NEWPORT BEACH — To Orange County, he is a provider of gracious French dining. To his mother, he is her "petit chou"-- little cabbage, a common term of endearment in France.
Therese Olhats journeyed from France to Newport Beach for the first time last week to witness the success of her 40-year-old son, Pascal, and his restaurant of the same name. There he uses the lessons of French country cooking learned in his mother's kitchen in Normandy. The two prepared a Norman feast together for restaurant diners on Thursday.
But as most sons and daughters do at times, Olhats chafes at his mother's tendency to see him as not quite grown up. His return visits to France don't help: "I sit in the same seat at the table and eat the same food as I did 20 years ago," he said.
For sons to follow in their mothers' footsteps is a trend still in its infancy. Logic--and several experts--suggests that such dynasties will become fairly common before long, because women have been starting businesses at twice the rate of men in recent years.
Statistically, however, mother-son teams are rather unusual, said Jon Goodman, director of USC's entrepreneur program, "because we're in the first generation where women in significant numbers are managing businesses. But I think we will see more of them in time."
Goodman has the numbers on her side.
Women now own slightly more than a third of the businesses in the United States, according to the National Assn. of Women Business Owners. The group also found that an estimated 6.5 million women-owned companies together employ more people than all of the Fortune 500 combined.
Among more than 600 family-owned companies surveyed last year by the Gallup Organization for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., 46% reported that a son was actively involved in the business. The survey did not differentiate between a father and mother as the business owner.
There are tremendous rewards to be had from mother and son sharing a vocation.
"I am very proud of Pascal and his wife," Therese Olhats said in French, as tears came to her eyes. "They have a lot of ambition and have worked very hard."
"It's thanks to her education," her son replied, becoming choked up himself.
The kitchen is a time-honored realm where sons can follow in their mothers' footsteps. In other professions, the mother-son combination is rare, but it is becoming less so, experts say, as women move en masse into the roles of professional and entrepreneur.
There are, of course, famous exceptions. Mary Martin, who played Peter Pan on Broadway, and her actor son, Larry Hagman, the J.R. Ewing of "Dallas" fame. Cosmetics whiz Mary Kay Ash and her son, Richard R. Rogers, who now runs the company. Helen and David Copley of Copley Newspapers, which publishes, among others, the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Locally, Zee Allred and son Dean run a national swimming pool supplies business, Pool Water Products in Irvine, which employs 350 people. And Turner Associates Realtors in Laguna Beach embraces the talents of three generations--from its founder to her grandson.
The combination can be a powerful one, said Jacqueline Freiberg, director of the University of San Diego Family Business Institute. It captures the strengths of both genders to compete fiercely yet form close, lasting relationships with customers and suppliers. And it avoids the rivalries that can arise in mother-daughter, father-son or husband-wife business teams.
"Moms who run businesses are probably self-sufficient, secure and independent," Freiberg said. "It's a sweet opportunity to work with someone you not only love, but respect."
Louise Turner Arnold founded Turner Associates in 1964. She has a strong handshake, a direct gaze and a bright red blazer. It is difficult to describe her without using the word "zip."
Arnold said it was unusual for a woman to open her own real estate business in the mid-1960s. But she has been well-accepted in the role, she said, with one memorable exception: a fellow realtor who was showing a client one of Arnold's homes.
"He thought he knew everything, and I knew nothing," she said. "But I made the sale, so it didn't really matter, did it?"
Arnold's daughter, Nancy Turner Casebier, joined the company in 1975 when her youngest child was 4 years old. Nancy's oldest child, Kevin Casebier, joined the company right after college in January, 1990. He had planned to help with the firm's summer rental business, but he is now making a career in real estate.
The three share the commissions of their individual sales; another 30 agents work from the Turner office, which specializes in luxury homes.
Kevin Casebier said he brings a valuable male perspective to the business. From time to time, a buyer who appears quite wealthy and serious will take a real estate agent through all the steps of purchasing a home, then vanish.