Spouse-owned businesses on the rise

April 21, 2016

For Doug and Krista Dittman, it's the smallest of details in their new business, The Hub Cafe, that show the harmony of their professional and personal relationship.

"We're a marriage of form and function," Krista Dittman said. "He has the eye for how things should look and how it should go together, but I'm the function, the practicalist, I'm the one who makes sure all the pieces in the background go together."

The cafe's brick countertop intermixed with the glass bottoms of wine bottles - that was all Doug Dittman. The installation of a full kitchen into a cafe-spaced spot - that's Krista Dittman's speciality. The restaurant, located at 250 N. 21st St., focused on local food as fresh as they can get it - that's their partnership at work.

According to the United States Census’ Survey of Business Owners, accommodations and food services businesses like the cafe tops the industry list in the number of businesses that are jointly owned and operated by spouses. The 2012 nationwide survey estimated that 62 percent of that industry feature an equalitarian spouse duo, up 2 percent from the 2007 survey.

Overall, the number of spouse-owned and operated businesses has increased 4 percent to its current 47 percent in the five years. Among the 19 surveyed industries, 12 increased in businesses like the Dittmans’.

"I think working together as a couple is pretty positive mostly because we each bring different skills," Doug Dittman said.

Given Dittmans' diverging specialities, Krista Dittman said they utilize a "divide-and-conquer" approach, which has worked well for them.

"I think we organize ourselves that way so I'm not his boss, and he's not my boss," she said. "So that we can each be our own bosses in the realm of what we're doing."

Like the typical agricultural family, the couple started their work-life balance more than a decade ago with a farm, Branched Oak Farms, and children. One would watch the children, while another took care of the farm, dairy or creamery. At this time, Krista Dittman also taught German to Doane College students.

In January, a young entrepreneur recently took over the farming and milking side of Branched Oak Farms, leaving Krista Dittman with her cheese business and Doug Dittman focused on the cafe.

"I think it's been good for me to make the transition," he said. "I think it's been fun, learning new skills."

In addition to their division of labor, the Dittmans said their success rests on a common goal, giving people options.

"We believe in having a choice about what we eat, what we drink," Krista Dittman said. "We want to make choices that are conducive to the things that we value. There's a lot of potential here. We're on the edge of something new."

Doug Dittman said, "I hope we make an example that can be replicated in other places."

View the data analysis on GitHub.