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Sweetie, Want to Run a Business Together?One might think that working with the love of your life would be risky, stressful, and near impossible to keep the profes­sional and personal from mixing. But as Jane Doucet discovered when she spoke with three couples from across Canada, it’s not necessarily a crazy proposition. In fact, it could be one of the best things you’ll ever do.

Dean and Jennifer in their surf store in Ucluelet, B.C. (Photograph by Candace Meyer)Jennifer Smith & Dean Montgomery
What they do: Owners, Inner Rhythm Surf Camp (1-877-393-SURF, innerrhythm.net)
Where they do it: Ucluelet, British Columbia
How they manage: “Jenn is a perfectionist, I’m more easygoing. That can be frustrating, but in the end we both decide what’s best for the business,” says Dean.

In June 2000, three years after the avid surfers began seeing each other, Jennifer Smith and Dean Montgomery started a surf camp called Inner Rhythm in Ucluelet on Vancouver Island. “The first three years, we worked really hard and had no money,” says Dean. Jennifer describes doing 18-hour days, seven days a week, during peak season. “We lived in a tiny house on the camp property, and campers would drop by all the time to ask questions,” she says. “It was hard to have any privacy.”

After their son, Ben, was born in July 2002, Jennifer stepped back from the bus­iness a bit, but still handles book­ings, budgets, advertising and marketing; Dean runs the camp and manages the retail surf store they opened last sum­mer. “I work around Ben’s naps,” says Jennifer. “It’s harder to find the time to devote to the business. Mother­hood is more demanding than I expected and Ben is my priority, but the business is like my little baby, too.”

Occasionally the pair’s different per­­son­alities cause friction. “Jenn is a per­­fectionist and runs a tight ship,” says Dean. “I’m more easygoing. That can be frustrating, but in the end we both de­cide what’s best for the business.” In spite of the challenges, the couple love the ar­range­ment. “Our relationship has gotten stronger since we started working to­geth­er,” says Jennifer. “We can rely on each other because the trust is there,” adds Dean. “We share the same amount of con­cern for the business and we get to spend a lot of time together. It’s a great lifestyle, but you’ve got to be patient while you learn how to manage the business. And your personal relationship has to come first—I would walk away from the business at any time if it started to af­fect our relationship in a negative way.”

Oliver and Linda in their Halifax spa. (Photograph by Sandy Nicholson)

Linda Brigley & Oliver Nemeskéri
What they do: Owners, Spirit Urban Spa (902-431-8100, spiritspa.ca)
Where they do it: Halifax
How they manage: “If you both have the same responsibilities you’re screwed because you’ll question each other’s decisions,” says Linda.

As 18-year-old bachelor of commerce students at Dalhousie University, Linda Brigley and Oliver Nemeskéri sat to­gether in many study groups while they were dating. “Those four years were a good test of how we would work to­gether,” says Oliver. But after graduation, they took separate career paths: Linda got a job in advertising management, Oliver did internet development.

It was Linda’s idea to start a spa. “I had a personal interest in health and well-being,” she says, “plus I was getting burned out at my job and I used to un­wind at spas.” In November 2002, she and Oliver, then five years into their marriage, opened Spirit Urban Spa in Halifax.

“If you both have the same responsibilities you’re screwed because you’ll question each other’s decisions,” says Linda. So from the outset, the couple divided duties: Linda handled the hiring, management and daily operations; Oliver oversaw the hundred-year-old building’s renovation and design. Today Linda works full-time at the spa while Oliver puts in about 20 hours a week working on the website and marketing, in addition to doing internet consulting. “On Saturdays at the spa, I work be­hind the counter and I also wash towels,” he says. “I’m the laundry boy.”

Separating their personal and professional lives isn’t easy. “I used to talk about work before I went to sleep,” says Linda. Oliver put a stop to that. “Now we don’t talk about business before bedtime or breakfast,” he says. Occa­sionally, the pair disagrees. “When we’re tired or stressed, we’ll have an argument but we never raise our voices in front of staff or customers,” says Linda.

The couple make romance a priority. They ski, golf, go to movies and cook together. Six months after the spa opened, they vacationed in Barbados. “We did call the spa and send a few emails,” admits Oliver. “But we hired managers that we trust, which helped us relax.” The pair doesn’t know if they’ll always be in business together, but they’re enjoying it for now. “It’s great to work with someone you love, trust and respect,” says Oliver.

George and Mary in their toronto restaurant. (Photograph by Christopher Wahl)

George Taverniti & Mary Taverniti
What they do: Owners, Frank’s Pizza House Restaurant (416-654-6554)
Where they do it: Toronto
How they manage: “We trust each other and we back each other up. This arrangement works for us, but it’s not for everybody,” says George.

When George Taverniti hired a waitress in 1997 to work in his family’s Italian res­taurant, he had no idea he was meeting his future wife (they tied the knot April 2003). Today Mary manages the res­taurant full-time and studies law part-time through a distance education program while George cooks and is in charge of the kitchen. Most days George arrives at 9:30 a.m. and leaves at 11:30 p.m. “If we didn’t work together, we’d never see each other,” says Mary. “This way if it’s quiet, we can sit down and have lunch.”

When it’s hectic, tempers flare. “If there’s a mistake with an order, we do get angry at each other,” Mary admits. “We try to correct the mistake quickly and move on. Then we’ll revisit it later to fig­ure out how to avoid making it again.” Says George: “If we have to give each other shit over something, we do. But we make sure no one hears or sees us. When we’re at work, we put our personal life aside. It’s important that we’re professional.”

Mary and George consult each other on every business decision and compromise when necessary. “We have a good rapport—we trust each other and we back each other up,” says George. “This arrangement works for us, but it’s not for everybody.”

The Tavernitis take Sunday afternoons and Mondays off. Thanks to their tiring schedules—George also teaches a pizza-making course at a communi­ty college and Mary studies in the evenings—they often neglect their social lives and personal interests (Tai Chi for her, karate for him). But they plan to improve this over time.

The couple have already talked about what will happen when Mary gets her law degree. “I won’t be disappointed or hurt if she decides to practice law full-time,” says George, “but I will miss her companionship.” Mary has other ideas: “We joke that when I become a lawyer, George will come work for me.”

Jane Doucet doesn’t run a business with her husband yet but has decided never to say never.