8 Charlotte couple-preneurs share how they make it work

These Charlotte-based couples show that it is possible to mix business and pleasure. Plus, they offer advice for other would-be couple-preneurs.

This story originally published July 18, 2019.

For the past year, I’ve considered myself somewhat of a “couple-preneur” as Kallan and I came on board to expand Qcitymetro’s footprint. The “From Couples to Copreneurs” session during Black Enterprise’s FWD conference last month got me thinking about how other Charlotte couples are navigating the ins-and-outs of mixing business and pleasure.

Ask, and ye shall receive. Here’s what eight Charlotte-based couple-preneurs had to say about being in business with their spouse. They also offered advice for those wanting to take the plunge with their significant other.

Bernard Bennett and Alana Weaver Bennett

Party in a Tent – Charlotte

Alana Weaver Bennett and Bernard Bennett, owners of Party in a Tent – Charlotte. Photo courtesy of Alana Weaver Bennett

How long in a relationship? 4 years together, married 2 years
How long in business together? 1 year and 9 months

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During their first year of marriage, a friend introduced the Bennetts to Party in a Tent. At the time, the couple was also dealing with Bernard’s loss of two positions. The uncertainty of the job market pushed the pair toward entrepreneurship.

“We chose to use our gifts and talents in a business that would allow us to have more control of our destiny,” Alana said.

With Bernard’s business management experience and Alana’s experience in event planning and project management, they said, “Why not bet on ourselves?”

How do you balance personal/professional?

Alana: In the beginning, it was difficult to balance. Now, I’m intentional about designating time to discuss business and time to engage outside of business. Bernard often has to remind me when the lines become blurred.

Bernard: Now that we are on the same page about when we will discuss business, we find it easier to enjoy our personal time without being overwhelmed with the demands of our growing business.

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Advice for couples who are thinking of going into business together:

Alana: Clearly define each partner’s role in the business. Trust your partner to successfully operate in his/her role and only cross into his/her “lane” when asked. Communicate with each other with respect, and make maintaining a healthy marriage a top priority.

Bernard: Together, clearly define how you will balance your personal and professional lives. Be realistic about your plan and don’t be afraid to adjust the plan when necessary.

Kenneth Smith and Grace Smith

Grace-Mar Services, BGM Health Solutions

Grace Smith and Kenneth Smith, owners of Grace-Mar Services and BGM Health Solutions. Photo: Qcitymetro

How long in a relationship? Married 23 years
How long in business together? 10 years

The Smiths always wanted to be business owners, and they previously owned several businesses together.

“We used to have a cleaning company with just two employees. We also had a property inspection company,” Kenny explained. “When I got laid off in 2007, we decided that we wanted to start a business to help people. Hence, we started our nonprofit, Grace-Mar Services Inc.“

Related: Grace-Mar Services: Working to address Charlotte’s economic mobility problem…one job seeker at a time

How do you balance personal/professional?

Kenny: It’s hard because they do mix. The really good thing is that our work is so intertwined with our personalities and willingness to serve, so it’s not a big deal when our personal/professional lives mix.

Advice for couples who are thinking of going into business together:

Kenny: You have to have a strong relationship and truly get along. Grace and I spend all day, every day together. Being in business has its challenges, and we have had to learn how to separate our business relationship and our marriage.

The other thing that I would suggest you do before you go into business together is that you know that you both want the same things and value the same things. Grace and I truly care more about helping people and not so much about making money. Of course, we have to make money to stay in business but money is not our bottom line, people are.

Dr. Andrew Lyons and Dr. Joya Lyons

Smile Savvy Cosmetic Dentistry

Dr. Andrew Lyons and Dr. Joya Lyons, owners of Smile Savvy Cosmetic Dentistry. Photo courtesy of Andrew and Joya Lyons

How long in a relationship? 11 years together, married 8 years
How long in business together? 5 years

After five years of working as an associate, Andrew (Drew) opened his private dental practice and recruited his wife for the huge endeavor.

“We both wanted to create a place where we could practice dentistry with our own beliefs and philosophies,” Joya said. “It has been an awesome yet challenging five years in business, but it is still one of the best decisions we have ever made.”

How do you balance personal/professional?

Drew: One idea is to know that it is okay for the lines to be blurred at times. My wife and I are known to have random business meetings at the kitchen table. The benefit here is that our kids get to see what it really takes to run a business.

But, being completely honest, there is never a moment during my day where I’m fully unaware of my responsibilities as a husband, father and business owner. The goal is to figure out which role needs my attention most and go from there.

Joya: I’m a planner junky, so I make sure that all aspects of personal and professional time are scheduled in my daily planner. Part of having a healthy work-life balance is to be okay with not always balancing it so perfectly and knowing that it requires a lot of adjustments, communication and sacrifice.

Advice for couples who are thinking of going into business together:

Drew: Strongly consider what your individual strengths are and choose roles within the business that fit each other’s talents. Myers-Briggs, DiSC or Enneagram personality tests can tell you a lot about your preferences and tendencies.

Joya: Make sure you put God first, then the marriage, then the business. At the end of the day, if you don’t have those two before the business, then there is no business.

Greg Collier and Subrina Collier

Uptown Yolk Restaurant

Subrina Collier and Chef Greg Collier, owners of Uptown Yolk Restaurant. Photo: Jonathan Cooper

How long in a relationship? 11 years together, married 9 years
How long in business together? Since 2012

While living in Charleston, S.C., the couple drove back and forth to Charlotte looking for jobs.

“We found a hole in the wall spot in Rock Hill and decided to take the leap,” Greg said. “We borrowed $20,000 from her father’s 401(k) and went from there.”

Related: Local culinary favorite, Chef Greg Collier, nominated for James Beard Award

How do you balance personal/professional?

We let things happen naturally. At first, it was a lot of attempts to balance stuff. Now, we just let things happen. We take extended work trips and try to go on mini-dates when we can.

Advice for couples who are thinking of going into business together:

Respect one another’s skill set and expertise. Listen to each other. When you stress each other out, having some alone time is okay. It’s cool to shelve issues and revisit them.

Velvet Jacobs and Tree Kelty-Jacobs


Tree Kelty-Jacobs and Chef Velvet Jacobs, owners of VelTree. Photo courtesy of Tree Kelty-Jacobs

How long in a relationship? Married 4 years
How long in business together? 5 years

“Velvet was already a personal chef and caterer and also owned a cafe with her family,” Tree said. “Once she started her own business, I stepped in as the ‘brains’ of the operation. She’s the heart, I’m the brain.”

Related: Veltree has a legion of fans for its vegan soul food, including singer Erykah Badu

How do you balance personal/professional?

Tree: We make it a point to pray together and have “Us” time watching our favorite shows and making dinner together (and by together, I mean Velvet cooks and I watch).

Advice for couples who are thinking of going into business together:

Tree: Do it! Going into business together was one of the best decisions (after marriage, of course) that we have made. We balance each other.

Dr. Carlos Todd and Natasha Pemberton-Todd

Conflict Coaching & Consulting, PLLC

Natasha Pemberton-Todd and Dr. Carlos Todd, owners of Conflict Coaching & Consulting, PLLC. Photo courtesy of Carlos Todd

How long in a relationship? Married since 2002
How long in business together? 3 years

“Around 2006, I started thinking about the idea of conflict and anger because I grew up in a home where there was a lot of domestic violence,” Carlos said. “I developed an interest over time about conflict and how to best resolve conflicts. Then, my wife came along with the idea.”

The couple worked their 9-to-5 jobs until Carlos was laid off in 2015. Rather than look for another full-time gig, he launched the business. Shortly after, Natasha quit her job as a school counselor to join him.

How do you balance personal/professional?

Carlos: Sometimes, it’s hit or miss. She’s at the office some days, and I’m there some days because we do have a 7-year-old daughter. We make sure that one of us is there to attend to her for school and activities. We make Friday night and Saturday time for us to spend as a family.

Advice for couples who are thinking of going into business together:

Carlos: Don’t try to force your partner into a role that they don’t fit.

John Foster and AJ Foster

Foster’s Frame Design & Gallery

AJ Foster and John Foster, owners of Foster’s Frame Design & Gallery. Photo courtesy of John and AJ Foster

How long in a relationship? Married 39 years
How long in business together? Since 2000

“We’ve always been collectors of something. We went from antiques to figurines to visual art,” John said.

After doing almost three years of research and joining a handful of professional organizations, the Fosters decided that a framing and art business would be a good opportunity.

How do you balance personal/professional?

AJ: It’s about respecting each other, and when we’re at home, just try to be a couple.

Advice for couples who are thinking of going into business together:

John: I do think it’s important to do a business plan and focus on each of your strengths. Make sure you really understand and enjoy whatever business you’re going into. And, be able to separate the business from work every night.

Terrance Jackson and Denean Jackson

High Maintenance Floor Care

Terrance Jackson and Denean Jackson, owners of High Maintenance Floor Care. Photo courtesy of Denean Jackson

How long in a relationship? Married since 2003
How long in business together? Since 2006

The serial entrepreneurs have been business partners since they launched their first cleaning company in Milwaukee. In 2007, the Jacksons sold the franchise and packed up their three kids to trade bitter cold Wisconsin winters for friendlier seasons in Charlotte. Once in the Queen City, it wasn’t long before they started another business. And another. And another. And another.

Related: My entrepreneurship journey: Terrance & Denean Jackson, serial entrepreneurs

How do you balance personal/professional?

Denean: It’s a passion for both of us, so we make it work. We’ve been doing the cleaning business for so long, so we don’t really have disagreements. Our children have had an opportunity to learn how to work and have a good work ethic.

Advice for couples who are thinking of going into business together:

Denean: My father always said, “A failure is someone who never tries.” Pray about whatever business endeavor you decide on, and then go out and try it. Know your strengths, and both parties have to be willing to accept constructive criticism.

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