By Allison Robicelli
I was nostalgic for the “great American mom-and-pop-shop pursuit-of-happiness” business model even before I met my husband, Matt Robicelli, a chef. Before we fell in love we knew we’d open a business together. For six years now Robicelli’s Bakery in Brooklyn has turned out millions of brownies, cookies, whoopie pies and what many people flatteringly call the city’s best cupcakes. It’s spawned a cookbook and some notoriety. And yet we are still married, with our ninth Valentine’s Day upon us. Being married to your spouse isn’t all cupid and cupcakes, though. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned so far:
There is no “me” in “bakery”: When you first start a business, unless you have a genie in your basement giving you cash for belly rubs, you have to do everything yourselves. Baking, accounting, cleaning, inventory, marketing, deliveries — you name it, you’re doing it, 24/7. The first three years that Robicelli’s was open, the only times my husband and I were apart were when one of us was in the bathroom. Even then, we sometimes discussed business as we showered and flossed.
You’ll never have a tougher boss: When you know someone better than you know yourself, you also know exactly what he or she is capable of. It will drive you crazy if he or she phones it in, especially with your family’s livelihood on the line. I think one of the reasons for Robicelli’s solid reputation is that Matt and I hold each other in such esteem that we always look to show our best not just to the world, but to each other. He’s the best chef I know. I want him to be proud of what I can do, and I always want him to be putting his best foot forward so everyone else can appreciate his knack for balancing flavors, and his seemingly endless imagination, just the way I do.
Stick together like marshmallow: Divorce might pop into your head more than once. You fight in a way you never thought possible — know how sometimes you wish you could tell your boss he’s an idiot? Well, when that person is your spouse, and you haven’t slept more than four hours a night in weeks, your “be an adult and don’t act like a lunatic” button sort of disappears. You have to work diligently at compromise and calm (and humor).
Your most-important job has nothing to do with butter and sugar: Your most important job is your family. Never put the business’s health above your marriage’s health, because without each other you have nothing. Keep the lines of communication open. Talk about the things that you’re scared of, the dreams you have — remember the partner part of “Business Partner.” If you take your marriage as seriously as your business plan, both can thrive.
The icing on the cupcake: It’s the best thing in the world. Yes, I know I just listed reasons why working with your spouse is scary, and I stand by them. But more than any of these things, my husband is my best friend and the person I admire more than anyone else. Your spouse should inspire you to take risks, support you when you stretch yourself, make you want to be the best at everything you do, because you both, together, deserve that Mom-and-Pop American dream—and not just money or cupcakes, but the best that life has to offer. Happy Valentine’s Day.
Get the Recipe: Banana Nutella Cupcakes
Allison Robicelli is co-chef/owner and General Captain of Industry at Robicelli’s Bakery. Follow her on Twitter: @robicellis. Robicelli’s: A Love Story, with Cupcakes, is available now from Penguin/Viking Studio wherever fine (and slightly less fine) books are sold.
(Photo courtesy of Eric Isaac)