No Summertime Blues at These Family Businesses

By April Hall

Michael Cortez, center, with daughter Ashley and son Elijah.Over the summer, six Gen 4 Cortez cousins get together -- at the family business.

That time to reconnect is one of the reasons Pete Cortez, a third-generation executive manager for La Familia Cortez Restaurants in San Antonio, Texas, encourages young family members to work during school breaks.

“It’s been very pleasing to see this group come together, working as cousins,” Pete says. “We live in a fairly big city. They all go to different schools, and everybody’s busy.”

Gray Northern, 19, came back from the big city of Knoxville to Bells, Tenn., home to his family’s business, Pictsweet Farm. He’s worked summers there for six years.

Northern, a mechanical engineering major at University of Tennessee in Knoxville, worked earlier this summer in the department that focuses on keeping the company’s facilities up to snuff. He put his engineering knowledge to use and developed communication and management skills.

“I worked on property inspection reports to keep our facilities up to date, structurally strong, looking clean,” says Northern, who returned to school early to complete a summer course. “I had to work on communication and management because [other employees] would start repairing anything I found wrong with the properties after I came back to school for the August session.”

(Related story: Family Internships: Building Engagement)

At La Familia Cortez Restaurants, the young people’s jobs also differ, both from each other and from year to year. This summer they are serving as assistant servers, hostesses and more. One of the cousins has been coming back for a decade.

William Cortez, 27, is preparing to start law school, but this summer he’s in the Cortez management internship program. He’s worked elsewhere -- at other restaurants and as an intern at a law firm -- but he says working with family has been his favorite so far.

“Both are very high-stress situations,” William says. “Here in the restaurant it’s just constant; there are ups and downs at an office.

“But there’s nothing like the energy at Mi Terra [the family’s flagship restaurant],” he says. One day, he recalls, the staff celebrated a co-worker’s birthday with mariachi music and group singing in the downstairs area.

Pete, William’s uncle, also believes that giving the next generation (24 members and counting) hands-on experience at the businesses instills a sense of history and stewardship. Internships increase their appreciation of the family’s culture as well as the business.

“We celebrated our 75th anniversary last year, and it made me think,” Pete says. “I’m the oldest of my generation. William is the oldest of his generation. He was born in 1990. My grandfather, the founder of the business, died in 1984, so they never knew the person who started all of this.”

But they can get a sense through the work.

Sarah Cortez, 16, is spending her first summer in the family business, as a server at Viva Villa and a hostess in the bakery at Mi Terra.

Although La Familia Cortez’s third-generation managers would like the fourth generation to join the company, a summer internship does not constitute a commitment.

“I think that because we are all so young, we are undecided,” says William. “They allow us to learn about our other passions and give us the opportunity to go out and learn new things.”

At Pictsweet, Northern is undecided about the future.

“Growing up, I always thought of it as a perfect work environment,” he says. “But I’m not committed to working for the company. I could get married, there are a lot of other factors, but it’s definitely still on the radar.”