Changing Gears
4:35 pm
Tue July 12, 2011

Your Story: Highs and lows of working in the family business

Family bonding can be a reward for working in a family business. But there is also plenty Amber Turner worries about.

The restaurant industry took a beating in the economic downturn. Although some Wall Street analysts expect restaurants to pick up soon, a lagging restaurant industry makes Turner more than a little nervous. In her family, any trouble is multiplied.

Five members of Turner’s family work or have worked in the restaurant industry. More often than not, they’ve worked together. Turner now works with her fiancé (whom she met working at a restaurant) and her future mother-in-law at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor.

Turner got an inkling of how fragile her industry can be in early 2009. That’s when the Matt Prentice Restaurant Group, owner of upscale and casual dining places in metro Detroit, began having financial trouble. Nobody in her family still works for or with the group, but three of them did then, and her father was a managing partner.

“They were doing a lot of cutbacks, cutting wages, laying people off, closing restaurants, and that was really scary,” Turner said.

Most of the restaurants in the group survived, but Prentice declared Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy in February.

The economics of the industry are out of her hands, so Turner tends to concentrate on what she sees as the benefits of working with family.

“I think what’s really unique about our family is that we’ve each been able to each take on our own aspect of the restaurant industry in a way that we enjoy,” she said. “I think it kind of brings us closer. Kind of like a family of lawyers.”

Turner now thinks she’s about as stable as she can get in the restaurant industry and she’s happy. She gushes about working at Zingerman’s in part because she believes the company has created a lasting role for itself.

“I feel what they give out to their customers and their community is more than just their food. I feel that if the community ever heard that they might close, a lot would happen to make sure it didn’t.”

Turner’s father has joked about the possibility of the family using their collective experience to open their own business in the future. She thinks it’s probably the economy that has stopped them, but it’s one of her fiancé’s long-term dreams. And she doesn’t rule it out either.