On Mother’s Day, what better way to honor mom and her legacy than through her daughter?
These mother-daughter teams work alongside one another, powering local businesses and the arts.
A family in mead
When you are working with family, business conversations can get spirited.
Barbara Christianson and her daughter Kylie Daniels, owners of The Meading Room, a purveyor of craft mead, ciders and fruit wines in Sonoita, have said things to each other that, in a corporate environment, might have sent them directly to human resources.
“With family, everything is on the table,” said Daniels, 30. “It is passionate. You say everything and you mean it.”
But, she added, “You also really come together and work things out because you are so open and honest about everything.”
In the end, it is nothing but love for this mother-daughter team, who opened The Meading Room in September 2019 on Arizona Highway 82, amid the rolling hills and grasslands of Southern Arizona wine country.
Christianson, who spent 33 years as an engineer with Raytheon, had been dabbling in making fruit wine and mead — an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey — at home for several years before taking on the new venture.
“I always liked making things from fresh fruits and vegetables,” Christianson, 60, said. “Things you could grow and turn into something.”
Daniels worked for six years in the local wine industry while finishing her degree in fine arts with an emphasis in photography from the University of Arizona.
Christianson was set to retire when Daniels came to her with the idea of going into business together.
They decided on trying to launch something beyond your typical winery in Sonoita.
“We were originally thinking more of a farmers market-type thing with local cheeses, meats and flowers,” Christianson said. “But with her working in the wine industry and me playing with fruit wines and mead at home, we thought we could do something totally different out here.”
The duo purchased 10 acres of land in 2015 within walking distance of another family business, AZ Hops & Vines, owned by sisters Shannon Zouzoulas and Megan Haller.
They started construction in 2017.
Through hard work and a lot of long days and nights, they soon had a fully functioning production facility with tanks and barrels for making fruit wine, cider and mead; an open tasting room with high ceilings, comfy chairs and a tall bookcase stocked with their favorite reads and board games; and a huge, grassy patio area with a flock of roaming chickens they call the Golden Girls and a rooster named Gabby.
With a healthy selection of inventory, including its popular Space Cowboy mead, made from raspberry honey, and its ciders and fruit wines, The Meading Room has managed to develop a strong following despite the pandemic.
“We have a built-in clientele in wine country,” Daniels said. “People are out wine-tasting and touring, and a lot of them have found us that way.”
Christianson and Daniels plan to expand their facility to increase production. They’ve also planted a small orchard of apple, pear and peach trees, that, in a couple of years, will allow them to source more ingredients on-property.
While they butt heads every now and again, each feels the other brings something to the table, beyond the backroom, where they spend their days making and bottling their product.
Christianson, Daniels said, is the analytical one.
“She is the behind-the-scenes person,” Daniels said. “She handles the licensing, the reporting; all of the things I find incredibly overwhelming.”
While Daniels is more of a people person, Christianson said, handling things like the event planning, the look of the tasting room and label design.
“Our vision was always for this project to be local, fresh, different,” Christianson said. “We’ve always both had that same end goal in mind.”
Forever a dance mom
Jill Johnson Maltos started her journey as a dance mom years ago, handling the logistics of travel for competitions, helping with elaborate costumes and shuttling her then-9-year-old daughter Megan back and forth to classes at Danswest.
Megan Maltos was in high school when her dance teacher and mentor, Frank Trent, casually asked her if she wanted to take over his dance studio one day.
Today Megan and her mother own Danswest Dance studio, 5633 E. Speedway, and two Danswest Danswear stores — on the northwest side at 2958 W. Ina Road and next to the studio at 5669 E. Speedway.
“She and I have always gotten along,” Johnson Maltos said, adding that her daughter was an easy kid to raise and always fun to be around. “It seemed like a natural thing when she wanted to do this.”
Johnson Maltos wore a different hat back in August 2005, when she and her daughter took over the studio. She was a nurse, but also had a graduate degree in business. Meanwhile Maltos had just graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor of Arts in business management and a minor in dance.
“I took over the business side and she took over the artistic director-teaching side of the business,” Johnson Maltos said.
In working together, the mother-daughter duo balance each other out, Megan Maltos said.
“She reels in my ideas when I think a little too far outside of the box,” Megan added. “I’ve learned that mom is always right ... if she has a sixth sense about something, I have to acknowledge it. We can gauge each other really well.”
Danswest Dance studio is carrying on the legacy of its founder Trent, with classes for people of all ages to learn all styles of dance, from jazz and tap to ballet, hip hop and modern dance.
“We’re blessed to have survived this last year. It wasn’t easy for anybody that’s in business,” Johnson Maltos said, crediting support from the community since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020 for keeping the doors open. The studio now has a long waiting list for its summer kids classes.
Walking in mom’s shoes
April Kuhlmann admits that when she was a teen growing up on Tucson’s northwest side, she got more than a few strange looks and responses when she told her friends she was spending Thanksgiving at a bar.
“A lot of people have a weird reaction to that,” recalled the 42-year-old Kuhlmann, who manages her family’s bar, Nancy’s Boondocks, on North First Avenue. “People were like, ‘You’re going to a bar?’ Yeah. But we never closed. We were open for every occasion.”
When your single mom runs a bar — mom Nancy Kuhlmann was part-owner of Chaparral Lounge in Oro Valley when April was really young and owned Nancy’s Fort Lowell Pub when April was in her late teens before buying the Boondocks in early 2017 — you find yourself helping out in the kitchen or wiping down tables. And all those regular customers become like family, April said.
But the last thing April and her older sister Jodey Bingham wanted when they were younger was to follow in their mother’s footsteps. Their older brother Richard and sister Susie had already jumped in to help their mother, who closed the Chaparral in 1998 and took over a neighborhood dive on East Fort Lowell Road that she later bought and rechristened Nancy’s Fort Lowell Pub.
Nancy Kulhmann also bought land 10 miles from nowhere, just past Oracle Junction, and over a handful of years built the Cadillac Chaparral Steakhouse & Saloon. Richard was the go-too cook.
When Susie died in 1995, Bingham, who studied psychology and business in college, pitched in to help her mom and brother. Before she knew it, she, too, was part of the family business.
April, who trailed Bingham in age by a decade and her older siblings by more than 20 years, trained to be an EMT, telling herself, “I’m going to do other things with my life. I’m not going to bartend,” she recalled.
And then at 24, she found herself newly divorced and decided that maybe the family business wasn’t such a bad thing. So she asked Nancy to teach her the bartending ropes.
The first few shifts were eye openers, she recalled. She had watched her mom navigate the bar business her entire life, but walking in her shoes was a lot more work than she had anticipated.
But it didn’t take long for April to realize what big sister Bingham, 52, had learned years earlier.
“The bar is our family,” Bingham said. “It has been that way for so, so long. Everywhere we have been, everybody has been family.”
These days, Nancy Kuhlmann’s daughters run the show at the Boondocks, 3306 N. First Ave. She comes in a couple of times a week for an hour or two, “to do paperwork and tell them what bills they need to pay,” she joked.
“They definitely take care of the Boondocks just about completely,” said the 76-year-old, who focuses most of her attention on the steakhouse since her son died in 2016. “I’m out at the restaurant most of the time.”
“We can’t go a day without calling her for some advice or have her talk us down from a situation,” Bingham said.
“She has been taking care of people her entire life,” added April, which is why for Mother’s Day, the sisters are spending the day taking care of mom.
Kuhlmann’s daughters plan to spend the day cleaning up their mom’s yard and helping to organize a few things.