Features 3 minutes 13 February 2024

Love is in the Air at these MICHELIN Guide Restaurants

Three couples share how they balance the personal and the professional while running successful restaurants.

“How was your day?” If it’s the first question you ask when you reconnect with your loved one at the end of a long day, you’re not alone. So what happens when you know exactly how that day was because you were right there alongside them? We spoke with three couples who are partners in love and business to see how they balance life with running well-regarded restaurants recommended by The MICHELIN Guide. 

Jason Hammel and Amalea (Lea) Tshilds
Lula Café, Chicago

The meet-cute behind Lula Cafe’s owners, Jason Hammel and Amalea (Lea) Tshilds, sounds ripped straight from a Hollywood script. Hammel moved to Chicago in the 1990s with dreams of being a writer. On his first day in the city, he visited a neighborhood coffee shop where he met Tshilds, a talented musician. The two become friends, eventually becoming a couple—but not until after saving that coffee shop and transforming it into a beloved Chicago institution.

“When Lea and I took over the space and opened the cafe we were inseparable,” explains Hammel. “We were both dating other people but we spent so much time together, cleaning up/closing and working constantly.” The two never planned on opening a restaurant but focused on creating a welcoming environment where people wanted to gather. Guests didn’t want to leave, and neither did they. Their relationship eventually turned romantic.

Fast-forward 25 years later and the couple run a thriving restaurant while juggling the demands of Tshilds’s music career and their two children. As executive chef, Hammel focuses largely on the day-to-day of the business while Tshilds is more involved in the marketing. While the days of opening and closing the restaurant together are largely gone, Hammel believes that’s precisely the key to their success—both in business and love. “In order to grow a long relationship, you need to realize that the things that work on the first day aren’t going to work on the thousandth day. You need to change, adjust, and keep connected while leaving space for growth. And make sure you have unscripted joyful time,” he adds. 

Carolina Rodriguez
Carolina Rodriguez

Cedric Vongerichten and Ochi Latjuba Vongerichten
Wayan, New York 

Ask anyone in business for a key component of their success and they’ll likely say communication, but for Cedric and Ochi, it’s also how they began their journey as business and life partners. “Cedric was my French tutor at the Culinary Institute of America,” says Ochi. After graduation, they initially went in separate directions professionally—Ochi to Per Se and Cedric to Nougatine—while remaining together as a couple. When they learned of an opportunity in Ochi’s native country of Indonesia, they jumped on it, opening a restaurant together for the first time. The success spurred the opening of Wayan at home in New York. Now, they oversee a burgeoning empire, with two restaurants in New York, three in Jakarta, two set to open in Jeddah, and another planned in Aspen later this year.

So, how does the busy couple who also has two young children at home balance it all? “We didn’t sit down and say you do this/do that. The most important part is that we have this synergy,” explains Cedric. “We have the same passion.”

Still, the demanding schedule is something they carefully consider. “We try not to work in front of the kids,” explains Ochi. “We’re careful with that,” says Cedric. Their personal success is also about carving time to do things as a family. “For me, it’s the things we do together. We cook together. We surf. It’s something to look forward to when we’re not taking care of restaurants,” says Ochi. 

Courtesy of Ochi Latjuba Vongerichten
Courtesy of Ochi Latjuba Vongerichten

Telly Justice and Camille Lindley
HAGS, New York 

Telly Justice and Camille Lindley, co-owners of HAGS, met on the job almost nine years ago. “We didn’t really try to hide it—we both don’t have great poker faces—and it was pretty obvious we were in love,” says Justice. They worked together and apart in several restaurants, and like many couples who stay up talking long into the night about future plans, they spoke about the kind of place they would eventually open. Still, it took the pandemic to make it a reality. When the hospitality business came to an abrupt halt, Justice and Lindley realized they needed an outlet for their energy. “I definitely pushed it along,” laughs Justice. “We had talked about it for so long and I was adamant that this time it was going to work.”

Work it did. The couple’s intimate East Village restaurant has been earning praise since opening. They credit their “opposite but complementary skill sets”(Justice runs everything in the kitchen and back of house, while Lindley is in charge up front) but also their commitment to being vulnerable.

“I tell people all the time that if you’re going to get into business together you should do it with a partner that you can openly weep in front of. If you don’t have that kind of relationship with your partner, it’s not going to work in the long run,” says Justice. “I love running a business with my partner because it’s so much easier to have vulnerable and difficult conversations with someone that you have that foundation of trust with,” explains Lindley.

For Justice and Lindley, work is an extension of their relationship, having intentionally built a place where they can be their best selves. “It’s important to take a step back during that golden light of service and see your partner just doing what they do best for people that appreciate it...it’s so beautiful to see your partner shine like that,” says Justice.

While the professional and personal seamlessly blend for these two, one thing they’re committed to is individuality. “In this industry you’re always surrounded by people, so it’s important to find time apart. I want to make sure I don’t go away because I don’t want to be a bad partner,” says Justice. “There’s so much pressure around finding time to be a couple but not many talk about finding time for yourself,” she adds. Still, for a couple who enjoys spending time together it isn’t easy. “We’re starting small,” laughs Lindley. “We’re scheduling different days off.” 

Robert Bredvad
Robert Bredvad

Hero image: Carolina Rodriguez.

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