Callie and Philip Speer are a different kind of restaurant power couple.
Two of Austin's newest restaurateurs—the owners of Holy Roller and Bonhomie respectively—have been paying more than cursory attention to each others' establishments since their recent openings. They've swapped advice and been a sounding board for each other, traded suggestions and even shared employees. The competition between them, in other words, is pretty much nonexistent.
The owners of the two restaurants, Philip and Callie Speer have been married for 9 years now and together for 12, which has something to do with it.
They are each other's biggest champions and sources of applause. They can each, with little prompting, regale you with the other's strong points and finer qualities, that cheesy list of everything they believe makes them such a felicitous partner—in love and, sort of, in food.
Sort of, because they're not exactly sharing the same foxhole. Holy Roller (a diner with a punk aesthetic and an all-day breakfast menu) and Bonhomie (a concept that marries an American-style diner with French cuisine) opened a few months apart, the Speers staking out their respective ground. It's like this even at home for the chef couple. Thanksgiving, for example, is not a joint affair. It's more a "you run point this year, and I'll kind of hang back," arrangement.
Strong ideas and plenty of space. That's the recipe. And it works, in part because there's also plenty of respect for each other. Philip Speer, for his part, admits to being floored when he walked into Callie's Holy Roller for the first time.
"When I walked into Holy Roller for the first time—because she was like, 'don't come in for a couple weeks'—I was just blown away with what she'd done," says Phillip. "She always surprises me. And that's something after being with her for 12 years, something I'm just proud to say, is she can always surprise and excite me. Callie has this tenacity and grit that pushes her every day."
That tenacity makes Callie determined to have her restaurant here way. The space, which opened in July, is very much a physical manifestation of the punk rock-loving chef behind it, right down to the giant image of Iggy Pop on the wall. Callie calls the decor "hobo chic."
But just because she's driven doesn't mean she's not interested in what Philip has to say. "[I want to] hear his opinion," she says. "Because I do think his is one of the best opinions I can ask."
But while that is true, so is this: even love has its limits, and hell will probably freeze over before these two convention-flouting chefs ever put on aprons and work in the same restaurant together. There's nothing odd about that insistence. They prefer it that way.
Because for Philip and Callie Speer, marriage is a moveable feast—as long as they can each have their own kitchen.
"Fuuuck, no." dismisses Callie Speer, when asked if they've ever worked together in the past. "There's no way. We're still alive. Like, we …. no," she laughs. "I make it sound worse than it is. We work really well together, on things we don't have to share. I have my way of doing things, and he has his way, and they're both very, very different."
The menu at Holy Roller, which seats 88 people, is basically a 101 course in comfort food, with items like the "trash fries," pancakes, biscuits and the "Bombshell Burger." Speer calls one wall inside, her "wall of oddities," which has things on it like an old marquee sign from a club. Back in a corner near the bathrooms, there's a mini version of a confession booth, with a creepy flickering red neon confessional sign on which only the word confess blinks.
You write down whatever you want and stick it inside the box. Every Sunday, the box is emptied, one note is chosen and that "confession" forms the basis of the following week's drink special of the week.
Over at Bonhomie, meanwhile, the days for Philip Speer have been starting pretty early since opening in March. He and Callie live nearby his restaurant on Burnet Road, which seats about 72 people inside, 100 total. Philip has described Bonhomie as a funky kind of Waffle House-meets-French bistro combo, which is on the ground level of a 4-story apartment complex.
House specialties include dishes like soft scrambled egg toast and crispy octopus lyonnaise. As with Callie and Holy Roller, Philip is very much present in the space's physicality at Bonhomie—the color scheme, for example, is that of his motorcycle, and the booths feature the same material as his motorcycle seat.
"I think we take two kinds of really comforting food my partner Sean and I both love, between the American diner and the French bistro. We've taken these two styles of eating and sort of mashed them together into a really cool concept."
He's sent some of his cooks over to help out at Holy Roller. "I had one guy who was doing a great job here, but he had to move and he doesn't have a car. And he moved too far away, but he was close to Callie, and I was like hey, take this guy, he's great … I was also just looking over her P&L a few minutes ago. She said she needed a fresh set of eyes to look at it."
Says Callie: "This has been the craziest year of our lives, for sure. Doing this in the same year, together. I feel like we pulled off this great magic trick. He's the best teammate in the world to have for it."