Kaley Young (right), her sister Keira, and brother Christian.
Kaley Young, left her sister Keira, and brother Christian.
(Courtesy of Kaley Young)
  • Many family businesses are passed down. They aren't typically inherited through tragedy.
  • At 19, Kaley Young ran her mother's pilates studio after she died. At 24, she took over her father's business.
  • In channeling her own grief into passion projects, Young has exemplified an entrepreneurial spirit.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Many family businesses are passed down from generation to generation, like an heirloom or secret recipe. They aren't typically inherited through tragedy. But taking over two businesses before the age of 25 is a responsibility Kaley Young, now 28, says she assumed in order to keep the legacy of her parents, Beth and Keith, alive.

At 19, she began running her mother's Long Island Pilates studio, Hot Pilates Secret, after Beth died of breast cancer. And at 24, after Keith, a first responder to the 9/11 attacks, died of a rare form of cancer, she took over his cutting-board business, Cup Board Pro.

"It feels like an honor to be able to have done that," Young said of taking over the family's businesses. "There's so much love that they poured into what they both did."

Today, a family friend runs Hot Pilates Secret, and Cup Board Pro, led by Young, has a licensing deal with the home-goods company Williams Sonoma. In channeling her own grief into passion projects, Young has continued a family legacy that spans generations and exemplifies the entrepreneurial spirit of seeking growth through loss.

"This isn't just about Kaley picking up the baton from her mom and dad. This is who she was meant to be," said Matt Higgins, a guest judge on "Shark Tank" who invested in Cup Board Pro. "There's a lot more happening here than a family running with their parents' dream."

Kaley Young, her father Keith, sister Keira, mother Beth, and brother Christian stand outside for a family photo
From right, Kaley Young, her father Keith, sister Keira, mother Beth, and brother Christian.
Courtesy of Kaley Young

An entrepreneurial spirit from a young age

Young is the oldest of three siblings - her brother, Christian, is 24, and her sister, Keira, is 18 - and grew up watching her parents chase their professional passions. Early on, Beth harbored dreams of opening her own dance and Pilates studios, while Keith worked as a firefighter.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Keith had just put Kaley and Christian on the bus for school when he learned of the attacks. He raced to his station in Brooklyn but was instructed to stay put. Fueled with tense energy, he started cooking.

"I was freaking out, and cooking is the only thing that soothes me a little bit," Keith said in a video about his experiences that day. Four years later, in 2005, Keith published a cookbook titled "Cooking With the Firehouse Chef."

When the family bought their dream home in Wantagh, on Long Island, Beth turned her aspirations into a reality. The house came with a backyard barn that Beth converted into a dance studio before launching Hot Pilates Secret.

As Young tells it, the studio was a way for Beth to cope with the loss of her own father, who also died of cancer, and help others heal physically and emotionally. She'd often tell Young, "you have to sweat to destress."

Young began assisting her mother with the business when she was a high school freshman and was managing it by the time she was a junior. In 2011, Beth was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer but didn't want to close the studio and place of healing she created. Young kept the business, and Beth's dreams, alive as her mother sought treatment.

The same year, Young enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York to study graphic design. In the fall of Young's sophomore year, the cancer overtook Beth's body. After her mother's death, Young had to decide between continuing school and pausing to support her family. Her father still needed someone to run the studio, which helped pay the mortgage on their house, and care for her siblings.

"I felt honored that my dad trusted me enough to continue it and so many people in our community believed in me as well," Young said.

With a promise to herself that she'd complete her degree one day, Young left school. Back at home, she grew Hot Pilates Secret by offering teacher training and yoga retreats. But taking over the studio this time wasn't just about fulfilling her mother's dreams; it helped Young cope.

"After my mom passed away, I continued her Pilates studio as my own healing," Young said. "I was mourning my mom at her studio."

Some people, like Young, process loss by turning their negative energy from grief into creative work, explained Dr. Shelley Carson, a lecturer at Harvard University, in an article for the meditation and mindfulness app Headspace. "Research shows that the mere expression of emotion in artistic form when you are hurting is beneficial," she told Headspace.

Kaley Young, doing yoga
Kaley Young, doing yoga.
Courtesy of Kaley Young

From first shipments to 'Shark Tank'

Beth's studio wasn't Young's only side project. While still in high school, she also lent her entrepreneurial talents to her father's burgeoning business, Cup Board Pro, a cutting board with a detachable pocket for scraps. Her father created the tool based on his experiences in the kitchen and asked Young to create a website and shoot promotional videos.

The duo paused their work on Cup Board Pro to tend to Beth's illness, but a year after Beth's death, Keith was invited to appear on Food Network's cooking-competition show "Chopped." He became a two-time champion of the show, which gave him the confidence to revisit the company.

His first shipment of 2,000 cutting boards arrived in December 2015, the same month he received a terrible diagnosis of his own: He had synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the body's soft tissues, almost surely a result of his rescue efforts after 9/11. Keith died in March 2018 and, once again, Young vowed to fulfill her parent's dream.

Opportunity quickly came knocking - or calling.

One month after Keith's death, producers from "Shark Tank" contacted Young about coming on the show. "It felt like that was a sign from our dad to continue it," Young said. "'Shark Tank' was the show he dreamt about going on."

In October, the episode featuring Young and her siblings premiered. All five celebrity investors were visibly moved by their story and impressed by the quality of the product, especially the logo, which noted that 343 firefighters died on 9/11. They were also encouraged to know Young and her siblings had sold 300 cutting boards in the weeks before filming.

Kaley Young, Keira Young, and Christian Young hold a large check for $41,119 to the FDNY Foundation and pose with firefighters and the cast of 'Shark Tank.'
From right, Kaley Young, Keira Young, and Christian Young pose with firefighters and the cast of "Shark Tank."
Courtesy of Kaley Young

Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Daymond John, Kevin O'Leary, and Higgins made an extremely rare decision to partner on an offer, proposing a $100,000 investment for 20% equity, just 10% more than the trio's initial ask. The sharks also promised to donate any profits from their stake in Cup Board Pro to a charity that supported firefighters who were sick from 9/11. After filming, John helped the trio snag a licensing deal from Williams Sonoma.

"​​You think about all of the inflection points an entrepreneur goes to that makes the difference in the outcome," said Higgins, cofounder of venture-capital firm RSE Ventures and former press secretary for New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. "To pick herself back up, three months after her dad died, and end up on that set is extraordinary."

Fulfilling a dream of her own

A licensing deal with Williams Sonoma allowed Young to take a step back from Cup Board Pro. She's still the owner but doesn't have to manage the day-to-day operations of the business. Additionally, Williams Sonoma helped scale the product by offering different colors and sizes, which sell for $70-$100.

"We were so impressed by Kaley, and it was so clear she's taking charge of that family professionally and personally," said Kendall Coleman, the director of public relations at Williams Sonoma. "She's not just the big sister; she's the boss."

Young returned to FIT in 2017, this time focusing on interior design, and completed her associate's degree in 2019. The next year, she sold Hot Pilates Secret to family friend Chrissi Forde. (Young and Forde wouldn't disclose the details of the deal.)

"I had it for seven years, and it was an incredible seven years," Young said, "but I knew it was my time to grow a little more."

For Young, that meant finally focusing on one of her professional dreams: starting a business of her own. In February 2020, she launched her interior-decorating company, Kaley Young Design. Today, she has six clients - the maximum number she can handle as a solo entrepreneur - and has a wait list of eager customers.

A dinning room with large white fabric chairs, a long table, and a small dog facing the camera.
A dinning room Kaley Young designed.
Courtesy of Kaley Young

Despite entering a new chapter of her life, Young upholds her parents' tradition of hosting Christmas for the family. She also created a tradition of her own: Loved ones now gather for dinner on her parents' birthdays and "heaven anniversaries," often pulling recipes from Keith's cookbook, which will be re-released in October.

"It lets their spirits live on," she said, "like they were here."

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