The couple that eats together not only stays together, but sometimes also opens a restaurant together, as is the case with three Fort Worth foodie couples who fell deeper in love while feeding others. (And there must be something in the water on West Magnolia Avenue, as all have businesses on the busy thoroughfare.) Sure, there are challenges working so closely with a significant other, they admit, but none would have it any other way. Here they share how they met, how they separate work and personal life, and a special dish (with recipes at the end) they cherish as much as each other.
Travis and Emma Heim, Heim Barbecue
While Travis and Emma Heim didn’t start dating until they were in college, the two first met in junior high as part of a church youth group. They later married and were destined to open one of the state’s most acclaimed barbecue joints.
“We’ve come a long way from opening a food truck with $100 in our bank account,” says Travis, who attributes much of their success to his wife’s hard work. “Our business is challenging every day. There’s always something new and crazy you’re dealing with. It’s great to have a partner I can lean on and trust that whatever happens, Emma is going to do an awesome job.”
Emma feels the same about her bearded beau.
“Since it’s our business, I know he’s going to be working just as hard as I am because we built it together.”
Their roles are clearly identified: Travis handles all back-of-the-house responsibilities, such as menu planning and prep, and Emma is the general manager of the restaurant. The duo admits since they’re around barbecue constantly, they only eat it occasionally. But Travis likes to play with fire in more ways than one.
“When we used to cook at the house, if I was grilling a steak, burgers or whatever, I’d roast some vegetables over the fire for my wife,” Travis says. “She loves beets. This is something we’d do at home that we really like.”
Mary and Jarry Ho, Tokyo Cafe, Cannon Chinese Kitchen, Shinjuku Station
Mary and Jarry Ho were attending Texas A&M University when they met at a fraternity party. He was a senior. She was a freshman. Soon after college, the two were married and made their way into the restaurant industry, now owning and operating Tokyo Cafe, Shinjuku Station and Cannon Chinese Kitchen, the latter two of which Mary’s brother, Casey, is a partner.
“Mary is like the social chair,” says Jarry, whose parents originally opened Tokyo Cafe in 1997. “I’m the shy one. Mary greets customers and is really good at remembering everyone’s name.”
Working so closely with family is not new to Jarry, who says his mom and dad worked together all of his life.
“I get to work with Mary daily and see my kids. I enjoy that a lot,” he says. “I couldn’t imagine working in the corporate world where you don’t see your kids until you get home at night.”
Mary says the dynamic was a big adjustment at first.
“We had to learn to separate work and our marriage,” she says. “Over the years we’ve learned our boundaries and how to communicate better when it comes to work and personal time. Marrying someone is one thing, but working with them takes it to another level. We have challenges but we work it out. I don’t think I’d have it any other way, now that we’re at this point where we know what to expect from each other.”
Mary says she didn’t really start cooking until she got married, and making something for dinner that both her babysitter and her kids – now ages 5 and 7 – would like was often tricky.
“I love to make this dish on our busiest of nights,” Mary says. “It’s one of our family’s favorites. It’s total Japanese comfort food.”
Kari and Mark Seher, Melt Ice Creams
Their courtship began thanks to a boxer puppy named Jaxon.
“We met through mutual friends,” says Kari Crowe Seher, founder and owner of Melt Ice Creams, of her husband, Mark. “He was younger than me and still in college. I had started my photography career and was living on my own. I had this little puppy and was working tons of hours, and he started offering to come walk my dog. So we kind of fell in love over this dog.”
The two became best friends and then married, both working separate full-time jobs. When Kari decided to open her own ice cream shop, Mark immediately helped as much as he was able.
“He would work the register while I made ice cream in the back,” Kari says. “We got to the point where I was going to have to hire somebody to figure out how to grow things, or he could just do it with me.”
Although it was scary, Kari says, Mark left his busy full-time job (and all the benefits that went with it) to dedicate his time to Melt.
“He said, ‘If I’m going to work this hard and put in this many hours, I want it to be for a business I can grow myself and reap those rewards,’” Kari says.
Now Mark is dubbed Melt’s CFO – or chief fun officer, Kari says. He handles accounting and business growth strategy while Kari focuses on product development, marketing, events and branding. While Kari is admittedly more of a “jump-off-a-cliff-and-figure-it-out-on-the-way-down kind of person,” she says, Mark is reserved and an analytical thinker. The two balance each other out.
“It’s an adjustment, but it’s great,” Kari says of working with her husband. “We don’t have kids so the business is kind of our life. We go to dinner and if we want to talk about business, we talk about business.”
The couple shares a recipe here for a simple chocolate cake they’ve been serving at dinner parties since they married eight years ago.
“It’s a really simple cake,” says Kari, who adapted the recipe from one of her favorite books, “My Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table,” by Molly Wizenberg.
“You don’t have to bring out a mixer or a blender,” Kari says. “It was one of the first recipes I would make when people would come over. Mark would work on the meat and I would work on the dessert. It kind of became our go-to.”
Jaxon, now 10 years old, is still there for the dinner parties, too.
Roasted Beet Salad, Heim Barbecue
- 4 medium-size beets, cut into large cubes
- Olive oil, as needed
- Salt, to taste
- 2 teaspoons apricot preserves
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- Juice from half an orange
- 2 handfuls spring mix greens
- 1/4 cup candied pecans
- Mint leaves, for garnish
- Drizzle beets with olive oil and salt and wrap in foil. Roast in oven or over hot coals until tender, approximately 20-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, whisk together apricot preserves, balsamic vinegar and juice.
- Top spring mix with roasted beets, candied pecans and dressing. Garnish with mint leaves.
— 1109 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, 817-882-6970, www.heimbbq.com
Gyudon (Japanese Beef Rice Bowls), Tokyo Cafe
- Canola oil, as needed
- 2 onions, thinly sliced (use a mandolin on the thinnest setting)
- 1 teaspoon HonDashi Bonito Soup Stock (found at Central Market)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 pound beef chuck, thinly sliced (ask your butcher to slice as if for a Philly cheesesteak)
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons mirin rice wine (found at Central Market)
- 3 cups cooked Japanese short-grain white rice
- 4 eggs, prepared sunny side up
- Sesame seeds, for garnish
- Scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish
- In a large skillet, cook onions in canola oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
- While the onions are cooking, add HonDashi to 1 cup of water in a small sauce pot and bring to a simmer. Remove from fire and set aside.
- Add sugar to the onions and stir. Add beef to the onions and cook until meat is slightly browned. Add HonDashi mixture, soy sauce and mirin. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, or until the stock has reduced into a sauce.
- Divide rice among four bowls and top each with beef and an egg. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and scallions.
— Tokyo Cafe, 5121 Pershing Ave., Fort Worth, 817-737-8568, www.tokyocafefw.net
— Shinjuku Station, 711 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, 817-923-2695, www.shinjuku-station.com
— Cannon Chinese Kitchen, 304 W. Cannon St., Fort Worth, 817-238-3726, www.cannonchinesekitchen.com
Winning Hearts and Minds Cake, Melt Ice Creams
- 7 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 5 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Whipped cream for serving
- Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the base of the pan with parchment, and butter the parchment, too.
- Melt the chocolate gently with the butter in a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring regularly to combine. Add the sugar to the chocolate-butter mixture, stirring well, and set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Then add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition, and then add the flour and salt, mixing well. The batter should be smooth and dark.
- Pour batter into the buttered cake pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the center of the cake looks set and the top is shiny and a bit crackly-looking. (You’ll know it’s done when it jiggles only slightly, if at all.) Let the cake cool in its pan on a rack for 10 minutes; then carefully turn the cake out of the pan and revert it, so that the crackly side is facing upward. Allow to cool completely. The cake will deflate slightly as it cools.
- Serve in wedges at room temperature with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
This cake can be kept at room temperature, sealed in a plastic wrap for up to 3 days, or it can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. (Be sure to bring it to room temperature before serving.)
— 1201 W. Magnolia Ave., Fort Worth, 817-886-8365, www.melticecreams.com
Food news writer Celestina Blok (@celestinafw) is the sole cook in the Blok kitchen, where her husband happily devours anything she puts in front of him.