In March of 2020, most businesses were in the midst of battening down the hatches. It didn’t feel like the time to push forward with a new challenge or opportunity for most people. However, for Marcus and Aracely Villarreal, this was when they decided to go forward with their newest endeavor and open a coffee shop franchise.
The past year has been tough on businesses across all industries, but the Villarreal’s came out on the other side stronger than ever and optimistic about the future—which they attribute to the support of their family and their community.
From the Sandwich Shop to the Coffee Shop
The Villarreal’s have been franchising as a family for years. Aracely’s husband owns and operates six Subway franchises, which they still own together with Marcus. Aracely started off as a teacher, but as she got more involved with operating the Subways, the more her interest piqued. While her husband handled the day-to-day and general store operations, she focused on interpersonal communication.
“I mostly did HR,” she said, “so I knew all our employees. We’re always very selective.”
Marcus had his earliest work experiences as an employee at one of his parents’ franchises, starting at 14. Since then, he went on to study and work in business before finding his way back to franchising.
“I was the instigator,” Aracely said with a laugh. “I always knew I wanted to open a coffee shop.”
They looked into many different franchises before they discovered PJ’s Coffee. “PJ’s stood out to me,” Aracely said. “It was exactly what we were looking for. Even though it was big enough to have locations across the United States, it seemed very family-oriented to me, and I liked that,” Aracely explained.
“We’re not just on our own,” Marcus said. “It’s a big partnership.”
A True Dedication to Southern Hospitality
The Villarreal’s have remained franchisees for so long because they value the collaborative and supportive environment of franchise businesses.
“We take southern hospitality seriously. To us, it means making sure our franchisees feel at home. No matter what our partners need, we’re here to listen and answer questions and concerns. We believe the human connection is a crucial element of any sustainable company. In other words, we treat every one of our partners like a family member,” Aracely, said.
“The thing we’ve loved, from the moment we put in the first tile on the floor, is that everyone is just a phone call away,” Marcus said. “PJ’s is happy to help us, and we have the support anytime. That’s another reason we chose PJ’s.”
Succeeding in Business and Family
Marcus and Aracely have struck the perfect balance with their coffee franchise and knew right away that they’d need to trust each other and delegate.
“What works for us, is that we’re honest. We both understand everything is about trying to do well for the business. There’s no ego, no ‘I do more,’” said Aracely.
Aracely and Marcus acknowledged it can be tricky to run a business with your family—it’s hard to hear criticism from loved ones—but they each understand that the benefit to a family business is knowing everyone always has each other’s best interests in mind.
“This is our business together, and we want to make sure our business grows and our family succeeds,” Aracely said.
“We have high expectations of each other,” Marcus adds. “We know what to expect.”
One way you can see this in their PJ's Coffee franchise is how they take on different aspects of ownership.
Marcus, being younger, with firsthand experience as a Subway employee, can connect with their in-store employees on a personal level. He can easily empathize and tune into their needs and challenges and leads like a peer mentor.
Aracely leans into her own experience as a teacher and mother. She can offer guidance to Marcus while also modeling to her employees what she needs from them. “Sometimes employees just need a nudge to meet expectations,” she says of her gentle leadership style.
Still, even when you’ve effectively delegated responsibilities, sometimes you still need help. “We’re always ready to ask for help when we need help from each other,” Marcus points out. “That’s the advantage of owning a family business.” We couldn’t agree more.
Plans for Growth
Marcus and Aracely recently celebrated their one-year store anniversary on November 9, and are excited about the future.
After a spectacular year of growth and success, the two currently have plans to open another PJ’s Coffee franchise in 2022 and keep getting stronger as a family business. When Marcus reflected on their first year in a partnership, he had this to say: “If we were able to do that, then we have good things to come in the future.”
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