For Love of Better Halves

by Charlottesville29


Are “Mom n’ Pops” a thing of the past – a relic of a bygone era? Not in Charlottesville. Here, all over town you can find them, and some Mom n’ Moms and Pop n’ Pops, too. Food businesses run by spouses are the heart of the Charlottesville food community.  The love between spouses manifests itself in their customer’s experience. Below, some of the best pay tribute to those who make whole themselves and their businesses. For the love of better halves:

Millie Carson
Albemarle Baking Company


“When we first met, Millie had graduated from California Culinary Academy and was baking at a very popular restaurant in San Francisco (where she once baked apple pie for Elizabeth Taylor!). She had a side business baking this walnut pound cake for coffee shops. I loved that cake. Millie likes baked goods like she likes people. Honest, nothing fake, true to who they say they are. When we first opened our bakery we were both at the store, with our kids, around the clock. It really was a wonderful time baking and figuring out how to run a business together, though we realized the kids needed more balance in their lives. We ended up dividing work, with me baking and Millie handling finances, promotion, and other business aspects. There wouldn’t be an Albemarle Baking Co. without her steady hand, holistic perspective, and watchful eye. She is an irreplaceable part of the bakery; my life is richer with her as my closest friend. I love her more than I can say.” – Gerry Newman

Patrick Evans
MarieBette Café & Bakery


“Dear Patrick,  My 12-year-old self would never have believed that this would be my life. I married the perfect man. We have two wonderful daughters. And we have our own business together, of which I am so proud. Meeting through that Craigslist ‘Missed Connection’ set the plot for the happy romantic comedy that is our life together. I always believed that relationships were a lot of really hard work with some happy moments until I met you. Being with you has always been overwhelmingly easy. Though friends warned us that going into business together would put strain on our relationship, it has had the opposite effect. We have not argued over business (except for that chocolate cherry sourdough incident). In fact, our relationship grows stronger every day and I can’t imagine ever having been able to do any of this without you. Your talent, dedication and passion inspire me every single day. You are my hero and I love you. I look forward to our years ahead—partners in business and in life. Happy Valentine’s Day, my love.” – Jason Becton

Kristi Fafara
Shenandoah Joe

“Thank you for the opportunity to tell you how much Kristi has meant to me and for giving me the chance to do what I love to do, which is provide Charlottesville with good coffee and clean pools. I have known Kristi since the early eighties, and she has always been there when we needed a calming, leash-shortening voice. Kristi is the glue that holds Shenandoah Joe coffee together. If it wasn’t for her tireless work we would not have the success we have today.  She let me live my dream and has done this with a lot of love and encouragement. Like the saying goes, behind each successful man is a great woman, and Kristi is the greatest. Happy Valentine’s Day, Kristi. I love you.” – Dave Fafara

Vickie Gresge
l’etoile Catering

Mark and Vickie

“Sweet pea, I wanted to write you a love letter. I know it’s a little out of our norm, but I thought I’d try anyway. It’s just that I feel complete as a person when I’m with you. I thought I would try to put it in words, so that you know how I feel about you. I can’t see you right now but I can picture how you are. I see your hair and how it looks so pretty, the way you smile, and how you look before we part for work for the day. If I could be next to you now, I would not hesitate. You help me define our relationship as love in motion. I can feel you close to me even though we are apart. The path that we have chosen together allows us to work as a team. This is never lost on me, and I feel blessed. I love you this much (hands outstretched). Love, Mark” – Mark Gresge

Kate Hamilton
Hamiltons’ at First and Main


“Kate and I opened Hamiltons’ at First and Main on Valentine’s Day in 1996. The project ran well over schedule due to construction delays and the infamous blizzard of that year. For a time, it had looked like the restaurant might be completed in August when our son, Chandler, was due to be born. Kate (famously, now) said that she would only need two weeks before and after the birth in order to schedule the opening. Fortunately, we weren’t tested in that way and we finally opened our doors on that February 14th for friends and family. Back then, Kate ran the front of the house, often with our six month old on her hip. In fact, we designed a nursery upstairs at the restaurant (now a staff changing room) and applicants were given special consideration if they babysat as well.  Many of our early customers fondly remember holding Chandler while Kate would greet guests, clear tables, and deliver plates. She was a badass. Hamiltons began as a true Mom and Pop endeavor with a lot of blood, sweat, tears and love. The restaurant simply wouldn’t be here today without her amazing work ethic, empathetic leadership, and vision. She is much loved by me, our staff and our customers. Happy Valentine’s Day, Kate.” – Bill Hamilton

Donna Hartman
The Barbeque Exchange


“To whom it may concern, This letter is being written concerning the love of my life, who also happens to be my business partner. Donna Hartman has been my partner for 41 years. She sacrificed so much of her own life to allow me to follow my passion in the food world. She forgave me over and over again for missing birthdays, anniversaries, recitals, weddings, holidays, etc. She put up with me moving from job to job while I honed my career. Imagine watching your husband receive accolade after accolade for his hard work and sacrifice to bring joy to others’ lives when he could not always do the same at home because of his time commitment to his art. And, for the last 20 odd years Donna has been my closest partner even in business. She has a work ethic that is unmatched and an eye for detail that is my opposite! Donna has believed in success at times when I could not and had the vision to push for more when I was ready to compromise. I have been blessed to have crossed paths with Donna in culinary class so many years ago. I knew from the moment I really saw her that she was the one! Happy Valentine’s Day to my beautiful Donna!” – Craig Hartman

Tami Keaveny

“Simply put, without Tami there wouldn’t be a tavola. She inspired me to do this back then and was instrumental in concept development, design (including the awesome bar in back) and has cultivated, and continues to do so, our brand. Some of the best events we’ve done — The Big Night “dinner and a movie,” the Chef exchange with Ristorante Il Falcone in Tuscany, to name a few– have all been Tami’s ideas and execution. She also acts as my toughest critic, holding me to our high standards still. It’s an absolute pleasure having her as my partner both in tavola and in life. Thank you Tami and Happy Valentine’s Day!” – Michael Keaveny

Jennifer Keevil
Keevil & Keevil Grocery and Kitchen


“What does working with Jennifer mean to me? The short answer to that is everything. She is my constant inspiration to do better everyday not only as a business owner and chef, but also as a father. She pushes me harder than anyone in the world. Although I constantly push back on the things she says, really she is only trying to get the best out of me. Sometimes I need a kick in the ass and she is the best person to deliver it because she truly knows what I am capable of, even if I don’t think so. I will also be forever indebted to her because she took a huge chance on me. When we were just dating (not even engaged) I naively opened a restaurant. I jumped in with everything I had and she for some reason came with me; willing to stand there by my side forever. Eight years later we have been through a lot, and I know with all of my heart that I would not be the chef and person I am today without Jennifer.” – Harrison Keevil

Kathy Khelafa


“Kathy and I have been together for 40 years and married for 38, so we have reached a level of communication where sometimes we do not need to talk to understand each other. She is my rock and stabilizing force. Throughout our good and bad times she was always there for me, and I cannot see my life without her energy, humor, love and above all her no nonsense approach to life. She is challenging and does not take life for granted. I am never bored with her. She always has new ideas and projects. March 15 is her birthday and we are planning a great celebration at Bashir’s with Samba and Beleza Brasil.” – Bashir Khelafa

Nancy McCarthy
Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie


“Nancy is the restaurant’s biggest cheerleader and its hardest critic. She has always made herself available to listen and offer solutions to problems big or small. There is no doubt in my mind that the restaurant’s success comes from her. She brings sensibility, grace, and a certain decorum to an often-jaded workplace. I’m often asked if it is hard to work with my wife and the answer is yes! Would I have it any other way? Hell no! When I see that twinkle in her eye from across the restaurant, it reminds me of how we got here. Thanks for putting up with me Nancy. I Love you.” – Michael McCarthy

Robin McDaniel
The Alley Light


“Owning and operating a business with Robin allows for a unique opportunity to know my wife both personally and professionally. We spend the majority of any given day, week, and month together, in the tight quarters of The Alley Light. My favorite aspect of working with her is the trust that comes from seeing how much care and time she puts in. She loves the grind; not for the acclaim or to pump up her ego, but for the work itself.  Even for our wedding, she baked the cake and made her dress. She wanted to do those things. I think her greatest attribute is just that, she does work for its intrinsic value of purpose and accomplishment. I couldn’t imagine having a better business and life partner.” – Chris Dunbar

Tina Morrison
The Pie Chest


Tina Morrison, right. Photo by Our Local Commons.

“I’m just finishing up a long shift in the baking kitchen, having worked on pie pairings for Valentine’s Day – two different elements that are good on their own but create something even greater when paired together. I just placed the last of the pies in the bakery case and I know that Tina will be there in the morning to pull them out and pass them on. When we opened The Pie Chest, I had little to no understanding of what it would take to not merely operate a business but to truly create a space that emulated a piece of home, a place where anyone is welcome and a sense of gathering is in the air. I’m certain there are countless manuals, seminars, consultants, etc., that try to impart how to do those very things. But we stumbled onto something that works because ‘we’ work. I can make a pie, but Tina knows how to make a home. She has made one for our family and I to return to daily and now I see her make a home for friends and strangers alike. She is the link between what my hands create and that moment of simple enjoyment experienced by our customers. At the end of every single day I know that the person in the shop is as heavily invested as I am, pushing me to be a greater version of my self. Neither of us knew that on the other side of the decision to walk this road together that we would meet so many beautiful individuals who collectively make up the fabric of our little shop. I love her because she values the things that matter the most: home, simplicity, honesty, and love.” – Rachel Pennington

Farrell Vangelopoulos
The Ivy Inn


“I met my wife while working in DC 25 years ago. I was a line cook at a very busy Italian restaurant and Farrell was a sales rep for Sysco Food Service. She had worked in restaurants in and after college and had come to the conclusion that restaurant life, and chefs in general, were not for her (to put it mildly). Lo and behold, she found me, and before she knew what hit her, she was back at it, managing a restaurant in Bethesda, MD, and making plans to follow my pursuit in owning and running a restaurant of our own. Farrell has forever been my biggest fan and my most honest critic. She has stood by me when I’ve screwed things up and helped pick up the pieces after one of my many failures. She has stood smiling and quiet when our restaurant has received praise, and when guests want nothing more than to ‘meet the chef.’ Farrell is the backbone and brains of our restaurant and doesn’t get the attention or the accolades. Somehow she finds the time to also be: a mother, a tennis player, a coach, an advocate, and an all-around bad ass. She handles the tiny boring details and tedious planning necessary to operate a restaurant. She does the heavy lifting, literally often juggling cases of wine, and at other times making tough decisions. I would be lost without her, and The Ivy Inn simply could not function. I’m thankful for the opportunity to praise her today, to shout to the hilltops, and say loud and clear: thank you for joining me on this journey, allowing me to follow my passion, holding me up when I need it, and showing me your love every single day. I  LOVE YOU FARRELL.” – Angelo Vangelopoulos

Keshia Wert
Mouth Wide Open

Keshia--Grand Canyon2 2017

“Our partnership in the food truck business began in 2012 and has continued into our sixth year! It has been amazing to be a part of something so exciting and cutting edge. But success does not come easy as we both well know. Owning and operating a food truck has been challenging beyond what anyone could imagine—late nights cooking and cleaning, long trips to Tennessee and DC and to every corner of Virginia, over mountains and to the valleys beyond. Through truck and equipment breakdowns and so many moments of complete exhaustion, when we were “deep in the weeds with a rail-full of orders,” you have been a great leader, a motivator.  You are a chef with a sixth sense for the next cool recipe, the missing ingredient, the next menu item that will be popular with the people. Sometimes it seemed the impossible couldn’t be done, but here we are: business owners who have survived and thrived. Many thanks to you! Happy Valentine’s Day!  Your husband and biggest supporter, Justin” – Justin Wert