The turn of the last decade was a bit of a doozy for the local Avenues chocolate company Hatch Family Chocolates. Steve Hatch, co-owner of Hatch Family Chocolates and his then-wife and business partner, Katie Masterson, opened the store at a 4th Avenue location in 2003, but had outgrown that location by 2009. The same year saw them wrap up the first (and, unbeknownst to them at the time, only) season of their TLC reality show, Little Chocolatiers. They juggled trying to figure out how to deal with the juggernaut growth the TV show was giving them and move locations—and also, how to separate from one another while still remaining business partners.
The perfect storm of occurrences—loss of the TV show, moving into a new space, the unsure trajectory of growth, plus a divorce—would have killed any other business, says Hatch. But for him and Masterson, throwing in the towel simply wasn’t an option. They both believed in the company they’d built together, and they realized it couldn’t exist without the both of them, he says.
“The shop was like our kid. It was the most important thing to both of us. We didn’t want it to be just one of ours—it was both of ours,” Hatch says.
Figure out what you want
Hatch says the first step of the process was for he and Masterson to figure out what they each wanted. With everything happening all at once, they both had to sit back and consider whether they really wanted to keep investing in the shop.
“We re-analyzed: Is this what you want to do? Is this your dream? If not, let’s make a decision. I think it’s important for everyone to do what drives them and what motivates them,” says Hatch. “If it’s not the company, then you need to make those choices. But as long as you’re inspired by the company and what it does, then you should keep with it. We kept with it.”
After consideration, Hatch and Masterson came to the conclusion that both of them were necessary for the survival of the shop, says Hatch. So they decided to put aside their personal feelings and figure out what was best for the shop.
“We re-analyzed: Is this what you want to do? Is this your dream? If not, let’s make a decision.” – Steve Hatch
Communicate openly and listen actively
The next step was addressing and re-addressing problems, says Hatch, which is a process that’s never finished. “We address things almost even daily, what issues come up in the business. There are times we still struggle with differences, but at the same time, I think it makes us a better company. We have to talk through and find a common ground and make decisions to move forward,” he says.
For couples as devoted to their companies as he and Masterson are, Hatch advises a policy of complete openness about business ideas, regardless of whether that honesty stings or not.
“Be completely open and honest with each other. Sometimes that hurts feelings and you have to be able to walk away and not just react on emotion, but consider what was said and then come back and reach a decision,” says Hatch. “Try to see where each other are coming from. Try to listen to the other partner and don’t just talk. See what they’re saying and what they’re wanting to do, and try to listen to what they’re really intending.”
Make business decisions for the future
With the decision that both of them were integral to the future of the business, Hatch says a lot of frank discussions occurred during their divorce regarding future eventualities. What would happen if one or both of them remarried? What about if one of them passed away? Who had ownership of the company?
“It’s trying to protect the company, to protect one another. If I pass away, she would gain control—not a new spouse. We believe in what we created. We didn’t want someone else to come in and overturn what we’d spent all our lives trying to create,” he says.
Above all, Hatch says that if the focus is on the business, then keep the focus on the business.
“It takes a mature attitude of caring about your partner, and put your personal feelings aside and make the best decisions for both of you,” he says.