The sweet and funny ways that five Seattle-area couples make working together work in the stressful realm of restaurants.
Working in restaurants means extreme hours, broken dishwashers, no-show staff. It also means perfect plates, dining-room proposals, and the satisfaction of making a life out of feeding people well. For a couple to do it together seems so nutty, it just might work — and these five pairs make it work beautifully.
Bruce and Sara Naftaly
With Bruce’s restaurant Marmite and Sara’s bakery Amandine, and, now, her brand-new creperie Petite Galette, the Naftalys keep very, very busy. Luckily, all their places are in the same space, Chophouse Row.
How they met: Bruce and Sara’s first meeting was both sweet-hearted and good-hearted — his friends brought her to his restaurant, Le Gourmand, for the very first Dining Out for Life fundraising night in March 1998. The ruse of the setup: She’d just moved here, so maybe he could advise her on where to look for work as a chef. The answer turned out to be … Le Gourmand, for a decade-plus.
Cooking for a living: With the “brutal” hours involved, Bruce says, “The best thing about working together in the restaurant industry is that we get to see each other!” Sara agrees that if they didn’t work side by side, “then we would never see each other — and that would be intolerable!”
Cooking for each other: Sara loves it when “Bruce gets a hold of some spot prawns … The sauce that he makes for them is perfection, and I generally have to stop myself from actually licking the plate.” Sara, according to Bruce, “can coax lovely flavors out of any ingredients. Very happiness-making! Sigh.” (Sara also thinks she might get “a bit bossy” cooking at home. Bruce makes no mention of any such thing.)
On true love: Sara just says, “Love is unconditional and everlasting, period.” Bruce says simply, “Sara’s existence gives me a reason to believe in a deity.”
April Pogue and Becky Selengut
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April is the general manager of downtown’s Loulay (with the 5th Floor in San Francisco, Cascadia and Earth & Ocean also on her résumé). Becky, who has cooked at The Herbfarm, La Medusa and La Spiga, is a private chef, cooking instructor and author (including of the upcoming “How to Taste”).
How they met: April had seen Becky around and “wistfully admired her from afar for a long time.” Then one fateful night at Chop Suey, April offered to buy Becky a drink. The music was loud. “I’ll have what you’re having,” Becky said, “and she said, ‘Grtongriton.’ ” After shouting “WHAT?!” and still not understanding, Becky played it cool, saying, “Oh, I’ve never heard of that drink before.” April looked “half-mystified, half-disappointed,” which Becky only understood when she took a sip of a good ol’ gin and tonic. “It was an awkward start,” Becky says. April concurs. Somehow they ended up married anyway.
Breakfast time: Becky cooks April everything, for which April is extremely grateful, because April only feels competent with breakfast (always served, for extra points, in bed). “No matter what I make, she is ecstatic,” April notes, “and that feels great, because honestly, when it comes to cooking, I burn water.”
Cheers: “Drinking wine with Becky requires compromise,” certified sommelier April says tactfully. “She’s come a long way, though, from the night she proudly surprised me with a liter of Yellow Tail shiraz that she got at such a good deal.”
All-time-best-date restaurants: They make the most of the rare nights they both have off, heading to a long list of favorites including Artusi, Poppy, Sushi Kappo Tamura, L’Oursin, Mashiko and Altura.
Dorks in love: April says of Becky: “After 11 years, she still keeps surprising me with her keen wit and sometimes dorky humor.” Becky says of April: “She is the perfect mix of kindness, curiosity, edginess and dorkiness. I’m a lucky girl.”
Jackie Cross and Tom Douglas
How they met: Jackie worked at Pike & Western Wine Shop. Tom was waiting to take the helm as chef at Cafe Sport, unveiling soon in Pike Place Market. During delays — “gee, that just never happens,” Jackie jokes — Tom hung out at the shop to while away the time … and see Jackie. Jackie told a co-worker she thought Tom was “handsome and funny,” and the co-worker attempted to play Cupid, letting Tom know. After several weeks of “embarrassed feet-shuffling,” Jackie says, “I finally just asked him out — I’ll never know if he would ever have gotten up the nerve to ask me!” That was 36 years ago.
How they fell in love: It was “at the Pink Door,” Tom says, over “frequent lunches of pasta and broccoli soup drizzled with luscious olive oil — and glasses of pink prosecco.” They ended up having their wedding reception there, too. (Their wedding dinner was at Seattle classic Rosellini’s Other Place, where one Bruce Naftaly happened to be the chef.)
His and hers: Jackie loves to make Tom fresh pasta or something braised to go with his favorite Barbaresco or Barolo. His favorite thing to cook for her is “crispy stir-fried cheung fun (fresh wide rice noodles) with fresh veggies and spicy fermented black bean sauce … Oh, and by the way, I do bring her hot coffee in bed every morning — just saying.”
Favorite date-night spots: Jackie and Tom like to go see their ex-coworkers at places like Ma’ono, Lark and Nell’s. And they like to visit “restaurant friends we have made over the years, like Thierry and Kathy at Loulay, Rick and Anne at Wild Ginger, Harry Chan at Tai Tung” and more.
In business together: Tom loves that they both love “the pace and the passion” of the industry. Jackie says, “The best thing about working together is seeing each other! In the beginning we had no choice — we had a newborn and no money, so we both put in some very long hours/years. Now, with Loretta grown, the best part is still seeing each other.”
Jackie’s P.S.: “I still think he is handsome and funny!”
Kate Giuggio and Matt Tinder
Kate and Matt both worked at a couple of the Bay Area’s best restaurants, he as pastry chef and she on the management side. A couple years back, they traded in that world for running their own place, Saboteur Bakery, in the unlikely location of Bremerton.
How they met: Kate was the manager at San Francisco’s vaunted Coi when Matt came on as pastry chef. Of that lucky day, Kate recalls, “I remember meeting him and thinking how hyper he was.”
Their first dinner together: “We ate burritos from [Taqueria] Cancun in an alley … super classy,” Kate says. Matt further notes, “I cut in line.”
On cooking together: Matt says they “work well” together. Kate has identified why: “It’s easy,” she says. “I can pretend I don’t know how to do something and he’ll take care of it.”
On working together: “The best part is getting to see her all the time,” Matt says. “The worst is having to see her all the time.” Luckily for Matt, Kate gets his sense of humor: “The best part is we laugh a lot,” she says. The worst is that “you are going to talk about work all the time,” she notes. It seems to be going all right — they just got married.
Date night in Bremerton: For a couple with a Michelin-starred past, they like to keep it simple — right now, it’s pinball at the bar Another Castle.
Seif Chirchi and Rachel Yang
How they met: Oh, just while working at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House in New York. (Yang also cooked at Per Se.)
Their first (and second, and 17th) meal together: “We’d get off of work at like one in the morning and head down to K-Town,” Seif recalls — their spot was called Kunjip. “That was my first introduction to Korean food,” he says. “We were down there four nights a week. No joke. The same spot. It was incredible.” And it’s where their friendship blossomed into love? “No doubt. Exactly. Just like that!”
Cooking at home: Professional habits die hard. “We say ‘behind’ as we pass each other and ‘Oui’ when someone asks to do something,” Rachel says. “Maybe it’s a little sad that we do that, now that I think about it, but it’s really efficient!” She makes the late-night (and doubtless great) suppers for two after work: “a quick stir-fry with whatever’s in the fridge, ramen,” Seif says. He likes making the family breakfast. “That is our meal nowadays, with the boys. We’re not home for dinner, so…” he makes it count. On the menu: “Lots of greens, eggs and bacon, something fun, pancakes or waffles. We go all-out at breakfast … That’s our time.”
Hard times, good times: When they opened Joule in its original location in 2007, they were together 24/7, working very, very hard. “There were days when we weren’t nice to each other. It was just stressful, and we were young, and I didn’t know how to behave myself,” Seif admits. But: “Now with all the restaurants, we’re not in the same kitchen ever … I miss cooking with her,” he says. “She’s unbelievable. She blows my mind. I spend every day in awe of her. I don’t know how she does everything she does. She finds time for everything, whether it’s the restaurants or the boys or me, taking care of me … It’s awesome.”
P.S.: “She is my love,” Seif says of Rachel. “She’s amazing. I don’t know — I’m not anything special. She’s special.” And Rachel says, “Seif and I are total opposites, like yin and yang. And one doesn’t exist without another.”