We’re all familiar enough with the family business archetype. The narrative of the son following the father into a predestined family trade, often out of obligation as much as resolve, is part of a well-thumbed tome. But there are plenty of counterpoints to this time-honoured, perhaps somewhat antiquated model.
In recent years, we’ve noticed a new strain of family businesses doing things a little differently. Whether it’s parents coming out of retirement to work in their children’s businesses, siblings paving their own path together, sons and daughters coming back to the fold to learn a long-held family trade after forging careers elsewhere, or whole families working together out of choice and genuine interest rather than a sense of duty, these are creative Melbourne businesses that span generations and sensibilities, drawing on both youth and experience.
In this survey, we profile a bustling pasta bar, a homely delicatessen, a design store, a shoemaker, a wine purveyor and an approachable contemporary art gallery, each of whom have found their own unique way of keeping it in the family.
Blackheart & Sparrows
By Hilary McNevin
Wine was served with dinner most evenings in the Ghaie household. “Dad would always give us a taste of what he was drinking,” says Paul, who now co-owns independent wine purveyors Blackhearts & Sparrows with his sister Jess.
The siblings, who grew up in a family of four children, wanted to create an environment that was approachable, knowledgeable and personal. “We didn’t want to look like every other wine shop, either,” says Paul. The pair followed their instincts and, in time, opened several stores dotted around the city, each of which feature regular wine tastings and draw on a strong connection to the product (the duo have sampled 95 per cent of it).
“When we were growing up, I wasn’t a very nice big brother and Charlotte [their younger sister] named me ‘Blackheart’,” says Paul. Charlotte also coined the nickname ‘Little Sparrow’ for Jess. When it came to opening their business, it’s not so hard to imagine from where the name Blackheart & Sparrows arose.
Working with family isn’t difficult for the Ghaies. “We live together with our partners and Jess’s baby,” says Paul.
And like all those years ago, wine is still a central part of family get-togethers. The only difference now is that it’s often Ghaie senior who is asking for a taste of wine from his children’s table. “He asks all the time,” says Paul.
88 Punt Road, Windsor
(03) 9510 6385
131 Lygon Street, Brunswick East
(03) 9380 1831
113–115 Scotchmer Street, Fitzroy North
(03) 9486 8046
516 Macaulay Road, Kensington
(03) 9939 6228
And opening soon at 186 Carlisle Street, St Kilda East.
By Emma Guthrie
Mileto’s restaurant and deli in Windsor is named after the family that owns it, runs the place and lives upstairs. Managed by Laura and Pepe Mileto, the humble eatery is run like a family home, with help from daughter Sarah on the floor and at the counter, and son James manning the coffee machine.
Originally from South Gippsland, both Laura and Pepe have an Italian heritage as well as backgrounds in farming. Suffice to say, the two have “always worked together”. And it has become the family way. “I love the idea of us working altogether,” says Sarah, “and I love having everyone here with me.”
The secret of the Mileto’s success is their ability to nurture their clientele, just as they would their family unit. Regulars are greeted by name and dishes like minestrone and focaccia are made in-house daily. “Our customers come here and they feel very welcome, like they are having a meal in their own home,” says Laura.
And just like in a family home, the Mileto’s have learnt everything they know from their loved ones. “My Mum was the most amazing cook,” says Laura. “She taught me everything I know, which I have then passed on to my daughter.”
By Laila Sakini
The mother and daughter duo of Rae and Sunday Ganim are no strangers to the idea of merging home and office.
With Rae running a family textiles and fashion business for over 15 years and Sunday directing her own baby-focused blanket line, the two seem intent on keeping things close to home.
The same is true for their current engagement, Fitzroy and online-based design space Ganim’s Store, where the two work together on sourcing and presenting a range of covetable items, from cool kids toys to high-end homewares and novel knick-knacks.
Working together on Ganim’s Store was a natural progression of the exchange of ideas that was already happening in the creative Ganim household. Having witnessed the inner workings of Rae’s former textiles company, Rae Ganim Designs, Sunday has an innate understanding and acceptance of family business. “It seeps across into your home, so it just becomes a part of what is done in your life,” says Sunday.
For Rae, it’s that intuitive understanding between family members that makes working together so productive and enjoyable. “You have enough in common to be looking in the same direction,” she says, “but enough individuality to know how to challenge each other [too].”
By Hilary McNevin
Jess Cameron-Wootten is continuing an old age craft and embracing a new demand for handmade shoes. It’s a trade that the 29-year-old discovered through his father, Ross Wootten, who was a surgical boot maker in Adelaide when Jess was a child. Ross passed away when his son was eight and “I guess I inherited his gear,” says Jess.
When he finished school, Jess found himself working in the design department of General Motors, but soon became tired of the corporate culture and began toying with the idea of making shoes – something familiar.
He found an ad in the paper – the sole owner of a handmade shoe company was looking for a business partner – and Jess contacted owner Peter Cordwell and the pair went into business together. “It was like the meeting of two family businesses,” he recalls.
Five years later, Cordwell has retired but Jess continues to make shoes. “My sister is my business partner [now],” he says, “which is great, except she hassles me.”
By Dan Rule
If there’s one thing that strikes you about Marco Finanzio’s attitude to business, it’s the intransience of his convictions. “I set this place up with the intention of being around forever,” he says of Umberto, the humble pasta and espresso bar that he named after his father and chief collaborator.
It’s an assertion that has come to define the business, which opened in early 2010 and has since come to characterise Thornbury’s wider reinvention with its simple, hearty Italian fare, strong coffee and succinct wine and beer list. “One of our main strengths is just being genuine about what we do,” says the 35-year-old, who abandoned his career in finance to return to hospitality, an industry he’d dabbled in while at university. “We’re not trying to be anything that we’re not.”
Umberto himself, who retired after 30 years as a coffee sales rep for the likes of Mocopan and Grinders to help set-up what he describes as Marco’s “son and father business”, echoes the sentiment. “The first day we drove in to open the shop, we both cried…we were so happy to open the business and be working together.”
Marco describes the Umberto philosophy as “young, but with old-school values” and it shows. With its inaugural Melbourne Salami Festa proving a roaring success in 2012, its annual Campionato di Biliardino foosball tournament and a penchant for vintage soul vinyl, Umberto is many things to many people.
And of the name? “Mum said that was the worst thing that could have happened because it has inflated dad’s ego tenfold,” laughs Marco. “But no, for me it’s nostalgic, it’s a tribute.” A smile. “And it looks great in cursive as well.”
By Anna Metcalfe
Lisa Fehily set up gallery Fehily Contemporary when she realised that she had completely fallen for art. As a collector, it had changed her life for the better and she needed to give something back and get involved.
This describes the Fehily mindset in a nutshell: when you have something good, you don't keep it to yourself. You share it with your family and the wider community. The gallery is a true family affair with Lisa at the helm working as director, her husband Ken (a finance expert and the chairman of Melbourne Art Foundation) covering business strategy, son Toby responsible for media and communications, and three other kids pitching in at openings and weekends.
Lisa says that while she was setting up the gallery, she knew her family would eventually play a part and in turn be positively impacted by the experience. And together they have created a vibrant commercial gallery that showcases work they feel strongly about and sports a stable including Sally Smart, Ash Keating, Richard Lewer and Kat Shaw.
The Fehily's have consciously made theirs a friendly and accessible art experience. Perhaps it’s their intrinsic belief in the idea of family first that sets them apart, and provides a sense of warmth not usually associated with the commercial art world.