Entrepreneurship Means Generational Independence. These Leaders of a 115-Year-Old Family Business Are Honoring the Past and Building for the Future. Joyva's third- and fourth-generation leaders Richard Radutzky and Sandy Wiener know that respect, customer service and innovation go a long way towards growth -- and they're using that to pave the way for the brand's exciting future.
When 26-year-old Nathan Radutzky immigrated from Ukraine to New York in 1906, he came with a recipe for halvah, a sesame dessert with Middle Eastern origins. By 1907, Radutzky was selling his halvah on pushcarts, and it wasn't long before he built a small factory to manufacture the confection — then a larger one. Radutzky's vision would evolve into Joyva (a combination of his granddaughter's name, Roslyn Joy, and, naturally, halvah). Today, the 115-year-old chocolate and confectionery manufacturer maintains its original Brooklyn headquarters and continues to be family-run.
Fifty-eight-year-old Richard Radutzky and 57-year-old Sandy Wiener are Joyva's third- and fourth-generation leaders; Radutzky's father and Wiener's grandfather were two of four brothers, born many years apart. Both Radutzky and Wiener have nothing but fond early memories of the factory, with its signature raspberry-jelly-ring scent and suitability for games of hide and seek. Still, neither man grew up sure that he'd join the family business one day.
Radutzky was an actor in Chicago, but he'd also studied finance in school and knew that going to Joyva was always an option. About 35 years ago, he asked to join the family business — his father was overjoyed. Wiener recalls being interested in Joyva, but he didn't want to be the only young person there. When Radutzky decided to take the plunge, Wiener saw it as the perfect opportunity to dive in himself.
"And here we are in the building that Sandy and I are talking to you from, that's now 101 years old," Radutzky tells Entrepreneur. "My son, who just came into the business a couple of years ago, can sense the ghosts in the room a little bit. These walls really can talk."
"They treated everyone with the same amount of kindness and respect."
Radutzky says his father and Wiener's grandfather weren't necessarily the biggest advice-givers. Instead, they led by example.
Wiener recalls one illustrative instance: His grandfather and Radutzky's father hated contracts. "It was all about the handshake," Wiener explains, "and it was all about the trust. And that absolutely guided the path for me and Richard to try to cultivate the right relationships with suppliers and vendors."
"Sandy's 100% right," Radutzky says. "You would never know if my father and my uncles were talking to a supplier, a customer or an employee in the factory. They treated everyone with the same amount of kindness and respect."
Today, Radutzky and Wiener continue to uphold that value at Joyva, and it guides everything they do. "It informs how we conduct ourselves, how we want to make our founders and ancestors proud, and how we can grow the business, while still respecting the past and not dismissing or nullifying it," Radutzky says. "It's really the secret sauce, to tell you the truth."
Wiener agrees, adding that respect, patience and tolerance are essential when it comes to running a family business successfully. "There were definitely some times where Richard and I had to practice deep breathing techniques," he laughs.
Radutzky explains that the generation before theirs was hesitant to embrace change, tending towards an "If it's not broke, don't fix it" mentality. Not yet leaders themselves, he and Wiener accepted those tried-and-true ways of doing things, overjoyed and honored to be learning alongside their father and grandfather. They knew they would get their chance to steer the ship when the time was right.
"Family-run businesses may not succeed if the younger generations come in and say, 'Yeah, time to clean house,' or 'I really don't see it this way, Dad. Your guys' time has come and gone; you're dinosaurs,'" Radutzky says. "I can't believe I'm even speaking those words. They would have never come out of my mouth or Sandy's mouth — ever."
Joyva's former leaders also helped Radutzky and Wiener establish their own foundation of mutual respect with the company's employees — some of whom had already been there for decades. When Radutzky and Wiener were still learning the business, the family sent them into the tahini operation to "get their hands dirty" and learn everything they could about the manufacturing process; not only was it a great exercise in learn-by-doing, but it also broke down any would-be formalities.
Wiener says anyone can come into their office without feeling intimidated. "It doesn't feel like we're in the corporate office," he says. "When someone comes in, they don't have to clear their throat and feel uncomfortable about asking for something. It's a very warm, open, comfortable relationship that we have with our employees. And that's a nice feeling to come into every day."
It's also nice to have that same level of trust and respect between business partners; that's a must for any successful enterprise, especially one going strong for more than a century. "Maybe you can't say it for all families, but I know that we could always say that in this business — with [Radutzky's father], my grandfather — everyone always had each other's back," Wiener says.
"Our connection to our customers is definitely the thing that separates us as a family-run business."
The respect that Joyva prioritizes among its employees, suppliers and vendors extends to its customers as well. The company has an active and verbal customer base, Radutzky says, who frequently send emails to voice their (usually positive) opinions. As the wearers of many hats, Radutzky and Wiener personally respond to each and every one.
Although Wiener doesn't rule out the possibility of a dedicated customer service department in Joyva's future, he says that handling the inquiries themselves comes with certain advantages. "It does keep you feeling the pulse of the consumer through all these years," he explains. "What are they feeling? What are they saying? Is some of it repetitive? Absolutely. But you get to experience what's happening — if there are any changes in the marketplace, if the flavor doesn't taste right, chocolate's turning color, whatever — without hearing it from someone else."
Radutzky agrees, likening that customer closeness to "an emotional spreadsheet." "It helps us run our business," he says. "I don't think it's just feel-good to know your customers and to reach out to them and understand them. I think those are all valued metrics in running a business, but the emotion, the humanity that occurs is completely undeniable."
Radutzky brings up a telling example. A 93-year-old woman in New Jersey kept emailing them, dismayed that she couldn't find Joyva's Marshmallow Twists, which she'd grown up on, whenever her son brought her to the local ShopRite. Radutzky was determined to find a solution; he gave the woman a call and arranged to meet her in New Jersey. He and his son arrived with Marshmallow Twists in tow (and Ba Tampte Pickles, another Brooklyn-based brand the woman had difficulty finding).
"We didn't do it for the press," Radutzky says. "It wasn't this, 'Oh, let me call somebody, so we get a lot of hits on TikTok.' It was really just about connecting with someone who was so attached to this brand and this company. How can you deny that?
"Now a startup or someone else may think that's kind of a waste of a day, or you could be spending time more wisely," Radutzky continues, "but I don't: I think our connection to our customers is definitely the thing that separates us as a family-run business."
"When you are the one who's captaining the ship, all of a sudden, it's not so easy."
More than three decades ago, Radutzky and Wiener got front-row seats to Joyva's inner workings for the first time, and though the men might have hesitated to upset the status quo before they were in charge themselves, that didn't mean they couldn't see areas ripe for innovation.
But Wiener points out that once they were in their predecessors' shoes, those seemingly clear choices grew murkier. "When you are the one who's captaining the ship, all of a sudden it's not so easy," he explains. "And you have more respect for what they did and a better understanding when they were being a little conservative. Maybe they needed two extra people out in the plant, but you understood why they were trying to be a little bit lean and mean and conserve money."
Today, one key decision surrounds the location of Joyva's original factory itself, which has grown and matured alongside the company. Naturally, after more than 100 years, Radutzky and Wiener are contending with some built-in inefficiencies from a manufacturing standpoint.
"That's been a big challenge for us," Radutzky says. "Do we stay in Brooklyn? Do we move? Should we start building a nice big rectangle in New Jersey or Kentucky? Any time we've had these opportunities or discussions, it's always come down to, 'You know what — we want to stay in Brooklyn.' We're loyal to Brooklyn. We're loyal to our employees.
"Even from a marketing standpoint, we're discovering that Brooklyn is its own brand in a way now," Radutzky adds. "So maybe we're doing some kind of justification there, but at the same time, it's really about staying put. My grandfather, father and uncles helped build local hospitals here in Brooklyn. We're an established presence here in Bushwick. There's a lot of new Bushwick; we're the old Bushwick. And the fact that we're coexisting here just makes it hard to leave." Joyva recently added "Brooklyn 1907" to its packaging for the first time.
When it comes to those big decisions, Radutzky stresses that there aren't "a lot of layers" to go through, because he and Wiener are so well-versed in wearing many hats — sometimes simultaneously. "Sandy could be on a forklift, unloading or loading a trailer of jelly rings while he is on the phone with the bank, and we're also noticing that the garage door is creaking when it opens," Radutzky says.
That means that when Radutzky and Wiener are ready to make a decision, it doesn't have to be approved by numerous departments. Of course, that freedom can be a double-edged sword: A decision can be made quickly, but it also runs the risk of being too insular. "We want to make sure that we're not too cocooned either," Radutzky explains, "that we're not our own echo chamber."
Radutzky and Wiener might not have a boss, but that doesn't mean they're not held accountable for every decision they make — quite the opposite, in fact.
"You can't see them now, but there are portraits in our office of my grandfather, uncles and dad. And they look down at me and Sandy pretty much every minute of the day, so we're answering to someone for sure," Radutzky laughs.
"People have been referring to us as a 115-year-old startup."
Despite having a 115-year-old household-name brand with Joyva, Radutzky and Wiener are fully aware that growing the company requires staying relevant and nimble. That can mean anything from using Google Analytics to assess customer activity to experimenting with new packaging.
"When we have these discussions with packaging firms, and even with our PR team, people have been referring to us as a 115-year-old-startup," Radutzky says. "So here we are, 115 years old — and an established, beloved, well-known, on-your-family-table business — but we can't rest on that. We can't stagnate.
"There are ups and downs in business, but I think my favorite thing is where we are currently, to tell you the truth, and that's this attempt to evolve responsibly," Radutzky continues.
Moving forward responsibly means keeping Joyva's employees and customers in mind, and respecting the past without sacrificing opportunities for innovation, which are so critical for the brand's growth-oriented future. Radutzky says the company will be making some significant changes over the next few months — from packaging design to the products themselves.
Radutzky says that even speaking with Entrepreneur marks another milestone for Joyva. "It's really new for us to share our story. We're a privately held family business, and Sandy and I are not on TikTok yet," Radutzky laughs.
Radutzky and Wiener might not be on TikTok yet, but they're fully committed to embracing Joyva's future success and learning what that will look like in the context of the youngest generation and beyond. And though Joyva's former leaders might not have been big on verbalizing life lessons, Radutzky did recently get some great advice from a family member in the business: his son Ben.
"We were discussing innovation and growth," Radutzky says. "He's 27 years old, and I'm 58 years old, so his perspective on things is different. And he told me something very simple when Sandy and I were in a meeting. He said, 'Dad, don't be scared.' And I thought it was a really profound thing to say, and he knew everything Sandy and I just told you, about that generation not being embracers of change, a little bit conservative, maybe risk-averse.
"It was sort of a jumping-off point for me," Radutzky admits. "It was a little bit liberating."