loyal diners. Inside, its New Orleans-themed décor and Louisiana music welcomes diners Monday through Saturday. “As a kid, we took annual trips to New Orleans,” Paulina says. “I loved everything about the city, so I insisted we use that theme — that vibe — in our café.”
Paulina’s three daughters Nikki Lafuria, Tiffany Ashley and Fallon Witherwax joined in what Pauline calls their big family dynamic.
“They’ve lived, eaten and breathed this café,” Paulina says. “My husband Judd has a full-time job, but he is our handyman and go-fer when supplies run out unexpectedly. While Nikki and Tiffany are no longer there, Fallon is my general manager.”
Fallon says she sees herself as the ying to her mother’s yang. “I absolutely love everything about the restaurant life. I love the craziness. I love the lunch rush. I love the people, both the customers and the wonderful people we get to work with. But, this past year or two have been a huge challenge. From the COVID-19 restrictions to being short-staffed, it has really been a very trying time. But the restaurant business is all I’ve ever known or loved. I think everyone who stuck it out this year must really love what they do. I’m sure this year was tough for everyone. But I do think it was especially hard on the service industry.”
Paulina, who also answers to Nina, Mom, Mawmaw, Momma P and Lena, is quick to brag about her baby girl, who has been in business with her since she was 13. “She’d walk in from S.J. Welsh Middle School and would start prepping food, jumping in to do whatever was needed,” Paulina says. “Now she has three tiny babies of her own, but we are still constantly together. If we’re not working in the café, we’re enjoying family time together. It has been a rough year, but we’re still here, mother and daughter, going strong. We were both counting the minutes until we could re-open.”
Paulina laughingly describes recruiting her husband’s help when the pandemic first started. “We were in a panic, not sure how long this was going to last. We put him on the lunch line one day, but he got so frazzled at one point, he yelled, ‘I quit!’ My husband remains supportive, though. After all, he gets to eat there daily!”
Fallon describes her mother as the “Nina of Nina P’s. All the cute sayings, all the little decorative details — that’s all her. My mother truly is what you would think a sweet southern lady would be. She waves at everyone, she hugs everyone, she loves everyone, and she tells them that regularly. I just hope my joining her has allowed her to relax a little more and has taken most of the stress from her.
“For years, she cooked all morning to make sure the lunch specials, sauces and everything were ready. She stressed over staffing and scheduling. I’ve tried to take that off her back. Since I’ve joined her, I do what she taught me best — I cook, I schedule, I worry about the day-to-day kitchen stress and server staffing. But she still comes in every single day and makes sure the dining room is exactly how she wants it. One of her favorite things to say is ‘tell me what the bathrooms look like and I’ll tell you how clean their kitchen is.’”
For the mother-daughter team who owns the hair salon Ginger Vine, being supportive of each other comes naturally. “I have had a passion for hair my entire life,” says owner Allison Everage. “My daughter, Anya, shares that same passion. When she decided to go to cosmetology school, it simply made sense for her to belong on our team.”
When their previous location was heavily damaged in Hurricane Laura, they decided to relocate, rename and rebrand to offer Lake Charles a salon it had not seen before. “We felt the name Ginger Vine would be inclusive of all generations and give us the fresh start we were all looking for,” Allison says. “With all that our community has been through, we want to offer a place of peaceful escape, beautiful surroundings and positive vibes, all while making our guests look and feel great. Our salon, now on Nelson Road, offers a healthy, happy and fun place to work.”
Allison is looking forward to having her daughter join her this fall as a licensed cosmetologist. Anya has always been involved in the business, most recently in the remodeling decisions. She is anxious to reach out to younger clientele. “I have always loved doing hair,” Anya says. “I grew up doing my friends’ hair for homecoming and prom. Seeing my mom have so much passion and love for the beauty industry made me want to follow in her footsteps.”
And like most daughters, Anya brings something into the business that her generation is most adept at using: social media connections to expand their clientele. “I get most of my clients from social media or word-of-mouth. A lot of my friends go to school at McNeese, ULL, or LSU, so I get a lot of new clients from Lake Charles, Lafayette and Baton Rouge. And as a mother-daughter team, we occasionally have a difference of opinion, but we’ve never doubted this could work.”
Women in business is something largely taken for granted now. But it wasn’t until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 that women were even allowed to apply for their own credit cards. At one time, colleges were largely a boys’ club. However, during the 1980s, women were awarded more than half of the bachelor’s degrees in the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
By the time the 21st century arrived, female participation in the workforce had grown to 60 percent (while male participation had shrunk to less than 75 percent). According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of 60 percent has only continued to increase. Women now earn more degrees in the United States than men and are closing the breadwinner gap. More than 2 in 5 mothers (41 percent) are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families. Mother-daughter business owner partnerships make perfect business sense economically and emotionally. Partnerships are rewarding, enriching an already strong family bond.
Mutual respect and communication are critical to success. “Running a small business is a ton of work,” says Bekah. “We both get so exhausted at times and have a running joke of saying ‘I quit’ when we are. But then we show up the very next morning. I don’t think we ever question whether we’ve made a mistake by being in business, but we are constantly evaluating how we work and operate, and how we can improve. We keep a good line of communication open so that we are usually on the same page about where we need adjustments.”
Fallon agrees, adding that being part of a mother-daughter team pays big dividends that don’t show up on the balance sheets. “One of the things my mom has taught me is that if you work hard and put out a good product your customers will always come back. That’s just what we try our hardest to do every day. My favorite part of my job is that I get to spend the day with and learn from her every single day.”