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Love is on the menu at these restaurants on Valentine’s — and every day

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Good on them: Bren (left) and Kris Buchanan, the owners of GOODONYA Organic Eatery in Encinitas, make working together work by taking their surf and ski trips. Here they are in Mexico.
Courtesy photo

Just like love, owning a restaurant can be unpredictable, stressful, all-consuming, exasperating, exhilarating, gratifying and utterly delightful. But what happens when a couple in love chooses this labor of love as its profession?

“It’s great — when we are in a good mood!” says Cesarina Mezzoni, the pastry chef at the Italian eatery Cesarina, which her husband, Niccolò Angius, and his partners just opened in Point Loma.

As with any family-owned business, couples running a restaurant face long hours, financial anxiety and constant proximity to their work and life partner. How, um, romantic? In fact, it can be.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we asked three San Diego County couples how they keep their relationships intact — and the romance alive — while working side-by-side. (Spoiler alert: Stop talking about work at home.)

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Niccolò Angius and Cesarina Mezzoni, in front of Cesarina while it was still a construction zone, met in Rome, had a whirlwind romance and moved to San Diego just five months later.
Michele Parente photo

Cesarina

Who: Niccolò Angius, co-owner, and Cesarina Mezzoni, pastry chef

Where: Cesarina, an all-day Italian trattoria and pasta emporium that opened Monday. 4161 Voltaire St., Point Loma. (619) 226-6222. cesarinarestaurant.com

How did you meet? Niccolò: I used to be the general manager at Dolce, a very popular restaurant in Rome, where Cesarina came in pretty often to dine with her friends and family. It was impossible not to notice her! One day … we started talking, and I finally asked her out. I was lucky enough that she said yes! After five months, we were moving to San Diego together.

What’s your love story — in two sentences? Niccolò: Our love story is passionate, loud and never boring! When we are together, everything is fun and bright. Cesarina: When we are together, I feel at home, and that’s all that matters.

What’s the best thing about working with each other? Niccolò: Usually when you work, you are far from the people you love — not us. It took some time to learn to work together, but now it’s easier.

What’s the worst thing about working with each other? Niccolò: It’s often hard to keep work outside of our relationship, which can create a lot of tension.

What’s your best advice on keeping the romance alive when you see each other every day 24/7? Cesarina: At the beginning, it was challenging because once we were out of work, we would still talk about work all of the time. Eventually, we (learned) that we can’t let work inside of our relationship. Now when we are out of the restaurant, we forget about work!

What has been your most romantic Valentine’s Day? Niccolò: Before we started working together, we never had the chance to have a romantic Valentine’s Day because I would always be working. When you work in this industry, you never have a free holiday! Cesarina: So, formally, the only time we’ve been together for an entire Valentine’s dinner was when we did a restaurant pop-up (last year) at Gianni Buonomo winery in Ocean Beach.

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Bren (left) and Kris Buchanan on their wedding day. Not pictured: their flip-flops.
Courtesy photo

GOODONYA Organic Eatery

Who: Kris Buchanan, founder/CEO, and Bren Buchanan, graphic designer/restaurant admin

Where: GOODONYA Organic Eatery, a health-conscious cafe serving breakfast, lunch and dinner since 2001. 1051 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas. (858) 264-8550. goodonyaorganic.com

How did you meet? Kris: On a little patch of sand on a lake somewhere in East County.

What’s your love story — in two sentences? We kept crossing paths for 10 years until the timing was perfect. We both always knew there was something there, and it happened when it was meant to be.

What’s the best thing about working with each other? Vacations! Being able to work the same job where we are the bosses enables us to take time off whenever we want. Bren worked in the golf industry before we met, and she had to ask for time off — that really cut into my surf/snow trips. I basically forced her to work for GOODONYA, and it was all about taking vacations.

The worst? Talking too much about work at home.

What’s your best advice on keeping the romance alive when you see each other 24/7? Try not to see each other 24/7. We have different roles and also travel for other things independently. We have passions that have nothing to do with work, and luckily for us they are the same, so we find a lot of enjoyment in surfing and traveling together.

What has been your most romantic Valentine’s Day? It will be this one — 2019 Park City!

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Eric and Jenny Lee, co-owners of Umami Japanese in San Marcos went from schoolmates to friends to a married couple and then restaurant co-owners. The key to their success? Respect.
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Umami Japanese

Who: Jenny Lee, co-owner, and Eric Lee, co-owner and sushi chef

Where: Umami Japanese, an elegant sushi bar and ramen shop open since November. 251 North City Drive, San Marcos.(760) 410-4129. umamijp.com

How did you meet? Jenny: We met back in Korea when we studied in the same school together. We got to know each other so well because we were always spending time together . … Before we knew it, we became each other’s best friends and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together.

What’s your love story — in two sentences? We are simply two people in love, committed to raising a happy family together.

What’s the best thing about working with each other? It’s actually our first time doing a business together. The best thing is that we don’t always need to explain everything to one another, because we just know that we have each other’s backs and we know each other’s needs.

The worst thing about working with each other? We haven’t experienced any big issues yet. Although we work in the same space, our days are usually so busy that we would rarely run into each other anyways.

What’s your best advice on keeping the romance alive when you see each other 24/7? We think the most important thing in a relationship is respect. Especially when you work together, it’s so important to respect each other’s roles and trust that they know what they’re doing. For example, when it comes to any sushi chef responsibilities, I usually trust Eric and follow his leadership. This kind of trust allows us to truly flourish in our respective roles. I love seeing my man work hard, and seeing him do a great job at what he does makes me fall in love with him even more.

What has been your most romantic Valentine’s Day? I love being reminded of his kindness and genuine heart. We are not one to overdo our Valentine’s Day celebrations, but even after a long day he never forgets to bring me a bouquet of roses along with some chocolates.

michele.parente@sduniontribune.com

Twitter: @sdeditgirl