Good partnerships are key to the success of all restaurants and they come in many forms. There is the partnership that arises with investors, the front of the house and the back of the house, and, in the case of Rich Table in San Francisco, co-chefs who happen to be a married couple. Evan and Sarah Rich balance their work and home lives and, more often than not, finish each other’s sentences. This year marks Rich Table’s fifth anniversary, so we sat down with them to talk about how their roles and the restaurant have changed, how their approaches complement one another, and their words of wisdom for other couples seeking to open a restaurant together.
What are your roles in the restaurant?
Evan Rich: At Rich Table, I take a managerial role. We have had an executive chef for three years. He’s taken to our food so it’s seamless, My role is setting the culture, which is so important. People work hard, but I want it to be enjoyable. It translates to the experience the guests have.
Sarah Rich: As you grow, you have step away from having just one focus. I write the dessert menu, and I come up with the recipes and teach someone how to do them. And I also help out wherever needed— I might give Evan a night off, fill in, work a station. Initially, we did everything; management, the numbers, cooking, service, but I realized it’s counterproductive. At this point, we’ve hired an amazing staff so our job is guiding them and making sure they are working toward our goals.
How do your strengths and weaknesses complement each other?
ER: I’m the “get it done” guy. Sarah keeps me in check and says, “Let’s make it right.” She polishes my rough edges.
SR: It’s good to have someone you trust so much. You have can have a conversation. Two heads are better than one. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, like any aspect of your relationship, but having two perspectives really helps. We come together to make it better.
What are the biggest challenges of working together?
SR: I’m never going to make Evan feel guilty for going into work, but it is all encompassing. Your personal relationship is also your work time. We’re always at work — even when we’re at home we’re still talking about work. It’s all about making the restaurant better.
ER: A definite down side is that one person is always responsible. We might have something going on at home, but one of us has to go to work. It’s always just me or Sarah. We have two boys, but we say the restaurant is our girl.
You have five years under your belt. How has Rich Table evolved since it opened?
ER: For us, it’s evolved immensely, from our wine list and adding wine on tap to the bar program. When we opened, we had Ikea plates, and now they are used for staff meals. At the end of the day, the experience was initially disjointed. But now I feel like it’s more of an overall great experience. We have just gotten a lot better; we don’t rest on our laurels. We’re never coasting.
SR: When we opened up, we did it on a budget. Dishes were simpler. I did the butchering and the pastry, but now the dishes can be much more complex.
ER: One of the biggest factors is operations. We opened with six people including us and a dishwasher. Now it’s us and 19 other people.
SR: Payroll, the bar, reservations, office stuff — and now we have five people just doing that. With our successes, it’s just about making it better. We got a great review when we opened, but we had to keep pushing forward. You can see the word of mouth mentions, but we want to be top of mind. When we don’t have any VIP’s, we build new connections with the guests that night.
What have you learned from running the restaurant?
ER: I want people to feel like family through thick and thin. Initially, it was my way or the highway. It’s all about adapting. You have to learn not to take things too personally.
SR: We’ve learned a lot from having an open kitchen where we have access to the guests and they have access to us. It forces us to be engaged. Sometimes that’s challenging, especially if guests aren’t happy, but it also helps you to create a better experience. It helps the kitchen to have respect for the front of the house and vice versa. It helps each see what the other is going through.
What advice would you have for couples looking to open restaurants?
ER: There’s an ebb and flow to everything; one day you’re down and another you’re up. Highs are super high and lows are super low. You just have to know you’re going to get through it. Tomorrow is another day.
SR: Also, approach it as a team, it’s about what we’re doing together. Sometimes you have to suck it up and sometimes you don’t get your way. We are a team working together to make this successful.
Photo credit: Kassie Borresson.