Better Together

Organizations & People

You know the old saying, “You can’t pick your family”? Turns out, that’s not always the case. Here in Chattanooga, there is a vast array of organizations that have been made stronger by the drive and commitment of family members who elected to delve into business together. Here, we highlight 7 independently owned and operated establishments, across a variety of industries, whose family relationships have set them up for success.

By Holly Morse-Ellington | Photography by Lanewood Studio

Chef Romana and Marco Biscarini

It’s nice to turn to someone who understands exactly what you’re going through.

NEWLYWEDS

Chef Romana and Marco Biscarini

Vibrant Meals

As Marco and Romana Biscarini planned their wedding, they said “I do” to partnership in the healthy food industry. They first met while their dads caught up over a serendipitous lunch. “Our families go way back to Italy,” Marco says. “We met through that grapevine.” Marco, a web consultant, lived in Chattanooga. Romana, a personal chef for athletes, lived in California. Still, essential ingredients blended – Italian roots, entrepreneurship, and, of course, chemistry. Marco suggested a ready-to-eat meal preparation and delivery service – and dating. Romana moved to Chattanooga and started cooking from her 500-square-foot apartment.

Orders quickly surpassed Romana’s ability to keep up. “Do you want to jump on board with me?” she asked Marco. “You’re passionate about this too.” So, Marco joined Vibrant Meals as CEO in February 2017. “The first month was hard, letting in this person who’s supposed to be my fiancé and he’s telling me what to do. I’m like whoa … I’ve been doing this for five years, what are you doing here?” Romana says. “But we figured things out quickly.”

Married in July 2017, business beginnings paralleled a newlywed path. Understanding what Marco calls their “love language,” how they receive feedback, was a learning curve. “I process right away; she needs time to process,” Marco says. “We’ll leave for 30 minutes, come back and have a happy resolution.”

They maximize on strengths in-house. Marco manages operations and business development; Romana prepares recipes and packaging. “It’s nice to turn to someone who understands exactly what you’re going through,” Romana says. “It’s accelerated our relationship,” Marco agrees.

According to the Biscarinis, location drives growth for Vibrant Meals. “Chattanooga thrives on things that are local and entrepreneurial,” Marco says. “If you did something like this in California and made a couple mistakes, you’d be out right away.”

What started with three employees and a couple mini fridges is now a storefront with 20 employees and a custom kitchen. “It’s worth every late night to see we’re helping the community be healthier,” Romana says.

Taking Sundays off is a new policy they try to implement. “We’re both strong willed, passionate, and driven,” Marco says. Romana adds, “Both of us are learning we can’t put too much on our plate.”

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Really, what I’m trying to do is teach young people how to run a small business.

FATHER & SON

Bryan and Jay Boyd

OddStory Brewing Company

Father and son Bryan and Jay Boyd spent four years crafting their business plan to establish a local brewery – an idea sparked over beers. “The conversation led to us ordering our first home brew kit. From there, I was pretty much bitten with the brewing bug,” Jay says.

When Jay graduated college with a business degree, Bryan, a business owner, wasn’t ready to retire and liked the concept of founding a company with his son. “It made sense to me,” Bryan says of moving forward. “Really, what I’m trying to do is teach young people how to run a small business.” 

From Madison, Alabama, they set sights on Chattanooga as a good home for OddStory. “We noticed that Chattanooga had a strong community vibe and really supported its own unique businesses,” Jay says. They launched OddStory in 2016 after Jay completed brewing school.

The taproom opening mixed excitement with accountability. “There was a lot of confidence but when the rubber met the road, there was a lot of nervousness because we started with two other employees, and they left other jobs to come on board,” Jay says.

Defined roles streamline tasks for the duo. “It would be hard if one of us wasn’t pulling our weight,” Bryan says. “If I had to worry about what Jay was doing in the brewery, it wouldn’t work so well. I’m sure he feels the same way about whether the checking account’s balanced or not.”

Jay’s goal is introducing new styles and processes, like barrel aging, while Bryan keeps production rolling to meet demand. “We’ve already hit capacity here three times since we’ve been open,” Bryan says. “The challenge is trying to supply the people with the right beer and enough beer when they want it.”

The father and son team expanded to include Jay’s wife, Emily, who manages branding and design. “If there’s a hero – or unsung hero – in this whole story, it’s definitely Emily,” Jay says. “She’s the one that was thrown into the ring of fire during this wild process as a member of the Boyd family.”

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Billy and Connie McCoy

As a husband and wife team, you don’t have anything without trust. We’ve built that over 36 years.

HUSBAND & WIFE

Billy and Connie McCoy

Broadleaf Residential, Inc.

High school sweethearts Billy and Connie McCoy built a life together, but didn’t envision starting a home building business – at least not at first. “I’m usually the one pulling the reins saying, ‘Hold on!’” Connie says. But, early in their relationship, she recognized her husband’s skill and his passion for building things. “It felt like a big risk, but it made him happy. So, I loosened up and told him to go for it!”

In 1994, drawing on his experiences in welding and residential framing, Billy established the framework for Broadleaf Residential. “Back then, I relied on Connie and our boys a whole lot,” Billy says. “They installed doors and even helped with finish work like hanging trim and installing knobs.”

Connie came on board full-time to serve as the company’s vice president of operations in 2001. Hesitant at first, she grew to love the role. “I am really proud of what he started, and what we’ve been able to do together,” says Connie.

According to the McCoys, a careful division of labor – and a playful attitude – is key. “We’re really careful to stay out of each other’s way,” Billy jokes. “I don’t step on his toes, and he doesn’t step on mine,” Connie laughs.
“We work together, and we balance each other out.”

Communication is key too. “We talk through our thoughts and ideas,” Connie says. “We have strong opinions, so it’s not always a bowl of cherries,” Billy adds. “But at the end of the day, we know the ins and outs of our own roles best, so we listen and usually take each other’s advice.”

Trust is everything. “As a husband and wife team, you don’t have anything without trust. We’ve built that over 36 years of being together,” Connie says.

As much as they’d like to avoid it, Billy and Connie do occasionally bring work home with them. “Sometimes, we have to touch base and answer questions when we get home,” says Billy. “Maintaining that work/life balance takes discipline. But our grandchildren help us to remember what’s important,” says Connie.

Reflecting on their years together and their years in business, Connie laughs, “The quickest way to get something done is to tell Billy McCoy that he can’t do it. He proves me wrong every time.” But she wouldn’t change a thing. “The journey has led us to where we are today.”

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Bryon and Bruce Trantham

What we do well is take care of folks. High relationships, high results.

TWINS

Byron and Bruce Trantham

Tranco Logistics

Twin brothers and CEOs, Byron and Bruce Trantham gained the know-how for operating a transportation and freight management business at home. Their dad worked in trucking, and their mom, who became their bookkeeper, set the example. “She worked and she worked,” Bruce says. “She was smart and meticulous. All of our friends came to mom for wisdom.”

They founded Tranco Logistics in 1995, but Bruce kept his job with UPS for nine years while working around the clock to grow Tranco. “It was truly a startup,” Byron says. 

They started with one leased warehouse and four family members. “We always thought if we could run the business well and be frugal, we would get a customer and that customer would get addicted to us,” Bruce says.

Their twin dynamic drives negotiating. “We’ve grown up for 49 years having to share rooms, to fight over things, and wrestle over things,” Byron says. “Innately, it came to us as we got older and into business that there is a compromise.”

Bruce handles strategic planning, while Byron runs technical implementation. Bruce defers to Byron’s judgment regarding what he calls “his lane,” or Byron’s responsibilities. “There are a lot of things we do that aren’t necessarily written down on paper,” Byron says. “We have to trust that what we shake hands on is what’s going to happen in the end.”

Working together is a highlight, but also has drawbacks. “Even at Thanksgiving and Christmas, we always seem to end up talking about work,” Byron says.

Tranco has expanded from four family members to 300 employees, presenting a need to readjust methods. “When there were 10 people total, I’d yell whatever decision down the hallway, and everybody would hear it,” Byron says. “You don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel, but you have to tweak the spokes.”

Taking inventory, there’s a sense of accomplishment in retaining employees – and their first customer. “What we do well is keep our eye on the ball and take care of folks,” Bruce says. “High relationships, high results.”

Waldrep Construction

Dr. Christopher and Tracie LeSar

I trust him with my life – why wouldn’t I trust him with my business?

HUSBAND & WIFE

Dr. Christopher and Tracie LeSar

Vascular Institute of Chattanooga

When surgeon Dr. Christopher LeSar began treating vascular disease, neither he nor his wife, Tracie, planned on opening their own medical practice. “You don’t always think about going out on your own when you’re first getting started, but I realized I had the opportunity to provide great care for patients, so I seized it,” Dr. LeSar says. “I supported his decision 100%,” Tracie adds.

In 2015, they opened the Vascular Institute of Chattanooga to offer patients the best care possible. “I describe it as jumping out of an airplane,” Dr. LeSar says. “You’re going to hit the ground sometime, so you have to figure out how to pull the shoot and land properly.”

Tracie, director of marketing and community outreach, wishes they’d jumped years earlier. “He’d sheltered me from his work life,” she says. “What’s really been great is when we have time with our kids now, it’s more focused time because he has more control over his schedule.” Dr. LeSar echoes Tracie’s sentiments. “Our worlds are more intertwined now, and I enjoy that.”

Over the years, the two have perfected their ability to communicate. “We’re in close communication about where we’re going,” says Dr. LeSar. “I use her as a sounding board often.” Should differences arise, they’ve got that covered too. “I have two rules for disagreements,” Dr. LeSar says. “First rule is I say ‘yes ma’am.’ And the second, I say ‘I’m sorry.’” Tracie takes a similar approach. “Even though I sometimes don’t agree with his decision, it’s his decision, and my job is to make sure it’s executed. There’s no jealousy in success.”

The institute has grown from a staff of two to 50, and the team relocated to an 8,000-square-foot facility in 2016. Expansion enables the LeSars to achieve their primary goals of prompt access, diagnosis, and treatment. “That was the whole reason we got in to this,” says Dr. LeSar, “to break down barriers so patients can get in quicker and receive their therapy, so we can save a leg and change the course of their life.”

“We’ve known each other for 22 years,” Tracie says. “I trust him with my life – why wouldn’t I trust him with my business?”

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Darlene and Ryan May

(above) photo Courtesy of Real Estate Partners/by Janie Yu

When I look at him, I see myself.

MOTHER & SON 

Darlene Brown and Ryan May

Real Estate Partners Chattanooga, LLC

Single mom and entrepreneur Darlene Brown worked double time to establish a name for herself in the real estate industry – and make each of her son’s college baseball games. In 2007, she founded Real Estate Partners with Adelia Mosley as executive vice president. “Once you get in that field, it either snowballs or it doesn’t. Luckily for me, it snowballed,” Darlene says. Today the company has 80 agents and three offices spanning the city.

As the business picked up steam, she and Adelia agreed their leadership team needed a third member. Darlene’s son, Ryan May, was a clear fit. Working in a corporate role for Coca-Cola in Birmingham for 20 years, he had been honing his business and management acumen and had developed a valuable, customer-centered skillset the pair felt would serve Real Estate Partners well. Plus, from his perspective, the opportunity to return home was too hard to pass up. “You don’t realize all that Chattanooga has to offer until you move away,” Ryan says.

In 2016, Ryan joined Real Estate Partners and instantly made an impact. “My biggest fear was I did not want to hurt the relationship with my mom,” Ryan says, “so I worked as hard as I could to be successful.” And successful he was, becoming a multi-million-dollar agent his first year in the business and serving as the lead manager in the design of the Southside office, Signal Mountain office, and redesign of the East office.

As an agent, Darlene expected Ryan to start at the bottom and learn from the ground up. “He did not come in as an owner,” Darlene says. “I’ll never forget – he walked into my office with his first check and said, ‘Really, you’re going to make me start at the lowest level of the commission split?’ But I wanted him to learn every aspect of the company.” Today, the duo has dual roles – Darlene is company president and managing broker of the downtown office, and Ryan is the business resource and development director.

Working together has added an entirely new aspect to their relationship. “When I was younger, I didn’t always appreciate what a strong work ethic she has,” says Ryan. “But now, I look to replicate it as much as possible.” Darlene adds, “When I look at him, I see myself.”

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Ted and Kelly Alling

We cry together, sweat together, and lead together.

HUSBAND & WIFE

Ted and Kelly Alling

Chattanooga Preparatory School

Seventeen years ago, Ted and Kelly Alling received some sage marital advice at their wedding shower: “If you put others’ needs before your own, you will never have a serious fight.” They recall that statement being a tenet for founding the all-boys Chattanooga Preparatory School, which opens doors this August to its first class of students.

A visit to Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy inspired the Allings’ three-year process – renovating three former Tennessee Temple buildings, forming a board, and assembling a team to write the charter. “We saw the energy and passion and the result that CGLA was getting, and we said, ‘Why is there not a boys’ school?’” Ted says. “Ted and I have always been very action-oriented,” Kelly adds. “Why just talk about something that can really help our community when you can actually do it?”

The duo’s complementary strengths influence their business compatibility. “She’s managing our school construction with architects,” Ted says. “It’s neat for me to watch her lead.” Kelly adds, “Ted’s personality is very infectious. He can get anybody pumped up about anything. He sets the tone, and I’m a great executor.”

According to the Allings, communication and quality time are necessities. “She has her old-school pen and paper planner, and I’ve got my phone. We just get our calendars out and get on the same page,” Ted says. “We’re also super dedicated to having a date night once a week.”

The pair admits the project has presented roadblocks, but their three kids motivate the bigger picture. “There’s absolutely no reason why these 66 students should have less of an opportunity than our own children,” Kelly says.

Chattanooga Prep kicks off with a sixth-grade class and annual goals for adding consecutive grades to provide sixth through twelfth grade curriculum. “When you actually meet the students in person and can call them by name, that’s when it gets real for us and makes us strive even harder,” Kelly says.

Trust and progress go hand-in-hand. “We cry together, sweat together, and lead together,” Ted says. “There were tears of joy when our charter was approved,” Kelly says. “There’s definitely something to be said about having your best friend by your side through this process.”

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