The Power of Sisterhood

Under the leadership of sisters, Utah businesses El Matador and Lime Ricki have tweaked their business models while staying true to their guiding principles and continued to thrive during the pandemic.

Nicola McIntosh Mar 8, 2021

Pictured above: The El Matador team of Rosemarie Hasratian, Cami Johnson and Samantha Olsen.

Seven months after they took the reins on their family’s beloved business, El Matador in Bountiful, Utah, sisters Samantha Olsen and Cami Johnson were confronted with the additional challenge of managing through a global pandemic that shut their doors, scared away diners and cut their volumes almost in half.

Fortunately, they had learned first-hand how to overcome obstacles from their father and the restaurant’s founder, Artoosh Hasratian, who guided the business for 40 years before he passed away in 2014.

“We asked ourselves, what would Pops do? How would he navigate?” recalls Olsen, who handles the restaurant’s HR and payroll while working full-time on Pluralsight’s customer success team. “The first thing was to take donated meals to people in the community. We delivered to 80 different families that were in need.”

Olsen says helping the community is the only reason they’re surviving, and even thriving, during the pandemic.  “That’s how my dad raised us,” she says. “You can’t take it with you, you share everything you have.”

Swimming Upstream

The pandemic also came at a difficult time for Lime Ricki, a Salt Lake City-based designer and manufacturer of modest swimwear founded by sisters Jennifer Anderson, Colette Callister and Nicole Bruderer.

"Spring is our launch time, and by closing our stores for six weeks, we took a little bit of a hit,” Anderson says. “However, online sales did really well and balanced out anything that the stores were affected by.”

She says throughout the season they offered free shipping to make buying easier and added features, such as a Fit Finder that allows shoppers to enter in their measurements to find the suits that will best fit them and help determine what size to buy.

They also instituted a Try Before Buying program that allows shoppers to purchase up to five items to try on and return what doesn’t fit. “We try to make it as easy as possible to find a suit that’s best for you,” Anderson explains.

From Surviving to Thriving

El Matador’s Johnson and Olsen, along with their mother and restaurant owner Rosemarie Hasratian, credit their loyal clientele for buoying the business during difficult times. “The community took it personally that we had to shut down and found ways to keep this restaurant going,” Johnson says. That included purchasing gift cards, in amounts as large as $1,500.

man working in a restaurant kitchen
El Matador founder Artoosh Hasratian taught his daughters: “If you want to be successful, look to the end of your arms. Always be able to depend on yourself.”

In addition, as general manager, Johnson instilled all protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and was on the phone daily with the local health department to ensure all guidelines were being followed. “Our staff is immaculate, the kitchen and restaurant are cleaner than they’ve ever been,” Johnson says. “We told ourselves, we need to do this 100% if we want to stay open.”

Today, “the parking lot is full, and we have a 45-minute wait,” Olsen says, and again credits her father who “came from nothing and built a business that has sustained all these years.”

Johnson credits loyal employees — some of whom have worked at the restaurant for several decades — for their success. “Our staff is the heartbeat of our business and we could never survive without them,” she says.

Women and Leadership

Johnson and Olsen credit their mother, Rosemarie, for instilling values in them and for providing unconditional support to their father as he grew the business.  

“It was my greatest desire to raise strong daughters that are bright, energetic and full of values. I encouraged them to seek out their desires and tried my hardest to always be supportive and to love them through ups and downs, unconditionally,” Hasratian says. “A saying in our home is, ‘It is nice to be important but it is more important to be nice.’ These are my daughters that make me so pleased. I love them so much.”

Johnson says she learned from her father that good leadership means you do the absolute worst job in the restaurant and enjoy it — advice she followed by washing dishes.

“Now I’ve seen everybody follow by example like I followed my father’s example,” she says. “It was an important lesson that you don’t ask anyone to do something you don’t do yourself.”

She says that while gender roles are more equal than ever, she still felt the need to prove herself as capable as the men on staff. “After a couple days, they said, ‘You work as hard as we do,” she recalls. “When you elevate your own performance, it sheds a layer of gender discrimination.”

Lime Ricki’s Anderson notes that it’s very much an advantage to be women-run with such a women-based product as theirs.

“We can relate to our customer, we know what they’ve been though, what their pain points are, because we’ve felt them ourselves,” she explains.

She says their main disadvantage is a lack of a formal business education. “We learned by the school of hard knocks in a field that’s very much male dominated in the manufacturing industry,” Anderson says.

Sisters in Arms

Both El Matador and Lime Ricki are firmly family affairs and thrive on their family dynamic.

“A lot of people think we’re crazy to do this, but one of our ground rules was that family comes first,” says Lime Ricki’s Anderson. “We respect each other, we each get to speak our voice and we all have to agree before we move forward on anything.”

She says they’ve stuck to that pact even when discussions have become heated. “We follow the greater good instead of our own agenda,” she says.

At El Matador, Olsen says that it was a very difficult transition after losing their dad, but “our relationship has grown in a way. We get to do it all with my mom.”

Noting that they’ve had some personal family challenges to overcome, Olsen says, “This restaurant is what brought us all back together.”

woman wearing a green bathing suit
Lime Ricki sought to make its modest swimwear even more accessible during the pandemic by offering free shipping, a Fit Finder and a Try Before Buying program.

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Nicola McIntosh is Social Media manager for Zions Bank.

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