Restaurant staff often refer to each other as family, but what happens when you’re really related? Just ask Lauren and Philip Pretty of MICHELIN One Star and Green Star Heritage and Rory and Meave McAuliffe of Rory’s Place.
Despite an age difference of eleven years, Lauren and Philip Pretty are close. “Phil got me my first job in the restaurant business,” says Lauren. Interested in the front of house, Lauren worked her way up from host to bartender, later moving on to fine dining, all while Phil worked in various kitchens. “I call him chef, too,” jokes Lauren.
Their distinct skill sets meant the two were perfectly poised to open a restaurant—something they discussed for years before opening Heritage. Finally in 2018, Phil and Lauren decided to take the plunge. “I told Lauren, I’m serious now. We need to do a business plan.” They scouted locations, but it was a spot six doors away from Phil’s home in Long Beach that drew him in. Opening in Long Beach was non-negotiable. “It had to be here,” says Phil. Lauren agreed on the location but was less enthusiastic about the building. “I said, absolutely not!” she jokes. “Half of it was a nail salon, and the other half was a taco shop, and there were weeds growing everywhere.” It needed some serious TLC, but they took it in stride with plans to renovate and open a fine dining restaurant. Then Covid hit. They pivoted from indoor fine dining to opening Heritage Sandwich Shop with exclusively outdoor dining. Covid also inspired them to start a farm. “It’s one mile away in a warehouse district, but you have no idea you’re in the city when you’re there.”
They rode the wave, “because we had to—we both needed jobs,” but never gave up on their tasting menu vision, which opened in 2021. Their perseverance paid off, as the siblings were awarded One MICHELIN Star and a Green Star in August 2023.
The two credit their respect for each other for helping them weather the storm and stress of starting two businesses. “We don’t step on each other’s toes and we won’t leave each other hanging,” explains Phil. “I know that we’ll be together no matter what. It’s family first.” Lauren wholeheartedly agrees. “You have to trust your business partner with your life. When you work with family, there’s no doubt that he would ever wrong me, but we also make each other better,” she says.
They’re also proud of the impact they’re making on the local community, whether it’s supporting other small business owners or helping shine a spotlight on an area often overlooked. “It feels good to be a part of this community,” says Phil.
For Meave and Rory McAuliffe, restaurants, and family businesses, are in their blood. “We grew up in our mom’s bakery and restaurant and each one was owned with a different sister,” explains Rory, the youngest of the family. The two spent plenty of time in the bakery, stopping by on the way to school and playing in flour bins “as big as we were.” Still, the two didn’t plan to follow in their mother’s and aunts’ footsteps—at least initially. “Our dad had an art gallery and I always thought I’d do that,” says Rory. Indeed, she did, spending years working in film and art. Meave immediately gravitated to the kitchen, working as chef in a number of restaurants.
While Meave was living on the East Coast and working on a business plan for a place in New York’s Hudson Valley, Rory sent her a plan for a wine bar. “It had no chef and she has no restaurant experience,” says Meave. She knew it was perfect. “I was ready to get back to California. I came back in October and pomegranates were bursting and there was the smell of citrus blossoms—it felt so right to be back.”
They signed a lease in January 2020. Like the Prettys, their opening coincided with the onslaught of Covid. They started with meal deliveries until they were allowed to open in earnest, but both know they couldn’t have done it without the other. “Having clearly defined roles is really important for us,” says Meave, who is the head chef and runs back of house. Meanwhile, Rory runs the show up front, while managing social media and events.
That said, their division of labor isn’t so strict. “Because we were raised together, we collaborate on design and menus, and we support each other when we need it.”
Meave also believes the two sisters blended their interests in art and food when they opened Rory’s Place. “Restaurants and cooking are inherently a creative endeavor. From the design of our space to the plating of the food, it is a deeply personal form of artistic expression. I often remember a conversation I had with our dad after coming back from a trip to Japan. I threw a dinner party inspired by my travels, stocked with pickles from Kyoto, heirloom plum vinegars and small batch soy sauces. He loved the meal and said he felt he could talk about my relationship to food and my dedication to the craft much the same way he would describe his gallery's artists and their relationship to their work. It was the highest compliment, and maybe this is what makes our sibling-run restaurant unique to us—a manifestation of our shared childhood steeped in art and food."
Photos from L to R: Brandi Crockett/Rory's Place and Sterling Reed/Heritage
Thumbnail: Brandi Crockett/Rory's Place