My grandparents started Handy's Lunch in 1945. While they were on vacation in 1958, my dad, who was 28, closed the grocery store that was part of the business; it just wasn't lucrative. When my grandfather found out, he fired my dad — but hired him back the next day. My dad ran the business until he died on August 30, 1996.
I took over on September 1. It wasn't the future I saw for myself. I wanted to work in TV and radio. But about four months in, I ended up loving it.
Now, my kids have started to become fixtures here. Customers ask about them.
But Nicholas has an engineering brain and Genevieve wants to be a veterinarian and a pediatrician. I'm doing whatever I can to encourage them. Still, you never know. If they were interested, I would explain that it's a lot of hard work, a seven-day-a-week job.
It would be amazing to pass the business on to a fourth generation.
Our three daughters have all, at times, been called upon to work for free in our family business. Kelly, my youngest, probably did the least amount of "child labor." By the time she was old enough, the business was getting stronger and we didn't need the girls to pitch in as much.
After attending the Newhouse School of Public Communications, she pursued a career in filmmaking, creating documentaries. Sometime after that, she came to work with us part time and discovered she really enjoyed it. Now she's the president. She's kind of a natural, and she's been at it for 12 years. She's hired a great team and is doing really well.
My role these days is doing whatever she asks me to do. I'm always here if she stumbles. But I take the approach that I started fresh and made lots of mistakes — and I survived. I think the business is going to do just great under her tutelage. I just went to an industry event in Germany, and people there I didn't know would say, "Oh! You're Kelly's father!"
My grandparents bought the original farm a bit at a time in the '20s and '30s. It was a dairy farm, with a little bit of logging, some sugaring and some Christmas trees.
My father felt pressured into taking over the business. He said to me, "Don't ever feel like you have to come back here." I graduated from UVM in '91, and the economy wasn't great. I told my parents I wasn't sure what I was going to do. My dad suggested I come back to help with the sugaring. At that point, I realized I was staying. My goal was to leave the land in as good or better shape than it was in when I got it.
Our boys have been involved with the Christmas tree business, shearing the trees in summer, helping with the choose-and-cut operation, harvest and deliveries, but I don't think they have much interest in doing this full time. Sometimes I do wonder what will happen to the business.
South Pomfret, VT
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