Terri Meadows had no intention of joining the family business.
But shortly after majoring in psychology and starting a career following that path in Des Moines, she realized she might be ready to reconsider.
“I never thought I wanted a career in retail,” Terri said. “Working in psychology was fulfilling, but it wasn’t always fun. When I came back to the area in 1989, I was ready to party.”
While figuring out her next move, her mother casually mentioned that they could use some help in the store.
It was a plea that would lay the foundation for generations to come.
Today, Terri is part of the second generation at the helm of Honest John’s, a chain of local grocery stores that has now been growing for 42 years.
Her mother, Donna Andresen, started the first store out of the Kennedy Mall before establishing the flagship location, Honest John’s Trading Post, on Main Street in Galena, Ill.
After Terri’s return, the business expanded to a second location at Honest John’s Emporium, a women’s clothing and accessories boutique, which later included a location in Dubuque.
An Honest John’s grocery store in Galena, operated by Terri’s husband, Dana Meadows, has also been added.
After graduating from what was then Clarke College and serving in the U.S. Army, Terri’s brother, Don Andresen, returned to take over another spin-off store, Union Leather in Galena.
Although it was an idea and labor of love for the family matriarch, the stores were named after the patriarch, John Andresen.
“It was my mom’s dream,” Terri said with a laugh. “Dad agreed with it, but they were both very involved in starting it.”
Since John’s passing in 2020 and Donna’s in 2021, Dana now operates Honest John’s Trading Post while Terri continues to operate Honest John’s Emporium in Galena. Don also continues to operate Union Leather. A third brother, Steve Andresen, also helps in the stores.
“It’s the first generation that has passion,” Dana said. “That may not always continue in the second or third generation.”
However, a third generation unexpectedly appeared in Terri and Dana’s children.
Anna Meadows operates the former Dubuque Emporium location, which is called Mom-Erella and features maternity wear and other products for moms. Stuart Meadows recently returned to Galena after studying business and working in corporate retail. Also helps in the shops.
“We were actually discouraged from joining the family business. During the year I took a break, they would only offer me limited working hours so that I wouldn’t have to stay here due to obligations,” said Anna, who once included not working in the family stores on her list of 50 life goals.
After going to college, having the opportunity to study abroad and gaining wisdom over the years, like her mother, Anna also reconsidered.
She recently announced her pregnancy via a jumpsuit that read “Fourth Generation of Honest John.”
“I think they wanted us to go away and do our own thing and have a vehicle to find our own passions,” Anna said. “But I think they also wanted to know that if we came back, it was by choice and that we appreciated what our grandparents started and what our parents continued. Because that’s what we do. That makes it hard to leave.”
Terry added: “We never knew it was something they wanted to do or would do. I think now I relate more to what my mom and dad had to go through to run a business. And I see our children in the position I was in when I first came back. We’re just grateful that they took an interest.”
The foundation of the legacy
According to the Family Business Alliance, family businesses account for about 62% of employment in the US and are responsible for 78% of all new jobs.
At one point, more than 30% of these jobs were continued through the second generation. However, in the past five years, that number has dropped to 19%, attributed to millennials who didn’t want to take over the traditional family business, but instead sold it and used the proceeds to start a different family venture.
“It’s twofold because we’d love to see our parents retire and help accelerate that,” Stuart said, referring to his role as part of the third generation of Honest John’s. “But there were changes in the business when my parents took it over, and in the third generation we are already starting to put our own stamp on it. We keep its core intact, but each generation has a new opportunity to make it their own.”
About 12% of family businesses pass to the third generation, and only 3% operate at the level of the fourth generation or more.
It’s something Patrick Leonard considers more now than when he founded Leonard Funeral Home & Crematory in Dubuque. He has served as a funeral director since purchasing the Waller Family Farm property in 1999 for the Rockdale Road location.
“I said the other day to my son, Ed, who has a young son, ‘We better start preparing him for funeral school,’” Patrick said with a laugh. “I can encourage my grandchildren to continue this way more than I have encouraged my own children.”
Today, Patrick is joined in the business by his son Edward Leonard and daughter Kristin Leonard-Bertsch.
“Having a family business is a bit like climbing a ladder,” Patrick said. “You start at the bottom rung, work hard and keep climbing to that successful place. You get to where you want to be at the very top, and then, you think to yourself, ‘Now, how do I get off this thing?’ You either fall or you need to start getting back up, whether that means passing the business on to the family, putting it in a trust or getting a third party to take it over.”
Like the Andresen and Meadows families, Patrick’s dream of his own facility was born within the family. But at first he didn’t see it being transmitted through his children.
“My uncle was a funeral director and that’s what first introduced me to it,” Patrick said. “I worked at an electrical company in high school, but in the back of my mind I always knew I wanted to be an undertaker. There was something very rewarding for me to be able to be there to help someone at the worst time in their life.”
Patrick attended Loras College before enrolling in funeral school in Chicago. After gaining experience at various funeral homes in the area, he opened Leonard Funeral Home & Crematory.
It was a surprise to him when, years later, Kristin and Edward expressed interest in following in similar footsteps.
“After high school, Kristin went off to college and wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do,” Patrick said. “I told her that the door is always open for her to come and help me in the office. It turned out to be a perfect fit. I may be a funeral director, but Kristin runs a funeral home. She runs the office. She is a certified planning consultant, so she works closely with all of our families. She keeps me in line.”
Edward has served as a funeral director since 2010.
“It’s a unique profession in that there are no holidays or weekends in the life of an undertaker,” Patrick said. “The children grew up with me without ball games. It is very difficult for family life, so I never forced it on them. But it’s very rewarding when people in your family notice your efforts and want to help keep it going.”
And when a line of succession works, it also has the potential to lay the foundation of security for generations that may follow.
“Today it is very difficult to start something like this from scratch in the way I did, so in my position, and now with my children and their children, it is important to continue investing in something that will train them to continue it. successfully into the future. It’s a lot like farming,” Patrick said. “There is an old saying that the first generation builds, the second maintains, and the third destroys. But you look at a lot of the family businesses in town — the Klauers, the Conlons — they kept it going for years and years.”
Building into the future
Fortunately, a lasting legacy is so far the case for Mike and Cindy Breitbach, fifth-generation owners of Breitbach’s Country Dining in Balltown, Iowa.
The facility opened in 1852 under a federal charter issued by President Millard Fillmore just six years after Iowa became a state. 10 years later it was bought by Jacob Breitbach.
Throughout its history, it served as a residence, stagecoach stop, hotel, grocery store, tavern and restaurant.
The latter continued in the family, even through a gas explosion and fire in 2007, and a second fire just 10 months later. The construction of the current restaurant was completed on top of the original location of the tavern in 2009.
The Breitbachs’ seven children — as well as several grandchildren — are in line to carry on the torch and can often be found waiting tables, washing dishes or tending bar at the family restaurant.
“I’ve been working here since I was 8 years old,” Mike said with a laugh. “That’s always what I’ve done, and it continues. My dad had a stroke and everything fell into place. My wife and I are the fifth generation. Our kids are sixth. Hopefully that will continue and continue.”
Cindy described the change in ownership over the years as a natural progression.
“It was the same for us as it was for Mike’s mother and father when they took over the business,” she said. “Things just seemed to come to a natural point where it made sense. It just worked out well. And it worked out well for everyone.”
Over the years, Breitbach’s has maintained its place as something of an institution, also known for its Midwestern fare — fried chicken, popcorn, country ham steaks and homemade pies — because of its personal atmosphere where you don’t have to wear the name “Breitbach” to be recognized. felt like a member of the family.
In 2009, the restaurant received an American’s Classics Award from the James Beard Foundation. And in 2012, the Iowa Pork Producers Association named their pork tenderloin the best in the state. The following year, Breitbach was featured in the award-winning documentary “Spinning Plates”.
Then in 2022, Mike and Cindy were named Restaurateurs of the Year by the Iowa Restaurant Association.
The family mindset moving forward is that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“You can always do better, but you have to be careful not to alienate the customers you already have just to get new customers,” Cindy said. “The awards are nice, but every person that walks through the door is great because they’re the ones that have kept us here for so long. We are very lucky and it feels absolutely wonderful to be thought of so well.”
And while the sixth generation of Breitbachs is “standing on the edge, waiting to come in,” as Cindy put it, she also emphasized that “family” can be defined in many ways.
“A family is a family, but there are a lot of different definitions of what a family is,” Cindy said. “There are people who have worked with us for a long time and whom we consider family, and I have no doubt that they will play an important role in our future. If the fires have shown us anything, it is that when it comes down to it, if the decision is to go (business), then so be it. It will not be a mistake or a lack of commitment. The business decisions you make in a business like this have to be the best thing for everyone.”