Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mixing Family and Business

Blood is thicker than water, right? So, you can see how blood can get in there and back everything up. It's a mess. It's tricky. It should be avoided at all costs.

When I first started my cake business, my extended family didn't take it too seriously. It was something like, "Oh, you make cakes! How cute! You know your cousin cooks, too!" This cousin they are speaking of is not the Black Sheep of the family, but the mangy, crooked coyote who swoops in to disturb the peace. My cousin Jennifer.

Just a little background on this girl. She's one year younger than me. Her father is a higher up Hungarian representative in the World Bank. Her mother is the eldest sister of 12 siblings on my dad's side. She was born with not just the silver spoon, but the entire service set in her mouth. Spoiled rotten. Placed high on a pedestal since birth, this girl has walked around with a sense of entitlement before she even knew what the hell that word meant.

She went to Boston University to study medicine, but flunked out of med school. She spent several years living at home with her mother, jobless. Why did she need to work? Her dying father was funding her life. But what kind of life was it? She poured over cookbooks and made extravagant meals for herself and her mother. Since she had no friends and none of the cousins wanted to have anything to do with her (because she's a bitch), she really didn't have anyone to sample her cooking. So, my aunts were her guinea pigs, and according to them, she was a decent cook.

When my catering gigs started getting serious and I was traveling back and forth from Washington DC and NY, the hinted that it would be great if I took Jennifer on as a partner at some point; you know- because we both love to cook. I nearly seared them with the laser beams that exploded out of my eyes. Surely, they were kidding. They were not. I politely explained that I would sooner run my business into the ground, douse it in Kirsch and set it all on fire before I let that harpy near my baby. That was the end of that.

My uncle has been great generating business for me through his friends in the World Bank. I've done many private parties in HUGE houses, that they don't call mansions. They only had an 8 car garage, and two guest houses out back. That wasn't a mansion, I was told. My uncle let me use his home in MD to prep and he even helped me deliver on many occasions. I can say that Jowl and I pulled in over 30 grand in gross sales doing those parties over two years. Without Joel, I did three parties, charging 5 grand a piece. It wasn't easy, and I turned down any future gigs after that. It was too hard getting out to MD without him, and it was harder getting all the cooking done by myself, even with the extra help I hired part time. It just wasn't something I wanted to do anymore without him.

Since my family realized my business was legit and that I was actually very good at what I do, I've had tentative requests for cake and food. I felt weird charging my family, so I've either worked for free or just charged them cost. Over the years, as their parties have gotten bigger and more extravagant, the cheap relatives have suddenly taken an interest in hiring me for my food services.

I have family who have paid me well for my work, and I have family who I have lost money on. It's easier to just turn them down. Sometimes, though, I run out of excuses and I don't have a choice but to take the job.

Why would anyone turn down a paid gig? The people. My family is the sort of people I hate dealing with. They want it all. The best. A lot of it. And they want it cheap. The problem is that nothing is ever good enough, the quantity is never enough, and the price is never low enough. Nothing is EVER good enough. There is always a critique hanging in the air; a complaint ready at the tips of their tongues. And no matter how hard I bust my ass, there is always someone else they know or someone else in the family that could have done it just a little bit better.

As much as I would love to accommodate my family and work myself to death just for a fleeting ounce of their pompous approval; I've sort of outgrown the need for approval. I didn't realize how detrimental it was until I spent a significant amount of time with someone who wouldn't take a step without the approving nod of his loved ones. His decisions, opinions, actions, and emotions were all controlled by what he perceived what was expected of him by those he was surrounded by. It's one thing to defer to the wiser when you're in a bind, but when your every decision is ruled by the favor of your audience, what part of your life is really yours anymore?

While I would like my family to be proud of me, I have to remember that this life is mine and mine alone. I have to do what's best for me, and not what I think everyone else thinks is best for me. I'm the one in the driver's seat, with or without a valid licence. Whether or not I pass the checkered flag or crash into a tree, it's all up to me. And I'm proud of that, even if I stand alone in that decision.

Do favors for my family? Sure. If I have the time, the patience, and the resources. As far as taking on a partner, taking them on as customers, or any other direct facet of my business- I'll keep them at a respectable arm's length. I love them, but if they get any closer to my baby of a business, I will tear them apart. I can't get any more honest than that.

My uncle is still adamant that I meet with his relatives to get something started over sea's. Australia. I know it's been a distant dream, but it's almost within reach, but the whole "family" aspect creeps me out. Like anything else that's come at my business; I'll see how solid this lead may be. Then, I'll proceed with caution. If they try to screw me over or take my business from me; I'll tear them apart. How else would anyone respond?

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