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SB meets… spirits industry power couples

To mark Valentine’s Day, we’ve spoken to four drinks industry power couples about what it’s like to work as partners in life and business.

Power Couples
Couples that work in the drinks industry together, stay together

From bar group owners to spirits producers, working with your significant other can be a tricky cocktail to balance, but these four industry couples have let us in on the secret to making it work.

The bar group couple: Speakeasy Entertainment co-founders Edmund Weil & Roisin Stimpson

Husband-and-wife team Weil and Stimpson are the co-founders of Speakeasy Entertainment, the company behind London bars Swift, Nightjar, and Oriole.

What is the dynamic of working together as a couple?

Power Couples
Edmund and Rosie opened their first bar in 2010

We’ve heard countless couples we know tell us they could never work together. And yet after 12 years it’s hard for us to imagine doing it any other way. It requires clear communication, empathy, and co-operation at all times, which can take a lot of effort, but we feel it’s a dynamic that should underlie any healthy relationship — working together just gives us a lot of practice.

It also means that we always have something to talk about. The challenges we face together at work are always interesting.

How do you think working together as a couple benefits the business?

We’d like to believe that the business feels more familial as a result of having us as a team at the helm; lots of hospitality businesses like to call themselves a ‘family’ but as parents, we feel a very strong duty of care which crosses over into our approach to our employees.

We put real substantive values on nurturing our employees to be the best they can, both inside and outside of work. It also gives a sort of transparency; often at management meetings our employees will see us working things out in dialogue, which shows our thought processes and encourages input from them.

What are your individual roles within the business?

Edmund has a sort of CEO role with a finger on almost every pie. Rosie focuses more on the cultural side of things — both in a ‘company ethos’ sense and an aesthetic one. So she will have a lot of input into HR matters, management reviews, employee engagement, and also oversees the music programme (over 800 nights of live music a year across the venues) and leads on design briefs for new projects and likewise. However, all the big decisions in the business are taken together.

What do you enjoy about being a couple in business?

The fact that we always have someone we love and trust to confide in, discuss with, and lean on for support. The last couple of years in particular have been astonishingly challenging for hospitality and we’re pretty sure neither of us could have got through it alone. Together, we came out stronger.

How do you manage a work-life balance when both are so intrinsically linked?

It’s always a challenge! We have three boys together, all under 10, so work-life balance is hugely important. We want to be there with our kids as much as possible for such an important stage in their development.

In the last year in particular we’ve made a deliberate movement towards passing more responsibility on to our head office and senior management. Although it might sacrifice a chunk of bottom line, we dream of a future where the brilliant people we’ve hired take on more day-to-day responsibility while we get to pick the kids up from school.

Together Rosie and Edmund have opened six bars in London, including three Swift bars

The distillery-owning couple: In the Welsh Wind co-founders Alex Jungmayr and Ellen Wakelam

Wakelam and Jungmayr are the co-founders of In the Welsh Wind distillery, which opened in the Welsh countryside in 2018 and produces gin, rum and grain-to-glass whisky.

Alex and Ellen, In the Welsh Wind Power Couples
Alex and Ellen, In the Welsh Wind co-founders

What is the dynamic of working together as a couple?

Right from the start, Alex has been the ‘ideas’ person with the vision for the distillery, and I’ve taken responsibility for the nuts and bolts of running the business day to day. Having distinct areas of interest and strengths means that much of the time, we’re working on different aspects of the business.

We definitely don’t always agree, but we discuss areas where we have differences of opinion and usually manage to separate our business life from our personal life so any disagreements on the business stay at the distillery and don’t spill over.

How do you think working together as a couple benefits the business?

We’re each other’s touchstone and we balance each other out so I can put shape to Alex’s more creative ideas and bring them to life, and equally he can bring more vision when I might have my head stuck in regulatory issues.

What are your individual roles within the business?

Alex is the creative, ideas person and my strength is administration and paperwork. Alex will be discussing spirit development with our distilling team and with custom spirits clients, or brand direction, while I’ll be getting on with the regulatory aspects of the business — licensing and business planning for example.

What do you enjoy about being a couple in business?

We realised that we had an ambition to create a business and work together during a three-month adventure we took in 2013 when we walked around Wales. The distillery came a few years later, but for us it was the realisation of our dream, so we gain a huge amount of satisfaction from that in itself.

As business owners, it’s good to be able to talk to each other and bounce ideas off each other about the challenges or opportunities. If it was just one of us involved in the business we’d be constantly messaging the rest of our senior team with ideas at inappropriate times!

How do you manage a work-life balance when both are so intrinsically linked?

The whole point of setting up the distillery was to create something we could work in together, produce 3,000 bottles of gin a year and spend the rest of the time with our son. The distillery has grown significantly in the last five years to much more than the initial 3,000 bottles, but I’d say that our work-life balance has definitely improved over time.

When we first founded the business, we were living on site and the distillery was an ever present, even when we didn’t want it to be. After the initial Covid-19 lockdown period when we were literally in the distillery 24/7 for days on end, we were able to move a few miles down the road. Those few miles have been hugely important to us in maintaining our work-life balance.

While it’s inevitable that we do talk about the business when we’re at home, we also make sure we have plenty of time to spend with our son as a family, exploring the beaches and mountains that we’re lucky enough to live by. We have also built a brilliant team around us, which gives us confidence to take proper periods of time away from the distillery to focus on each other and our son.

In The Welsh Wind’s Palo Cortado Cask Aged Gin won a Master medal in the 2021 Gin Masters

The cocktail bar couple: Funkidory and Mama Funki co-owners, Sergio Leanza and Anna Fairhead-Benitez

Leanza and Fairhead-Benitez are the couple behind two of London’s ‘funkiest’ bars, Funkidory in Peckham, which opened in 2018, and the newly opened Mama Funki in Camberwell.

Funkidory co-founders Power Couples
Sergio Leanza and Anna Fairhead-Benitez opened Funkidory in Peckham, south London, in 2018

What is the dynamic of working together as a couple?

I think of Sergio as the creative, artistic one and myself as the logical, practical, methodical one… but it’s not entirely true as we both have qualities of being creative in nature, as well as having the business and strategic side but they just tend to present themselves differently depending on the situation.

How do you think working together as a couple benefits the business?

It works because we both have very different skill sets and are quite obsessive about the things we’re good at and enjoy doing but probably find the other’s area of strength more intimidating and stressful. So between us we have the necessaries covered without treading on each others toes.

How the business and responsibilities are divided has happened quite naturally.

Funkidory was inspired by New York bar Dante in the creation of its Garibaldi cocktail

What are your individual roles within the business?

Mainly, I do the money and the financials, anything spreadsheet-related, staff and HR, as well as having final say on the aesthetics and design of the bar.

Sergio is across how the service is run, drinks of course, what we’re actually putting out there… as well as things like social media and PR.

What do you enjoy about being a couple in business?

We support each other and have understanding of what the other is going through because we’re in it together. It is tricky finding a balance at times but we both understand the importance of that and that our family ultimately comes first so we have the same goal.

How do you manage a work-life balance when both are so intrinsically linked?

It’s a daily challenge but this is our lives. And we know what’s important really. Our daughter is the happiest little kid and knows that she is the centre of our universe. And as long as she’s smiling then so are we.

The gin-producing couple: Nao Spirits co-founders Anand Virmani and Aparajita Ninan

Greater Than gin Power Couples
Aparajita Ninan co-founded Nao Spirits with her husband in 2016

Virmani and his wife Ninan started Nao Spirits & Beverages in 2016, which produces Indian gin brands Greater Than and Hapusa.

What is the dynamic of working together as a couple?

Hated it at first, but slowly start loving it.

How do you think working together as a couple benefits the business?

The business gets at least two very happy employees who love working with each other and who know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and hence they know when to check on each other.

What are your individual roles within the business?

We both have different strengths, which is part of what makes us such a great team. Anand takes care of everything that goes into the bottle; his career has given him experience in almost every element of the alco-bev industry — sales, service, production, everything. He’s happiest experimenting with new flavours in the distillery. 
Together, Virmani and his wife Ninan produce two Indian gin brands, Greater Than and Hapusa

Aparajita takes care of the bottle and everything that goes on the outside of it — and beyond. Her official title is creative head but that’s really only the start.

She’s worked at the creative helm of large companies like Penguin Publishing and Sesame Street so she’s always thinking big. Her vision for the identity of Greater Than and Hapusa is part of what makes them so unique and distinctive within a saturated market.

We are both each other’s safety nets, backseat drivers and cheerleaders.

What do you enjoy about being a couple in business?

We get to spend the entire day together.

How do you manage a work-life balance when both are so intrinsically linked?

We often don’t, but that is always a work in progress. When we started there were only three of us, so it was definitely a struggle then, but now we’ve grown so much — to 46 employees. We have such an amazing team that we can rely on, meaning we can spend more time with our other baby — our son.

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