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Vaughn and Karen Watson Talk Family and Heading Arizona's Only We Olive Oil and Wine Bar

The husband-and-wife Detroiters are the company's first black franchise owners.

Detroiters Vaughn and Karen Watson became the first African-American franchise owners of the only We Olive in Arizona in 2016. The We Olive franchise was started by Ervin Galvan over 15 years ago in Paso Robles, California as a specialty gourmet food store offering certified domestic olive oils (from California farmers), balsamic vinegars, artisan-produced food products and a premium domestic wine bar, with craft beers that can be paired with olive oil-inspired small plates. There are now 18 stores across the country.

Prior to owning and operating their own We Olive franchise, Karen worked 21 years in operations and management for healthcare corporations, while Vaughn has been a pharmaceutical sales representative for over 22 years. The two graduated from Cass Technical High School in Detroit in the mid '80s, knowing, serendipitously, the same friends but not each other. After high school graduation, Karen went off to study business administration at Indiana Institute of Technology in Fort Wayne and Vaughn studied chemical engineering at Wayne State University.

It wasn't until 1992, when they both took a trip to Toronto for Caribana Festival – a bevy of parties and parades celebrating Caribbean culture – did they meet through the same mutual friends from high school, and they couldn't stop talking with each other the whole trip. The two married in 1999 and have two 14- and 28-year-old sons. Karen always knew she wanted to start her own business "even if it was a spinoff of what I was doing in healthcare," but it never seemed like the right time. Vaughn secured a job with GlaxoSmithKline as a respiratory biologics specialist in Arizona, and six months after the family moved, Karen started looking into opening a full-service bar but soon realized that the late hours required wouldn't gel well with raising school-aged children.

They found We Olive after some time searching online; they decided to speak with the franchise director and were quickly sold on the gourmet olive oil and wine bar. It allowed for a nice compromise between operating a bar and working within retail hours. "We can run a business and still be home at a decent time to enjoy our family life," Karen says. Her experience in business administration and Vaughn's experience in sales created the perfect recipe for success, which is not to say there aren't difficulties along the way, but building together allows them to "work daily with my life partner on a shared goal and have success," Vaughn says.

One of their biggest challenges is staffing. Karen says the candidate may give a great interview but that she has difficulty getting that same passion to translate to executing quality service that encourages customers to return. Karen runs day-to-day operations utilizing her extensive business administration experience to hire staff, service customers, manage payroll and set and maintain the operations budget. What she didn't bring to the table was retail experience but, a consumer herself, she knows what she's looking for when walking into a business. Vaughn still works in sales while working at We Olive in the evenings and on weekends. He serves as co-owner and is the social media and advertising director.

Vaughn also teaches the monthly olive oil and balsamic vinegar courses at the store. He says the fun part is educating consumers on the healthy benefits of using olive oil and discussing olive oil facts, how to properly taste oil, how balsamic vinegars are made and techniques on preparing dishes at home using products in the store. "We have built a strong foundation in our marriage and in business," Vaughn says. "Karen and I are both foodies and we love wines. Our education plus professional backgrounds and travels have provided ample training for us to make this business (successful)."

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