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Food: Tables for Two

Tables for Two
Photography by Sabin Orr

How does a couple maintain a relationship when they’re also running a restaurant together? Three case studies.

There’s a special sub-genre of popular fiction: the restaurant romance — find yourself a chef or a baker and watch the sparks and the saucepans fly. Add in the thrill of a dinner rush, a dash of spice, and the glamour of beautiful food with an adoring audience ... a recipe for romance, right?

At this point, every reader who has ever worked in restaurants is either laughing or throwing this magazine across the room. The food industry behind the scenes is a brutal one, consisting of long hours and grueling physical and mental labor. Late hours and high tempers are common. Oh, and don’t forget that you’ll be working holidays, so your Valentine’s Day will mainly consist of an extra-long shift.

To see how they keep the flame alive under such trying circumstances, we talked to three local couples who work in the food industry together.

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Peter Bastien and David Mozes: Bronze Café

Peter and David met in their fraternity in college, but it was food that cemented their relationship. After graduating, they decided to join a progressive and gay-friendly synagogue in L.A., and it was there that they developed a friend group, grew a shared sense of spirituality, and started cooking for charity events and fundraisers. They’ve been together for 20 years. “I’m not sure if he’s the one,” Peter teases.

Inspired by the synagogue feasts, Peter went to culinary school, and David, who worked in commercial real estate, soon joined forces with him, opening Bronze Café here in Las Vegas in 2013. Today, they have a new location in Summerlin and just started service at Davy’s and ReBAR in the Arts District. Bronze Café specializes in healthy, simple fare, from sandwiches and salads to baked goods and coffee. Though the pair isn’t vegan, more than half of their menu is, inspired by the days when they’d whip up vegan spreads for the synagogue.

The key to making their partnership work, they say, is in their personalities: Peter is the perfectionist, David the problem-solver. Peter remembers his early days in an intense L.A. kitchen, when he’d retreat to the back alley on his breaks and call David. “He talked me off the ledge,” Peter says.

Running a food business together is a lot less Chocolat and a lot more Bob’s Burgers, they explain, referencing the animated series in which a couple runs a burger joint peppered with hijinks. Stuff happens, and egos have to be put aside. “You cannot be sensitive when you’re working in a successful restaurant,” Peter says. “If you can get over something in five seconds, definitely (open a restaurant) together. If you can’t, then don’t.”

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“We don’t really waste time here talking about all that gossip and personal stuff because we already know all the gossip,” David adds.

Maybe the best part of running the business together is getting to be playful. “Sometimes we look at each other, and we’re like, ‘Thanks for playing store with me!’” David says with a smile.

“And you remember, ‘Ah! We’re in love!’” Peter says.

“Remember that you’re on the same team,” says Jenny Wong of running a restaurant as a couple. “It’s figuring out solutions together.”

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Jenny Wong and Sheridan Su: Flock & Fowl, Fat Choy, and Every Grain

Jenny has worked in restaurants since she was 12, starting as a cashier at her parents’ restaurant in Southern California. “I actually wanted to be very far away from restaurants,” she says, “because every day of my life I kind of spent in a restaurant.”

Fate had other plans: After briefly dating Sheridan for a few months in high school, they happened to reconnect in their 20s here in Las Vegas. Sheridan was working at Social House on the Strip, and after he finished work at 10:30 p.m., they stayed up talking until half past five. It wasn’t long before Jenny moved here, got a job, and found herself waiting at the restaurant for Sheridan to finish work. “All the hostesses and cocktail servers got used to seeing me ... and they’d come around with the pity drinks!” she says with a laugh.

Once they started their own business they realized they could control their own hours. Both self-confessed workaholics, they put in hundred-hour weeks to get their first food business off the ground. Later, after their son was born, running restaurants gave them the flexibility to set their own hours and spend more time together as a family — a challenging task with three popular eateries open in town. The most recent addition is Every Grain, a Tawainese-style rice restaurant in the Huntridge neighborhood.

It’s the hard times that can be most revealing about a relationship: Both recall a particularly grueling day, when the food truck they operated broke down on Fremont. Jenny was pregnant. It started to rain as they waited for hours in the cold for the tow truck. Jenny remembers the way Sheridan took care of her, making sure she had something to eat and drink. “There are little things that add up over time that tell the true story of who we are,” she says.

Their words of wisdom for would-be restaurant couples: “Remember that you’re on the same team,” Jenny says, regardless of who is taking on more financial risk, putting their name on the lease, or who has more responsibilities at any given time. “It’s figuring out solutions together.”

Catherine Lenormand and JJ Chevron: The Real Crepe

They crossed an ocean and jumped into an adventure. Catherine and JJ were both divorcés living in Brittany, France, when they fell for each other and decided to take the plunge. JJ had worked for Air France for two decades but loved the U.S. His dream was to open a small creperie here in the States, and Catherine, who ran a clothing shop in France, agreed to join him. “I said for 20 years that I would open a creperie,” JJ says happily, gesturing at the cozy space around him.

He and Catherine took formal training in France (their butter cookies and buckwheat crepes are a Bréton specialty), then flew here. “It was my first trip to the U.S.A.,” Catherine says. Originally, they’d hoped to open a place near the ocean — they both grew up near the sea — but Las Vegas proved to be a more affordable and convenient option, and they soon grew to love the desert. They set up shop near Summerlin Parkway and the 95, filling the space with glowing pendant lights and giving each table the name of a famous French star: Edith Piaf, Marion Cotillard, Sophie Marceau.

But running a creperie together is challenging work: JJ gets to the restaurant every morning at 5 or 6 a.m. to start prepping the crepe batter, quiche Lorraine, and French onion soup. Catherine arrives around midday to run the front-of-house, and both admit that having some time apart with overlapping schedules is helpful. “The French people are, how do you say ...” Catherine trails off.

“Passionate?” I suggest.

“Oh, that’s beautiful!” she laughs. “Angry, but after, it’s whole,” she said with a smile. Their work and their personalities are complementary, they explained. JJ is more strict, Catherine more flexible.

It was a big risk, to travel so far and start a restaurant together, but they have no regrets. “There is just one life,” Catherine says. “I recommend it, because it’s a beautiful adventure.”