Kiss the Cook

Couples running restaurants put the passion in foodservice.

Marriage is a recipe combining equal parts love, honor and respect, mixed with dashes of humor, dedication and patience. All delicately poured into a home and baked with personal pursuits, dreams and ambitions.

As we look into the lives of married restaurant owners, we find that love for one another comes first; restaurant dedication second. These couples are proof that business success can be achieved using a variety of recipes.

Appetizer: Business Building

Managing a restaurant like a corporation is a natural approach for Kerry and Rick Gasman, owners of Johnathan’s Bistro.

Six months ago, the couple reopened the upscale restaurant in Appleton’s Trasino Park Development (north of the Fox River Mall) and, in doing so, spared no detail. Its rich remodeled interior is complete with luxurious fireplace and a full-service open-air bar.

Although their staff handles day-to-day management, the business is not entirely hands-off from a family perspective. Their college-aged daughter tends bar two shifts a week; Kerry’s father is a handyman who enjoys managing restaurant maintenance; and extended family members have contributed to the restaurant’s decor.

With a highly-regarded chef behind the scenes and a general manager in the front of the house, the couple can dedicate time to managing business issues, such as food and beverage sourcing and buying, and marketing and advertising.

The Gasmans also co-own Happy Joe’s Pizza, the popular pizzeria and arcade in north Appleton, with Frank and Terri Hanold.

“We didn’t know anything about running a restaurant until we franchised Happy Joe’s,” Rick says. They attribute their gained knowledge to a good relationship with the Hanolds, who also own the Happy Joe’s in Green Bay.

Keeping a thumb on the pulse of a restaurant involves tracking what’s happening on the floor each day including forming relationships with staff, clients and vendors.

The couple isn’t afraid to seek advice and assistance from fellow restaurateurs. “We’re not afraid to call and bounce ideas off of [The] Seasons,” Kerry says.

Married for 16 years but together for longer, the Gasmans can vividly recount defining moments in their personal development through previous careers, including a team building experience involving a 10-day boat trip, which taught them both the value of respect. It wasn’t until Kerry’s favorite restaurant, Johnathan’s Bistro, closed that the two desired an epicurean adventure.

Now running two restaurants together, the pair admits to having moments of stubbornness but spending time resolving issues has never resulted in a decision they didn’t agree on. “If he has had a bad day, I have a bad day. It’s that simple,” Kerry says.

Main Entrée: Family-fed Foodservice

While the Gasmans might be new to the business, some Fox Cities restaurants have been at the center of life for many families.

Two such establishments are Cy’s Asian Bistro in Neenah and the Skyview Club in Kaukauna. Each specializing in their own culinary expertise, the families behind the menus spent years perfecting their restaurants.

Cy and Vong Thounsavath can find their way around their restaurant blindfolded. After a decade of running Cy’s, the couple shares a customer-centric philosophy and style that they practice every day. The bistro is not only Cy’s passion, but it’s his––and his family’s––way of life.

Every day, he cooks along with his team of chefs while Vong manages the front of the house. Together, the couple manages tasks such as hiring and being part of the customer experience.

“Our son is a teenager and he is involved in the business, but he is a responsible student first,” Cy says.

It may take Cy a minute to remember the number of years he’s been married, but that’s not to say their 17 years together isn’t significant. The two were friends in Milwaukee long before they tied the knot. Their commitment to the restaurant world stemmed from knowing each other well. “We came to an understanding early in our relationship that we are entrepreneurs,” Cy says. He adds that finding a balance in both love and work is important.

“Vong is the boss, but when she is too aggressive, I ask her to slow down,” he says. “Other times I relax and go with the flow [to make managing the business easier].”

Checking reservations, comparing sales and performance statistics, and walking through the kitchen also top his list of daily duties. He even walks through the front of the house to make sure tables are cleared and set, and all systems are running smoothly.

After owning other restaurants together, the couple has learned the customer comes first. This is a philosophy on which the couple operates the business and has become more important during a tough economy when dining out can be a budget bust. “When the economy is tight, people want to go where they get their money’s worth and they don’t try many new restaurants because they have high service needs,” Vong says. “We give everything we have.”

There isn’t a day when Gene and Shari Biese, who own the recently remodeled Skyview Club, aren’t available to staff and customers.

The couple believes the success of their Kaukauna supper club is a result of good communication. And while Gene won’t clean fish and Shari won’t vacuum, together they have successfully managed the work for almost a decade.

“My parents bought from the original owners and we bought the restaurant from them,” Shari says as she recalls working in the restaurant as a high school student. Today, both of their children cover various restaurant positions, which the couple says works very well.

“Communication and flexibility is important,” Shari says and Gene is quick to echo. “We don’t jump to conclusions before we know what’s going on. Treat it like a marriage and make it a commitment of your life.”

Although there is a list of shared responsibilities, menu planning rarely was a topic of discussion. If it was, the couple along with their staff served as the jury. Only recently has a new chef swayed the direction. Old favorites such as hand-breaded fish and broasted chicken now share menu space with items such as rib eye with Captain Morgan mushroom sauce.

Dessert: Sweet Sibling Revelry

Some couples take on the restaurant business alone. They prefer to take the experience in their own hands, kneading and baking ideas into the rising success and growth.

This is where the Supple family is unique. Two sets of husbands and wives jointly manage several restaurant brands associated with The Supple Group.

Jay and John Supple, along with their wives, Heidi and Doreen, manage the operations in nine locations, including the Fratello’s franchise, Melting Pot and Golden Corral. More recently, the team has taken the Four Seasons in Pembine, WI, under its wing.

But this isn’t the first dip into the industry for the brothers. “[John and I] grew up in a restaurant family at Shakey’s Pizza,” Jay says. Later, after marrying, the men and their wives opened the Oshkosh Fratellos, which has been operating for 15 years.

Managing with a wife, and a brother and his wife, adds a unique dynamic to the business, he agrees, but knowing all partners as many years as they have and bringing to the table the previous restaurant experience help them all run the business better.

“I could not have better partners,” he says, adding that he focuses on managing the business direction and new projects while John handles on-floor location direction. But he’s quick to point out that without wife Heidi and her office and management expertise they wouldn’t work as efficiently as they do.

Having the benefit of different perspectives is what he believes makes the group’s management style successful. He also says it helps that no one is the boss. “We’re not title guys,” he says. “At the end of the day it comes down to responsibility. If everyone does their job, we’ll be successful.”

—By Jamie Popp

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Food & Dining, People

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