Talk about christening a kitchen.
On the day that Friday Saturday Sunday’s cooking line was delivered, owners Hanna and Chad Williams got married amid the stoves and cooktops.
“We showed up to the construction site in a dress and a suit, and sprung it on our general contractor,” Hanna Williams says. The couple had been holding on to a marriage license for a few months and only needed witnesses for their Quaker ceremony.
“We wanted to be married before the restaurant opened because we knew we’d never have time after.” She believes that the kitchen wedding created some “good juju” for their restaurant, which has quickly become a Philadelphia favorite. (It was among Craig LaBan’s Top 25 for 2018.)
The Williamses are part of an established movement in Philadelphia. More than two dozen local restaurants are owned by couples, including Bibou, Brigantessa and Le Virtu, China Gourmet, Cry Baby Pasta, Fond, Giuseppe & Sons (and more from Schulson Collective: Double Knot, Harp & Crown, Sampan), Good Dog Bar, Mr. Martino’s Trattoria, P’unk Burger and SliCE, Pumpkin, Russet, Barbuzzo (and sister restaurants in the Safran Turney Hospitality family: Bud & Marilyn’s, Little Nonna’s, Jamonera, and Lolita), Saté Kampar, South Philly Barbacoa, Southwark, Spice Finch, V Street, and Vedge.
Is love simply in the air for Philly restaurateurs?
It is at Russet, which Andrew and Kristin Wood opened on Valentine’s Day in 2012. According to Andrew Wood, the holiday is always a big day at the restaurant. “We’re always open,” he says. “We’re sentimental for our anniversary.”
Though they have to work on Valentine’s Day, the Woods don’t mind because, according to Kristin, working together gives them flexibility for their family (they have two sons) and it means “we actually get to see each other.”
Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle of Spice Finch echoed that sentiment, agreeing that the best part about working together is seeing each other all the time. “This industry consumes your whole life,” Carroll says. “You’re thinking about it all the time and working long hours and holidays, so being able to spend that with the one that you love is important.”
Opening a business with her fiance “made sense because I can trust him more than I can trust anyone else. We’ll do the very best for each other and our team.”
Valerie Safran says that her wife, chef Marcie Turney, always wanted to own a restaurant. “She said that to me since day one, but I didn’t know anything about owning a restaurant,” Safran says. Over the last 15 years, they figured it out as a team — with Turney handling the kitchen and Safran managing the front of the house, plus the financials — and now have a mini-empire of nine restaurants and shops.
Safran and Turney recently embarked on another adventure together: In September, they adopted a baby. Having both the flexibility that comes with ownership and trusted employees helping run their businesses has eased their transition into parenthood. “It forces you to be more efficient,” Safran says. “I’m cranking through work because I want to be home at 6.”
Francis Cratil-Cretarola and Cathy Lee, owners of Le Virtu and Brigantessa, never planned to own restaurants. “We have no business being in this business,” Cratil-Cretarola jokes. The couple, who met while getting masters of fine arts degrees, found themselves immersed in the Italian region of Abruzzo following Cratil-Cretarola’s life-changing Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis and successful treatment. “I said to Cathy: ‘Nothing is guaranteed to us. We never know what’s going to happen, but I’d love to move to Abruzzo [together] for half a year,’” Cratil-Cretarola says. “It was a pie-in-the-sky plan, but after surviving cancer, we had a blank check.”
Upon returning to Philadelphia, they looked for a way to keep Abruzzo in their lives and found it by opening restaurants. Lee manages daily operations and Cratil-Cretarola works on the mission to honor Abruzzo through events and cultural exchanges. Though they say they’ve made many mistakes along the way, Lee says that their personality differences have helped make them successful co-owners. “We’re not 100 percent wired the same way, which I think is a good thing,” she says. “In a lot of decisions, we can complement each other. We don’t always have to agree, but we each want the best outcome.”
But owning a restaurant together is not all wine and roses. “Most couples can go home and escape from their work life, but we inevitably bring everything into the house,” Cratil-Cretarola says.
“Opening a restaurant together and not spending one moment apart was a huge test of our relationship,” Hanna Williams says. “It’s really hard to do that and be able to say ‘I still love you.’ [After that] we can probably make it through just about anything.”
Andrew Wood’s advice on opening a restaurant with a romantic partner is to keep lines of communication open and to save some energy for your spouse or family. Carroll recommends making sure that the relationship doesn’t affect the team by bringing home problems into work. On the other side of the coin, her fiance suggests creating systems at work with a solid staff to follow that structure to avoid bringing work problems home. “You can create a safe word,” he joked, which he and Carroll tried, but agree that it only worked for five minutes before they were talking about the restaurant again.
Safran’s advice: “I’m sure you love each other, but you’d better really like each other.”
With all of the stress involved with running restaurants, how do restaurateur couples cope?
Vacations are popular, whether it’s a quiet weekend away or a distant destination to unplug (though Cratil-Cretarola and Lee have learned that vacationing to their favorite place, Abruzzo, isn’t the best way to disconnect from their Abruzzo-centric businesses).
Carroll and Riddle enjoy playing with their three pet rabbits (Chewy, Larry, and Lil Joanie) and also watching favorite shows on Netflix.
For couples with restaurants that are open on Valentine’s Day, celebrating their love on that holiday isn’t typically possible. Cratil-Cretarola remembers making Lee a special abruzzese dish, scrippelle 'mbusse, but that was back in the ‘90s. These days, they pick a quiet weekend to spend at a cabin near the Appalachian Trail with their dogs. Safran and Turney tend to head home and unwind with a television show once they’re sure that their restaurants are up and running for the busy night. Riddle says that he and Carroll “celebrate our love all the time,” but he still brings home chocolates and flowers.
With the long hours and challenges of co-owning a busy restaurant, would these restaurateur couples do it all over again? “Definitely, definitely, definitely,” Safran says. “No doubt,” Carroll says. “100 percent, and we might [do it again],” Hanna Williams hinted.