the restaurant business is an endless rabbit’s warren of managing inventory, reservations, opinions, trends and reputations. it is about aggregating the tiniest of details—this much salt, this many eggs, this many heads of lettuce, pounds of chicken, bottles of wine—all for the sake of pleasing the public. ∞ hard enough for any partners who’d have to confer on all these decisions to stay simpatico. add a romantic relationship into the mix and the potential for drama increases that much more. most couples wouldn’t survive. but there are a few who have been doing it, and doing it very well, for almost as long as they’ve been together. ∞ their restaurants are continuously lauded and their relationships appear to be anything but doomed. ∞ we frequent their establishments and we feel like part of their families, but secretly wonder what makes them tick. in three very special cases, the simplest answers are true: a love of life and food and creating special things, as well as a profound love for each other. these couples have a lot in common, besides the fact that all the ladies are fiery gingers and the men are doing the cooking. they are as attached to their communities as to their vocation and to sit with them is to talk between laughs about food and business and innovation. and to feel everything is just right. ∞
patricia a. trainor and taylor alonso
by the time these crazy kids purchased the bellport in 1990, they had done their fair share of traveling between dc, hawaii, india, london and ny. they were georgetowners living exciting, active lifestyles, connected to high social circles in the worlds of fashion, entertainment and culture. they loved to go out and do things, as much as they loved to work, and they still do…especially together.
taylor: we got a call from a friend here saying, “if you’re interested, there’s a little place for sale in bellport.” and i said to patricia, “if it’s that place we used to go and have coffee—
patricia: —we started coming here in 1980—
taylor: i would be interested.
taylor cut his chops in the business at such high holies like building xenon from the ground up (the only competing disco to studio 54). patricia was among the inaugural group deputized by ted conklin to resurrect sag harbor’s american hotel in 1975. in 1987 when patricia read a times article about l’école de cuisine française de sabine mirbek, a cordon bleu academy in england, she got the idea taylor should enroll. he had sworn off the restaurant business and was working in restoration and renovations, she was working in fashion pr, they had two little boys and weren’t really sure what their next move was going to be.
patricia: he could always cook. he was the guy who could take one fowl egg and one rudimentary piece of a bean head and make a meal out of it.
taylor: patricia had always had this thing where she wanted to do an inn… she said, “let’s go look at this,” and i said ok, with no intention of actually doing this at all. but i’d do anything that makes my wife happy…
is the inverse also true?
taylor: oh no, absolutely not.
she laughs: there’ll be none of that.
after taylor finished the program they returned to dc, where he’d hone his skills working with chef pascal loudain at la niçoise in georgetown. and then that call came from a friend on long island. the couple had many friends here (the quiet village remains the off-the-radar playground for entertainment and fashion luminaries like anna wintour, charlie rose, isabella rossellini, the late richard avedon and many others).
patricia: it seemed like a nice place to raise the boys.
taylor: and i wanted to be near nyc again.
patricia: so we begged for money from everybody [to buy it].
taylor: it’s one thing to have investors, but it’s another thing to have a partner. patricia has her personality, i have my personality, a third personality would be very difficult. and besides that, we’d probably just gang up on them.
they rechristened the bellport kitchen from a low-key burger and fries kind of place to the bellport, an artsy new american invention (still pretty low-key) and never looked back. taylor continues to hold forth in the kitchen while patricia reigns in the front of the house. today, 33 years since they met dancing at sybil burton’s “arthur” club in dc, they continue to laugh, take risks and explore their love of the gestalt together. they’re not the type to finish each other’s sentences though, they’re more the type to augment each other’s sentences.
taylor: we don’t have any rules—
patricia: i go at it, a lot. but when he thinks he’s taking a position, he’s not that de facto that he can’t be swayed. because i’m persuasive… when i take a position, i stand firm.
taylor: she doesn’t really stand firm.
patricia: it’s mutual respect for one another. if he’s got an idea, i can’t eclipse it all the time.
taylor: and i know my wife so well that i know i don’t know [what she’s thinking].
patricia: we can disagree, but if it gets disagreeable, it becomes “where’s the value?”
patricia: i don’t think there have been hard times.
taylor: it’d have to be a tornado for me to consider it hard times… difficult things are actually pretty easy. i’m not looking at the problem. just the—
taylor: it’s who’s more available to do what has to be done. if it were business stuff and paperwork, then she would do that and i’d do the family thing. and if it’s mundane stupid stuff, then i would do that and she would do the kids’ stuff…
patricia: i think we’re very different.
taylor: yeah, we’re pretty opposite.
patricia: we have our own passions, for sure… i don’t fiddle with your menu.
taylor: no. but you’re my guinea pig… i have no interest in coming out here and rearranging the furniture. and if i did, she’d just change it back.
taylor: i have friends who i think they actually like her more than they like me.
patricia: it’s the freckles.
taylor: she brings out things in people—she’s able to help you overcome your insecurities… she’s a natural born teacher of life. and she’s never intimidated. of anything or anyone.
patricia: taylor can fix anything. he can look at something and just get it. just rock it. in short order, and no squeamishness, he can just do it.
diane’s bakery & trattoria diane, roslyn
café sweets & roman kitchen
diane margaritis and john durkin
the adjacent bakery and restaurant, both named for the mrs., need no introduction to those who have ventured into either. there’s the food, yes, but there’s so much more. there’s a feeling. nestled there beneath the roslyn viaduct, are pantheons of music and art and love and food. waiting for guests with honest, open arms, and it all started when…
john: i was working as a waiter at the chalet in roslyn in 1979 and di was making the desserts over there. i asked diane out, and we went out, and a little later i asked diane, “what if we open our own spot?” and she said yes. it was a leap, man.
diane: the romance was so much about food and restaurants, and lots of music and lots of theater and lots of artistic things that we were both interested in. so it seemed like it could work. and this spot, what is now the bakery, became available. these were two very derelict buildings.
john: this was really the wrong end of town. but we could afford it. it was horrible, but we were going to make it be something. we’re more like craftspeople than like artists. and food is like an elevated craft. our first dates were music or plays.
diane: and restaurants. and later, trips—lots of trips to look at food.
john: the food thing just fit into the lifestyle for us. we opened the bakery in ’82 and the restaurant in ’94ish. the bakery first because that was diane’s strength. and we were leading with what we thought was our best thing. i was just a home cook, not formally trained, but we were both into it. we just try to be real with what we do.
diane: and we wanted a neighborhood. we talked about that right from the beginning. we wanted to be a neighborhood place.
john: those folks sitting in there right now, those people come every day. and they always sit and they always meet there. and they always have their coffee and their muffins in the morning. and those are the same people—
diane: —year after year. and it’s all kinds of exchanges of information. and kids and schools and the neighborhood and roslyn. there’s a very nice sense of community in these places.
john: you have to meet my wife diane. she’s beautiful, genuine, empathetic, she’s sincere—
diane laughs: —she makes great rugalach.
john: it’s been an interesting life—at our house, and our stores—we’ve done stuff to satisfy us intellectually and emotionally… but she’s the star.
diane: that’s not true at all, it’s been 50/50. and sometimes one shines more than the other, or one is more in the spotlight. but we’ve been genuinely dedicated to this… and it was slow. we didn’t have a lot of money. it was just the two of us in the kitchen.
john: yeah, for a really long time, we’d get up at 3 o’clock in the morning—
diane: —make some muffins—
john: —we’d bake and by 8 or 9 o’clock we’d open the door. people would come in and we’d sell out. then we’d go back and bake some more. and start again in the morning. then all of a sudden it was like “god, we need some people!” and the guy that we got is still working in the kitchen right now.
diane: a lot of people who have come here have stayed.
john: we like the long term thing. setting a tone where a person could be here and not be afraid of the boss. it was sort of a partnership. we don’t have children, this is our family… i do all the work, she gets all the credit. it’s a completely even split. [they both laugh.] no, we present to each other what we’re working on. and then we get the input and the feedback. and if we’re all happy it becomes part of what we do—her line or my menu.
diane: this is a sweet spot—and when i drive up here i feel the same way [as 30 years ago]. it’s hard a lot, and things break all the time, but it’s a lovely place and the coffee’s great.
john: we like working.
diane: i love that thing you said: it’s a neighborhood spot in a great neighborhood. i think we’re going to be here a long time doing this.
john: i still think i got one more restaurant in me. but i always think that.
diane: we have a beautiful old house—an 1875 queen anne revival tucked away here in the village. beautiful gardens there and a little studio coming, maybe [for painting]. because all of those things are part of what makes this be what it is. the other interests that we have, we always bring them back here.
john: the collaboration thing, we’ve just gotten better at that. we’re two halves of a whole.
diane: we kind of knew that from the beginning.
john: we got really lucky to be able to be here and satisfy our creative urges and as a result of having this to go see what other people do… i don’t want to get stuck in a rut. we keep improving the place, continuing to evolve.
diane: the bakery has a very stable core of things that we’ve been making from the beginning. the restaurant is fresher and newer and keeps changing. and the bakery changes some, and certainly changes seasonally, and i love that about it. all these memories that we have of each other. i have a sense of that, being part of a thread.
john: true. sort of like the keepers of the flame. small batch. fresh. no preservatives. the focus is not on the chef, but what the chef does.
diane: that’s been our philosophy from the get-go. we didn’t need to be out front too much. it happens, but it’s about what we do and what we make.
john: we wanted the food to be the star.
diane: so much of it is the laughter. john has this sense of comedy and comedic timing. we love trying to make it beautiful every day. there’s a really nice rhythm to it. and that’s the one thing that doesn’t change. dishes are clanking and water is boiling and i love that timeless quality.
the lake house, bay shore
fresh classic cuisine
matt and eileen connors
we’re waiting for eileen to join us with the tea and matt and i are comparing notes about living close to work. the four blocks between their home and restaurant is so close it’s both a good thing and a little too close.
matt: i come in pretty early, check on some orders and get my fish. then i go for a run, come back and work for a while, then pick my kids up from the bus—that would never happen if i didn’t live four blocks away. or have lunch with them on the fly. it’s nice. but i could never drive by here without stopping.
eileen: we can’t escape it even if we try to turn it off. and we’re part of this community. and we love that aspect of it.
matt: we were going to open in williamsburg—it was ’05, right on the cusp of it really blowing up there.
eileen: i was working for tyler florence and then cesare casella—doing shows for the food network and cookbook writing. and matt was at veritas. and it was great. but the goal was to do something for ourselves. together.
matt: we’re a good complement. we almost never disagree on things. we have the same vision, for the most part. and i couldn’t imagine working separately at this point.
eileen: we like being around each other. i can’t imagine not talking to him fifty times a day. when we were at different places, it seemed like we wanted to be doing it together.
matt: we were always working towards that. we finally got the opportunity to do it.
eileen: this place was a wreck. we didn’t want to tell anybody that we bought it.
matt: it had been here forever. i grew up two blocks away and had never been in here before. it was really very impulsive. we didn’t do any kind of research on the market. we knew there wasn’t anything else like it around here, but we didn’t necessarily know that there needed to be.
eileen: we had it in our mind we wanted to be so much more neighborhood-y. and we didn’t realize what we were doing [creating the lake house] wasn’t necessarily the kind of place people were going to stop on their way home from work all the time. we didn’t know this was going to become more a special occasion—and it is, and it isn’t. and it’s wonderful that it is because that’s what saved us when the economy fell through.
matt: we made some minor adjustments but we stuck to it. we didn’t try to reinvent ourselves. some things we had to modify—make our portions a little bigger than they would be in the city.
eileen: people weren’t doing tasting menus out here on a tuesday night. still, we knew this was “it.”
matt: before we had kids we had a history of being a little impulsive.
eileen: we moved to italy within three weeks of deciding it.
matt: for a year. for kicks. now that we have kids [four and six years old], we’re not as impulsive. it works, for one, because she’s in the front of the house and i’m in the back of the house. we’re two gears in a machine.
eileen: and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. there’s no point worth pushing. there’s nothing you have to stand your ground that strongly on that you can’t concede to.
matt: i may be the more passive of the two of us. but not by much.
eileen: i concede here and you concede at home. you can’t have two people who are both instigating. there are definitely times when i like to instigate.
matt: i always trust your judgment as far as feeling people out.
eileen: i trust where he’s going with what he’s creating back there. he has a sense of what people are going to like.
matt: at this point, yeah. [they both laugh.] in the beginning, i didn’t even trust myself as far as what people wanted. or what we were doing. but we’re in it now. we know our customers. and we think we know what’s going to attract new customers.
eileen: i think it’s that neither one of us cares too greatly about a point to make it an issue.
matt: everybody loves eileen. she makes people feel very comfortable. she’s a naturally warm person. i think most of our regulars come back because of eileen, not because of the food.
eileen: matt’s the nicest person in the world. and incredibly smart and funny and all those things, but he’s also very easy to be around. and that’s what makes this easy to do. i’m quick to laugh, i’m an easy target—
matt: you have to have a sense of humor at your own expense, too.
eileen: yes, we can laugh at ourselves.
matt: we really try not to talk business at home. and never in front of our kids. they’re fascinated by this place, so we talk about “the restaurant”—
eileen: —but it’s the fun stuff—
matt: —like, “you should have seen the biggest fish i got in today.” we talk about menu ideas at home. i’m creative in the kitchen, but eileen drives the menu just as much as i do.
eileen: i think i know what’s missing. or he’ll come to me with a dish that’s 75 percent complete—
matt: —and she’ll finish it. or at least put me on the right track to finishing it… i would’ve worked myself to death if i hadn’t met eileen, probably for somebody else. i’m still compelled to work like crazy and she has to bring me down from it sometimes. i’m very zen, but type a.
eileen: i provide the—
matt: —levity. it’s definitely more fun on the nights she works. for everybody.
eileen: this is a fun business. you get to dress up, talk to interesting, fun people and make them happy. what’s better than that? it’s just as fun at home. we’re really lucky. we have two healthy, awesome kids. and this wonderful family and community of friends. we live very normal, healthy lives. our priority is in our family and in each other.
matt: and we’ve got lots of all of those things.
eileen: and at the end of the day, he’s still who i want to go to dinner with.