Top Chef alum Brooke Williamson and her husband, Nick Roberts, met cute, aptly, at work: Roberts was Williamson’s sous chef at the now-shuttered Zax in L.A. The relationship has survived a number of restaurants and a dozen years, and today the couple shares chef/owner billing at their two SoCal gastropubs, The Tripel and Hudson House, and the about-to-open Playa Provisions. We recently asked them how they juggle their private and public lives.
RH: How long have you been together, personally and professionally?
Williamson: We have been together since February 2002. We started working together about a year before that, and we’ve been married six and a half years.
We used to work together more, but now that we have multiple locations, we split up more tasks. At one point there was almost no point in having two cars, but now we divide our time depending on where we need to be the most. Because we have a five-year-old child, we take turns being parents as well.
We do still spend a lot of time together, and when I go to Hudson House and Brooke is at Tripel, we fill each other in.
RH: Who is better at what?
Roberts: You’re going to start an argument (laughing).
Williamson: I probably do more of the paperwork, while Nick is more organized. He does more of the manual labor. When it comes to organizing the kitchen, for example, that’s Nick’s job.
RH: If and when you get to take a day off, what’s an ideal way for you to spend it?
Roberts: The restaurants are only closed on major holidays, and not all of them. We do try to take off at least Sundays. We try to go on as many adventures as we possibly can.
Williams: We will hike or we bike near the beach, since we are kind of outdoorsy people. We love the beach and ocean, so we’ll take a drive up the coast and get some seafood.
A lot of times it revolves around getting to a destination and having a meal. So we might go to Chinatown and have dinner.
RH: Do you leave your work behind when you close the restaurants each day?
Roberts: We talk about work.
Williams: I think our work is our lives, and it would be impossible to leave work at work.
Roberts: It’s the restaurant business, so there is always something happening. At home, we might just sit down with a bottle of wine and create our next menu. There is rarely a time when there isn’t something that needs to be discussed.
But if we go on vacation, work sits on the side. We’ll check in, but we try to enjoy it.
Tips for couples who work together
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RH: What’s a romantic date for you?
Roberts: Brooke is in love with anything Asian, so we eat a lot of Asian food. We try to go out every Wednesday. We have a nanny who picks our five-year-old son up and stays with him one day a week.
Williamson: A lot of times our date night might be early evening—restaurants are not super crowded and hectic, and we prefer to stay away from crowds. We try to make a point to have time out as a couple, even if it’s a random day to play hooky and see a movie.
RH: Any tips for other couples working together in restaurants?
Roberts: Be up front, because you’re stuck with one another. If we are in a fight, the whole restaurant feels it.
Williamson: And that’s not because we’re vocal about it. We are professional because we don’t want the whole restaurant to know our business.
Roberts: Just be professional, and don’t let your emotions get the best of you.
RH: It looks like you may be facing your biggest challenge in getting the hotly anticipated and sprawling Playa Provisions complex ready to open. Can you give us a preview?
Williamson: Playa Provisions will be three and a half concepts rolled into one space. First, it’s a seafood restaurant with a large patio that will do happy hour and cocktails. The entire front area is like a casual counter service grab-and-go, almost a snack bar, where we will do breakfast and lunch, coffee, pastries, breakfast sandwiches in the morning, all sorts of sandwiches and prepared salads in the afternoon. That area also includes a creamery, where we will be doing our own ice cream, popsicles, malts and shakes, etc. All the way in the back is a speakeasy whiskey bar that will have its own menu as well.
It’s much bigger than the other two—about four times the size of Hudson House.