How to Maintain Your Relationship When You Both Work in a Restaurant
It's the ultimate love story: Two people meet, get married, and open a restaurant. And for those who get to tell such a charmed tale, chances are that a well-seasoned balancing act is in play. Between the demanding hours, stressful scheduling, and constant prioritizing, a duo must split time and energy between work and relationship, a daily challenge that is bound to land them in the weeds on occasion. No two success strategies are the same, and each of these twosomes has their own secret recipe for mixing love and work: ingredients that must be carefully measured.
For Recette (328 West 12th Street, 212-414-3000) owners Lindsay and Jesse Schenker, it is an equally strong dedication to each other and the restaurant. "We got married at City Hall, because we're both nuts and that's just the level of commitment we have," Lindsay says. "We got married at noon on a Friday, and we both worked that night. It paid for the cake." After a brief high school romance and 10 years of living 3,000 miles apart (she in San Francisco and Jesse in NYC), the two reconnected when the chef launched his underground supper club, Recette Private Dining, in East Harlem. Following a period of long-distance dating, Lindsay moved to New York and ultimately stepped into an operational role to help open Recette in the West Village. Little time exists for them outside of the restaurant — the couple now has two children and faces a daily juggling act with preschool, catering, events, and City Harvest council involvement — it's a workload they embrace. "Even though we're not going on date nights right now, we're lucky and fortunate that we get to work together," Lindsay says. Jesse concurs: "My favorite part is that I don't have to come home and explain my day — I don't have to live through it twice."
A nightly recap comes in a little handier for al di la Trattoria (248 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-783-4565) owners Anna Klinger and Emiliano Coppa, who began splitting their shifts after having children so that when one of them is working, the other is home. "It's a much more balanced existence," Klinger says, "but I miss working together, definitely. It was an amazing, amazing time when it was like that." The two met when Klinger traveled to Italy with a fellow chef who was scheduled to teach at the school Coppa was running. "They needed some help in the kitchen, or so he said," notes Klinger on her decision to stay for a year, which turned into marriage and a restaurant opening four years later. While the two have their respective roles — Klinger is the chef, Coppa handles front-of-house operations — each night is a start-to-finish collaboration. "Emiliano sails, and he always sort of likens being in the restaurant business to being on a boat," Klinger explains. "You have to know how to do everything. You're out fetching a plumber, you're the captain, you're everything." Still, the couple acknowledges the unyielding support they've received from their team throughout the years. "I don't think we would've been able to have done things the way we have if we didn't have the staff that we have," Klinger says.
At Take Root (187 Sackett Street, Brooklyn, 347-227-7116), that staff consists of two: Elise Kornack and Anna Hieronimus. The couple met through a mutual friend when Kornack was working late nights at some of the city's top restaurants (The Spotted Pig, Aquavit), and it was the resulting lack of quality time that served as a catalyst for their tasting-menu-driven Carroll Gardens restaurant. There, Kornack helms the kitchen while Hieronimus oversees front-of-house operations and all ancillary tasks, from reservations and serving to busing and dishes. The restaurant's 12-seat space provides an intimate experience for diners Thursday through Saturday, and every night for the owners. "It can make the stakes feel pretty high," Hieronimus says. "It's kind of high-risk, high-reward. But when you have those good moments — some amazing piece of press comes out, or a diner comes in and says, 'This was the most romantic evening of our life, we'll remember this forever, the meal was life-changing' — it's just all the more rewarding that you're doing it with the person you love." Still, the day-to-day stressors of running a small restaurant can add up, and the couple finds time for their mental break on Sundays — a day when they refuse to even turn on to Sackett Street. The one-day recess factors into the couple's broader outlook on caring for Take Root and fighting for its success, while also remembering the team that existed before the restaurant. "Your commitment as a couple should always be the No. 1 priority," Kornack says. "So no matter what is happening at work, we know that Take Root is fleeting."
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to New York dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.