These Husband and Wife Bartending Teams Are #RelationshipGoals
A cocktail bar is a great place to find love, especially when your relationship is founded on a bedrock of mutual booze appreciation. Plenty of bartenders find love at the office, while other couples jump into the spirits world together. For some, the sounds of cocktail shakers give way to wedding bells.
As any server will tell you, the bartending lifestyle isn’t always conducive to a relationship, which makes these married bartending teams all the more impressive. Overcoming the natural stresses of the industry, managing their own businesses, and building families all at once, these husband and wife bartending teams are shining examples for anyone looking for love behind the bar, or anyone working with a significant other—or really anyone at all.
Natasha David and Jeremy OertelBar: Nitecap (her), Donna and Death & Co. (him), New York, NY
Dating since: 2005
Working together since: 2005
Married since: 2009
Natasha and Jeremy met in a classic industry meet cute—she was a waitress and he a bartender at Corner Shop Cafe (now closed). Over the five years they worked together, Natasha moved from waitress to manager, and the couple got hitched. They even held their wedding reception at the restaurant. Since then, they’ve worked at celebrated bars like Death and Co., Maison Premiere, Mayahuel and Donna.
According to Natasha, their origin story influenced the way they work together today. After working with unbearable couples who were too public with their affection in front of guests and coworkers, she keeps things with Jeremy fairly discrete. “I think, because we met working together, fell in love working together, had to work shifts while we were on a break or when we were fighting, we learned how to work and remain professional on the job,” she says. She recommends newly-in-love couples working behind the bar do the same. “Keep your sh*t at home! When you are at work, you are at work. Don't make out in front of guests. Don't favor each other and treat each other like anyone else on shift.” After you get off, however, Natasha encourages couples to head elsewhere for a shift drink where they can “be that annoying couple that can't keep their hands off each other.”
While Jeremy and Natasha no longer work a shift together, they collaborate on their consulting company, You and Me Cocktails, and constantly seek each other’s advice on individual projects. Working directly together, Natasha explains, has helped them become great communicators. “It's awful to work with someone when you are mad at them,” she says. “So you have to work out those fights, smooth them over and learn to move on.”
At the same time, they try not to make everything in their lives about booze and work—although their 11-month old baby makes any sort of relaxation a challenge. But they’re still the same old bartending couple. They keep a stock of pre-batched 50/50 Martinis in their freezer at all times, and treat themselves to some Japanese whisky when the urge strikes.
Chieko and Robby CookBar: Barringer Bar, Houston, TX
Dating since: 2006
Married since: 2013
Working together since: 2014
Barringer Bar in Houston is a local love story. Houston natives Chieko and Robby Cook came up in the bar industry, and met on the job. At the time, she was working at the Houston chain Sam’s Boat and he was building out a new project around the corner. They began as bar friends, listening to each other’s problems, until their mutual attraction turned their cross-the-bar talks into something more.
Despite their chemistry, they were cautious about entering into business together during their initial courtship, and only ended up owning a bar by chance after they got married. Mere months after getting hitched, they were given the opportunity to take over a bar and they couldn’t turn it down—despite the odds. “You hear all the horror stories,” Chieko says. “I’m a numbers person. I know exactly how many bars make it or break it. I know the divorce rate of people who go into business together, especially in the field. It’s 84 percent.” She adds, laughing, “I’m a total Debbie Downer.”
Running the bar without investors to act as a safety net meant the business was totally theirs, but the pressure was certainly on the couple from day one. Still, they came prepared. They’d seen how other mom and pops succeeded and failed, and they knew they were in a relatively good position. “If you look statistically at how long these people have been together before they go into business together—or their background, if they’ve been married before, their age demographic—when you start looking at all of that, it does break down better in our favor,” Chieko explains. “If we weren’t together for over seven years before we opened a bar together, I don’t think we would have made it through the first year.”
Robby agrees: “When you get into business together, there are good weekends and bad weekends, good months and bad months. There are lean times—when you’re really stressed and you’ve got to eat some ramen to make your business work—and those can bring out some rough points. We could push through because we had a solid, longstanding relationship when we got into it.”
Chieko and Robby learned a lot in their time together before Barringer. “In our minds, we had an imaginary bar forever because we never thought we’d have an actual bar,” Chieko says. “We’d say, ‘When we own our imaginary bar, you’ll be in charge of X and I’ll be in charge of Y.’” The pair split up tasks, with Robby taking on menu creation and front of house hospitality, and Chieko taking the reins in the back of house and on the books. “That’s the general dynamic,” Robby says, “but the lines are gray.”
Things are bound to get gray when a married couple works so closely with their staff. Barringer employees half-jokingly refer to Chieko and Robby as mom and dad. That dynamic requires careful navigation when the owners disagree. Employees joke that “mom and dad are fighting” when sparks fly, but Chieko and Robby try to keep any heated discussions away from the front of house and employees’ ears.
“Everybody’s confused if Robby says one thing and they turn around and I overstep him,” Chieko says. “If he makes a cocktail menu, we budget it out. I might tell him, ‘No we cannot have fresh handpicked seaweed for every drink.’ He has to respect that. But ultimately, whatever he puts on that menu, I train to make those drinks just like everyone else. I respect that. If I have a problem with that, it’s behind closed doors.”
If Chieko has one bit of advice for fellow couples, it’s to know your role and stick to it. As for Robby, he suggests couples take personal care seriously. “Anybody going into business together, whether they’re married or dating or whatever, should do what we try to do (and don’t necessarily do successfully) which is find time for ourselves.” With 35 years in the industry between them and Robby’s role as president of the Houston chapter of the USBG (United States Bartenders Guild), getting away from fellow bartenders can be a challenge, but it’s a goal worth fighting for. Whether that means staying home and watching CSI reruns, or his muay thai classes or her yoga sessions, or the stay-cations the couple take together at a local hotel, that time away from business—either separately or together—is important.
“If you let it consume 24/7 of your life, at some point, that’s going to make it come to a head,” Robby says. “In a relationship,” Chieko adds, “of course you should complement each other, but you should have your own life and I should have my own life and together we should have a good life where we share lots of aspects together.”
Heather Heuser and Jason MarcusBar: Traif and Xixa, New York, NY
Dating since: 2008
Working together since: 2010
Married since: 2015
Though both hail from the East Coast, Heather Hauser and Jason Marcus crossed paths in San Francisco, where they worked together at Red Pearl Kitchen. They grew close at the restaurant, but it wasn’t until a week after Heather left her role as manager that they began dating. They moved in together the next week, and started planning their dream restaurant not long after.
“We always kind of knew we wanted to open a restaurant together,” Heather explains. “We decided before opening the restaurant to do some travelling—three months abroad. We knew that once we opened the restaurant, that was it. Goodbye life. Before being tied down, it was a really great way to go and eat our way through a bunch of different countries and experience that.”
After touring the Mediterranean and Europe, the duo returned to the tri-state area, opening Traif in Williamsburg just as the neighborhood was beginning to pop. Jason set up shop in the kitchen, while Heather handles hospitality and the bar. At first they wanted to live as close as possible to work, first finding an apartment just around the corner from the restaurant, and later living in the apartment right above Traif. But they soon realized they had flown too close to the sun, and quickly reversed course. They moved back down the street and then to the nearby neighborhood of Bed-Stuy after their son was born.
Despite the need for breathing room, family was still very much a part of their restaurant work. Two years after opening Traif, a mom and pop diner down the street was forced to close because the aging husband of the team was having health problems. The old man was reluctant to sell the diner for sentimental reasons, until Heather approached him with a plea: Pass the restaurant onto the next generation of husband and wife restaurateurs. The man relented, and the older couple quickly became like grandparents to Heather and Jason’s family, babysitting their young child and generally doting on the couple. While Traif is a reference to Jason’s expertise cooking pork and seafood despite his Jewish heritage, the second restaurant, Xixa (pronounced “Shiksa”), is a two-part reference to Heather, a gentile woman who wooed Jason, and a Spanish restaurant the couple encountered on their travels.
That personal involvement speaks to the couple’s dedication to their work. “We’re both intense individuals with passions,” Heather explains. “In the beginning—and still sometimes now—we were definitely very vocal with each other. We’re not shy people. That’s always part of the intensity. But at the same time, it’s why we have the expectations we do for our restaurants, and why we care, and why we’re there all the time.”
When you’re a small, family-run business, that intense bond can help. “It’s basically just us,” Jason says. “It’s us and them at a certain level, as opposed to me and them. It’s nice to have one other person who you know can understand your perspective and what you’re going through.” Heather goes a step further: “Between the demands of money, the stresses, not having a little separation [from work], we go through the trenches together.” At the same time, she points out that strength and interest in their business can also be a couple’s undoing, so it’s important to fight for that life/work balance by committing time to other activities.
No matter what the world throws at them, Jason and Heather have each other’s backs. “I don’t have to think about certain things because Heather’s there, and she doesn’t have to think about certain things because I’m there. That’s a huge asset,” Jason says, adding that this is a key building block for any work relationship. “If you don’t have that…” he says. “You should run,” Heather finishes.
Jon and Lindsay YeagerCompany: PourTaste, Nashville, TN
Dating since: 2008
Married since: 2011
Working together since: 2012
Jon and Lindsay had not planned on entering the drinks industry together. It was only after they were married that Jon was hired at one of the city’s first craft cocktail bars, Holland House (now closed), which led to a burgeoning career for him as a booze consultant. Lindsay, who at the time worked as physical therapy rehab facility and a non-profit, doubled on the side as Jon’s partner in cocktail crime, working events alongside him and learning the trade by osmosis. She was happy to treat drinks as a side project until, as she puts it, “people kept calling.” As Lindsay recalls, “It got to a point where we had to decide if we were going to do it full-time. I said a prayer and decided this is what I was going to do.” Together, the couple formed PourTaste.
That full-time commitment didn’t provide any definition as to what the business actually was, though. “I have made peace with myself about the vagueness of what PourTaste is,” Jon says, laughing. The couple take on everything from standard consultations with bars and restaurants, to brand work, to running a national cocktail festival, to writing a beer cocktail book, to creating a product line named after their daughter (including the world’s only commercially available magnolia bitters), to throwing private events for the Nashville music industry, to hosting a recently launched podcast. “It’s just this wide net,” Jon explains. “If there’s a cocktail involved, we just say yes and try to make it work for us.”
Jon admits he’s the imaginative driving force behind the duo’s (sometimes overly) broad projects. Lindsay credits PourTaste’s success to that ambition, but in turn, he credits her with keeping the business (and relationship) on track. He says, “I usually just pass ideas through Lindsay and just say, ‘Hey, what do you think of this?’ We might act on it two weeks later, or it might be a year. But I funnel everything through her: How do you think it’ll affect the marriage? How will it affect the business? Our friendships?” Lindsay adds, “We’re complete opposites. In a way it’s good because we can temper ourselves a little bit. It can make things difficult if we disagree. But at the same time it creates a good balance.”
Lindsay and Jon run PourTaste out of their home, where they are also raising a daughter and have another kid on the way. “It took us a while to figure out that all of our other friends leave each other and go to work and then come home,” Jon says. “We spend a lot of time together,” Lindsay adds. “That can sometimes not be easy. It just adds another layer of things you have to work through for it to work.”
Tricky as that situation may sound, Jon and Lindsay agree that the same simple rules apply to their relationship as any good marriage. “The relationship comes first,” Jon says. “I can’t say that to an unmarried couple who think it’s cute to work together. They haven’t walked through the fire yet.” The couple put each other and the marriage first, and trust that everything else—all of PourTaste’s many ventures—will fall in line.