hey finish each other’s sentences, make each other laugh, and are deeply acquainted with one another’s most mortifying moments. But the five couples we feature here do something that sets them apart from other loving twosomes—they’ve birthed their own businesses, sharing not only their personal lives, but their professional lives, too. There’s that age-old adage that the secret to a happy marriage is separate sinks, and likely different workplaces. But these couples are together 24/7, and have proven that adage wrong—you might even say they’ve found the secret to everlasting love.
Skin Deep Jamyla & Pierre Bennu Oyin Handmade
How They Met
Much like their romantic relationship, the Bennus’s professional partnership evolved naturally, and quickly. They were just friends when they met in Brooklyn, NY, in the late 1990s, but once they gave in to their mutual attraction, they were married within a year and started their first venture together—teaching writing and performing workshops out of their apartment.
“What we found is there’s a lot of bleed-over between what makes a relationship work and what makes a business work. [Namely], communication, transparency, honesty, having similar goals, and being clear about them,” Jamyla Bennu says.
Back in 2001, the Bennus wore many hats—Jamyla juggled website design with teaching a dance class. Pierre—who quit his job at investment firm AIG after his hair started falling out from stress—worked as a DJ while writing a book and continuing his filmmaking and performance art. “It was wild,” Jamyla recalls. “But it was fun,” Pierre replies.
Though she had no business or cosmetology background, Jamyla started making hair products from scratch and sharing the recipes online. Soon, people asked her to make the balms and cleansers for them, and she enlisted her husband’s help with the website, and later bottling and packaging the wares. “I put my own projects to the side, and thought of it less as a sacrifice than an investment,” Pierre says. And, Jamyla says, “two years later, that’s all we were doing.”
When they moved to Baltimore in 2005, after a search for an affordable, artistic community, Oyin Handmade took off. Its products are now available at Whole Foods and Target stores around the country, and they ship internationally. The Bennus have a retail store in Charles North and a production facility in Barclay that also houses Exittheapple, a multipurpose art space and film and production studio where they host monthly events. And their family has grown—they have two sons, 7 and 4.
“There are people for whom [working together] sounds like a complete nightmare,” Jamyla says. “They tell us, ‘Every day, all day with the same person, that would be madness,’ and I get that. But for us it was just what we wanted.” Pierre agrees. “You know when you’re a kid and there’s a sleepover and it’s so much fun you’re scared it’s going to end? This has been like a big sleepover, and our parents are never coming.”
Really Good Shoe Harrison Davis & Dan Lindquist Davis For Rent Shoes
How They Met
The Davises are quick to admit how different they are. Harrison is the creative one, with an eye for color-rich shoes and clothing, and a brain always whirring with ways to enliven the arts and retail scenes. Dan is the pragmatist, the calming force who juggles consulting on the road with accounting and payroll duties at the couple’s boutique. But, in the retail world, as in their relationship, “it works really well,” Harrison says. “If we were both on the creative side . . . we’d run it into the ground because we’d only see one angle. We grow because we see things differently.”
They first met in Boston as students at Northeastern University, after which both found jobs in finance. But Harrison craved an occupation where, as he says, “my hair can be any color I want and I don’t have to wear a suit or dress to impress anyone.” Dan’s job allowed him to work anywhere, and they found an ideal place to explore a new venture in Baltimore—which, though it is one of the top sneaker markets in the country, didn’t have a high-end, exclusive athletic shoe boutique. “That’s where Harrison saw the opportunity to fill a niche,” Dan says. “It was obvious he should do it, and we both had the skills to make it work.”
For Rent Shoes opened in 2013 in a former Mt. Vernon rowhouse a block from The Walters Art Museum. Since then, merchandise has quadrupled and online sales are booming. The couple mentors local designers and has Baltimore artists create the rotating window and store displays.
They acknowledge it isn’t easy—both work 60 to 70 hours each week, and work hard to separate their personal and professional lives. Harrison even worked until a half-hour before their wedding in August 2014, and, just before their ceremony at The Walters, the pair slipped into their wedding outfits in their shop’s fitting rooms. “I’m lucky,” Harrison says. “I’m with someone who understands that if you want to have a successful business, it’s an absolute sacrifice.”
FIT TO PRINT Kim Bentley & Kyle Van Horn Baltimore Print Studios
Before they met, Van Horn and Bentley never collaborated with anyone else. Printmaking can be a solitary pursuit, with time spent at giant presses, meticulously laying out type. Then, in 2009, Bentley, a Maryland Institute College of Art alum, heard about Van Horn’s idea to open a shop that allowed artists and design enthusiasts to rent presses. She thought, "I want to help him. And I don’t even know if I like him.”
Though Bentley and Van Horn had seen each other around MICA, where Van Horn is the studio technician for the printmaking department, they'd never hung out. But that day, on a lunch date that turned into dinner, they bonded over a shared belief that access to printing presses shouldn’t end after college. And Van Horn enticed Bentley further when he asked, “Do you want to see the wood type I’m [carrying] in my car?” “I was like, ‘Yeah!’ What a turn-on,” Bentley says, laughing.
Van Horn and Bentley opened Baltimore Print Studios on North Avenue in 2010, offering studio rentals and letterpress and screen-printing workshops.
Since then, the couple has taken on private clients, and balanced the shop with work at MICA. (Until this spring, Bentley taught one or two design classes a semester.) That can make for long days and short tempers, but they fend off arguing by emphasizing communication, which, Van Horn says, “is understanding how the other person thinks as much as anything.”
This spring, they'll have an addition that could change life even more—they’re expecting a baby. But the soon-to-be parents are excited for the future, and know the shop benefits from their partnership. “I had ideas for a print shop of my own,” Van Horn says, “and what we have is far greater than anything I could have imagined.”
LUCKY 13 Dana and Alfie Himmelrich Stone Mill Bakery
It wasn’t until after 13 years of marriage, two kids, and many dogs that the Himmelrichs began working together. Alfie had bought the bakery from his brother Billy 10 years prior, and enlisted Dana’s help when he wanted to venture into catering. Though that service at the legendary Green Spring Station eatery largely went by the wayside, Dana stuck around. And the husband and wife have divided the workday— and their duties—ever since.
“I do money, sales, food, and operation,” Alfie says.
“And I fill in everything else,” says Dana, whose tasks run the gamut from ordering flowers to managing the computer system. Their college-age kids, Hannah and Sam, sometimes work in the business, too.
Alfie has always been a foodie, and he won Dana over with his cooking. They met while Alfie was having his car serviced at the dealership where Dana was a secretary, and he asked her out. “So I come to dinner at his house and he makes me roasted chicken. Oh man. I’d never gone out with anybody who knew how to roast a chicken,” Dana says. “That’s all it took.” Alfie smiles. “I wish life was as easy as roasting a chicken now,” he says.
These days, the couple runs a wholesale bakery at Meadow Mill near Woodberry, and has a second Stone Mill Bakery in Stevenson. Alfie wakes up at 5 a.m. to work their flagship’s opening shift, then comes home to nap for a few hours before heading to the bakery, while Dana takes over at Stone Mill midday after hiking with their five dogs and works the dinner rush. They don’t always agree. “She quit once,” Alfie recalls. “I did? I don’t remember that,” Dana says.
But despite that incident, they rarely fight, and routinely enjoy discussions about their business culture and philosophy. They’ve also resolved not to hold onto differences. “We don’t take things personally much,” Dana says. “We have a unique relationship, we really do,” Alfie says, looking at his wife. “We support each other.”
WHAT’S UP? Brooke Hall and Justin Allen What Works Studio
Hall and Allen can never be accused of thinking small. Whether it’s starting their own creative agency and the online magazine What Weekly, or
envisioning Light City Baltimore, they traffic in big ideas. “I think that was part of the reason why we were attracted to each other,” says Hall. “We’re both just like, ‘How far can we push the envelope? What’s the biggest, most exciting thing we can create?’ We talk each other into believing things are possible.”
Both Baltimore transplants, the duo seemed destined to meet—the back of their apartments even faced each other across an alley in Mt. Vernon—but didn’t until a night at Club Charles at the beginning of 2009. From the start, they were honest about what they expected from a relationship. “We told each other all of our faults,” Allen says. “I think I knew at that moment that life-wise, we were definitely on the same page.”
Both also seemed destined for entrepreneurship—as a girl, Hall staged board meetings with her dolls and stuffed animals around the dining room table. So it wasn’t a stretch when she started a creative agency, and soon Allen joined her, combining her knack for marketing and journalism with his creative flair.
Now, they have a staff of five, 20 active clients—and two wee ones, aged 8 months and 3 years. They say the keys to keeping everything working smoothly are recognizing and respecting each other’s strengths and consistently mapping out goals.
But no matter how busy, their shared lives always feel in sync. “One hundred years ago, families worked together, built their world together,” Hall says. “There’s something very natural to be so involved in each other’s lives. It strengthens our relationship in a lot of ways, and it strengthens the business.”