Brothers in life and vending machines | Bleader

Brothers in life and vending machines

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Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week's Chicagoans are Mark and Daniel Stein, brothers and owners of Mark Vend Co.

Daniel and Mark Stein of Mark Vend Co. - CHRIS RIHA
  • Chris Riha
  • Daniel and Mark Stein of Mark Vend Co.

Daniel: 
Dad started Mark Vend in 1962. People always ask, "Are you mad that he named the company after your brother and not you?" It doesn’t bother me a bit. First, I wasn’t born yet. And second, no one ever calls up irate looking for Daniel.

At first it was all cigarette vending machines—that was back when smoking was good for you. Over time Dad expanded to candy and coffee and cocoa. All of our classmates knew exactly what Mr. Stein did for a living. The truth is, people love vending machines. There's something magical about being at the skating rink and having your father open up the vending machine and turn on free hot cocoa for the hockey team.

Mark: Our father was rather gregarious, a bit larger than life.

Daniel: And he was big. Six foot three, anywhere between 220 and 250. He had these gigantic paws for hands. Remember, Marky? When he got mad, one eyebrow would go up and one eyebrow would go down, and it was like, "Oh boy."

Mark: I think Dad always had in mind that we would follow him in the business, but it wasn’t really a conversation at dinner.

Daniel: Dad was a fatalist. He'd always say, "When your number’s up, your number's up." When he was 61, he went to the annual Glencoe village meeting, stood up, asked a question, sat down, had a massive heart attack, and died. Mark called me at school and said, "Dad’s died." The first thing I said was, "God, I guess his number was up." But Dad was a big man. There wasn't a cheese he didn’t love—there was always half a wheel of Jarlsberg in our fridge. The man having a massive heart attack was not out of the question.

It was interesting to watch our mom after Dad died, coming into her own without her larger-than-life husband, figuring out, "Oh my God, I own this company." As much as we missed Dad, it was time to make the doughnuts. Then Mom died suddenly at age 65 of a brain tumor, 14 days from diagnosis to death. And Mark and I inherited the family business.

Mark: Whenever anybody hears we're in the vending business, they ask, "Do you sell healthier things now?" The answer is yes.

Daniel: Dad would be rolling in his urn if he found out how much bottled water we sell. He was a Depression baby. The notion of selling water would baffle him. And we sell a lot of bottled water.

About a decade ago, Mark and I started seeing a therapist together once a week. It's made us better business partners and better brothers. Sometimes the line between family issues and business issues gets blurred, and it's nice to have someone calling you out and saying, "Daniel, your reaction to that is a little irrational," and I'm like, "Holy moly, it's because I'm mad Mark got that tricycle when he was three!" Anyway, I like what I do. And I love working with my brother.

Mark: Did the reporter just say "Awww"? That’s sweet. Thank you. I love working with my brother too. 


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