We spoke with five restaurant power couples about how they get through the long, stressful days together—and why they still do it.
Embarking on a business venture with a loved one poses several challenges. How do you separate the personal from the professional when your person is in your profession? In the restaurant industry, working with a partner is uniquely trying: the long hours, the short fumes, the actual fumes, the improbability of success and more factors would take a toll on two strangers, let alone two people who go home to each other every night, both smelling like fried fish, garlic and whatever thing they burned that day.
We spoke with five restaurant power couples about how they get through it—and why they still do it.
Demetri Makoulis and Sarah Schneider, owners of Egg Shop in New York.
“Ironically enough, the reason that we work well together is because we’ve been together for 11 years. That time together has refined our understanding of not only what each person does well, but also where we each, respectively, may need support. We trust each other, and you need a partner you can trust and wholly believe in, so you don't feel overwhelmed by it all. Even if I'm working a 16-hour day, I am hyper aware of the fact that what I may be doing is hopefully making Sarah's life a little easier and offsets some of the exhaustion—maybe not the stress so much, but for sure exhaustion. If I wasn't doing this with my wife, I think doing this would be much harder.” – Demetri
“My favorite memory of us working together? Easy. We were together for eight years before we opened Egg Shop in Nolita, and we got engaged at the end of the night of our friends and family dinner. Everyone cleared out, floors had been mopped and before we locked up, Demetri asked me take a moment to look at the place that our love had built. Before I knew it, he was holding a ring in his hand and asking me to marry him. We were probably standing around what is now known as ‘table four.’ There wasn't much time to savor it, because we opened our doors to the public the next day, so talk about a tornado of emotions that needed to be bottled for the time being.
Our worst memories are probably the lead-up to opening our restaurants. The pressure is surreal. Each time we opened, it's been 18-hour days, and we have literally been cleaning and moving, up until mere minutes before guests are supposed to arrive. They never saw us sweat it, but, oh boy, did we …” – Sarah
Chef Dave Anoia and Aimee DiAndrea, owners of DiAnoia’s in Pittsburgh.
“We both do very different things for the restaurant, so we only interact for short amounts of time. Dave is the chef, so spends 90 percent of his time in the kitchen, and I do all the back end, marketing and financials, so I spend 90 percent of my time in the office. My favorite part of the day is, of course, when I get to be in the kitchen with Dave taking photographs for social media. We look at it this way: If we didn't work together at the restaurant, we would probably never see each other in real life besides sleeping. Because we both do such different jobs at the restaurant, we aren’t always stressed at the same time, which is helpful. Working together as a couple does pose its challenges, as it's very hard to put work down when you are away from the restaurant, and sometimes you need to give your brain a rest, which is hard when you're sitting on the couch or in bed next to your business partner.
One of the funniest (but worst) memories of working together was when I got mad at Dave for attempting to take one of my personal favorite dishes off the menu. He is the chef, so the menu is his domain, but I loved the dish so much. I fought really hard to keep it there, and it was a bit of an argument. I won that battle thankfully and am still enjoying the Branzino Crudo.
One of best parts about working together is that I get to see what my husband does for a living. Most couples don't get to see their significant other do what they are truly good at doing every day; for me, it's a constant reminder of how talented he is. It’s a turn on, too. We also love that the menu includes recipes that were passed down from both of our families and that the name of the restaurant is a combination of our two last names. DiAndrea and Anoia = DiAnoia's." – Aimee
“Guido and I have solemnly promised to respect our individual expertise. He is the General Manager, the financial advisor, the sommelier and the foodie. I am the face of the public relations, the voice on social media and the official taster, as well as the guest relations and events coordinator. We do not step on each other’s toes. When we are stressed or worried, we go to the gym or fitness classes separately to work out the frustration, and then we open a nice bottle of wine afterwards.
A great moment for us was when we finally decided to laugh at nasty reviews, including one that said, ‘The owner had a thick Italian accent, but I think she was faking it.’ At one point, we also decided that we would fail if we kept trying to make everybody happy. Now, we follow our instincts and do what we know we do the best which is delivering the best food and service and staying true to our Milanese heritage.” – Valentina
Liz and Jesse Huot, owners of Grind Burger Kitchen in Louisville.
“We decided long ago that if we were going to start a restaurant together we would commit to separating our personal and professional lives. Of course, there is overlap sometimes, but we have become very good at listening to each other and picking and choosing our battles. We also never hold grudges. There is always too much work to be done to bicker over things that aren't getting us to where we want to be in the end.
We're pretty realistic about things, and I still can't imagine a scenario where we wouldn't work together forever. To put the personal stuff aside for a minute, the trust we have built with one another professionally and the likelihood of finding someone you spark with so easily is low. It's why we still don't have investors or other business partners.” – Liz
Shawn and Rosita Walchef owners of Cali Comfort BBQ in Spring Valley, CA.
“One of my business mentors told me early on that people will tell you that going into business with your spouse will ruin your relationship and your company. He told me that if you know in your heart that this is the woman of your dreams, then you will not only grow your business but become more intimate with your spouse. My wife, Rosita, has embraced my desires for our restaurant, and I have learned to embrace her desires for our family.
The best memories we have together is organizing our annual charity Spring Valley Tailgate & BBQ Festival. She has an amazing eye for event marketing details and growing the event every year gives us much community pride. The hardest things we had to overcome was not getting upset at each other for micro staff issues that we now address with management and leadership.” – Shawn