It's All Relative
Though the term “Mom & Pop” operation may conjure images of a bygone era, Ventura Boulevard still bustles with a smattering of businesses bolstered by strong family ties. Four business owners get candid about managing flourishing, long-time enterprises, and sharing—and in some cases passing down—the joy of the trade en famile.
Written byAmy Lyons •
THEIR CASA IS YOUR CASA
13301 Ventura Blvd
Casa Vega owner Rafael “Ray” Vega and his daughter, Christy Vega Fowler, who serves as vice president, run the restaurant. When Casa Vega opened in 1956, Ray’s father was the bartender and his mother was the hostess. Before that his parents were also in the biz, running Café Caliente downtown.
“My dad has taught me everything I know,” say Christy, who is proud of her father’s 55-year run at the helm of Casa Vega and is carrying the family torch. “He has trained and groomed me to take over Casa Vega. He’s a model for all heads of family businesses. He understands that roles change. As he passes the torch to me, his role becomes less involved in the day-to-day activities. He holds my hand as I move into the role of the head of the business. My mom’s role is also one of support. Whenever I’m overwhelmed with business or family, she steps in and takes pressure off.”
The mother of three boys, 33-year-old Christy has her work cut out for her at home and work. Over the years, she’s worked in every role at Casa Vega–from waitress to cook to cashier. “The benefits of working in a family business are immense,” she says. “I enjoy freedom, flexibility and independence. Because I set my own schedule and am able to have my children at work with me, I’m able to still be with my young sons and be a successful businesswoman. There’s also a built-in trust factor. If something goes wrong, my family is always first on the scene to help.”
CHANGING IT UP
“Christy has given a contemporary twist to our brand. She came up with the idea of having a ‘skinny margarita’ made with fresh juices and no mix, and she encouraged us to stop using lard and use trans-fat oils instead. And she put her ‘chopped’ guacamole on the menu, which isn’t as smooth as the traditional kind” says Ray, beaming with pride. He adds, “She knows what the younger generation likes.”
“Casa Vega is our family jewel, and we hope it passes from generation to generation,” says Christy. “My father built it from nothing. With family business there’s a strong commitment to quality, and that quality directly relates to my family name. There is a lot of pride in that.”
FASHION FORWARD FAMILY
12128 Ventura Blvd
Who: Fred Levine, Lisa Levine (Fred’s wife) and Mardi Fox (Fred’s sister). Together, they own M. Fredric in Studio City—one of five retail locations in the LA area.
A HANDSHAKE DEAL
“I was a practicing attorney, and the firm I worked for represented the garment industry,” says Fred, recalling the years leading up to his 1980 launch of the first M. Fredric store. “When I resigned, I contacted some of my clients and told them I was opening a store. They were happy to furnish me with merchandise. I had no credit, and they carried me. It was a different time–a handshake and an understanding that I’d fulfill my obligations was all it took.” Family helped from day one, says Fred, who credits his mother, Phyllis, for getting the accessories side up and running. “She knew everything about that part of the business. Mardi had retail experience, and Lisa has always had a real talent for the sales side.”
A PASSION FOR FASHION
“We all love what we do, and that’s the reason we’ve had a successful partnership for 31 years,” says Mardi, who launched the kids division of M. Fredric when she became a mother. “And if you have the kind of family relationships we have, working with each other is the only way to go. It’s all about the trust we have in each other’s judgment and the dedication we have toward our work.”
ALL VOICES COUNT
“Every decision has to be unanimous, or it is not going to happen,” says Fred. “If any one of us is against a new concept, promotional idea or location, we don’t do it. Ninety-nine percent of the time we are all on board.” Lisa adds, “In the rare case we do disagree, it doesn’t come home with us. We figure out a solution and move on.”
BEAT OF HIS OWN DRUMMER
Not everyone in the family is in fashion biz. Fred’s son, Adam Levine, is the frontman and guitarist of the rock band Maroon Five and, most recently, a “coach” on the NBC show The Voice.
THE HAIR APPARENT
Allen Edwards Salon
20855 Ventura Blvd
Husband and wife team Allen and Lisa Edwards, owners of Allen Edwards Salon & Spa in Woodland Hills. Allen’s son, Jason, has followed in his footsteps as a stylist, working at C The Salon, in Studio City. Amy Edwards, Allen’s daughter, also is a hairdresser based in Beverly Hills.
THE TALK OF TV
“The door really opened for me when I created ‘the Farrah Fawcett,’” says Allen Edwards, who started opening hair salons back in 1974. “TV was my giant shopping center, and the more exposure I got, the more clients came through the door.” Today, Allen employs 19 stylists in his Woodland Hills location. He trained his children, Jason and Amy, at his former Studio City salon, and the entire family worked together there for several years. That salon is now the location for C The Salon, where Jason now works.
TEACHING EACH OTHER
“The greatest thing about working with my two kids is that they are equally creative, and there is no competition,” says Allen. “When we work together, we inspire each other creatively. I’ve never gotten bored with being a hairdresser. I love cutting hair and creating new looks and colors, and my kids are the same way.” Amy’s strength is color, adds Allen, while Jason loves to cut hair.
A BALANCED MARRIAGE
“I’m very left-brained and emotional, while my wife, Lisa, is more logical,” Allen says. “She does the business side, and I like to motivate the hairdressers, do the PR and go on television. Without Lisa running the business end, it just wouldn’t work. You have to know what you do really well.”
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
MItchell Litt Home
14918 Ventura Blvd
Together with his wife Sharon, Mitchell Litt launched Mitchell Litt Home Furnishings in 1973.
Today, the couple’s son, 35-year-old Kevin Litt, is at the helm, with mom and dad still pitching in.
A LIFETIME OF EXPERIENCE
“Literally from the time I was 5, I was buying antiques in Europe,” says Kevin, who still relies on his parents’ expertise in running his longtime Sherman Oaks and newer Encino home furnishing stores. “I’d be an idiot to not keep my parents involved. They have 30 years of experience each, and you can’t replace that. We have an eye for detail because we did antiques first and then transitioned into newer furniture. If someone wants their high-end house to look and feel a certain way, we can do that at a good price point.”
MINIMIZING SHOP TALK
“If I’m at the dinner table with my brother, who is not in the business, or at home with my wife, I try to be aware of the fact that they might not love talking about retail,” says Kevin. “I’m mildly obsessed and so is my dad, but we try to temper our conversations.”
Kevin, the father of an 18-month-old, says he too hopes to hand the business down one day, but he won’t push. “If my son wants to be in this business, great, if not that’s great too. It just so happens that I really like this business. They day he talks about colors and how wonderfully they go together, I’ll know it was meant to be.”
PASSING THE TORCH
Mitchell describes it as “really rewarding” to have his son there to carry on. He says, “You often hear that the next generation is not as good as the previous one. In this case, I believe this next generattion is better.”
“I still like to come in but Kevin is really in charge now. And he brings a lot to the table—a young perspective.” Mitchell points out that his son has started manufacturing a line of furniture abroad for the stores and he’s brought in more contemporary pieces. “I told him he could change the name to Kevin Litt, it wouldn’t bother me a bit.” However, Kevin, so far, has declined.
They’re roadside attractions.