The business: Bonura Hospitality Group
Date founded: 1972, by Joe Bonura Sr.
Number of generations: 2
Number of family members working together: 7
Owner: Joe Bonura Sr.
What it does: Hosts and caters events at eight locations, including 600 weddings a year; $35 million in annual revenue
How it got started: Joe Sr. and Mary bought the franchise rights for Perkin’s restaurants, from Long Island to Albany, and opened the first in 1972. Joe Sr. had decided he no longer wanted to work as an accountant after seeing a partner fill out a time sheet itemizing every second. “He knew that was not what he aspired to long-term,” says his youngest of three children, Michael. Over the next five years the couple added locations throughout the Hudson Valley — in Newburgh, Vails Gate, Middleton, Wappingers Falls, Poughkeepsie, and Hudson. In the 1980s, Joe Sr. decided to sell those sites and transition to catering and special events after buying his first suitable location, Anthony’s Pier 9 on Route 9W in New Windsor, in 1982. A 5,000-square-foot seafood restaurant on 1¼ acres, it morphed into a 70,000-square-foot catering establishment that could seat 1,600, often for major political and charitable events. The Bonura kids never felt that they had to join the family business; they wanted to after having helped out from a young age. “Other kids played baseball and soccer, but we worked at the restaurant. It was a way for us to learn the value of a dollar,” says Michael, now 35. His oldest sibling, Mary, joined first, in 1990, and worked at various venues.
Unlike many family businesses, the Bonuras welcome in-laws with open arms. Pictured at the wedding of Mary Bonura (center) and husband Brent (right), who manages the Grandview in Poughkeepsie
In 1994, Joe Sr. purchased a failing Radisson hotel in Poughkeepsie, switched to a Sheraton, and then to the independent Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel with 225 guestrooms and banquet rooms. Michael came in after graduating from Wake Forest University in 2000. His older brother, Joe Jr., 36, joined two years later, after graduating from the University of Virginia and working as an IT consultant in Washington, DC. The brothers and their dad together opened the Grandview in Poughkeepsie, a luxury catering establishment on the Hudson, in 2006. Next came Shadows on the Hudson, an eclectic American restaurant, in 2007, followed by a barbecue restaurant, Billy Joe’s Ribworks in Newburgh, with an outside partner in 2011. Together, the siblings revamped a failing country club in Middletown, which they renamed the West Hills Country Club with the intent to make it a destination for luxury weddings and other private events. Two years ago, they opened Bistecca Italian Steakhouse and Wine Bar in Newburgh, and, in April, they opened Blue Plate, a gourmet seafood restaurant in Newburgh that serves 500 lobsters a week. And unlike many family businesses, they welcome in-laws with open arms. Mary’s husband, Brent, manages the Grandview; Michael’s wife, Jen, is CFO; and Joe Jr.’s wife, J’aime, is in charge of Shadows’ catering. Their mother is retired and in charge of the family’s six grandchildren, with a seventh on the way. Joe Sr., 73, remains active. His specialty is looking for “deals” for all the products needed to operate a large-scale business and driving his refrigerated truck to purchase fish every Wednesday in New York City; other deliveries arrive daily. The family has divided equity among all blood-line members and gifted some to key employees as a reward.
Why it’s succeeded: The family’s lives revolve around business, and members meet five days a week at 7 a.m. to discuss new locations, concepts, and menus. To pare turf wars or too many chefs in one broth, Joe Sr. divided responsibilities by geography. All properties west of the Hudson fall under Michael’s bailiwick and those east are Joe Jr.’s. “You can’t have two bosses,” says Joe Sr. Adds Michael: “We know each other’s strengths in the business and defer.” And they’ve all agreed to reinvest in the business rather than live lavishly. “Our worst year was 2009, and we tightened our belts and cut costs. We also have set up the business to be a corporation, which included centralizing operations and signing all necessary legal documents. Our motto remains to plan for the worst and hope for the best but never lose our family business core and values,” Michael says. His father agrees. “We succeeded because we stay focused, and all have a great work ethic.” To resolve differences, the three vote.
Biggest challenges: Training the company’s 1,200 staff members; dealing with changing trends that it strives to set rather than follow (monogramming pigs ‘n blankets, branding filet mignons with a last-name initial); offering every possible diet now from gluten-free to vegan, macrobiotic, and vegetarian; coping with the immediacy of the Internet since “you can’t hide a bad review,” says Michael.
Succession planning: This, too, will be dealt with. “I will make a decision which son will be in charge; they’re both very capable,” Joe Sr. says.