The horror of -- and fascination with -- the Amy and Samy Show may have been seeing people's obvious dysfunction laid bare. That's why we love reality TV. It lets us feel superior. And boy did we ever, watching that train wreck. Here were two people who seemed to love each other but obviously had no business 1. operating a restaurant and 2. operating a restaurant together.
So it got us thinking about the local couples who do a fabulous job of running a restaurant together. Here are eleven of of our favorites. Please, someone, give one of these couples their own reality show -- not Amy and Samy.
Matt and Erenia Pool of Matt's Big Breakfast and Giant Coffee When Matt and Ernie (Erenia) Pool opened Matt's Big Breakfast in 2004, they weren't entirely sure their idea would fly, so Ernie kept her day job with Marriott, coming into the restaurant on weekends to wait tables. A few years down the line, when they got crazy-busy with lines out the door, Ernie transitioned to full-time. These days, she's the GM, the one Matt says "runs the whole show" while he works behind the scenes on concepts, menus and relationships with vendors. "She opens the restaurant every day," he says. "Sometimes I have to reintroduce myself to customers, they're so accustomed to seeing Ernie."
Larry and Rasheedah White, Jr. of Lo-Lo's Chicken and Waffles
Larry White (aka Lo-Lo) is quick to say that his wife Rasheedah is "the brains of the outfit." She kept her own career for many years, but slowly became more and more involved as Lo-Lo's business grew. When they opened their fancy new downtown Phoenix location, right next to the tiny original, it was Rasheedah who handled the financials and made sure everything was in order. "My role," Lo-Lo says, "is to make sure the food tastes good. I get money in the door, and Rasheedah makes sure it stays in the door."
Chris Gross and Paola Embry of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge
They've been divorced for years now, but Chris and Paola are probably closer -- and friendlier -- than many people who live under the same roof. She became interested in the business long before they were married in 1994, hanging out at the restaurant, observing everything around her and asking a zillion questions. Chris says she made a point to meet all the "wine geniuses" who came through the door, learning everything she could from them "like a sponge." Now she's his GM, CFO and wine expert, running everything but the kitchen. "I'm Amy; she's Samy," Gross says, "Meow, meow, meow, meow."
It's not entirely clear who wears the pants here (we're guessing they take turns), but Amy is every bit the key player in the Binkley's empire that Kevin is. She handles payroll, insurance, bills and end-of-month accounts, works with the somms at each restaurant on wine buying and pairing, oversees the cocktail program and interfaces with managers. She's the get-'er-done left brain to Kevin's creative right. And it's obvious that despite the ups-and-downs of running three restaurants, they're still best friends.
Dwayne Allen and Daniele Leoni of The Breadfruit and Rum Bar
When they met, Dwayne was an IT consulting guy and Daniele was an aid for Greg Stanton. The restaurant was his idea, but when the couple found out early on that few American-born cooks really understood Jamaican cuisine, Daniele (who grew up in a big Italian family of cooks) jumped back in the kitchen and she's never left. Now Dwayne runs the front of the house and, of course, sources all that lovely rum for Rum Bar. "Our secret is we really like hanging out together," Dwayne says. "She picks up the slack when I drop off, and I do the same for her. And we change up being good cop/bad cop with our staff. They call us 'Mom and Dad.'"
Terry and America Corrales Bortin of America's Taco Shop When Terry and America opened their first taco shop on 7th Street, America was still a teacher at Whittier, but about a year in, the couple realized she needed to be on board full-time. Now she visits each location (there are four), trains the staff, creates and tweaks recipes and maintains the food quality. Terry is the operations guy who "runs the ships." But he's very humble about his role. "At the end of the day, it's America's name on the sign. Our board room has two people, and I know which one has the stronger vote."
James and Wendy Porter of Petite Maison James Porter still remembers what Wendy ate (foie gras and veal cheek) when she came to his first restaurant Tapino as a customer seven years ago. They've been an old married couple three years now, but as you can see from the picture, they still like each other a lot. Wendy handles the PR and events planning and James runs the restaurant. When I asked him if he watched the Kitchen Nightmares episode, he said, "I'm too busy to watch other people's misery." We like the way he thinks.
Eugenia Theodosopoulos and Gilles Combes of Essence Bakery Café
Eugenia and Gilles met in Paris, where she was catering at the time. They fell in love, married and moved back to the States to start a catering business and in 2007, they opened the bakery-café. They've been married for 21 years and they've worked together for 20. The miracle is -- they're still madly in love. After all these years, she still thinks he's hilarious! Not that they don't have their moments, but Eugenia says she trusts him completely, just as he does her. "I know he knows what he's doing," she says, "and he knows I know what I'm doing." She cooks, bakes and handles everything kitchen-related, while Gilles handles the PR, the HR and the finances, "which everybody under-estimates," Eugenia says.
Vincent and Leevon Guerithault of Vincent on Camelback
Leevon Guerithault and Vincent Guerithault got married soon after he opened the restaurant, and she jumped in right from the get-go, helping with all things operational: managing schedules and staff, restaurant events, catering and Vincent's Saturday farmer's market (held in the cooler months). She admits she wasn't as involved when their three boys were little, but now that the kids are older, she's back to wearing a dozen different hats.
Kirsten and Snir Mor of Amuse Bouche
Kierstin and Snir are both chefs who met in cooking school in Paris. Kierstin generously says of Snir "He's the best cook I know," adding, "and he swears I have the best palate" -- which makes them a good team. Good thing, too because there's not much distinction when it comes to division of labor. They both do a little bit of everything, mostly tag-teaming it, although Snir tends to be in the kitchen more these days, now that they have a second child. To give you an idea of how food-obsessed the two of them are, get this: they consider Sunday (the day they cook brunch at the restaurant together) a "date day."
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They met years ago at Lon's at the Hermosa (where he was the wine somm and she the pastry chef), and now that they own and operate two restaurants together, their duties have stayed pretty much stayed the same. Danielle handles all things dessert at Cork (where Brian Peterson is the executive chef) and brainstorms breakfast idea with executive chef Ehren Litzenberger at BLD. Meanwhile Robert warmly greets guests at Cork and oversees operations at BLD, saying of his wife, "She keeps me sane even when running two restaurants makes me crazy at times."