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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

Cultural Ties Bring Family Businesses Closer Together

You can tell a business is run by a close-knit family when: Brother-in-laws commute every day to the mechanic shop they own together; A soon-to-be college graduate plans to help translate for his first-generation Korean-American parents, when they need help at their dry-cleaning store; And the general manager of a Mexican restaurant in Reseda says at least 16 family members are working at the family’s four restaurants. Rewards and challenges abound for those running a family business, particularly those in ethnic or minority communities. Profiled here are three culturally diverse San Fernando Valley family businesses — the kind of enterprises that may exist in tightly woven family enclaves, but have branched out beyond their traditional ethnic circles. HR Auto Repair and Sales H.R. Ourichian had no grand designs to be an entrepreneur: opening an auto repair shop was born of necessity. About five years ago, H.R., who everyone calls “Hutch,” found himself jobless as the printing company where he did machine repair work shut down. His sister, Tomor Daoulatian, who was a partner at the company, found herself similarly unemployed. Putting his experience as a mechanic to use, Ourichian decided to open HR Auto Repair and Sales in Northridge, pulling his sister and her husband, Reuben Daoulatian both into the business. This close Armenian clan has Tomor handling the repair shop’s books at home in South Pasadena, while Hutch and Reuben commute together every day, 32 miles each way, to the San Fernando Valley. “We had to do something for a living,” Ourichian said. The trio opened 14 months ago on a large corner lot at the intersection of Saticoy Street and Louise Avenue. The first four to six months were challenging, Ourichian admitted. “When you open a new business nobody knows you.” So far, though, things are going well, he said. “I don’t have too much Armenian clientele, to be honest,” Ourichian said. “We do all around business.” That may be a good thing. Businesses that originate in an ethnic community need to branch out, said Pepperdine University professor of management Otis Baskin. He recalls the case of an Armenian catering company. “(It) had a great reputation within the Armenian community, but its opportunity for growth as a caterer was servicing the entertainment community,” Baskin said. Even though its Armenian customer base is negligible, HR Auto Repair embodies a central theme to Armenian culture — the family. “I have three sisters, no brother. So he’s my brother,” Ourichian said, of his business partner. “My brother-in-law is like my brother. We trust each other a lot. It’s like one family.” Century Cleaners Henry Kim came to America from Korea when he was 16 years old. Since then, Kim, 25, has spent countless hours working at Century Cleaners, his family’s dry cleaning store on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. Southern California has more than 800 dry cleaning businesses owned by Korean-Americans, according to the Gardena-based Korean Drycleaners and Laundry Association. Most are run by individual families that open drycleaners partly because their English is limited. “Owning a dry cleaners, you don’t need to speak much English,” Henry Kim said, noting customers rarely include Korean neighbors. “People just come in and drop off their stuff.” The Kims — Henry Kim and his parents Joann and Young Kim — started running the business about eight years ago, after buying it from Henry’s aunt. The family has two additional employees, including one Latino employee and another Korean-American. The Kims and their Korean-American employee speak Korean extensively at work. Joann and Young don’t speak much English, Henry Kim said, noting he often translates for his parents. But next year, Henry Kim said he plans to fly from the nest and into the corporate world. “I think I’m gonna leave the family business,” said Kim, who graduates next spring from California State University, Northridge (CSUN) and wants to use his management degree. “I have been working, like, five or six days a week for the past six years,” Kim said. He said he will help out as much as possible, when his family needs him to help translate, but his mother and father understand that he has ambitions away from the family business. “I have a really good relationship with my parents,” he said. Las Fuentes The Morales family business started in the late 1970s with a taco truck. Now the family has built a chain of four Mexican restaurants in the Valley, thanks to the hard work of a large extended family, said Alex Morales, general manager of Las Fuentes restaurant in Reseda. Las Fuentes was started in 1982 by his parents Alejandro and Norma Morales. The family also owns Melody’s in Reseda, Senor Sol in Northridge and Sol y Luna, an upscale restaurant in Tarzana. Of the estimated 40 workers at the family’s four restaurants, at least 16 employees are related to Alex, his brother and sister and their families, Morales said. Word of mouth fueled the first restaurant’s early success, Morales said. “We were one of the first taco trucks on this side of the Valley,” he said. And teachers from nearby Reseda High School and officers from the Los Angeles Police Department’s West Valley Division have been regular diners at the family’s restaurants for years. Besides serving up authentic Mexican cuisine, the Morales family aims to celebrate its culture with its guests. Las Fuentes and Sol y Luna, which each seat about 120 people, also have attached galleries featuring Mexican folk art. Like most children who grew up in a family business, Morales started at Las Fuentes as a busboy. The family orders were “get out of school and just come straight over.” Morales said he started working full-time when he finished high school in 1992. Now as the general manager, he admits that running a family restaurant is not for everyone. “It’s a difficult calling, if you’re not brought up in it,” Morales said. “You have to like it. If you don’t like it, you might go haywire. The main job is working here with the family.”

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