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Becky Gerson and Newton Francis Jr. own the Roxton, a Toronto pub, and juggle working there with caring for their daughters, Clarissa, 2, and Elora, 4. (Michelle Siu For The Globe and Mail)
Becky Gerson and Newton Francis Jr. own the Roxton, a Toronto pub, and juggle working there with caring for their daughters, Clarissa, 2, and Elora, 4. (Michelle Siu For The Globe and Mail)

THE CHALLENGE

Restaurant owner: ‘There’s no good time to have a kid’ Add to ...

Each week, we seek out expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.

Newton Francis Jr. and Becky Gerson have spent their careers working every facet of the restaurant industry, so when the Roxton, a pub near their Toronto home, came up for sale in 2009, they leaped into ownership.

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“We live 202 steps away from our restaurant. This is the neighbourhood we want to raise our children in, and we feel good about being business owners that are unique in this neighbourhood as well,” Mr. Francis explains from a back booth at his cozy Harbord Street eatery.

In four years, the pair have put their own spin on the place while maintaining the original decor, serving staff and local vibe, but elevating the menu to include items such as a house-cured charcuterie platter and make-your-own-risotto dish.

As these ventures sometimes work out, however, the Roxton purchase also happened to coincide with the expansion of their family. The couple’s eldest daughter, now 4, was a baby when they set up shop. Her younger sister, now 2, arrived a year later.

“There’s no good time to have a kid, and no good time to open a restaurant, and sometimes the best time to do these things is when they’re young because they don’t know any different,” their father says.

Mr. Francis supervises the front of the house and kitchen, while Ms. Gerson has taken on a more back-of-house managerial role, handling the books and accounting. Though the restaurant initially took a financial hit, Mr. Francis says they’ve since started climbing back into the black. They dream of opening two more locations in the next five years.

In the meantime, the Roxton’s demanding hours keep them occupied. The restaurant is open seven days a week until 2 a.m. To keep the local, family-run feel, they consider it important that at least one of them be there until closing every night.

Thanks to a tightly co-ordinated schedule, the help of friends and family and prodigious amounts of coffee, mom and dad have so far managed to balance child care with their restaurant duties.

“We’ve tried to work it out that whoever closes the night before sleeps in the next day, and the other deals with the kids in the morning. Sundays and Mondays we’re both at the restaurant,” Ms. Gerson says.

But they also know that the girls are getting to the age when this arrangement will become untenable. Though a parent is always present with the girls during the morning and afternoon, they need a sitter for the evenings when both parents work. Mr. Francis’ brother, who has been staying with the family and pitching in with child care, is set to move out shortly.

“We get away with it now, but it’s tough to find a 15-year-old girl who can babysit until 2 a.m. on a Tuesday,” Mr. Francis adds. A live-in nanny is not a financial reality.

THE CHALLENGE: How can two restaurant owners with young children manage their business and home life without compromising either?

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Lisa Martin, principal at Lisa Martin International, Vancouver

What’s happening right now that’s fundamentally hurting them is that their business is running them and they’re not running their business. From my perspective if you want work-life balance as an entrepreneur you’ve got to set up your business in a way that it supports your life, not the other way around.

There are two fundamental things that have to be in place. One is structure and the other is support. They’re going to need to make some tough trade-offs. They need to get creative about figuring out what kind of structure they can realistically put in place at work and what kind of support they can put in place at home based on their financial reality.

I understand the restaurant runs until 2 a.m. Maybe they need to trade back and forth on certain nights when they’re both in the restaurant, so that one of them leaves at 10 p.m. instead of midnight. You can bring certain people in to look after the children until that hour, even high school or university students, but when it starts getting really late in the evening it gets trickier.

Kathy Lynn, principal at Parenting Today, Vancouver

Child care does need to be quality, organized and as predictable as possible, but we overestimate how much time we must spend with our kids. They’ve got a number of people looking after the kids, but it’s okay because the kids know if it’s morning either mom or dad will be there. If it’s this day, it’s their uncle. If they can continue to cobble together that kind of thing and the kids can count on it, they’ll be all right.

The other piece of advice is to let the kids have some kind of involvement in the restaurant. Something that’s their responsibility. It can be as little as every Tuesday they come in and stack up the menus. If they have some involvement in the restaurant they then know where their parents are and why. It’s no big secret. It’s not just a family restaurant; it’s the family’s restaurant.

Tim Kelloway and Daniela Syrovy, entrepreneurs and former owners of the Big Burger restaurant, Toronto

We were once in the same boat. Looking back on our time owning Big Burger, we now say it was like our first child – before we had the actual kids. Our first daughter was 18 months old when we sold the restaurant and we had to constantly find ways to balance looking after both her and the restaurant. So, in fact, Newton and Becky are currently balancing three kids. The two real kids are the priority, however, so if they have to bite the bullet by taking on the expense of another manager for these next few years before the children grow up, it’s well worth it.

A good night manager is not only helpful now for this purpose but will be essential and inevitable when it comes time for expansion. In all likelihood, a night manager will be more cost effective than a nanny and they will get an even greater chance to raise their girls themselves without constantly worrying about finding late-night childcare.

Eventually the manager will be able to cover both of them on a night here and there, which gives them the flexibility in case something comes up at home, and at best, the option of having an evening and a morning together without any of their babies. Imagine that?

THREE THINGS THE COMPANY CAN DO NOW

Night moves

Bring in a part-time night manager on nights they work together to give them more flexibility to come and go as they require.

Hourly rates

On the nights when both parents work together, one may want to consider ducking out at 10 p.m. instead of midnight to increase their options of available neighbourhood babysitters.

Keep things consistent

As long as the children are familiar with who is going to be looking after them and when, the parents don’t need to worry whether multiple care providers are going to confuse them.

Facing a challenge? If your company could use expert help, please contact us at smallbusiness@globeandmail.com.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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