Labour of love: Five hospitality couples reveal the highs and lows of running a business together

12 February 2020 by

Almost half of hospitality businesses are family run. But is working with your partner every day a blessing or a curse? Elly Earls gets the lowdown from five happy couples

A s well as sprucing up their decor and preparing their Valentine's deals, hospitality operators will be thinking about celebrating their own relationships this week.

With family partnerships making up 46% of the hotel and restaurant sector, it might be a challenge to get time off work together for a date.

There are more than 163,000 family-run hotels and restaurants in the country, according to the most recent UK Family Business Sector report from Oxford Economics and the IFB. Many of the couples behind them – such as Paul and Emma Ainsworth, who have five restaurant businesses in the seaside town of Padstow in Cornwall, and Sat and Amanda Bains, whose restaurant in Nottingham has two Michelin stars – are at the very top of their game.

Come Friday, their personal lives will probably take a backseat to the business, which, for most owners, is more than a full-time job. Indeed, for some couples – like Rick and Jill Stein – the business survives longer than the relationship.

Yet despite the challenges of spending their entire lives together – both at work and at home – most couples in the hospitality sector wouldn't have it any other way, preferring a partner that understands the rigours of the industry rather than having to explain what it's like to someone who has a more conventional existence.

As Charlie Salisbury, who is just about to open a fifth hotel with her husband Justin, says. "Lots of people who work in hospitality know that the working hours are full-on and it's often hard on their partners. We're lucky to be on this journey together and have respect for each other's long working hours."

Charlie and Justin Salisbury: owners, Artist Residence

After falling into the hospitality business 12 years ago, when they were just 20 years old, Charlie and Justin Salisbury have opened four Artist Residence properties together in Brighton, Penzance in Cornwall, South Leigh in Oxfordshire and London, with a fifth set to launch in Bristol this year.

Initially, they did everything themselves – from honing the artistic concept to cooking breakfast and cleaning the bedrooms. But as the business has evolved, their roles have changed and they now each specialise in the areas they're passionate about – and better at. While Charlie is managing director and focuses on the operational side of the business, Justin spends more time with the financial and design teams. The cooking and cleaning are left to the professionals.

Charlie and Justin Salisbury
Charlie and Justin Salisbury

Charlie and Justin have learned the hard way how important it is to have a balanced approach to work and life. "After being diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, Charlie was forced, for the first time in 12 years, to take a break," Justin says. "We now make sure that the weekends are time spent as a family [the couple have a four-year-old son] and health has become a huge part of our lives.

"Through home cooking and sticking to Dr Wahls' diet, Charlie is now on minimal medicine and basically cured from what is a chronic pain disorder. Home cooking has also had a hugely positive effect on our health and time together as a family. It's a time where we put the laptops away and all sit together – it's very calming!"

Although running a business together can be difficult, especially if boundaries aren't put in place, it also means the couple can share the exciting times. "I can't imagine what it would be like without Charlie," Justin says.

"We've always got somebody that we can trust, that we can talk to. We've built this business together from day one."

Laurie and Jacqueline Gear: Owners, the Artichoke, Amersham, Buckinghamshire

Laurie and Jacqueline Gear first met at Combe House (now the Pig at Combe) in Devon back in the 1980s, when Laurie was a chef and Jacqueline worked front of house. They shared the same interests and passions and it quickly became their ambition to open their own restaurant, which they set to achieve after moving from the West Country to Oxfordshire.

After working together and separately at restaurants including Gee's (Laurie) and Le Petit Blanc (Jacqueline) and as private chefs for dinner parties, they finally found a characterful but rundown building in Old Amersham, Buckinghamshire, that had the heart and soul that they were looking for. After a short renovation, the Artichoke opened in 2002.

"We wanted to work together as it is not always easy to see each other with different roles in this industry," Jacqueline recalls.

"We also both had different strengths," adds Laurie. While he brings his palate and understanding of flavours to the table, Jacqueline has a good head for figures and experience front of house. "Together we thought we had the right combination."

Some eight years later, they've learned that working together in a restaurant is not easy; it can be hard to switch off and it's important to keep the core of your personal lives at home.

Jacqueline and Laurie Gear the Artichoke
Jacqueline and Laurie Gear the Artichoke

"Sunday and Monday are our downtime and sanctuary when the restaurant is closed, although there is always something to discuss on these days," Jacqueline says.

"We do feel it is both beneficial and necessary to have time out to rest and think and we value family time with our four-year-old daughter Emilia, although she does love the team and coming to the restaurant. She's already ‘helping' out the chefs with the pasta – we will have a family team soon!"

Ryan and Liam Simpson-Trotman: chef-proprietors, Orwells, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Ryan (pictured right) and Liam Simpson-Trotman will celebrate the 10th anniversary of their restaurant Orwells this year. When they first opened in 2010, having previously won a Michelin star together at the Goose in nearby Britwell Salome, they had no qualms about going into business as a couple.

Ryan and Liam Simpson-Trotman
Ryan and Liam Simpson-Trotman

"When you've found someone you're going to be with for the rest of your life, you have to ask, ‘Will we go into business together or will we live two separate lives in two separate kitchens and never see eachother?'" says Liam. "You ask any chef what it's like to find your right-hand man, the one you trust and who can support you in a working environment. It's so difficult to find and we've always had that from the start."

The pair always said that if business got in the way of their personal relationship, the business would come second. Fortunately, it's not come to that yet. Although they have started to prioritise their personal life more in the last couple of years. "We've started going on holiday and now we have nephews and nieces, we want to see them too," Ryan says. "Once a month, we'll also go for a meal or go to the cinema – stuff that normal couples do!"

However, they still spend the majority of their time in the kitchen, where Liam works the pastry or the garnish section and Ryan takes care of the meat and sauce. Outside of the kitchen, Ryan is in charge of the paperwork and Liam has responsibility for organising and disciplining the team, who say they benefit from having two business owners in the kitchen with them.

Neither Ryan or Liam has missed more than a handful of shifts in a decade. And when they competed separately on Great British Menu for their respective home regions, they both found it tough. "I kept thinking, ‘Where's Ryan?'" Liam laughs. "I'm capable of doing a good job on my own but I'd much prefer to work with him in the kitchen."

You have to ask, ‘Will we go into business together or will we live two separate lives in two separate kitchens and never see each other? Liam Simpson-Trotman

Keris and Lee De Villiers: pub operators, Wandsworth, south London

Twenty years ago, Lee was a manager and Keris was a waitress at a restaurant in South Africa. When he moved back to the UK, she followed and within a month they were a couple.

Initially they worked as live-in bar staff, staying put for six months and travelling for three. But after a few years, they'd fallen hard for the pub trade – and for working together – that they decided to start their training at Young's and both became managers.

Keris and Lee De Villiers
Keris and Lee De Villiers

Nine years of working in managed houses followed before they got their first tenanted pub. Seven years and two more tenancies later and they still love working together every day. Their pubs – the Ram Inn, the Old Sergeant and the Pig & Whistle – are all in Wandsworth.

"We were quite lucky in that we have only ever known each other when we have worked together, so it's second nature for us," Keris says. "It's weird when one of us isn't around. We work pretty much all the same shifts and have the same days off. We make it work as we have the same values – and the best banter behind the bar!"

If anything, Keris thinks running a hospitality business is easier as a couple. "You always have someone on your side and you never feel like you are doing it on your own," she says. "It is definitely a lifestyle – not just a job – so you have to enjoy it together."

There are a few things they do separately. While Keris is in charge of the paperwork and takes on kitchen shifts if needed, Lee does the cellar work and other more manual tasks.

The pair also make time away from the business. "We try to have two days off a week together and four weeks' holiday," Keris says. "We have been lucky with staff and have people we can trust, so when we are off our team leave us to it and we can forget about the pubs for the most part."

Dave and Charlotte Reilly/Sophie Egglestone and Dan Shotton: owners, general manager and head chef, Yorebridge House, Bainbridge, North Yorkshire

Charlotte and Dave Reilly (pictured) have been together for 24 years and working together for 14, since they bought Yorebridge House in 2006.

Dave and Charlotte Reilly
Dave and Charlotte Reilly

For years before that, when visiting hotels as guests, they always found themselves discussing what they could do better. "Even in places we loved, we always felt there could be improvement," Dave says. "So wetook all those improvements and put it into one place of our own."

Dan Shotton and Sophie Egglestone, another married couple, joined the Yorebridge team in 2013 and since then the foursome have been inseparable.

Charlotte takes care of the financial side, Dave is focused on the food, Dan is the head chef and Sophie is the general manager.

They say having two couples at the helm is beneficial in many ways. "When we're not here, Dan and Sophie run the business, and when Dan and Sophie are away, we look at it in a lot more detail," Dave says. "It's great to have two couples with the same goal."

Sophie thinks it would be difficult to be in a relationship with someone who wasn't in the hospitality sector.

"We both have a total understanding of what it's like to be in the industry – you know that sometimes someone will have to go to work at the drop of a hat or there might be a very long shift," she says.

The problem can be that it becomes all-consuming. "Even when you go on holiday, you probably go on holiday to a hotel," she says."That's why we go camping!"

Within the Yorebridge's 21-strong team, there are also two other couples. As Dave explains, it's become a bit of a selling point on the recruitment front. "Yorebridge is quite remote. It's an amazing location but getting staff down can be quite tricky. We've found over the years that we've become renowned for employing couples. We've had between 15 and 20 pregnancies at Yorebridge!"

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