All in the family
Six area family-owned businesses share how they’ve succeeded working side by side for multiple generations.
By Julie Bonner Williams | Photography by Johnny Quirin
Longtime Grand Rapidians sometimes reminisce about such long-gone department stores as Wurzburg’s, Steketee’s and Herpolsheimer’s — all of which had disappeared from the downtown skyline by the late 1990s.
Or dining at Duba’s or The Schnitzelbank — well-remembered, family-owned eateries that have now shut their doors.
Only 40 percent of family-owned businesses in the United States succeed to the second generation, and only about 13 percent make it into a family’s third generation.
A few of the many area businesses that have achieved longevity include Sweetland Candies, DeVries Jewelers, Koetsier’s Greenhouse, Salvatore’s Italian Restaurant & Pizza, Jurgens & Holtvluwer men’s clothing store and G.B. Russo & Son International Grocery.
How did these local businesses — all with family members still working side by side each day — beat the odds?
Sweetland Candies sells about 50,000 pounds of candies annually, using up to 30,000 pounds of chocolate, says John Naum Jr., grandson of founder Chris Naum, a Greek immigrant who settled in Grand Rapids in 1919.
He notes the company’s successful journey wasn’t without its challenges — among them World War II sugar rationing and the subsequent sugar shortage that caused his grandfather to shut his doors at 2 p.m. each day.
John now runs the business, holding the title of vice president. He works daily at the headquarter store at 5170 Plainfield Ave. NE, making candy and overseeing company operations. His sister, Mary Naum, works at the South Plainfield store in Cheshire Village. Their father, John Naum Sr., now retired, still holds the title of president.
Leading the 96-year-old candy business into the 21st century, John recently opened a third location in nearby Rockford and is mentoring son Andrew, 24, the fourth generation of Naums to make the locally famous seafoam, turtles and other sweets.
Like his grandfather, John recognizes the need to adapt in order to survive. Despite the current trend toward health-conscious eating, he sees this as a great time for chocolates and other candies.
“There’s a lot of good evidence on the benefits of dark chocolate and the healthy qualities of almonds,” he said. “It’s really about moderation. In my opinion, why waste the calories on the cheap stuff? Get something you love. It’s an affordable indulgence.”
His skill in recognizing trends as well as his desire to be creative in his work are contributing factors to Sweetland’s longtime presence in West Michigan.
Recent shifts in the family business include opting to discontinue making ice cream and giving coffee a prominent place in the Rockford location, acknowledging today’s quest for java locales.
Yet it’s more than being adaptable that’s made Sweetland Candies a four-generation success. John attributes it to much more, saying the No. 1 reason the family is in business today is “by the grace of God,” citing the family’s work ethic as another important factor.
He describes his grandfather’s work ethic as “a legend,” saying the founder worked 14 to 16 hours per day.
And then, there’s the chocolate.
“We never scrimp on quality and service,” he says. “We’re a destination stop. Most of our business is by word-of-mouth. We treat the customer right.”
Dave Russo, Kelley Follett, Nate Follett and Philip Russo at G.B. Russo & Son.
G.B. Russo & Son International Grocery
Philip Russo had to stand on a barrel of olives the first time he used the cash register in his family’s store. He was 4, and he remembers his aunt Rose wrapping the strings of an apron twice around his waist that day as he was suited up for work.
Now president of the store established by his grandfather, G.B. Russo, in 1905, Philip works alongside his brother, Dave, vice president, and his daughter, Kelly, who represents the fourth generation of the Russo family working in the shop.
Dave remembers being 6 years old and making sausage with his father — and the less-desirable task of weighing fish.
“I would smell like a cod by the time I was done,” he says with a laugh. “I’d walk home, and dogs would follow me because of the smell of fish on me.”
Before moving to the store’s current location at 2770 29th St. SE in Grand Rapids, the first G.B. Russo grocery store opened in East Grand Rapids’ Ramona Plaza, later relocating to Grand Rapids
“Little Italy” neighborhood near Division and Franklin streets in 1908 and remaining there until 1967, when it moved to Eastern Avenue. In 1976, the store moved to its current location.
Considering the family’s Sicilian roots, it’s not surprising to find an impressive selection of Italian foods and wines in addition to items from around the world. The brothers agree the wines carried in the shop are among their favorite items, with Philip adding he’s also drawn to the unique imported cheeses.
“I don’t have a favorite wine — it just depends on my mood,” says Dave. “I find myself going to the artisan producers — the wines have more character.”
A love of good wine isn’t all the Russo brothers share. They attribute their family’s four generations of success and growth to a shared dedication to work together.
“Dave and I have run the business since 1993 — we’ve worked here our whole lives. We’re a family, we’re individuals, but we all work together for the common good for the business to go on,” Philip said.
Joe Koetsier works with his father, Craig, his uncle Mike Koetsier and Aunt Julie Van DeWege.
“We picked beans in the field as kids, when we were 10, 11 and 12,” reminisces Julie (Koetsier) VanDeWege. “We went to the Fulton Street Farmers Market with our produce. I remember doing that into my teenage years.”
Now 50, she is one of six family members working in the business begun in 1914 as Koetsier Farms by her grandfather, James Koetsier.
Julie is retail manager and production manager and works with brother Mike in the company’s planting operations. Two other brothers own the greenhouses.
Although the family is no longer in farming and produce sales, their greenhouse business has led to continued success for the Koetsiers. Attributing that success largely to excellent customer service and a well-trained staff, her ideal for the business is to be a place for families “to make memories of coming back year after year.”
She waxes nostalgic about the family business. “I have fond memories of just working together with family. It can be challenging, but it’s fun. I remember days of working with my grandpa in the field, and Grandma was always there.”
The future of Koetsier’s Greenhouse, 1601 Spaulding Ave. SE, as a family-owned and -operated business is secure, with the fourth generation already in place. Joe Koetsier, Julie’s 21-year-old nephew, is already hard at work with plans to lead his great-grandfather’s business into the future.
Salvatore, Jim, Tore and Zina Tinervia
Salvatore’s Italian Restaurant & Pizza
Walking through the doors at Salvatore’s Italian Restaurant & Pizza on Stocking Avenue on Grand Rapids’ northwest side often leaves patrons remembering two things: the homemade red sauce and the charming sound of the family members talking in their native Sicilian-Italian language.
Giacomo “Jim” Tinervia is the son of original owners Salvatore and Vincenza Tinervia, and all work together daily along with Jim’s brother, Giovanni, and Jim’s sons, “Tore” (named for Salvatore), 23, and Gabriel, 17.
Giovanni’s son Emmanuel, 14, busses tables, while other family members hostess and manage the wait staff.
Before becoming part-owner of the west side’s go-to Italian restaurant, Jim served as the language interpreter when the eatery opened in 1976.
“My parents’ English was not very good back then, so as a teenager my role was to be the (interpreter) between my parents and the clients,” he said.
The first few years were lean, he says, until the business became more established.
Since then, the Tinervia family’s success has led to tearing down the original building at 660 Stocking Ave. to expand and open a new dining room at 664 Stocking.
Seating capacity jumped from 50 to 230, including a large outdoor patio that is open seasonally.
Jim says 90 percent of items are handmade on site, with pizza and “anything with red sauce” being the top sellers.
He believes quality and service are what keep locals talking.
“The key is to make sure the customer is happy.”
Paul, Dennis, Dan and David DeVries inside their Leonard Street jewelry store.
Dan DeVries got lucky. When he and brother Dave left it to fate to determine their titles, Dan won. “We drew for it, and I got president,” he says.
With that title, he now manages DeVries Jewelers, begun by his great-grandfather Siebern DeVries in 1901. Dan’s son, Paul, 25, will be the fifth generation to work in the family store.
Located at 411 Leonard St. NW for more than 100 years, Dan looks forward to staying in the neighborhood, expanding the business at the property the family owns at 433 Leonard St.
“Our goal is to get into that space and create a bigger store with parking next to the door,” he says.
Identifying sales of engagement rings as the core of the store’s sales, Dan notes bridal sales are a favorite part of running the store.
“There are families who we’ve sold every generation their engagement ring,” he said.
“In the industry we’re in, it’s about relationships and trust. We carry great product, we have competitive prices, but in the end, it’s service — it’s how we treat the customer.”
Heath Jurgens, right, purchased Jurgens & Holtvluwer men’s store from his parents, Steve and Mic Jurgens.
Jurgens & Holtvluwer
“My father said, ‘You don’t want to do this. It’s too high stress, it’s too up and down,’” says Heath Jurgens, fourth-generation owner of Jurgens & Holtvluwer men’s store founded in 1912 by Roy Jurgens Sr. and Henry Holtvluwer Sr.
“My father tried to hire two other people before he even offered me a job.”
Despite the advice, Heath, 41, purchased the business from his parents and leads the men’s clothing store at 4015 Chicago Drive SW in Grandville into the future with unique clothing lines not offered at other area stores.
His parents, Steve and Mic, stay connected to the business — his mother does clothing alterations and his father occasionally works part time.
Sentimental about the shop’s long-standing history, Heath fondly recalls going into the building that originally housed the business in 1912.
“It was this big store with creaky wood floors, and I remember the smells … the smell of the clothing.”
He’s kept a memento from that original store: a five-drawer wooden chest that now holds store catalogs and forms. “We get comments on it weekly.”
While his 9-year-old twin sons may be too young now, Heath hopes they will carry on the family business. “I would love it if they had interest in the business one day.” GR