It's 6 a.m. on a Monday and Larry Kaiser has already gotten his hands dirty at 1760 Homestead Farm in Riverhead, which he owns with his wife, Margaret Feinberg. It won't be long until she clocks in and starts handling the front of the house.
Intertwining their private and professional lives is no bother to the couple who started their first business as a pair in the '90s — Kaiser Landscaping. "I knew she and I could get along when I met her," Kaiser says. "She was sweeping out an old potato barn to make a gift shop. It didn’t go through," he says of one of her earlier efforts to open a shop in Mattituck. "I had the desire to do something independent and she had the business sense. So when it came time to do this it was kind of a no brainer."
Kaiser and Feinberg have worked together at 1760 Homestead Farm since 2013. And like many married pairs working behind the scenes together at Long Island businesses, they say the biggest key to success is separating work and home life: at work, they're business partners and at home, they're a couple.
That, with a little bit of humor and compromise, is how these six married couples are making the 9-5 work:
1760 Homestead Farm
“We always had the rule that once we go home, it’s home. It’s not work anymore."
- Larry Kaiser and Margret Feinberg, co-owners of 1760 Homestead Farm
"Stay in your lane" are the words Feinberg and Kaiser abide by in order to stand the test of time. The couple has been working together for more than 30 years.
With Feinberg’s "brains" and Kaiser’s "muscles," they turned 4 1/2-acres of farmland that was in "dire need of repair" into productive spaces: Inside the original farmhouse, there’s a kitchen that turns out baked goods, jams, jellies and the like, which are sold on the property out of a decorated shed. A few steps away, there’s a 270-year-old barn that Kaiser refurbished, where he now sells produce and porch décor. Then, there’s the greenhouses and about 15 hives to maintain; chicken coops with up to 90 chickens; horses, ducks and goats are on the property, too.
"We always had the rule that once we go home, it’s home. It’s not work anymore," says Feinberg. "Otherwise, at 11 at night you’re getting punched in the shoulder like ‘did you remember to call so and so today?" Kaiser says while laughing. "But honestly, it’s difficult."
The duo is at the farm daily — she handles administrative tasks and accounting and he the horticulture and agriculture part of the business. The only downside, Kaiser says, is that they "don’t get a chance to decompress or get alone time. We need a little bit of personal space."
“You have to learn to pick your battles.”
- Melanie and Jose Gonzalez, co-owners of Simple Good
Melanie Gonzalez and her husband Jose agree that without each other, their business selling sustainable products in Port Jefferson simply wouldn’t exist. They "complement each other," Jose says. "Between the two of us, we can make it happen. We figure it out."
Melanie says she always had an interest in environmental climate issues, but it wasn’t until her husband moved up in his career in construction that she was able to "take a step back" from her corporate job and unleash her creative side with the launch of a zero- or low-waste business.
"My son was part of this toy club for Amazon," she says of how the idea for the store initially came up. Every month, toys would get sent to the house and almost immediately, he’d break them. Then, "this light bulb went off. Where does all this plastic go? Where does all the packaging go?"
Simple Good launched in July 2019, selling package-free, nontoxic home goods, aromatherapy and self care items, women's and baby clothing and children’s goods.
From the beginning — a booth set up at Artists & Fleas market in Williamsburg in 2019 — Jose has been by Melanie's side. She handles the day-to-day operations of the store while he, at the shop a couple of times a week, helps with design work, whether it be building furniture, sculptures or light fixtures. He also helps keep the space clean while offering moral support. "A lot of what he does is in spirit of the store," Melanie says. "So, he’ll get wood from Craigslist that’s been in somebody’s boiler room for 30 years" and create a piece that he can later use or sell at the shop.
Melanie says she wouldn't have been able to get the company started without Jose's skill set. "We had limited resources when I left corporate world," she says. "There was no way I could hire a designer."
Melanie says working corporate was "harder on our marriage" than working together, due to less flexibility, travel commitments and commute time, but that doesn’t mean times don’t get hard at the shop, either.
"You have to learn to pick your battles," Jose says. "We’re rolling with the punches," Melanie adds.
Q’Lex Hair Lounge and Barbershop
“Your husband is your best partner. That’s the person that’s going to push you to your limits.”
- Alexa Quiroga and Jonathan Quiroga, co-owners of Q’Lex Hair Lounge and Barbershop
Alexa Quiroga, 33, has been in the hairstyling business since she was 16 years old, first getting her start at her mother’s Hempstead salon. She and her husband Jonathan Quiroga, who also worked in the business, joined forces and opened Q’Lex Hair Lounge and Barbershop in Mineola.
The pair says they initially planned on opening a hair lounge and barbershop in North Carolina, but "life had other plans."
In 2019, Q’Lex became the spot where the whole family can go for pampering — from haircuts to manicures, pedicures and facials. "We want people to come and stay and have an experience," Jonathan says of the multifaceted business.
Before opening the salon, the couple had reservations but decided to take the chance. "The way we are brought up is ‘don’t take too much risk.’ I like to work, but I also like my own time. I knew coming into this I’d have to sacrifice that. But this has a bigger purpose," he says. They plan on turning their business into a school where others can learn the trade.
"Your husband is your best partner," Alexa says about working with Jonathan. "That’s the person that’s going to push you to your limits … You’re going for the same goal."
While the flexibility of working together has worked in both of their favors, "showing the kids this mindset of being entrepreneurs," is what they really pride themselves on, Jonathan says.
Simple Little Detail Home and Decor
It's “more stressful than when we worked our separate jobs, but it’s more rewarding.”
- Danielle and Dan Demelfi, co-owners of Simple Little Detail Home and Decor
The co-owners of Simple Little Detail Home and Decor, Danielle and Dan Demelfi, have outgrown their retail spaces several times since launching in their Mastic Beach backyard in 2014. What they haven't outgrown is the passion and dedication they both have to keep their business — and their relationship — alive.
It all started with a Cricut and no more than $400 in their bank account, Danielle says. "I stayed up night after night, hour after hour learning that machine," she says. "My husband built houses so building signs was easy," she says of his contributions.
What wasn’t so easy for Dan, though, was leaving his day job to purse working at the store as a full-time gig. "It’s very apprehensive to leave something and just go out on your own," he says adding that you’re taking a "giant leap and you don’t know what’s going to happen." But the business took off after he posted a photo on social media of a farmhouse table he had designed for his wife. "It got to the point where I couldn’t get stuff done anymore because I didn’t have enough time to physically do it."
After years of selling their goods at fairs, hosting craft classes and manning a small storefront, the couple opened a larger brick-and-mortar in a former gas station in 2020. A few months later they expanded to another store a few doors down.
"Store 1" mainly focuses on seasonal décor, but also offers wedding gifts, jewelry and pet items; "store 2" focus is on farmhouse, Bohemian and modern décor pieces, clothing and customizable wood furniture.
Danielle manages the boutiques while Dan works across the street in his own woodwork shop.
"We know to separate a bit," she says, of keeping their sanity.
Being in business with your spouse is "more stressful than when we worked our separate jobs, but it’s more rewarding," Dan says. Danielle adds they try to make it fun, too: "There’s times when I’m in here and we are having margaritas and blasting music. I can’t even tell you how many times we turned around and said ‘can you believe this is where we are now?' "
“We know when to sort of step away from each other.”
- Debbie and Michael Freiser, co-owners of Yussel's Place
Debbie and Michael Freiser have been immersed in the "Jewish communal world" for decades. The two married in 1986 and left their jobs — he at a real estate magazine and she at the Advertising Research Foundation — in pursuit of becoming their own bosses. A New York Times ad that same year to purchase an 8-month-old Yussel’s Place caught their attention and they've owned the business since has seen a successful run since.
"We implicitly trust each other," Michael says of working with his wife.
Yussel’s specializes in mezuzahs, tallits and ketubahs. This on top of their "large wedding business," in which they offer registries.
At the store, Michael handles the buying and customers while Debbie handles the paperwork and special orders. At the end of the night when that door closes behind them, they try to leave work discussions within those four walls; however, car rides to and from work are neutral territory.
"We just know when to sort of step away from each other," he says about his successful decadeslong run with his wife as his partner at Yussel's. And, in an effort to remain clearheaded, the couple tries to head to New Paltz two times a month for a retreat.
“You have to like what you’re doing and you have to like who you’re with.”
- Eileen Caplin Wysel and Ronnie Wysel, co-owners of Bobb Howard's
To many, Bobb Howard's is a nostalgic candy store that doubles as an auto repair shop. But to Eileen Caplin Wysel and Ronnie Wysel, it’s nothing short of a family legacy, one that’s achieved exponential success since its inception in October 1946.
Caplin Wysel, who grew up at the shop and later inherited it from her parents Gert and Sam Caplin, is credited for converting her one-time office space (the candy and toy shop) into a mini market in 1982. From that, she had a vision for something else: she replaced the cigarettes, lottery, milk and other goods with nostalgic candy and toys and turned it into the Bobb Howard's as we know it today.
As the shop was being remodeled, the two married and by the mid-70s, Wysel, too, was working at the adjacent mechanic shop under his father-in-law's direction. Today, both of them "eat, sleep and breath" Bobb Howard’s, they say. "It’s our baby."
While they are passionate about their joint career they admit it can have its faults. "The salary is coming out of the same business. There are times when that’s not such a good thing," Caplin Wysel says. "Sometimes business is not as great as other times, so we have to compensate for that."
Now in its 75th year, the couple says it takes "a lot of humor" to make it this far. "You have to like what you’re doing and you have to like who you’re with," Wysel adds.
Simple Good: 35 Chandler Square, Port Jefferson; 631-509-6659; simplegoodgifts.com
Simple Little Detail Home and Decor: 426 S. Country Rd., Brookhaven; 631-772-5501
1760 Homestead Farm: 5412 Sound Ave., Riverhead; 631-831-1653
Yussel's Place: 30A Merrick Ave., Merrick; 516-223-7050; yusselsplace.com
Bobb Howard's: 581 Lakeville Rd., New Hyde Park; 516-488-7996; bobbhowardsgeneralstore.com
Q’Lex Hair Lounge and Barbershop: 153 Jericho Tpke., Mineola; 516-279-6871; qlexhair.com