Family business: How we carried on our mother's company

Claire and Charlotte Chapuis run the London outpost of the Enrica Rocca cookery school, which was founded by their Venetian mother. Embarking on a career that follows in the footsteps of a parent can present its own unique set of challenges, so how do the pair cope with the pressure and retain their independence?

We sat down with them to find out what makes a family business truly thrive, as well as how skills can be effectively passed from one generation to another.

Business grows from passion

"We were always surrounded by food as children," says Charlotte [below, right]. "My Venetian grandfather was a cook and our mum grew up in a traditional Italian family with a strong belief that you should always open up your home to family and friends. My mother doesn’t remember a single evening where they didn’t have at least 10 people around her family dinner table. That passion for 'savoir-faire' has never left her. She lives and breathes food and so do we. The best family businesses come from a shared passion."

Claire and Charlotte Chapuis

Anything is possible

When Enrica set up her first eponymous restaurant in South Africa, the sisters say it was a leap of faith that paid off.

"She was very forward-thinking for her time," explains Charlotte. "She was a single mother and came from a generation where the women in the family didn’t really work. So to set up her own business in South Africa was a bold move. She showed us from a young age that if you work hard, anything is possible."

Read: Intergenerational business - the millennials hiring their parents

Feed your independence

Charlotte and Claire both inherited their mother’s staunch independence and followed very different directions before taking on the London outpost of the family business. While Charlotte studied at the Hotel Management School of Lausanne in Switzerland where their mother trained, Claire took a gap year to teach hospitality skills to underprivileged students in Cambodia, later running a beach bar over there.

When Claire decided to take on the Enrica Rocca business in 2014, Charlotte decided to leave a tech-marketing role and join forces with her sister.

"We were both nurturing our entrepreneurial skills in different ways and finding out who we were," says Claire. "It only felt right to take on the family business once we’d grown our independence."

enrica_rocca_in_the_family_kitchen.jpg

Have faith in each other

While the sisters claim it was a risk for their mother to put the London franchise in their hands, they say that without belief in each other, a family business will never work.

"Our mother put a fantastic level of trust in us to run the Cookery School the way she wanted," says Claire. "We are very conscious that we have a huge legacy to live up to, but we grew up absorbing all of our mother’s creative style, so as her daughters, we are in the best position to carry this to the next generation. If she didn’t trust us, it simply wouldn’t work."

The importance of authenticity

Is it difficult to stand out as a small business in the highly competitive food industry?

"Yes," says Charlotte, "there are hundreds of other businesses in London trying to be the best and our generation can get a bad rep sometimes for failing fast and moving too quickly. So we’re very conscious of staying true to the Enrica Rocca brand and not trying to be something we’re not. Foodpreneurs should deliver what they do best. For us, that’s our personalised and very authentic approach to cooking that our mother has taught us so well."

Claire and Charlotte Chapuis, 2

Knowledge is key

Despite the confidence Enrica has in her daughters, the sisters won’t rest on their laurels. Claire spent a month working alongside her mother in Venice before she reopened the business in London and they continue to learn from Enrica on a daily basis.

"Our mother says we drive her crazy when we call her up to check a recipe or ask advice," says Charlotte, "but she taught us that you have to maintain a curious mind to succeed."

"Customers want us to teach the principles of Venetian cooking at the same standard that our mother would," says Claire. "By regularly visiting our mother in Venice to learn about Italian producers and new recipes, we keep our classes fresh and interesting."

A family business is like a marriage

While Charlotte and Claire admit their friends thought they were 'crazy' to go into business together, they’ve learnt many lessons along the way.

"You have to protect your relationships when you are working with family," says Charlotte.

"We have good and bad days but we are good at leaving disagreements behind and moving on," says Claire. "It’s like being married, you’ve got to work at it."

Skill-sharing

While the sisters claim a traditional work environment can sometimes encourage you to be competitive and 'selfish' with your skills, a family business encourages the opposite.

"When we’re not cooking, I look after the social media and marketing behind the business and help plan events," says Charlotte, "while mum much prefers running away with creative ideas over strategies and business plans." Does it still work?

"Yes, we love our mother’s mind and wouldn’t want her to ever change. But draw on every family member’s skills across the generations and you are on the path to success."

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

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