Secrets of success for one family business

Working with family members can be a great idea. The reality, though, of budgeting, scheduling and day-to-day problem-solving alongside siblings and parents doesn’t always translate into a perfect opportunity.

One family in Snohomish County has mastered the art of working as a team and managing a business at the same time.

Jennifer Haffner, 33, is the area manager for Boston’s Restaurant and Sports Bars at Smokey Point, Mill Creek and Bellingham.

While a family friend runs the Bellingham location, Haffner’s brothers, Dustin Haffner, 31, and David Haffner, 29, are general managers at the Mill Creek and Smokey Point restaurants, respectively.

“We are not on our own,” Jennifer Haffner said. “We are in it together.”

When Haffner and her two brothers graduated from college, they all began working in the hospitality industry. Their father, Ronald Haffner, a retired dentist, saw his kids working for other people and realized that maybe they would have a great team if they all worked together.

Since they liked the concept that the Boston’s chain provided — casual family dining and a sports bar — and had one location under their belts in Mission, B.C., the family headed south from British Columbia to start franchises in Washington. Jennifer Haffner’s mother was also involved in the business at that time. She died in 2005.

The process begins with Ronald Haffner, who works on finding good sites for the franchises. The Haffners committed to opening seven Boston’s restaurants within 10 years in their territory, from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to the Canadian border. No other Boston’s can be opened within that area unless the Haffners either give an OK or pass on a site.

As well as seeking out land, Ronald Haffner negotiates the leases and oversees construction and development. He then hands the restaurants over to his daughter and two sons.

“People ask, “How do you guys all work together?” Jennifer Haffner said.

The Haffner family members are practiced at what they do. Although they are all very different from each other, they know what to expect since they had all worked as a team before at their Canadian location.

“Working together prior is a must,” Jennifer Haffner said. “We’ve always been a very close family.”

Jennifer Haffner’s focus is on new restaurants. Months prior to an opening, she completes all the setup. Once the location is ready, she works there for six months and also takes care of budgets and cost control.

Even though older sister Jennifer Haffner is the area manager for both the restaurants her brothers run, David Haffner, the youngest sibling, is still having fun.

“It’s great,” David Haffner said. “Sometimes I forget that this is my sister.”

A staff member at the Smokey Point location recently put two and two together and realized the two were siblings.

“We’d worked together for three months,” David Haffner said.

David Haffner has worked full time with his sister since 2000 and his brother since 2001.

“Me being the baby, I’ve worked under them,” he said.

Bill Hancox, vice president of food services at Boston’s Pizza Restaurants in Dallas, met the Haffner family when they first began the franchise operation in Mission.

“You have to know when it is suitable to bring your family into a business,” Hancox said.

Hancox has seen businesses eat families up. But that’s not the case with the Haffners. They are genuine, honest and kind, as well as being good business people with a professional approach, he said.

“There’s no one-upmanship,” he added.

Once a family business is established, any new member coming into the mix really needs to fit in. David Haffner’s wife and Dustin Haffner’s girlfriend both help with the business.

What they’re doing is clearly working. In 2004 the Haffners were given a systemwide franchise of the year award.

“That speaks to how well the family works together,” Hancox said.

Christina Harper is a Snohomish County freelance writer. She can be reached at

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