Getting your fair shake in the Family Business

I discovered a documentary on Kanopy that aired in 1982 called Family Business, part of the  “Middletown” PBS series. It follows the struggles of Howie Snider who bought a Shakey’s Pizza Parlor franchise that noosed his whole family. Shakey’s is the first pizza franchise created in 1954 and at one time had over 500 restaurants, now only 58 remain in the United States. The struggles of the Snider family are embedded with Shakey’s staying afloat. Clearly, the documentary is dated but still reflective of the restaurant business today. Many families are still chasing the American Dream. All Howie wanted was a new 20-year mortgage to further extend his future which was from the start on shaky grounds. After 14 years of a valiant effort, Howie finally closed the pizza franchise in 1989. Howie Snider passed away on October 30, 2016. If you ever plan to open a food franchise, please watch this. Family Business is still pertinent 40 years later.

Family Business,” produced and directed by Tom Cohen, is a leap forward for the film documentary if only because all one has to care about is people to appreciate its story of Howie Snider, his wife, Judy, and their eight great kids, who together try to keep a Shakey’s franchise in Muncie alive and thriving. It isn’t easy. Early in the film, Howie’s on the phone to Shakey’s corporate headquarters pleading for time to pay back $10,000 he still owes the company, while his wife surrenders to sobs nearby.

Howie Snyder is an archetype: a retired Marine colonel in his mid-40s, he is a prototypical American entrepreneur struggling to make his business go.

Howie’s Shakey’s Pizza franchise in Muncie, Indiana employs his whole family: wife, nine children, and Howie himself. He’s the representative of the American Dream: the chance to invest long hours and hard work in exchange for financial security for oneself and family. To watch Howie Snyder as he dickers for better treatment by the Shakey’s chain, as he seeks additional financing to stave off looming bankruptcy, and as he sits morosely counting an evening’s disappointing receipts is to watch America at work. And to see Howie’s family rally around him in the hour of his greatest need is a heartwarming experience.

FAMILY BUSINESS will appeal to business groups as well as small business owners. Franchising organizations will find it valuable as a case study. Schools will find it appealing as a study of a family in a challenge. And everyone will find the drama of daily life compelling.