Multiple generation businesses
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Thomas “Tommy” Dugan Westfeldt II and Shelby Westfeldt Mills
Westfeldt Brothers Inc.
As local family businesses go, Westfeldt Brothers, Inc. goes back quite a long way. In 1835, Gustavus Adolphus George Westfeldt came to America from Sweden to be vice-consul. He formed Westfeldt Brothers in 1851 in Mobile, Alabama. The company, which moved to New Orleans in 1853, is the oldest green coffee importer in the United States. In recent years it has broadened its scope to include the gourmet and chicory coffee, and tea markets as well.
Today, fifth-generation member Thomas Dugan Westfeldt II, who goes by Tommy, is president and CEO of the company, and his daughter, Shelby Westfeldt Mills, is executive vice president.
Along the way, the Westfeldt family played an instrumental role in such well-known businesses as Mississippi Shipping Co., now known as Delta Steamship Co., and D.H. Holmes. The family also is active in the Waldo Burton Memorial Boys Home, known as The Society for Destitute Orphan Boys.
Tommy Westfeldt says he was unsure about which career path to follow when he graduated from Louisiana State University.
After a stint working on his mother’s farm in Poplar, Mississippi, he joined the family business in 1975 and says he took to it right away.
“It’s never, never dead,” he says, describing the fast-paced world of coffee trading. He also enjoys the longstanding relationships cemented over the decades between the company and its suppliers and customers. The job also involves a lot of travel, both to coffee-producing companies and to conventions. Westfeldt Brothers has customers all over the country, with quite a few in the South and the Midwest. When Shelby was married, many of the wedding guests were people the family had become close to through the coffee business, she says.
Mills says she was never pressured into joining the family firm. After graduating from the University of Alabama, she moved to New York to job-hunt. During that period, Hurricane Katrina hit the city and Westfeldt Brothers evacuated to North Carolina. Shelby was asked to help out by clerking at the New York Board of Trade.
“I had no idea what I was in for,” she says. In just a few weeks, though, she realized she loved the challenge of coffee trading as much as her father did. After a year in New York, she returned to New Orleans and joined her father. “I found my dream job,” she says. Both she and her father have served as president of the Southern Coffee Association.
David W. Perlis and David G. Perlis
It was tough sledding when Rogers Perlis opened his men’s clothing store on Magazine Street in 1939. Perlis, who had grown up in a children’s home, worked at his fledgling shop six days a week. On Sundays, he traveled from neighborhood to neighborhood, selling high quality used clothing he had mended and pressed.
His efforts paid off: today, people from all over know Perlis Clothing, the store with the crawfish logo. Perlis sells clothes for men, women and children, as well as school uniforms. It also rents formal wear. In addition to its Magazine Street location, Perlis has stores in Mandeville and Baton Rouge, plus Cajun Clothing Co. shops at the airport and Jax Brewery, as well as a thriving online business.
The store is still family-owned. Rogers Perlis’s son, David G. Perlis, is chairman, and his son, David W., is president. It remains to see how many of the five children in the family’s fourth generation have retail in their blood.
As children, David G. Perlis and his sister helped out at the store, earning a penny for each suit they dusted. He opted for a legal career, but after graduating from Tulane’s law school, he realized he missed the shop and returned to work for his father. (His sister, Sharon, did make law her career.) As the years went by, David G. watched how careful his father was, never biting off more than the business could handle and paying off each expansion and renovation before attempting another.
David W. in turn grew up helping his father at the shop. “I always expected to join the family business someday, but not right out of college,” he says. But his father needed help with a newly purchased, sophisticated computer system, so in 1990, David W. agreed to come on board. He spent four years expanding the crawfish side of the business; his dad had come up with the logo and it was proving to be a big hit.
The Mandeville store opened in 1994, and that spurred David W. to take on more responsibilities. The Baton Rouge shop opened two years ago.
Hewing to the lessons his grandfather taught has enabled Perlis to thrive while so many other independently owned department stores have folded, David W. says. Those lessons include remaining fiscally conservative while bringing innovations on board and forming strong relationships with staff and customers. “I share those same principles,” he says.
(Standing) Steven Geiling, Randy Geiling and Nick Geiling with (seated) Edwin Geiling Jr.
Geiling Auto Service Inc.
Steven Geiling isn’t crazy about Monday mornings at his family’s business, Geiling Auto Service Inc. That is because the Metairie shop gets calls from “shade tree mechanics” who tried to repair their cars themselves and found out the hard way that today’s cars require high-tech equipment and a lot more knowledge than in generations past.
Geiling’s grandfather, Edwin Geiling Sr., founded his business in 1941. In ’87, Edwin Jr. bought the business. Edwin Jr.’s sons, Steven and Randy, are now co-owners. Steven Geiling’s son, Nick, came onboard two years ago.
Edwin Jr. says he tried a few other careers before joining his father at the shop in 1959. “It’s kind of in your blood,” he says. His sons grew up with it, working in the shop and learning from their father.
The business moved to its present location on Papworth Avenue in Metairie in 1973. They rent their previous location on Aris Avenue to another service shop, which also happens to be family-owned.
A lot has changed since he learned to repair cars from his father, Steven Geiling says. “Before the 1980s, cars were a lot easier to work on,” he says, and you could learn by doing. Today, cars are complicated pieces of technology. He has mandatory monthly training every quarter for his employees, and repair shops must spend thousands of dollars to keep their computerized equipment up to date.
You also have to be skilled at running a business, he points out, including marketing and adapting to social media. He says that people move so much now that you must constantly attract new customers.
When the business is a family business, you also have to learn to separate work and home, especially when his wife comes into the shop several times a week to help with paperwork, and his aunt fields calls for service.
Geiling stays active with the Automobile Service Association and stays very involved with the fast-changing industry. Apparently, auto repair shops tend to pass from generation to generation; 90 percent of the association’s member shops were family owned as of 2013.
The average association member is 53, Geiling says, which illustrates the need to attract more young people to the profession.
That should get easier as technology increases and students realize that being an auto mechanic is more about brains than brawn.
(seated center) David Boudreaux Sr., (seated left) Thomas Boudreaux, (standing from left) Brian Boudreaux, Donald Boudreaux Jr.
and Brandon Boudreaux
Many a delighted New Orleanian has found a special something in a package topped with a “Boudreaux bow.” A family business for four generations, Boudreaux’s Jewelers prides itself in creating items that become family heirlooms. The company has weathered the Great Depression, economic recessions and Hurricane Katrina, thriving by building relationships with customers and by bringing young family members into the firm to keep its inventory fresh.
Gilmore Boudreaux, who founded the jewelry shop in 1933, in a shop off Baronne Street, was a craftsman who gained a reputation for making and repairing fine jewelry, especially religious items such as chalices and crosses. He created jewelry for a number of retail jewelers.
Boudreaux’s son, Donald, joined the business after finishing college in the 1950s. Still active today, Donald Boudreaux says when he worked at his dad’s shop during summer vacations, he loved the way broken or neglected jewelry items came in looking unattractive and left looking “gorgeous” after being repaired and polished.
“Our dad instilled a great work ethic in his sons,” says one of Donald’s sons, Brian Boudreaux, 56. Brian, like his brothers Tommy, 46, and Donny, 48, grew up around the business and did jobs such as gift-wrapping when they were young.
Donald Boudreaux moved the downtown shop to Metairie Road in 1985, anticipating a growing market in the suburbs. Brian now runs that location and his son, Brandon, 23, joined him recently after graduating from Tulane University and studying at the Gemological Institute of America in California.
The company opened its Mandeville shop in 1995. Tommy Boudreaux, who manages that location, says he always wanted to go into the business. He prepared by working for several other jewelers, to gain experience.
When Hurricane Katrina hobbled both shops, the Boudreauxs decided another move was in order and opened a Baton Rouge location in 2005. Donny Boudreaux, an LSU grad, had worked as a landscape architect for several years before taking the helm of the Baton Rouge store.
Brian Boudreaux says one reason the family business has endured is its expertise in engagement and wedding rings, as well as its ability to create and repair jewelry. Brandon adds that the store’s lines of semiprecious stones offer affordable and fashion-forward choices for younger buyers.
A while ago, Brandon Boudreaux helped an older woman who was a longtime customer. She paid him a compliment, he says, when she told him “I could tell after 30 seconds you were a Boudreaux.”
Mark DeFelice, Sandy DeFelice, Bob Defelice and Ginny Defelice
In May 1892, Frank Manale left his home in the small town of Contessa Entellina, Sicily, and sailed to New Orleans. Some 21 years later, he opened a restaurant on the corner of Napoleon Avenue and Dryades Street and hired his nephew, Pascal Radosta, to tend bar. When Manale died in 1937, Radosta bought the restaurant from Frank Manale’s wife. He renamed the restaurant Pascal’s Manale, and ran it until his death in ’58.
So begins the story of how Pascal’s Manale became a fixture in the New Orleans dining scene. The restaurant, perhaps best known for its barbecue shrimp dish, has been owned by a variety of family members ever since. Today, Sandy DeFelice and other members of his family run the restaurant; Sandy is Pascal Radosta’s grandson. He and his siblings are the fourth generation of family to work at the eatery, and several of his children along with a nephew are the fifth.
The lineage gets a little complicated, but DeFelice says the recipe for the restaurant’s success is simple. Credit goes to dedicated, longtime staff members, the hard work of so many family members and the way both locals and visitors make meals at Pascal’s Manale one of their own family traditions. Not long ago, he says, a couple told him they had dined there 26 years ago when they became engaged, and were happy to see the restaurant was just as they remembered it. Parents come to eat when they bring their sons and daughters for visits to Tulane University, and lots of Tulane grads visit the restaurant when they come back for reunions.
You won’t get the famed barbecue shrimp recipe out of DeFelice, but he will tell you the dish originated when Pascal Radosta, his brother Jake and a friend did some experimentation in the kitchen and came up with the dish sometime around 1952. The name is misleading, as the shrimp aren’t barbecued, but that doesn’t matter to the hungry customers who love to dip their French bread into the rich, garlicky sauce. “It’s still a popular dish,” says DeFelice. He knows lots of other restaurants make their own versions, but that doesn’t worry him. “Some come close, some are so far away.”
Running a restaurant isn’t a 9-to-5 job, DeFelice points out. It takes a lot of preparation to open it up and a lot to close it at the end of the day. But he says his family wouldn’t have it any other way; in an era when so many restaurants are chains, they take pride in running the one and only Pascal’s Manale, still in the same spot where it opened up 101 years ago.