Couples in the kitchen
Vail, CO, Colorado
Each morning, Kelly Liken and Rick Colomitz hop into their Audi wagon and head to work.
Typically, they spend the half-hour drive between Eagle and Vail discussing “usual couple stuff,” such as family and vacations, Colomitz said.
But they abruptly change gears as soon as they pull up to Restaurant Kelly Liken.
“We kind of leave it at the car,” Colomitz said. “It’s like, OK, we’re ready to work. ‘I love you’ and then we go in and it’s game time.”
The moment Liken and Colomitz step into the restaurant, they traverse the fault line between their personal and professional lives. Liken heads to the kitchen, where she shines as the head chef, while Colomitz mans the front of the house.
Owning a restaurant as a married couple has had its challenges but Liken and Colomitz say they have no regrets about the path they chose.
“I think a lot of people expect you to be like, ‘It’s really difficult and tough and how can you stand it?'” Colomitz said. “But for us, I actually love it. I can’t imagine my life without her right by my side all the time. It sounds cliched but we’re partners in every sense of the word.”
Vail is packed with eateries owned by couples. Many of these married entrepreneurs launched their own ventures after spending years working together in the restaurant industry.
Liken and Colomitz met about five years ago at Splendido, where he waited tables and she served as chef tournant.
“He would bribe me with Diet Cokes,” Liken recalled. “And it worked. It worked pretty well.”
“Then, after asking her out 17 times, she finally said ‘yes,'” Colomitz said, laughing.
“And on our first date, he asked, me, ‘What are you going to do this offseason?’ and I said, ‘Maybe open a restaurant.'” Liken said. “And he laughed and thought I was teasing.'”
Liken sold Colomitz on her dream of opening a restaurant, and in May 2004, Restaurant Kelly Liken became a reality. Just a few months later, the couple fulfilled a second dream by getting married.
Likewise, the owners of Vista at Arrowhead in Edwards fanned the spark between them by working together in the kitchen.
Spouses Janine and Michael Glennon worked side by side at Sweet Basil and later Montauk in Vail before striking out on their own in 1999.
“We always worked well together. That’s how we became friends,” Janine said. “He was behind the line and I was in the front of the house. That’s how we started hanging out together and skiing together and all that stuff, because we got along.”
Likewise, the owners of Eat! Drink! In Edwards met while working together at Zino (now Frites), an eatery across the street. Pollyanna Forster and Chris Irving shared a first kiss at the restaurant’s bowling party. After about three years of dating, they opened Eat! Drink! together in August 2004.
“For us to start a business together, it worked for so many reasons because it’s kind of the yin and the yang,” Forster said.
Couples say owning a restaurant together has its perks, especially the abundance of quality time.
“We get to see each other 24 hours a day,” Liken said.
She and her husband spend hours side by side, often carving out time after the dinner rush to dine together.
“We get to have a really wonderful, romantic, delicious meal with amazing wine together five times a week,” Liken said.
Similarly, the owners of Vista at Arrowhead take comfort in knowing what to expect. They have perfected a routine at the restaurant and don’t have to worry about new ownership waltzing in to disturb it.
“I pretty much know when he’s in the kitchen, it’s going to rock,” Janine said.
“She can rely on me and I can rely on her,” Michael added.
For the Glennons, research and development trips are a major bonus of working together. In the name of research, they tour different cities together sampling the best food and wine each location has to offer.
By spending so much time together at work, couples often get to glimpse their partners in their elements.
Pollyanna from Eat! Drink! says she enjoys seeing her boyfriend in his role as master of the restaurant’s finances.
“I like seeing Chris in this realm because I have a whole new level of respect for him,” she said.
No matter how well a couple gets along, though, diplomacy inevitably breaks down on occasion, and the disputes often revolve around questions of authority.
“Every now and then, there’s trouble because: Who’s the boss?” Liken said. “If it’s a tough decision and you don’t agree, there’s nobody to override the decision.”
To solve this dilemma, most couples reign over separate spheres of influence. For instance, Liken gets the final say in matters of the kitchen while Colomitz makes the call on dining room issues.
What happens, though, when the dispute takes place in a grey area?
Forster and Irving found out last week when they disagreed on whether to wrap up the blue cheese at the end of the night.
Although the cheese issue fell within neither owner’s purview, they managed to work it out.
“I really didn’t have a say,” Irving said, laughing.
“I got my way,” Forster added.
Married couples who own restaurants say their biggest challenge is keeping their personal and professional lives separate.
Thus, the owners of Vista at Arrowhead developed the “shop talk rule.”
If the Glennons are hanging out with coworkers in a social setting and someone starts talking about work, that person has to buy shots for everyone, Michael said.
Indeed, couples observe a wide variety of rituals in the name of protecting their home lives from work intrusions.
Once a week, Forster and Irving from Eat!Drink! reserve a night devoid of work talk.
“Even if we work during the day, we absolutely have a date to be at home and enjoy a nice bottle of wine together,” Forster said.
The pair is getting better at vacations, too. During their first trip to Mexico, they were tethered to their laptops and placed nonstop calls to the restaurant to make sure everything was OK.
Yet during a recent trip to Cabo, they ditched the laptops and limited their checkups to the occasional text message.
“Even though we’re by the pool and hanging out, we’re thinking, ‘Oh, this is a good idea, we should do this when we get back'” Forster said. “And sometimes you just really have to turn that off and really focus on your relationship.”
Despite rules about shop talk, work often spills into the couples’ home lives ” and most of the time it’s not so bad.
After all, couples have endured worse hardships than eating in the name of research.
“Our social life revolves around food and wine I would say almost exclusively, wouldn’t you?” Liken said, turning to her husband. “We never go bowling.”
For Liken, food has become an obsession. She constantly scopes out new restaurants for food or decorating ideas and she even sent her husband on a mission to check out how one eatery handled the bathroom plumbing.
“I have trouble turning it off and he’s a saint because he puts up with it,” she said.
The Glennons say food and wine magazines are scattered throughout their house and “just seem to multiply on their own.”
On many occasions, they gladly allow the line between work and home to blur.
“The restaurant business is our life,” Janine said. “There’s nothing like trying to talk about a new menu when you’re skiing, going up a chairlift. It’s awesome.”