Food Industry

These Miami Couples Share Their Passion In and Out of the Kitchen

Benoit Rablat and Sandy Sanchez of La Fresa Francesa and Silverlake Bistro.
Benoit Rablat and Sandy Sanchez of La Fresa Francesa and Silverlake Bistro. Photo by Carla Torres
As exhilarating as love can be, when it comes to modern coupledom, there's a lot to juggle, especially when duos decide to unite their personal lives and careers.

Though running a restaurant together might seem the stuff of a Hallmark movie, the reality is grueling work, long hours, and the threat of bill collectors — all while in close proximity to fire and knives.

Of course, there are shared rewards: a satisfied patron, a marriage proposal at a table, or the simple awareness that the person lying next to you knows exactly why you're so bone-tired — and why you have to get up extra-early to work on a new recipe.

In the stressful realm of restaurants, one can find all the ingredients for a great love story. These Miami couples know the recipe: a cup of passion, a pound of skill, and a generous helping of understanding.
Benoit Rablat and Sandy Sanchez of La Fresa Francesa and Silverlake Bistro. - PHOTO BY CARLA TORRES
Benoit Rablat and Sandy Sanchez of La Fresa Francesa and Silverlake Bistro.
Photo by Carla Torres
Sandy Sanchez and Benoit Rablat (La Fresa Francesa and Silverlake Bistro). It was illicit foie gras that brought them together. When Sandy Sanchez and Benoit Rabat met in 2013 while waiting tables in Los Angeles, the delicacy was banned in California, but French-born Rabat still had plenty in his fridge.

He used the forbidden delicacy to lure Sanchez, and the tasting was successful: They fell madly in love and became inseparable. When Sanchez decided to move back to her native Hialeah, Rablat followed, fulfilling a long-held dream of opening their own eatery.

With Sanchez in the front of the house and Rablat at the pass, they've tapped into their individual strengths. The key to running two eateries is communication, Sanchez says. "We are always on the same team and talk everything out." She adds that sharing their problems at work shine a light on petty domestic squabbles. "The food business is so hectic it simply offsets any relationship problems. We realize there are bigger fish to fry." Their passion for each other has evolved, and they plan to make their union official sometime this year. As for issues that could use some work, Rabat cheerfully points out a minor flaw in his beloved: "Sometimes she runs on Cuban time."
click to enlarge Jenny and Richard Hales of Blackbrick, Sakaya Kitchen, and Bird & Bone. - PHOTO BY ROBERT HALES
Jenny and Richard Hales of Blackbrick, Sakaya Kitchen, and Bird & Bone.
Photo by Robert Hales
Richard and Jenny Hales (Blackbrick, Sakaya Kitchen, and Bird & Bone). Seventeen years ago, Richard and Jenny Hales met while partying at Purdy Lounge. When she gave him her phone number, he accidentally wrote it wrong, but he played around with the digits, and three weeks later, they went on a date. Richard recalls sitting in her parents' living room and talking to her mother while Jenny got ready. "The evening was straight out of the 1950s," he says.

In 2009, she traded in her career in finance and he gave up his job as wine director at the Mandarin Oriental to open their first restaurant, Sakaya Kitchen. "It was an investment in us," he says.

The concept wasn't an immediate hit. With money quickly running out, Richard was discouraged. But Jenny held it all together. "I always believed in him. I knew he was destined for great things," she says. A decade later, they have two daughters and own several successful restaurants and a food truck — he's the creative chef and she oversees the corporate offices.

Last year, however, Richard was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and meningioma (a type of tumor that affects the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord). Jenny had to assume full responsibility of their business, which she couldn't do without the help of the staff, which has been loyal and supportive. They made a plan that if he didn't recover, she would let go of all the concepts except Sakaya.

Healthwise, Richard is on a long road to recovery, with nothing 100 percent certain except his faith in his family. "Jenny is everything to me," he says. "She keeps me alive."
click to enlarge Cindy Hutson and Delius Shirley of Ortanique on the Mile and Zest. - PHOTO BY MICHAEL PISARRI
Cindy Hutson and Delius Shirley of Ortanique on the Mile and Zest.
Photo by Michael Pisarri
Cindy Hutson and Delius Shirley (Ortanique on the Mile and Zest). What began as a small business venture between a self-taught chef and a young entrepreneur has turned into a 20-year-old partnership.

Since they met in 1994, Cindy Hutson and Delius Shirley have melded their talents and love for Caribbean food. Hutson contributes her signature "cuisine of the sun." "He took me by the hand, and every time I thought I couldn't do something, he would expand my faith in myself," Hutson says. "I realized he was the one because he was my engine, not an anchor."

After working and living together for two decades, they make it a priority to cook romantic meals at home, go to sporting events, and travel together whenever possible. They've also "learned to figure out each other," she says. "We know immediately if something is wrong, and we've learned to ask what the other needs help with. That makes everything better."
click to enlarge Rocco Carulli and Owen Bale of R House. - PHOTO BY FRANCY NUÑEZ
Rocco Carulli and Owen Bale of R House.
Photo by Francy Nuñez
Rocco Carulli and Owen Bale (R House). R House's love story opens with a long-distance romance. Owen Bale and Rocco Carulli met in 2010 when Bale was on vacation in Miami and Carulli was looking to open a restaurant in Wynwood. When being apart became unbearable, Bale left his finance job in England to embark on a life-changing journey.

Now his office is inside the R House kitchen, where he and Carulli make a life out of entertaining and feeding people well. Their differences, they believe, are a key part of their success: "We are like yin and yang, creative and structural, two sets of strengths," Bale says.

Because of the long hours involved in operating R House, Carulli says, the best thing about working together is seeing each other all the time. "Running a restaurant is one of the hardest businesses out there," Bale says, "but we've learned how to be colleagues and husbands because we love our project." The two also strive to refrain from destructive behavior that can damage the relationship. "We don't elevate the arguments in the workplace," Bale says. "Sometimes I would love to raise my voice, but for us, we keep it business in front of the staff."
click to enlarge Janine Booth and Jeff McInnis of Root & Bone and Stiltsville. - COURTESY OF JEFF MCINNIS AND JANINE BOOTH
Janine Booth and Jeff McInnis of Root & Bone and Stiltsville.
Courtesy of Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth
Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth (Root & Bone and Stiltsville). Top Chef alumni Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth fulfilled a shared dream in 2014 by combining their culinary skills and love for farm-to-table food when they opened Root & Bone in New York City. Five years later, they maintain five eateries, care for two daughters, and still make time for romance.

It all began when Booth, a culinary student, fell in love with the short-rib meatloaf at Gigi's and decided to talk to the chef about his special technique. McInnis hired her as an intern in his kitchen and asked her to join his team when he opened Yardbird Southern Table & Bar.

Working side-by-side eventually led to a romance, a baby, a marriage proposal on national television, and a wedding. The couple tied the knot in Australia this past January. "The career path we have chosen is not the easiest and not always the most romantic. With Root & Bone, we both came home smelling like fried chicken, which only our dog loved," Booth says. "Now, with Stilltsville, we come home smelling like fish and fried chicken. But we've learned to be more receptive and listen to each other. We believe life is going to be really good now." 
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Juliana Accioly
Contact: Juliana Accioly