Mixing Business and Pleasure: Running a Restaurant is Tough but These Chefs Do It Together

Mixing Business and Pleasure: Running a Restaurant is Tough but These Chefs Do It Together

Most people keep their love life separate from their work life—never mix business with pleasure, “they” say. However, chefs aren’t “most people” and sparks often fly in the kitchen, in more ways than one. We talked to four couples who run restaurants together about how they find balance with their work and personal lives. It isn’t easy, but working with someone you love has benefits. Here’s what they said.

February 12, 2015
Most people keep their love life separate from their work life—never mix business with pleasure, “they” say. However, chefs aren’t “most people” and sparks often fly in the kitchen, in more ways than one. We talked to four couples who run restaurants together about how they find balance with their work and personal lives. It isn’t easy, but working with someone you love has benefits. Here’s what they said.

Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis
Bestia
Los Angeles
Together for 10 years
Met at an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles


What’s the best part about working together?

Ori: I always have someone to go to for an opinion. If I feel like one of my dishes is missing something, or even perfect, I like her to taste it and give me her opinion. When we opened, the first six months were brutal (mentally and physically) and she gave me some extra power. I trust her with everything. We’re amazed how easy it is to work together.

Genevieve: I enjoy torturing him all day long and looking at his butt [laughter]. And feeling like I have someone there that I can trust completely.

What’s the hardest part?

Ori: She’s the only person I can’t tell what to do. She has her pastry department and I wouldn’t want to step on her authority.

Genevieve: Now that we have a baby, I want to be at work to support him. It’s almost more stressful not going to work, but I don’t want to leave our nine-month-old baby girl, either.

What’s your partner’s greatest strength?

Ori: She has no fear and isn’t afraid to take chances.

Genevieve: He has the most amazing intuition. He sees if something’s wrong and fixes it before it becomes a bigger problem.

Do you ever want to just be alone sometimes?

Ori: My routine is talking to people all day long. I’m tired at the end of the day and wish I could have two hours to read a book and not have any noise around me. I do get a massage once a week.

Genevieve: I come home from work by 5:30 and put the baby down at 8. So I’m alone till he gets home really late.

Would it be easier to work in different industries or restaurants?

Ori: If we didn’t work together at the restaurant, we wouldn’t see each. Ever. Our relationship would be nonexistent. I love my wife and baby.

Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla
Honey Salt, Buddy V’s Ristorante, Simon Restaurant and Lounge, Made. LV, Andiron Steak & Sea
Las Vegas
Together for 15 years
Met while working on various culinary projects

What’s the best part about working together?

Elizabeth: I think the best part is we’re both so passionate about the industry and food and what we do. Often times we’re traveling for work and around the world. It’s nice to do that with the person you love.

Kim: Elizabeth really nailed it. We both enjoy and love what we’re doing.

What’s the hardest part?

Kim: We never stop working. I seem to bring up work at the most inappropriate times. You try to draw a line between work and play but it’s hard. Most people go home and they can shut out work.

Elizabeth: He nailed it. That’s the only difficult thing: separating and balancing work and family life. Not only as his partner but as the mom.

What’s your partner’s greatest strength?

Elizabeth: Kim has an amazing attention to detail. He sees things not only in the kitchen but in the front of house.

Kim: It’s how she easily articulates herself in front of everyone, from major CEOs to a girl on the bus. She makes people feel comfortable. She also gets the big things and the little things and balances those well.

Do you ever want to just be alone sometimes?

Kim: Yes, and now with our son it’s harder. We all need our own time and Elizabeth is better at it than I am.

Elizabeth: Our company is so diversified (with five restaurants and consulting). It’s not like we’re sitting in one office or restaurant, so we’re not on top of each other that way.

Would it be easier to work in different industries or restaurants?

Elizabeth: The nature of our business is that it’s seven days a week, not 9-5 Monday through Friday, so that makes it more difficult. When Kim was the executive chef at MGM, it was harder. We’d have Sunday together and he’d want to sleep. Now we have more responsibilities and hundreds of people of working for us, but at least there are nights when we can have dinner together.


Cesar Zapata and Ani Meinhold
The Federal
Miami
Together for 10 years
Met at the Four Seasons in Miami

What’s the best part about working together?

Ani: You’ve always got a support system. We both have the same goals but different ways of accomplishing them. If I get frustrated with something, he’s the first person I turn to.

Cesar: In this industry you work so many long hours. So if we weren’t working together, we would never see each other.

What’s the hardest part?

Cesar: Sometimes getting into arguments. And sometimes you might bring it home. It can be difficult to separate the professional and the personal stuff.

Ani: I agree with that. Cesar and I are pretty opposite. He’s more mellow, I’m more intense. When we disagree, it’s hard, because you don’t want to disrespect your partner—especially in a public environment.

What’s your partner’s greatest strength?

Cesar: Her strong personality. She’s a risk taker. She’s strong and doesn’t take shit from no one. She pushes. And if she has a goal, whatever it takes, she pushes to achieve it. I love that about her.

Ani: First, his creativity. He’s extremely talented. The other is his patience. Because he’s so patient and calm, it helps me slow down.

Do you ever want to just be alone sometimes?

Cesar: Only when we fight. I like being with her all the time. We’re a team and complete each other. When I go on a trip by myself, I miss her automatically. She’s my partner in crime, my team player. I couldn’t do this without her and enjoy working with her.

Ani: We’re always together. It is a lifestyle. You know that you’re gonna put in 70, 80, 90, 100 hours a week and when that’s over, what are you gonna do? Whether it’s in work or out of work, running a restaurant is completely consuming. So long as each person respects the other’s strengths, it works.


Sarah and Evan Rich
Rich Table
San Francisco
Together for 13 years
Met at Bouley in New York City

What’s the best part about working together?

Evan: We get to spend time together. Over 13 years, we’ve developed a “she’s good at this, I’m good at that” relationship.

Sarah: You’ve got this person who you can communicate with on a different level.

What’s the hardest part?

Evan: It creates awkward moments for the staff when we argue. And It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle.

Sarah: No matter what happens, you’ve got that person, but there’s nothing separating work and life. It’s not an easy lifestyle, (especially with two kids and the restaurant.)

What’s your partner’s greatest strength?

Sarah: I know Evan both as a cook and from a business perspective but seeing how he encourages and motivates people, it’s interesting to watch him balance that. He sees things that other people don’t. He’s a very good businessman, too. He’s both.

Evan: She’s got a really good eye for detail and organization. She keeps my wild ambition in check. I’m the dreamer. She shakes it out of me and makes me make a list so that it’s executed well.

Do you ever want to just be alone sometimes?

Evan: Of course. That’s one of the double-edged swords.

Sarah: We don’t get a lot of time together, but everyone needs alone time.

Would it be easier to work in different industries or restaurants?

Evan: One of the major benefits of working together is that someone has your back and it’s a deeper connection than a regular business partner. It gives you more confidence. It’s not just that we’re working together, this is an extension of who we are.

Sarah: There are times when I think there’d be less pressure, but we’ve been talking about making our restaurant a reality for so long. It’s not like we’re together all day long, so we’re not in each other’s faces.

Interviews by Sara Bloomberg