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Culinary Power Couples Original Long Draft

In honor of Valentine's Day, we sat down with three of DC's most powerful culinary couples to learn more about restaurant life with your better half. We've also got Bisnow exclusive video valentines from each couple to you, our beloved readers.

Todd & Ellen Gray: Equinox, Muse Cafe at the Corcoran

How did you two meet? Ellen was working as a salesperson for Cisco foods, and Todd was the newly-appointed sous chef at Galileo. Ellen was trying to sell Todd on her products, and he kept her coming back with samples. Eventually, he admitted that he couldn't buy any more product from her at Cisco, and helped her get a job at a different company that he was more likely to buy product from. After a few months of professional back and forth, they finally went on their first date, and the rest is history.

How has your relationship affected your work? Our customers enjoy the mom and pop feel that comes from our relationship. We both have a clear vision of what we want because it's easy to be open with each other. We don't have to go through a formal process or walk on eggshells around each other if we want to make changes, which is great.

How has working together affected your relationship? Our work is so all-consuming, it can be hard to make time for much else. But we really love what we do, so it's worth it. Though our poor teenage son is tired of hearing about the restaurants--he's kind of forbidden us from discussing work in front of him any more. 

What are the best and worst things about working together? 


Ellen: The synergy. We're just so in sync with each other. 

Todd: Ellen is really smart. She does such a great job selling our business, product, and people. I feel like I have one of the most talented people in the city to do that with, and I'm even luckier to have her as my wife too. 


Ellen: We can't give it a rest. It's just too hard to turn off from work. We're always thinking about new ideas, and since we're always with each other, we can discuss those ideas as soon as we have them. 

Todd: I try to unplug and turn it off, but Ellen won't let me! We go away for a few days and try to relax, but instead we come back with a new recipe!

Cathal & Meshelle Armstrong: Eat Good Food Group

How did you two meet? The couple met in the '90s, when they were both 22. Meshelle managed Cities in Adams Morgan, and Cathal was a visiting chef. At first, Meshelle thought Cathal was a little snobby, but then she realized that it was just that no one could understand him thanks to his thick Dublin brogue. She had just seen The Commitments and was fascinated by Irish boys--lucky for Cathal. One night, he sent over a mini pizza that Meshelle says was "perfect, in every way." Her heart and stomach both swooned, and pretty soon the two were bonding over a shared love of horror movies at the Georgetown theater.

How has your relationship affected your work? When we first started out, it was tough: the poor staff had to watch 'mom and dad' fight over everything. At home, we'd still be seething. Eventually, we realized we each had our own real estate and had to own it. Anything related to food, menu, execution and discipline is Cathal's; everything else is mine. And the work arguing has ceased.

How has working together affected your relationship?  Our personalities couldn't be more opposite, yet our values, morals, and drive are exactly in sync. We can laugh and commiserate about the difficulties we encounter during the workday because we both really get what the other is going through. In that way, working together has really brought us closer.

What are the best and worst things about working together? 


Meshelle: At first, it was that we were ALWAYS. TOGETHER. We didn't have an opportunity to miss each other or talk about something new.

Cathal: But now that we've opened more restaurants, we rarely see each other at work...which is also tough. 


Meshelle: When we do happen to see each other, we get excited and have the opportunity to give each other a squeeze and a kiss.

Cathal: 19 years later, we still try to wait up for each other. On Sundays we replace cell phones with a bottle of wine, and I still ask her, "Wanna watch a horror movie?"

Kyle Armstrong & Tiffany MacIsaac: Neighborhood Restaurant Group

How did you two meet? They first met in New York, worked at the same restaurant, were both dating other people, and were really good friends. They parted ways to go to different restaurants, and Kyle's restaurant needed a new pastry chef. He was actually dating a different pastry chef at the time, but got Tiffany the job instead. (He and the other pastry chef broke up shortly thereafter.) While working there, they were completely forbidden from being a couple--but that didn't stop them from getting together. They were a secret couple the whole time, and when they got engaged after leaving the restaurant, the entire staff was in shock

How has your relationship affected your work? We've helped each other out a lot; we're a team. We're known in our group for how hard we both work, and how dedicated we both are to our work. We can really support each other at that level because we're as close as we are. We also have a pact that we're always completely honest with each other, no matter how much it sucks to hear what we have to say--which is really important, but really difficult in this line of work. And we've always had each others' backs: he got me my first gig as a pastry chef, and I got him his first gig as an executive chef. 

How has working together affected your relationship?

We fight a lot less than most couples because we've been through and seen so much difficult stuff, that the we really don't sweat the small stuff. When you've just come off of a 40-hour work day, or from dealing with a piece of the ceiling caving in, things like who made the bed or whether you put the dishes away just don't really matter anymore. 

What are the best and worst things about working together? 


Tiffany: We both have strong ideas and we both think we're right. We generally agree on things, but every now and then when we do disagree, it can be frustrating because we're both so strong-headed. 

Kyle: She's always right about everything - it sucks! The one time I was right, it was really awesome. 


Tiffany: I just couldn't imagine working without Kyle. I don't think I could even work with this group if he wasn't here. In fact, when he first got hired to work for the group, we thought they didn't want me and I was devastated: working without Kyle was not an option!

Kyle: If one of my cooks were to walk out the door right now, I know that Tiff would go upstairs, put on a coat, and we would work service together. I don't know anyone else I can rely on like that.