Some Restaurateurs Still Cling to Mom’s Apron Strings

Paula, Harry, Pauline

by NICOLE JANOK, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer, May 5, 2005

Some might think that working with mom mixes as well as oil and water. But five families who own and operate local restaurants and bakeries say that working together is the secret ingredient to their success.

Harry MacArthur was barely out of diapers – literally – when he had his first job. As a toddler, he would pour water for customers at his parents’ Hobe Sound restaurant. Once he was tall enough, he’d pump gas at the station outside.

In fact, most of his childhood memories remain inside Harry and the Natives, the restaurant he now co-owns with his 90-year-old mother, Pauline.” (The restaurant) was our social life,” he says. “We had people to talk to all the time.”

It’s been about 17 years since the former executive hotel chef returned to what he knows best – working with family.

He reopened the restaurant shortly after his father, Jack, passed away.

“It’s hard to find anything better than working with family,” he says. “I’d love to have gotten into another business, but I just don’t know anything else.”

The restaurant was opened by Pauline and Jack MacArthur in 1952, but it had switched to a beverage-only hangout for the five years before Harry returned.

Now, Harry’s revamped menu includes everything from banana pancakes for breakfast, to burgers and honey-bourbon pecan-encrusted chicken for lunch or dinner.

Harry’s older sister, Paula Cooper, who returned to the business seven years ago from Michigan, says reopening the restaurant brought back her mother’s spark.

“It was the best thing for Mom,” she says. “It revitalized her.”

Meet Pauline, and that’s easy to see. Most days she is chatting with customers, singing while she waitresses, or is keeping track of the finances. Although she still clocks a 45-hour week, Pauline has no plans of slowing down.

“If you have to get up in the morning and do something, you feel a whole lot better,” she says.

Paula says she came back to lighten the workload for her mom. “My whole goal was to make her life easier,” she says. “But what she likes to do is be here and sit with the customers.”

An artist, Paula has added a crafty Key West touch, with hand-painted alligator and flamingo carvings displayed on the front porch, and a gift shop filled with funky Florida-style crafts.

Together, their hard work and laid-back attitudes have kept the family and their restaurant alive. Harry and the others say the best way to work with family is to let the little things go now and again.

“If you want to fight about everything all the time, it will never work,” Pauline says.

It’s no surprise, then, that Harry and his wife and children get together with Paula and Pauline on the one day of the week that the restaurant is closed.

“That’s when you laugh and get to share some of the things that have gone on during the week,” Paula says.

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