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Mother + Daughter: Partners in business

FitnessSalesBusinessConsumer Goods Industries

When it comes to keeping a business in the family, fathers and sons are the classic combination that typically comes to mind. But for a few small businesses in Howard County, it’s the team of mother and daughter that brings a special touch to the enterprise.

From memories of long-ago shopping trips to the newness of cutting a ribbon and opening the doors for the first time, mother and daughter business owners say they share a special bond that, quite simply, no other business partner could ever match.

Kupcakes & Co.

To say that the beginning of June was a busy month for Michelle Kupiec, of Elkridge, is an understatement.

Kupiec, with her twin daughters, Amanda and Allison, and her husband, Bill, owns Kupcakes & Co., which had its grand opening at the Lyndwood Green Shopping Center June 4. The family, along with a handful of new employees, made more than 3,000 cupcakes for the opening and sold every last one.

“It has been a joy to show Amanda and Allison that when you work really hard and you have so much passion for something, all your hard work and dedication can pay off,” says Kupiec. The girls, 16, not only work at the cupcakery but have helped their mother develop the business. They will be seniors at Howard High School this fall.

Prior to the opening of their storefront in Elkridge, Kupiec did all of the baking for the business out of a small rented commercial kitchen in Baltimore.

“They (Allison and Amanda) have seen me start off where I was by myself, baking 200 cupcakes a day, then going shopping to buy ingredients for the next day, hauling everything up to the second floor to the commercial kitchen,” she says. “They have seen the evolution of the business and all of the growing pains of starting a business. Sharing all that with them is important to me.”

The girls were amazed, their mother says, at all the work that went into the physical building of the new space.

“They were able to see the stress and the worry,” she says.

At the cupcakery, Michelle and Amanda are often in the back, baking up a storm, while Allison works the front register, greets customers and keeps tabs on inventory.

“It doesn’t seem like work at all,” Allison said.

That same sentiment is shared by Amanda, whose love for all things cupcakes comes from countless hours of watching The Food Network on cable while she was recuperating from spinal fusion surgery four years ago to correct a severe case of scoliosis.

“From watching The Food Network every single day, it got me so intrigued with the whole food industry,” Amanda reflects.

Kupiec recalls Amanda’s excitement at her first attempt to make a cake from scratch.

“She could barely walk  — she had 18 screws and two titanium rods in her spine — but she wanted to make this cake,” she says.

“Baking cookies and cupcakes are the things that got my mind off my back,” Amanda says. “I said to my mom at one point, ‘I think we should open a cupcake shop,’ and she was like, yeah, right.”

Amanda’s goal is to one day enroll in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

“My mom has inspired me in the kitchen,” she says. “It’s awesome that I can be in a business with her and we can watch it become a great hit.”

Both daughters say they are exceptionally close to their mom.

“She is one of my best friends,” Amanda says. “She is like my hero. I have grown stronger by having my mom there by my side.”

Adds Allison: “I like working with my family. I like that this place is very special to us as a family because we have watched it grow. I like that it is our place.”

As a boss, her mom treats her daughters like any other employees, “but better,” Allison says. “She is really nice and really respectful and fair.”

Amanda is known for her passion for baking and staying behind the scenes at Kupcakes & Co., whipping up new gourmet flavors. Their lineup includes some 24 flavors, including chocolate-dipped strawberry, hazelnut crunch, mocha latte, salted caramel, snickerdoodle, Key lime and raspberry lemonade. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the vanilla-cherry-flavored Blossoms of Hope cupcakes benefits the county’s Blossoms of Hope Foundation in support of breast cancer patients.

Meanwhile, Allison is the one who loves to come up with new ways to promote the baked goods and help the business grow. At Allison’s suggestion, Kupiec began selling cupcakes to Pazani Trattoria Italiana, in Elkridge, and now sells cupcakes at four other local restaurants, including Shannon’s Saloon and Alexandra’s at Turf Valley, in Ellicott City.

Like any family, there are occasional flare-ups, but Allison says at Kupcakes & Co. they are quite rare.

“We might get in an argument,  but it is always over something little and not a big deal, and then we joke about it later,” Allison says. “I like making her laugh a lot. We have a very funny, loving relationship.”

Still, there are times that the bickering begins between Amanda and Allison, their mom says.

“They’re twins, they’re sisters, and they’re 16,” she says. “There is fighting to be had. And then there is arguing and making up. I know, for all of us, there will be times where we will need to say ‘We are all really tired. Let’s just take a timeout.’ ”

All About Yarn

For Columbia residents Karen Thiem and Cindy Jones, not only was there a desire to be in business with their daughters, but their daughters were the sole reason for starting a business at all.

Thiem and Jones are the owners of All About Yarn, in the Oakland Center on Route 108. The shop specializes in carrying a varied stock of yarn and tools and in offering a place for needlework enthusiasts to come together to work on and share projects.

The two women share a love for knitting and crocheting. They also share a desire to help their daughters, Amanda and Miglena, respectively, to live productive lives. Both daughters are 24 and have developmental disabilities that would be an obstacle in the work world, Thiem said.

Thiem and Jones met while attending their daughters' Special Olympics basketball team practices. They would sit in the stands, knitting away and talk about their families and everyday happenings.

Eventually Thiem convinced Jones that they should open their own specialty yarn shop. All About Yarn opened in October 2004.

“Having them (Amanda and Miglena) here with us is the best thing,” Thiem said. “We know where they are and what they are doing and that they are taken care of.”

Her daughter, Amanda, while 24, has the cognitive ability of a 14-year-old, Thiem said.

“She is a perpetual teenager, which means our relationship changes every day, sometimes every minute,” Thiem said. “Some days she will argue with me about what color the sky is, but then some days there are glimmers of adulthood. What we have is not a typical mother-daughter business.”

Jones, who works fulltime for the Howard County Library system where she is the head of materials management, said she is also glad to have a nurturing place for her daughter, Miglena, to work.

“Some days she really likes it a lot, and some days she wants to do something else,” said Jones, who adopted Miglena from Bulgaria when she was 6.

“She has a number of special needs, which impacts a lot of things including how she feels about things,” Jones said. “I think it has been a good experience for her. We have an environment where people are accepting and encouraging, and I think that is good for her.”

Jones said having Miglena involved in All About Yarn has been a rewarding experience.

“It's good for her to be around people as opposed to being home all the time or in a program where she wouldn't be getting attention. She would not be able to get a job. The opportunities for her and Amanda are very limited.

“We thought 'Let's do this for them,' but it has become a great thing for me as well,” said Jones. “I teach the majority of the classes, and that has been a great thing for me.”

Amanda and Miglena are not involved with the running of the business, Thiem said, but the girls do put in time labeling and stocking inventory, operating the register and helping customers with knitting projects.
The girls have become as close as sisters, which is to say that they sometimes argue, Thiem said. The daughters are off on Sundays and work alternate Thursdays to have a break from each other.

“We have fun, and the environment of a knitting shop is very nurturing,” Thiem said.

Coreworks Fitness Studio

One might wonder what would influence a middle-aged woman with an established career in international finance to open a Pilates studio.

Pain.

Or at least that was the catalyst for Fran Berndt. It was arthritis in her hips that caused the longtime Columbia resident to seek out ways to manage the pain and keep active. In Pilates, Berndt found a gentle form of exercise that strengthened her core muscles.

“It’s changed my life,” Berndt says of Pilates. “For me, it was a later-in-life thing. I even started lifting weights and emphasizing the wellness aspect of it.”

The more experienced she got, the more she craved. And when she observed that there weren’t many gyms in the area that solely focused on Pilates methods and allowed her to progress from mat exercises to Pilates equipment, she created one.

Once Coreworks Fitness Studio was up and running in 2004, Berndt found a trusted manager in her daughter, Sara Raymond.

While Berndt discovered the fruits of fitness as an adult, her daughter was much the opposite.
Raymond has always been an athlete, playing volleyball at her alma mater, Oakland Mills High School, and later at Widener University and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

“For me, (Pilates) was a form of stress relief and injury prevention. It taught me how to move,” says Raymond, who praises Pilates for its effect on core alignment, posture, stability and general strength training — and for helping with everything from the aches and pains of aging to labor, delivery and recovery for expectant mothers.

Because they represent two different generations, the duo has found they’re able to help welcome customers of all ages as well — with Berndt understanding the needs of the baby boomer set and Raymond appealing to younger clientele.

The mother-daughter duo worked together to undergo training and earn teaching certifications, since both remain involved in teaching classes (Berndt teaches Pilates while Raymond teaches both Pilates and yoga).

Running a business together has become a source of pride, they say.

“She’s grown as a businesswoman. I get to see my daughter grow,” Berndt says.

The pair has watched their studio in the Rumsey Center in Columbia grow from one instructor offering 11 classes a week to 13 instructors offering more than 20 classes a week.

In June 2010, the family opened a second location in Maple Lawn, managed by Sara and her husband, Les Raymond. That studio has blossomed from 40 clients to 225 clients over the past year.

To top it all off, the mother-daughter duo and their spouses have had a house built together where they all live, in Fulton.

Sometimes, conversation at the family dinner table resembles a complicated practice in juggling — schedules, that is. There are management responsibilities at the two studios, Raymond’s two young children and Berndt’s other full-time banking career in D.C.

“Luckily, it’s a very flexible business,” says Raymond.

Adds Berndt: “You have to separate the emotional boundaries of business life with family. We’re all passionate about it.”

Raymond and Berndt hope to continue branching out. Up next for them is planning a Pilates retreat at a tropical destination for their clients.

Simply Divine Boutique

At Simply Divine Boutique, in Fulton, Angelina Rivero’s mother, Tina, was her first choice for a business partner from the start.

“She is like my best friend, my sister, my everything,” says Angelina, 37, an only child. “She is anything any woman could want in one being. I see or talk to her every day.”

Angelina watched as her parents worked hard to run their own maintenance and janitorial business, Afford Building Maintenance, for more than 30 years. Her parents continue to operate the business.

“I was raised watching my parents build something, which has given me the drive to be where I am now,” she says. “She had to learn the things I am learning on her own.”

Having worked in the makeup and fashion industry for more than 15 years, Angelina said she was inspired by being around fashion but eventually burned out from all the traveling her job entailed.

“My mom would come with me and travel with me and have a mini-vacation while I worked,” she says.
Wanting to venture out and try something new, Angelina said she noticed a need for a boutique for baby boomers, specifically targeting women 40 and older.

“I realized there was nothing like that around,” she says. “I talked it all over with my mom, and she thought it was a great idea. Mom and I always loved fashion.”

Simply Divine Boutique opened in November 2008. In 2010, Howard Magazine readers voted it Best Clothing Boutique.

Angelina describes her mom as a “tremendous source of guidance” who is full of wisdom and endless patience.

“I don’t think she has ever doubted me on anything,” Angelina says.

Like any new business owner, especially one starting out in the midst of a sinking economy, Angelina said there were times she wondered what she had gotten herself into. She oversees the day-to-day operations of the store.

“I don’t think there was ever a time she had to talk me off the ledge, but there were times when I was in the elevator on the way up,” says Angelina.

In the beginning, it was frustrating to her when customers turned to her mom to ask questions and dismissed Angelina, who appears young for her age.

“They would tend to go to her first, before me, but Mom would always turn around and say to me, ‘What do you think?’ She is very good at asking my opinion on things.”

When they go to market to scout out items for the store, sometimes their opinions vary but they always have fun.

“We have a great way of discussing things, and we communicate well together,” Angelina says.

“Sometimes I’ll see something and say, ‘This will look good in the store’ and she really doesn’t think so, but we try it, and then the garment doesn’t sell. She will look at me and laugh and say, ‘I told you so.’

“I am blessed to have my mom. She is the best.”

Tina, 58, says she is the one who is blessed.

“Angelina and I have always been very close. Not only is she my daughter, she is my friend. We don’t hold anything from each other.”

They shared a love of fashion and shopping from early on.

“I can remember her being 13 years old and we were shopping, and she said, ‘Mommy, one day I want to open a boutique of my own,’” Tina said. “I told her, ‘Honey, hold onto that dream.’”

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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