Four brothers plant their roots firmly in Oakland County.
By Matthew Totsky
Tragedy knows no bounds. It can strike at any time, leaving lifelong effects for those caught in its wake. How one deals with a tragedy is one of the few ways to control it. And sadly, that’s a choice some people are forced to make.
“The death of our father could have torn our family apart,” says Greg Yatooma. “But for me and my brothers, it brought us together. It forced us to grow up quicker and closer.”
Greg is referring to the murder of Manuel Yatooma, a victim of an attempted carjacking in 1993. At the time, he and his three brothers — Norm, Chris and Jeff — were either graduates or students at Southfield Christian High School and living in West Bloomfield.
“We were always a close family, but those were some difficult years,” Norm says. “We were young, afraid, alone and going broke. There were foreclosure notices and the car was nearly repossessed. But as a result, we drew closer to God and family than ever before.”
Presently, Norm and Chris live in Bloomfield Hills, while Jeff and their mother, Andrea, have settled in nearby Sylvan Lake. Greg calls West Bloomfield his home. “We stayed in this area because of our roots,” Chris says.
Greg adds, “Another location was never an option. I like Michigan because there is so much to do and see here, and the suburbs are a perfect location because it’s not far from the city and it’s easy to go Up North and other places I enjoy. There is nowhere else I’d rather live. Also, Mom said we’re not allowed to leave.”
Chris echoes that sentiment. “I like it here because this is where my family is,” he says. “I love Michigan. I’m in a construction-based business and can only work about seven months out of the year. A warmer climate would be better for me, but I just can’t see myself living anywhere else.”
Jeff says, “For me, I love the lakes and water activities — fishing, jet skiing, boating. I love bringing my family together on the water.”
Norm agrees with his brothers. “This is where we were born and raised and this is where we’ll be buried,” he says. “Everyone who is important to us is here.”
Giving Something Back
The Yatoomas are a family marked by tragedy, but they are not defined by it. Instead, they have chosen to take their pain and sorrow and turn it into something positive.
Launched on Father’s Day in 2003, 10 years after the murder of Manuel Yatooma, Yatooma’s Foundation For The Kids is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing guidance, stability and financial assistance to families with children who have lost one or both parents. Dedicated to the memory of their father, the driving force behind the Foundation’s efforts is the Yatooma family matriarch, Andrea.
“She has endured more tragedy in her lifetime than most people could ever even fathom,” Norm says. “Both her husband and her father were killed when they were just 45 years old. But with God’s grace, she has been able use her life’s tragic experiences to bring tenderness to the tragedy of others in the community.
“She has been the backbone of Yatooma’s Foundation For The Kids since its inception. Without her, none of this good work could have happened. Her heart has touched the lives of hundreds of families across the tri-county area.”
Greg adds, “She is an incredible person. When we lost our father, the four of us were between the ages of 11 and 20. We were (and are) a handful. She is a woman of faith and prayer, and we owe her everything for instilling in us our family values and keeping us together. It’s the way our father would have wanted it. I just hope he’s enjoying it from his view up there.”
Taking Care of Business
Clearly, Yatooma’s Foundation For The Kids is an important part of the brothers’ lives. As busy as they are, each of them has found the time to run his own business, modeled after a tough, hard-working immigrant father who built several of his own businesses from scratch.
“At times, he owned a construction company, cable company, bowling alley, storage company, florist, pizza shop and a string of party stores,” Jeff says. “He taught us so much in such little time.”
The brothers are so close they decided to share a building in Bloomfield Hills for their endeavors.
On his 28th birthday, Norm left one of Michigan’s largest law firms to form Norman Yatooma & Associates PC, specializing in litigation for households and small- to medium-sized businesses. The firm has had many high-profile cases, including representing the children of slain exotic dancer Tamara Green against the city of Detroit and former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. “My father used to tell me that anyone who talked as much as I did had to find a way to make a living at it,” Norm says. He is also chairman and president of Charity Motors, Michigan’s largest car donation program. In the past 20 years, the program has given away more than $100 million in charitable gifts and car subsidies.
Greg is also an attorney. “I’m a transactional lawyer, working on business deals,” he says. He also runs the Mattress Closeout Centers in Bloomfield Hills, Rochester Hills, Wixom and Westland. In the future, he is looking to expand the business to other locations, including Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Lansing.
“We are Michigan’s only name-brand mattress liquidation center,” he says. “We are able to offer our customers high-quality products at literally half the prices they’d normally pay.”
When he was 16, Chris started in the construction business. “It was a good fit for when I was in school,” he says. “I was doing well and kept getting more contracts. It was meant to be short-term job, but it turned into a lifetime endeavor.”
Now he works with his wife, Carrie, who owns Outdoor Creations, a surface restoration company. “We restore surfaces after underground work is done,” he says. “We work with utility providers, utility contractors and municipalities. Their crews repair or replace water, sewer, gas or fiber-optic lines, and we come in behind them to repair lawns, concrete and asphalt.”
While Jeff keeps busy running his own painting company, he still managed to find time to launch a little passion project in July 2014: Social House, an American gastro pub in West Bloomfield near Maple and Haggerty. “It’s very family-friendly and casual,” he says. “We have something for everyone — from filets to burgers and 28 craft beers on tap.”
The bar in Social House is in the center of the restaurant, adding to the social atmosphere. “I’m a people person, and I love to interact with our customers,” Jeff says.
Adds Norm, “My brothers are all overachievers, not just with their businesses but with their family accomplishments as well. They would have made our father proud.” NS