Here's What Happened When 3 Makers Started Businesses with Their Siblings

April 10, 2016

They showed us important life skills—like how to catch minnows using a towel—picked us up from school, and proctored our first sips of wine. Sure, we've had a fight or two (and may forget to answer each others' emails now and then), but face it: Siblings are the best kind of partner in crime. And because today is National Siblings Day, a definitely under-appreciated holiday, we’re featuring three pairs of makers from our Shop who started their businesses with a brother or sister.

Photo by Alpha Smoot

Dona Chai

When Amy Rothstein, the founder of Dona Chai, realized that there was a serious lack of local chai in New York City, she seized the opportunity to grow a business. There was only one problem: She had never even thought about making chai before, let alone actually done it. Unlike many companies who start with a great recipe and develop it into a business, she went the other way around. "We sort of grew in reverse," she told me over the phone.

Lucky for her (and us), her brother Peter was earning his business degree at the time. As Amy experimented and taste-tested what would eventually become the perfect slow-brewed balance of spices, her brother gradually became more and more involved on the business side of things. They never planned on starting a company together, but it was sort of a natural progression—one that Amy wouldn't change for the world. "I thought, if I was going to take on a partner, of course I'd want it to be family," she said. "Neither of us will lose interest in the company or each other."

It's this kinship, Amy went on to say, that creates a funny and casual company dynamic, one that allows them to hash out their differences without getting in the way of a solid business model, so they can focus on the more important things: consistency and quality in every sip.

Olympia Provisions

A family-run charcuterie out of Portland, Oregon that now encompasses two separate restaurants and two sausage stands (plus appearances at 17 farmers markets a week and national shipping program), Olympia Provisions specializes in salamis and cured meats made from northwestern pork. The owners, siblings Elias and Michelle Cairo, each bring a unique skill set to the business.

Production at Olympia Provisions involves Old World, handmade techniques that Elias learned in Switzerland—and when he made his way to Portland, it was his sister Michelle who channeled his unique craft into a burgeoning business. “We have always been really close. I told my sis that I really wanted to open a small meat plant and sell at the farmer's markets,” he remembered over email. “Sis has an MBA and was running the finance at a big company, but said she would loan me some money. It was a great success in the local market, [but] then we won four Good Food Awards in the first year. Sis quit her job to help me out and turned this little meat into quite the cool thing.

With Michelle at the helm of the business side and Elias focusing on the day to day production, the siblings keep each other in check. "We really work hard at what we do everyday to ensure that we are building and making something awesome together," Elias said. "It is really amazing to be able to have someone so close to you that you fully trust are making good honest decisions."

Pigeon Toe

Unlike Elias and Michelle, the sister-team behind another Portland producer, Pigeon Toe, didn’t always get along. “We are best friends now,” they remarked over email while traveling, “but it took years of being very far away from one another and a lot of maturing to get to that point. Our parents were terrified that this was going to ruin our relationship, but it’s brought us together and made us so much closer.”

Lisa and Samantha of Pigeon Toe Photo by Pigeon Toe Ceramics

Founded in 2008 after Lisa Jones left her career in graphic design to focus on pottery, Pigeon Toe has sought to produce durable, attainable, and ethically-made ceramics that are both classically beautiful and appropriate for the everyday—since the very beginning. It was these honest attributes that helped the business grow until it was large enough to support two owners, when Lisa welcomed her sister Sam to the team.

Though they may have had their differences in the past (to wit: "as a child, Lisa’s weapon of choice was glitter bombs, while Sam opted for brute force"), it’s this family dynamic that shaped the company Pigeon Toe is today. “We are opposites in almost every way," they wrote, "which turns out to be a strength in this business. Lisa is the creative powerhouse and Sam is the business visionary. Together we balance each other in a very symbiotic way.”

Each of these makers cultivates very different artisanal goods that celebrate quality above all else—and you can find their collections in our Shop! Despite various backstories, their close family bonds and mutual desires to harbor best practices have yielded nothing but remarkable results, and we're so excited to celebrate them on this holiday. (Now go give your brothers, sisters, and best friends a call to celebrate National Siblings Day!)

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Sarah E Daniels

Written by: Sarah E Daniels

It's mostly a matter of yeast.