4 prominent couples share how to make it work—when you work with your other half

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Mark Meissner and Casey Hickey are married and together they run Petit Philippe, a wine and chocolate shop and tasting room on Selwyn Ave. Mark oversees the wine operation, while Casey, a certified pastry chef who studied in France, handles the chocolate. The couple posed for a portrait on Thursday February 6, 2014.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we chatted with four entrepreneurial couples in the local beer, wine, cocktails, and spirits scene. Read on to find out what it’s like working together, what it’s like at home, and their business advice to anyone else attempting to start a business with their other half. (Plus, their Valentine’s Day plans.)

Mark Meissner & Casey Hickey
Petite Philippe

Mark Meissner and Casey Hickey are married and together they run Petit Philippe, a wine and chocolate shop and tasting room on Selwyn Ave. / 2014 Observer file photo

Husband-and-wife duo Mark Meissner and Casey Hickey, both 49, left the corporate world in 2010 for something a bit … sweeter. Now they co-run Petit Philippe, the wine-meets-chocolate shop where Mark, a Level One Sommelier, selects the wine and Casey crafts chocolates through her confectioner business, Twenty Degrees.

In business together since: 2010
Live in: Myers Park
Kids: Two sons, Max, 9; Michael, 7

Division of labor in business: Mark tackles the front-of-house, sales, marketing and finance and takes lead on wine, whiles Casey handles operations, confections, production and design, and marketing.

Division of labor at home: Casey does most of the meal planning and house management and is usually acts as liaison to all things school. Mark handles home renovations and pitches in with some house management, too.

Best part about working together: Daily interactions and feeding each other ideas and energy
Worst part about working together: Daily interactions that lead to shop talk at home.

Business tips for each other? “We need to recognize each other’s strengths,” Mark says. He sees possibilities; she navigates idea planning and execution.

Tip for making it work: Aligning goals and initiatives is important. They also separate key duties and clearly communicate who has ownership over which projects.

Valentine’s Day plans? Sigh. This couple will be working. “We’ll go on a date once the holiday is over,” Mark says. But running a wine-and-chocolate business, as you can imagine, is busy in mid-February. For the holiday, the shop will present one of new Twenty Degrees chocolate collections and, of course, bubbles.

Jamie Brown & Jeff Tonidandel
Crepe Cellar Kitchen & Pub, Growlers Pourhouse, Haberdish

Jamie Brown & Jeff Tonidandel are co-owners of Crepe Cellar Kitchen & Pub, Growlers Pourhouse and Haberdish. / Photo courtesy of couple

The idea was born at Brixx on East Boulevard. Jamie Brown, 39, and Jeff Tonidandel, 40, had only been home a short while from a nine-month world tour, having left secure, but unfulfilling jobs to hop between cozy cafés and pubs, when it hit him: “I want to open a restaurant.” Jamie admits she thought Jeff was crazy. “That was cute when we were in Europe,” she says, but shortly after, Crepe Cellar opened its doors in artsy NoDa. Then came Growlers, and most recently, Haberdish. “I feel so lucky to get to work with him on a regular basis,” says Jamie. “It allows us to spend much-needed time together dreaming.”

In business together since: 2009
Live in: Dilworth
Kids: Three teammates, Isabella, 7; Eli, 5; and Isaac, 2

Division of labor in the business: Jamie and Jeff have their hands full with majority ownership in three restaurants and part ownership of two more (Sea Level in Uptown; Flatiron in Davidson), so Jeff shuttles among the three NoDa locations for short shifts daily while Jamie handles PR, marketing, and social media.

Best part about working together: “Jeff is a very relaxed person who is super thoughtful about solving problems and really good at solving problems,” says Jamie. “He’ll be opening a new restaurant, with tons of juggling going on and inevitably something is not going right… and he just works through it without any stress.” Jeff says Jamie keeps them focused and has very high standards, which keeps the team on track and pushes them to perform at a high level.

Worst part about working together: Jamie says she struggles with Jeff’s sense of urgency. Hers is high; his is low. “But I’m learning to back off with restaurant stuff,” she says. “It’s his business, really, and he’s doing something right. We have some employees who have been around six to eight years, we’ve been able to open three restaurants on one block. His approach makes a fun, family-like environment, where at least from my point of view, we’re on the same team.” Jeff adds: “She does an awesome job keeping us focused towards our goals and has really high standards for everything we try to accomplish.”

Any time for date nights? Sometimes. They check out local restaurants together and make a couple of trips to New York each year. “We’ll bring the kids into the fancy restaurants, too,” says Jeff. “We go early.”

James and Miracle Yoder
Not Just Coffee

Happy birthday to the @mrsnotjustcoffee !

A photo posted by notjustcoffee (@notjustcoffee) on

 In business together since: 2011
Live in: Optimist Park, near NoDa
Kids: Rowan, 13; Adrian, 9

Division of labor in the business: “He’s the bar and I’m the backbone,” says Miracle, 41, with a laugh. That’s what people tell them anyway, she says. James, 35, focuses on the aesthetics—the coffee and other drinks, the experience—while Miracle helps make it happen. “He can picture things how he wants them,” she says. And she tackles paperwork and numbers.

Best part about working together: Flexibility of the work

Worst part about working together: Taking work home and having a tough time drawing the line, having perpetual thoughts about the business and ideas

Division of labor at home: James takes the kids to school every morning and he does some of the cooking. It’s a pretty fair split.

Tip for making it work: Separation of key duties/ clear stakeholder ownership, alignment on goals & initiatives

Time for date nights? The couple tries to fit dates in whenever possible—they check out local restaurants together and make a couple of trips to New York each year.

What’s next? Look out for a Not Just expansion to the Dilworth area.

Suzie & Todd Ford
NoDa Brewing Co

Todd and Suzie Ford, owners of NoDa Brewing Co. / 2014 Observer file photo

Before this couple teamed up to make brews, Todd, 54, was an airline pilot and gone half the time; Suzie, 49, worked in banking. The moved to Charlotte from California in 1996 and soon noticed a growing industry without much of a presence in Charlotte. “[Starting the business] was an adjustment, being together 24/7,” says Suzie. “We rode to work together, shared an office, and had 100 percent togetherness.” Over the last five years, they’ve had to learn balance.

Started business together in: 2010, opened in 2011

Live in: Cotswold

​Kids? Matt, 29; Sarah, 27, Casey, 26; Jacob, 24, plus daughters-in-law Laura, 29 and Ashley, 24, and little granddaughter Eliza, who’s 3 months.

When did you get married? 2004

Did you always know you wanted to start a business together eventually? “We never talked about it until 2010 when we decided we wanted to do something together and be in control of our destiny,” says Suzie.

Division of labor in the business: 50/50. Todd oversees brewing affairs while Suzie and her team tackle the rest. “Our talents don’t overlap, which works well,” says Suzie.

Division of labor in the house? Also 50/50.

Best and worst parts of working together? Having business partners you can trust completely. “We can make decisions quickly—over breakfast, lying in bed, hanging in the backyard,” says Suzie. “We don’t have to call a meeting.”

​Tips​ for making it work? Communication is key for this couple. Because they work so closely at times, they often assume each other knows what is going on.

Time for dates? Movies, occasionally, with a bite before or after. “it nice without any phones or outside distractions,” says Suzie.

Valentine’s Day plans for you as a couple (and for the brewery)? Look out for a release: Be(er) Mine, a golden ale with rose water. No personal plans.

Big goals? Immediate: Craft Freedom and getting the self-distribution cap increased. Long term? “We hope to retire in five to ten years.”

Sip Charlotte is a weekly email newsletter for beer, wine, and cocktail enthusiasts across the region. Click here to subscribe. Have a story idea? Feedback? Connect with editor Caroline Portillo at cportillo@charlotteobserver.com. Cheers!

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