Meet 4 local couples who live and work together

Meet four local couples who have combined loves and livelihoods

slinn@thetribunenews.comFebruary 8, 2013 

Business is a balancing act.

In addition to keeping customers and suppliers satisfied, business owners must also maintain a healthy, productive working environment for their employees.

Keeping the peace is tricky enough with regular co-workers. But what happens when that cute cubicle-mate is also your spouse?

In celebration of St. Valentine’s Day, The Tribune talked to four local couples who are partners in life as well as business. Below, they share the challenges and rewards of working with a significant other.

Doug and Nancy Beckett

Co-owners, Peachy Canyon Winery in Paso Robles

When Doug and Nancy Beckett moved to Paso Robles with their two sons in 1981, owning a winery was the last thing on their minds.

“We moved here with the idea of raising our boys in the country,” said Doug Beckett, who first experienced the Central Coast as a construction worker in Atascadero in the late 1960s. “We never dreamed we would be in the wine business.”

The couple met while attending Cal Western University in San Diego, now known as Alliant International University. A business administration major, Doug Beckett eventually went into teaching and counseling, while his wife taught dance and physical education.

Doug Beckett returned to construction after his family moved to the North County, but soon developed an interest in home winemaking.

After partnering with Paso Robles winemaker Pat Wheeler at Tobias Winery, the Becketts branched out on their own. They founded Peachy Canyon Winery in 1988, hiring Tobin “Toby” James of Tobin James Cellars in Paso Robles as their first winemaker.

“We started out very small,” recalled Beckett, who balanced his winery duties with jobs as a glass importer, real estate agent and substitute teacher during Peach Canyon’s early years.

He still serves as the winery’s president and general manager of about 25 employees, while Nancy Beckett, who teaches jazz and tap dancing at Class Act Dance in Paso Robles, now limits her involvement to helping out in the office and tasting room. (Sons Josh and Jake Beckett served as Peachy Canyon’s head winemaker and sales manager, respectively, before leaving to start their own label, Chronic Cellars of Paso Robles.)

“We’ve been very successful in that we’ve been partners in the winery and yet we both have our own identities,” Doug Beckett said, although he takes care to keep his wife involved. “She knows what’s happening on a daily basis.”

Nancy Beckett said she’s happy to be a “sounding board” for her husband.

“We talk a lot at home, which is really good for both of us,” she said.

“I can empathize with him when I know he’s really in a quandary about something. … Then we seem to work it out.”

“In addition to being my wife and my lover, she’s my best friend,” Doug Beckett said, noting that his wife is “right there beside me” whenever he attends an industry event. “That makes a huge difference.”

Bob and Heidi Buhl

Co-owners, Phillips Floor to Ceiling in San Luis Obispo and World of Floors in Arroyo Grande

If you ask Bob Buhl, owning a small business is “not for the faint of heart.”

“If you’re going to own your own small business, you have to wear a lot of different hats and you have to be flexible and you have to bite your tongue on a regular basis,” he said. “For some people that’s hard to do.”

Luckily, Buhl has an understanding partner in his wife, Heidi.

The two, who met in a religion class at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, married 35 years ago in her native New Orleans. Bob Buhl’s job as a traveling salesman for an Arlington, Texas, carpet mill brought the couple to California in 1976.

As Heidi Buhl raised the couple’s two children, Robin and Scott, her husband worked as a sales representative and manager for several California carpet mills. Then a friend invited the family to partner with them and buy out their Central Coast flooring business.

The Buhls have owned and operated Phillips Floor to Ceiling since 1992, establishing a San Luis Obispo showroom in 1995 and moving to their current World of Floors warehouse in Arroyo Grande in 2004. They employ four salespeople and two warehouse employees.

Bob Buhl oversees sales and marketing as president, while Heidi Buhl, the vice president, handles the financial side.

“We try not to cross lines. If you’re both making the same decision on the same subject, that’s where you run into some issues,” said Bob Buhl, who divides household duties, too. He handles laundry and vacuuming, while his wife — a biology major — does the gardening.

Bob and Heidi Buhl agreed that a little patience and an even-tempered attitude go a long way toward preventing workplace strife.

“I think the key is to relax and not take everything so serious,” he said.

“You have a common goal and common incentives and you know what issues each person is trying to handle because you’re in … the whole thing together,” his wife added. “There is a real ‘All for one and one for all’ kind of mentality.”

Kevin and Barb Kennedy

Co-partners, Kennedy Club Fitness in Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo

It all started with one Lifecycle exercise bicycle, 12 pieces of Nautilus equipment and a stereo.

“We just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said Barb Kennedy, who met her future husband while attending high school in southeast Los Angeles County. They married when he was studying natural resource management at Cal Poly.

The Kennedys opened their first fitness center in Atascadero in 1981, christening it The Sports Center.

“One of the first people that walked through the door came in … wondering if we sold any fishing gear,” Barb Kennedy recalled. “And I thought, ‘Oh my god, what have we done.’ ”

They eventually changed the name and moved down the road to a larger facility. Today, about 300 employees at Kennedy Club Fitness locations in Atascadero, Arroyo Grande, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo serve more than 17,000 clients.

“Our original plan was to build three multipurpose clubs throughout the county,” Kevin Kennedy said, adding that they’ve encountered a few setbacks — a failed restaurant venture, the shuttering of their downtown San Luis Obispo site — along the way. “It took me 25 years to get our 10-year plan done.”

Over the years, Kevin Kennedy’s duties have morphed from mopping up restrooms, selling memberships and minding the front desk to heading Kennedy Club Fitness’ corporate headquarters and general managers, which include son Sean Kennedy. (The couple also has two daughters, Erin and Courtney, who are not involved in the business.)

His wife oversees about 150 teachers as the group exercise director.

“He always knew my forte, I always knew his forte, and we never crossed paths,” Barb Kennedy said. “He’s the best boss I’ve ever had, and I’m sure he’d say the same thing about me.”

As much as they love their jobs, the Kennedys enjoy traveling, visiting their Mexico condo a couple times a year.

“You’ve got to get away from the business so you can come back refreshed and renewed,” Kevin Kennedy said. “It’s really important for our relationship, too.”

Being “physically able to work out” helps as well, Barb Kennedy added. “It helps you clear your brain, clear your outlook on things. We have an added perk that a lot of people don’t have.”

John and Renee Linn

Co-owners, Linn’s of Cambria

In the early days, Renee Linn crafted every juicy, flaky olallieberry pie sold at Linn’s Fruit Bin in Cambria herself.

“We didn’t even own a mixer. She was literally making all that dough,” blending ingredients and shaping crusts by hand, John Linn recalled. “I was at the front counter just 10 feet from her serving the pies she was making in the kitchen.”

Today, the Linns’ homespun empire in Cambria includes two eateries, two gift shops, a farm stand and a mail-order business specializing in pies, preserves and other tasty treats. They employ between 90 and 105 people, depending on the season.

John and Renee Linn met at the University of Kansas, where he studied Latin American history and literature and she specialized in fine arts. After graduation, they spent five years running a Denver service station before moving to Cambria with their three children — Justin, Aaron and Aimee — in 1976.

“Our plan was to do something we could do as a family,” John Linn said.

So he and Renee Linn started selling freshly picked berries and vegetables at Linn’s Fruit Bin in 1979. A decade later, Linn’s Restaurant opened its doors in downtown Cambria.

Aaron Linn currently acts as the restaurant’s general manager, but his sister is no longer involved in the business. Justin Linn passed away in 2007.

John and Renee Linn said their roles have changed as their business has grown.

“My job has evolved from being instigator and creator,” Renee Linn said, to gift shop overseer. Her farmer husband now focuses on finances.

“We have learned a division of labor — each according to his or her special talents,” John Linn said, and he’s particularly admiring of his wife’s gifts. “The longer I’ve worked with her, the more respect I have for her. She’s an incredibly intelligent person, but she’s also really artistic and creative, and it shows in every aspect of our business.”

The most important lesson he’s learned is “having respect for your partner and being willing to step aside when this person has a better idea than you do … or better taste than you do,” he said. “You need to know your limitations and accept that.”

Renee Linn also stressed the importance of boundaries.

“At one point I said to John, ‘We cannot talk about money when we’re up in the bedroom,’ ” she said. “I just don’t want to hear about that at a certain point in the day.” However, she added, “It’s always a challenge because our business is our life.”

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