When your small business is your labor of love, why not run it with the one you love?

Each business, and relationship, is different. Some couples work 24/7, others swap shifts to pick up the kids. Inevitably, there is bickering about how to run things, necessary emotional support during hard times, and playful jokes behind the counter. 

So of course, I asked some of these lovebirds: What makes love work in the workplace? Some answers: Your partner shares similar values, a lover’s unwavering support, and the required, practiced intuition that tells you when to just shut up already!

Rafa and Phoebe Saenz in Half Moon Bay, circa 2012.
Courtesy of Phoebe Saenz.

Rafa and Phoebe Saenz in El Chato, February, 2023.
Photo taken by Annika Hom.

Rafa Saenz and Phoebe Saenez

El Chato Spanish Taverna at 2301 Bryant St. by 21st Street.

Rafa, 40, is co-owner of El Chato and from Madrid.

Phoebe, 37, is El Chato’s events manager and bartender twice a week. She hails from Half Moon Bay.

Year they met: 2012

Year they married: 2018

The story. 

One rainy Friday night in January, 2012, Phoebe uncharacteristically went out alone for a night out on the town. Unbeknownst to her, Rafa had the same idea, and went solo to the Monarch to hear his favorite DJ play. Rafa was sure he would run into someone that night, and sure enough, “I ran into her … I ran into her ass.” Phoebe heard Rafa’s accent and she was done for (though, admittedly, she mistook his Spanish accent as Irish; the hat confused her). They danced, they talked, and the rest is history. 

What’s the best part about working with your spouse? 

Phoebe: When he can reach for the porrón [on the shelf] and the high bottles.

Rafa: That, for twice a week, I’m the boss. 

Phoebe: No, seriously, I had a full-time job, and the only way I can hang out is being here. He’s here from like, 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. You know? I’m riding on my scooter today, like, I get to hang out with my husband. It feels very special, us tending bar together, serving drinks. 

Rafa: She’s very special. 

Phoebe: I love when he DJs here. My perfect Friday night scenario is hanging out listening to Rafa, his music is my favorite. I feel like I’m at home. 

What’s an argument you two have had?

Rafa: When we first opened …

Phoebe: I hadn’t worked in the industry in a while, and it felt like a crash course. 

Rafa: I’m in the kitchen making sure everything goes fine. I’m very worried, paying attention to every detail so I got frustrated, as you can imagine.

Phoebe: That first opening night, I was like, “We’re going to get a divorce.”

So, how did you fix it? 

Phoebe: I drank some wine … He smoked a blunt … 

Rafa: When the night was over, all the stress was gone. It was live music that night, and so I grabbed the mic and I sang a song. This amazing song, a Spanish song from the ’80s, “Semen-up.” It’s pronounced like “seven,” but spelled like semen. 

Phoebe: It’s like, so cheesy, but so sweet, so sexy. And then there’s a video of it after, and I was just like, “Oh, I love you.” 

Dhruba Kunwar and Mina Kunwar

Indian Spices & Groceries at 3265 22nd St. near Valencia Street.

Dhruba, 39, and Mina, 37 are co-owners of Indian Grocery Store and both hail from Pokhara, Nepal. They immigrated to California in 2012. Before taking over the Valencia Street shop, the pair left for Texas in 2018 and ran a gas station there for six months. After that, they returned to the Bay. 

Year they met: 1995

Year they married: 2010

They have two children, 13 and 6.

Mina and Dhruba Kunwar in 2009.
Photo courtesy of Dhruba Kunwar.

Mina and Dhruba Kunwar at Indian Spices & Groceries, Feb. 10, 2023.
Photo taken by Annika Hom.
Dhruba and Mina Kunwar. Photo courtesy of Mina Kunwar.

The story. 

Dhruba and Mina met in their sixth-grade class in Nepal. They always knew they liked each other. “It happened automatically,” Dhruba said. Not really; “We didn’t say anything until 10th grade,” Mina explained. 

Several obstacles confronted the pair: First, “love marriages” were not really accepted in Nepal back then. Dhruba was of a slightly lower caste, meaning that not a single family or community member approved. At all. 

“That part is really sad,” Dhruba said. 

“We did struggle. That was a hard time for me,” Mina added. 

But they “decided to fight against that kind of discrimination,” and got married anyway. When their families learned Mina was pregnant, their marriage was finally embraced. 

“In my life, I had one boyfriend,” Mina said, smiling. “Him.” 

Dhruba plans on writing the tale down one day; he has 31 pages penned.  “It’s true love. Not infatuation,” Dhruba said. “We are going to die together.” 

What’s the best part about working together? 

Dhruba: Single moments. If she cannot handle something, I love to take over [for her]. That feeling I have is satisfying. 

Mina: He supports me so much. He wants me to be independent. He forces me to go out to the front, and he’s always got my back. Since school-time. 

What’s an argument you two have had? 

Mina: I feel like I argue with him, but he never argues with me. 

Dhruba: She gets very nervous about unnecessary things … like if a customer is not satisfied with something. 

How do you fix it? 

Mina: He will fix it. 

Dhruba: I try to convince her, “you can’t fix that, right? You don’t have to worry about those things.” This is not not necessary to, like, argue. But after a while, if she is not convinced, I’ll stop. Silence is your top weapon to win your battles.

Allison and David White circa 2013.

David and Allison White in 2022.

Photos courtesy of Allison White.

David White and Allison White

Yellow Moto Pizzeria at 702 Valencia St. near 18th Street, and Valencia Street Vintage, 714 Valencia St. near 18th Street.

David, 51, owns Yellow Moto Pizzeria, and was a former co-owner of Flour + Water Pizzeria. 

Allison, 38, owns Valencia Street Vintage right next door, but before she opened her shop, she helped David transition Flour + Water to Yellow Moto. During that transition, she was Yellow Moto’s human resources, events, and marketing person, and David adds, earned the title “World’s Best Wife.” 

David is from Abbeyleix, Ireland, and Allison is from Des Moines, Iowa.  They have three kids. “We call them Iowa-ish,” David says. In the back of Allison’s shop is a hangout spot for the children, and on Mondays both shops are closed for family time. Sometimes, the parents will sneak to 20 Spot or Lolo for a date night after work.

Year they met: 2011

Year they married: 2014

They have three kids together. 

David and Allison White, with their daughter. Photo courtesy of Allison White.

The story. 

Back in 2011, Allison tended bar at Bloodhound in SoMa. She crushed on David, who came in on Wednesdays and ordered exactly one drink. The first drink David ordered from Allison was a red hook, but whoops! Allison had to phone her boss, because she didn’t know how to make it. “I was so flustered.”

David then “ignored me for almost a full year before asking me out,” Allison said. But she was hooked by the gentleman 13 years her senior. “I like everything vintage — even my husband.” 

What’s the best part of working together? 

David: I just really like Allison. She’s my best friend. 

Allison: David has a lot of incredible experience, so I feel like I’ve learned so much from him. I can come to him and know that he’s someone I trust, and he often always has the answers … 99 percent of the time. I don’t go to him for fashion advice, though.

What’s it like running separate businesses side by side? 

Allison: I love being next door, it feels like an extension of our house. It just feels really comforting to be able to look over and see that he’s right there and be like, “Can I get two pizzas?”

David: I just like this neighborhood, I like this community, I like that we’re a part of it. After Covid, we’re all rebuilding our lives, and I’m glad we get to do it together. 

How was the Yellow Moto transition? It sounds like Allison was a big part of that. 

David: That was a really, really difficult period of time, unlike any period of time in my whole life. Yeah, Allison was incredibly supportive. She never wavered for a second, at any time, for any reason. 

Allison: Him, believing that I could be a part of it and help was so validating that it made me feel … it was almost like a love language. Like, he’s so experienced, and then him wanting to come to me for advice, felt really nice.

How did opening Valencia Street Vintage go? 

Allison: The entire build of the store, like most of the design, is all him. And it just felt so validating to have his support. [Right before opening the store, I was] sort of freaking out suddenly.

David: We thought we’d open it for a certain amount of money and we ended up going over budget and it wasn’t a big deal. I was like, “It’s okay, it’s almost done. [Let’s] just write the check.” 

Allison: I think anytime you’re close to opening, you’re going to doubt. 

David: Yeah, and I had done it 10 times, whereas this was Allison’s first time, so I recognized it, it was all familiar.

David and Allison White, with their eldest daughters, Daisy and Ruby. Photo courtesy of Allison White.

Yong and Son Yi

Fortune Cleaners at 2751 21st St. by Bryant Street.

Yong, 67, and Son, 67, co-own and operate the family-run business, Fortune Cleaners, which opened at Bryant and 21st streets in 1989. The pair hail from Seoul, Korea, and previously worked in a clothing manufacturing company in Korea before immigrating to the United States in 1986.

Year they met: 1979

Year they married: 1979 

They have a son, who has helped at Fortune Cleaners prior.

Son and Yong Yi in Korea, circa 1997.
Photo courtesy of Yong Yi.

Son and Yong Yi in Fortune Cleaners, February, 2023.
Photo taken by
Annika Hom.

The story.

In South Korea in 1979, a friend introduced Yong and Son. The pair soon realized how much in common they had from growing up in the same region, and connected on many subjects, including favorite foods.

“The thinking is almost the same,” Yong said, giggling. 

Multiple dates confirmed it to her soon-to-be husband: “Looks like [we’re] the same,” Son said. 

What’s the best part of working together? 

Yong: Being here almost all the time. 24 hours every day. [She giggles.] All the time, talking, talking. And he drives me [to and from work]. Always, he drives.  

Son: We talk a lot about the church and the Bible. We love each other for a long time. We never think of separate. We never argue. We worked together in my country, and sometimes I’d get back early, and she’d call me every day. It’s fun, we’re together, it’s fun. Alone, it’s not so fun. We love this job. 

What’s a time you two had an argument, or got on each other’s nerves? 

Son: Sometimes, she says, “I don’t like this.” Then I say, okay, okay, okay. [He waves his hand dismissively.] 

Yong: He talking, talking, talking, talking, too much sometimes. [She laughs.] 

So, how do you fix it? 

Yong: You go like this. [She pretends to put her hands over Son’s mouth.] 

Maria Paula Bautista and Alejandro Bautista circa 1995.

Maria Paula Bautista and Alejandro Bautista, 2020, in front of Il Pollaio.

Photos courtesy of Alejandro Bautista.

Maria Paula Bautista and Alejandro Bautista 

Il Pollaio at 2859 Mission St. between 24th and 25th streets. 

Maria Paula, 48, and Alejandro, 54, are co-owners of the restaurant Il Pollaio. Maria Paula is from Buenos Aires, and Alejandro is from Mexico City. Before opening Il Pollaio, the pair worked at Maria Paula’s parents’ restaurant, Ristorante Castellucci, as a waitress and busser, respectively. (Yes, her parents are still together.) 

Starting dating: 1994

Year they married: 1997

They have two sons, 19 and 17.

The story. 

It all dates back to Ristorante Castellucci, the Italian restaurant in North Beach. 

Alejandro was a busser. Maria Paula was a waitress. They worked several shifts together at Maria Paula’s parents’ restaurant, and that was that. Twenty years of pleasantly working side by side encouraged them to open their own place, which they did once their kids were grown. 

What is one of the best things about working with your partner? 

Maria Paula: One of my favorite things is that we know how to jam together. We know how to move around each other, how to work in close quarters and not step on each other’s toes. 

Alejandro: The dynamic together is good, it’s perfect. 

Maria Paula: Also, we opened during Covid. Having someone who understands the struggle for me was so important. Sometimes you just need a, “oh, come here, let me hug you.”

Alejandro: When it’s a bad day. You [think] “I don’t know if it’s going to work.” And she always tells me, “It’s going to work. It takes more time.” 

Maria Paula: And we can give each other dirty looks, and it’s okay. 

Do you two have any recurring arguments or frustrations? 

Maria Paula: Sometimes my “go-go-go” frustrates him. 

Alejandro: Yeah. 

How do you resolve it? 

Alejandro: Don’t say anything after a few hours! 

Maria Paula: Sometimes, you gotta learn how to shut up!

Olga Boiko and Wilson Jones

CoffeeShop, at 3139 Mission St. near Precita Avenue and 2761 21st St. near Bryant Street.

Olga Boiko, 34, and Wilson Jones, 54, are co-owners of coffee shops CoffeeShop. Boiko is from Sumy, Ukraine, and originally immigrated to California in 2008 to enroll in Golden Gate University’s business school. 

Jones is from Fayetteville, Arkansas, and used to work as a designer. His parents divorced, in part, because his dad desperately wanted to work with his mom, and she said, “hell no.” That did not deter Jones, whose “lifelong dream” was to “have a close partnership with a true partner.” He found Olga. 

The couple briefly operated a coffee shop for a friend in the Mission before launching their own. 

Year they started dating: 2008

Year they married: 2009

They have two children, 10 and 7. (On the interview date, The couple rushed to finish the shift before throwing their 10-year-old’s birthday bash. Olga baked an emoji cake.)

Olga Boiko and Wilson Jones on Muni, circa 2008.
Photo courtesy of Olga Boiko.

Olga Boiko and Wilson Jones hold up the infamous spatula and mini spatula.
Photo by Annika Hom, Feb. 10, 2023.
Wilson Jones and Olga Boiko. Photo courtesy of Wilson Jones.

The story.

Jones and Boiko had a mutual friend, who introduced the two. At the time, Jones was hosting casual yoga classes in his rented Ocean Beach apartment and Olga decided to attend one. The price for a class was a fruit, which Jones would blend up for a smoothie afterward. Boiko was wooed by Jones’s “beach house” and fireplace (“little did she know, I was deeply in debt,” Jones said, waggling his brows) and Jones was charmed by Boiko being a “beautiful” Ukrainian woman. Eventually, the two started dating. “Once I landed Olga, I never did yoga again!” 

What’s the best part about working together? 

Jones: She navigated us through Covid. You know, there are all these icebergs [Jones mimes a jet-skier]. She’s going to the left, she went to the right, and left. She slowed down, and then she hit it, and went really fast. And I watched her do all of that, in that order. It was epic.

Boiko: For me, it’s just someone to rely on. And I know things are going to get done. He’s reliable. He’s always keeping his spirits up. And I know if the situation’s getting tense, I know how to work around that, because I know him personally. I don’t know, it’s just … you feel different about it.

How do you resolve an argument or calm yourselves down? 

Boiko: So, in an argument, it’s like two approaches, fight or flight… or freeze. Wilson’s approach is, remove yourself from the situation. [She laughs.] 

Jones: Yeah, you know, Speedy Gonzales, the little cartoon mouse? Yeah, that’s me. Ka-chew!

Boiko: I like to talk it through later, that’s me. I think I’m good at it. 

Do you have a recent example of an argument? 

Boiko: I asked Wilson to bring me a spatula, for example … 

Jones: This happened 16 minutes ago. I went to two stores, I looked, I looked, I looked. The one I found was only that big. [Mimes an 8-ish-inch spatula.] It was a mini spatula. 

Boiko: I was like, seriously

Jones: At the same time, UPS came and brought her the one she wanted. It was 16 inches tall. See, that’s how she thinks. She’s like, “Honey, give me a spatula.” She’s like, “He’ll fuck that up.” And sure enough, she was right.

Jasdeep and Surinder Dhillon, circa 2008.

Surinder and Jasdeep Dhillon, 2021.

Photos courtesy of Surinder Dhillon.

Surinder and Jasdeep Dhillon 

Tadka Indian Restaurant at 3066 24th St. near Treat Avenue.

Surinder Dhillon, 39 and Jasdeep “Shevy” Dhillon, 36, are co-owners of the Indian restaurant and sports bar Tadka. Though both are originally from Ludhiana, Punjab, India, Jasdeep moved with her family to the United States when she was 6. Surinder immigrated in January, 2011. Prior to opening Tadka, the couple worked as real-estate agents. 

Year they met: 2008

Year they married: 2009 (In Punjab, India.) 

They have a daughter, 11, and a son, 4. 

The story. 

Family friends set up Jasdeep and Surinder transcontinentally. Despite living an ocean apart and having an approximately 13-and-a-half hour time difference between them — Jasdeep was in the United States and Surinder was in Ludhiana — the nascent couple spoke on the phone every night for seven months. Jasdeep flew to Punjab and met Surinder. “It was a love-at-first-sight kinda thing. We just clicked in a way,” Jasdeep said, FaceTiming from their home where she was watching the kids. They married in Punjab on Valentine’s Day, 2009 — today is their 14th anniversary — and stayed for two years before moving back to the United States. 

What’s the best part about working together? 

Jasdeep: Meeting the community together when we had just started. We had a lot of people coming in asking us about the restaurant. And for customers to come back and greet us like, not as the owners, but as friends. 

If I’m not there, they’ll ask my husband, “Oh, hey, where’s Shevy?” [He explains] She’s home taking care of the kids and whatnot. And then, when I’m there, they’re asking me, where’s my husband at? 

Surinder: I mean, there’s a whole lot of challenges that we face when you’re working with somebody outside the business. You have to tell them the same thing over and over, and somebody like my partner, or your wife, they would understand. Same thing. Very easy. You don’t have to beat your head against a wall.

What is an argument you two have had? 

Surinder: I say some things that at times I’m not very proud of, you know what I mean? We try not to go out of the box, but arguments are going to be there.

How do you make amends afterward? 

Jasdeep: Every relationship, you know, has their ups and downs. We try to solve it out, you know, just talking to each other. Things that we did like, and some things that were said or done that we did not like, and just kind of come to an agreement and saying, okay, you know, this is not how it should have been. It should have been the other way around. And then, you know, just meet up in the middle.

Surinder:  Figure that out and try to fix it right away. It might sound like something speaking from the books and all that, [but] it’s so true: Just make the changes within yourself.

Andrea Paz and Raul Rauda 

D’Copper+ at 1017 Valencia St. near 21st Street.

Andrea Paz, 37, and Raul Rauda, 53, are co-owners of the retail copper store D’Copper+. Paz is from Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacán, México, and Rauda is from Berlin, El Salvador. Before the store, the couple worked on a Hornblower Cruise in San Francisco; Rauda as a chef, Paz as a waitress. 

Year they met: 2006

Year they married: 2020

The couple shares Campanita, their dog.

Andrea Paz and Raul Rauda circa 2006, right around their first date.

Andrea Paz and Raul Rauda in D’Copper+ on Feb. 10, 2023. Paz laughs after rejecting Rauda’s suggestion of where to take the photo. Photo taken by Annika Hom.
Raul Rauda and Andrea Paz on their wedding day, Jan. 11, 2020, in Mexico. Photo courtesy of Raul Rauda.

The story.

All aboard the Love Boat. Paz and Rauda met on a Hornblower Cruise in San Francisco, where Paz waited tables and Rauda whisked up whatever cuisine the clients wished. (He still is the couple’s designated cook.) The two opened D’Copper+ in late 2017, where they sell the copperware Andrea’s family has crafted for generations

They put off getting married because Paz believed “paper doesn’t give you commitment.” Raul agreed: “We got married just to have fun.” They held the ceremony just before Covid-19 in Paz’s copper-filled hometown. It was held according to indigenous tradition, fit with flower crowns, freshly burned copal, and both a priest and a shaman. All the jewelry was copper, and ceremonial gifts were given, including a “key” meant to symbolize the ability to “open whatever they commit to.” The key sits at D’Copper+.

What’s the best part about working together? 

Paz: I believe that together we complement each other, even on business. We are most powerful together. I believe I have more [coppersmithing] knowledge than him … but I’m very shy. Sometimes customers approach, and he’s like, “Oh, you should buy this for your wife,” and I’m not like that. I just let them look.

Rauda: When she’s not here, I have big sales. The next day she’s here: No sales. 

What do you two argue about at work? 

Paz: Very, very stupid things. Like today we were cleaning in the front, the windows. I’m this type of person that I always want to get control. I want to tell him how to do it. 

Rauda: Why? Washing windows is so easy. 

Paz: He can do many things in one day, and I can only do like, maybe one, but I want to be like, perfect. So that happens. So, he was cleaning the windows and then I saw, like, dust on the bars. And I was like, “Why don’t you clean this first?” 

Rauda: Like, go back to your side. Let me. There is no reason for you to help me. 

Paz: In the end, I’ll do whatever I want to. [Rauda usually relents, though] he’s just not accepting that he’s doing whatever I like. [She laughs.]

Rauda: Tell her about yesterday, please. Yesterday, I told her, “We parked over there,” and she said, “No, we parked over here.” I said, “okay, let’s go.” We walk all the way down. And she said, “I think we parked in the place that you said.” I said: “I know.”

Paz: That would’ve been a big fight years ago. But now, he’s telling me —

Rauda: I tell her we need the exercise. 

How do you not get sick of each other after working all day together? 

Rauda: As soon as we drive home, I’m asking her what she wants for dinner. That makes it a nice conversation. And then we hold hands, we kiss on the way home, and it’s really nice. But over here, it’s not that. I don’t want to kiss her. [He feigns a grimace.]

Paz: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s like when we’re coworkers, we’re really professional. 

Yeah, that’s how we change it. You know, we’re nice to each other. In life, he’s the one always making me smile. He’s funny. And I’m not like that. I’m more, like, grumpy. 

Rauda: She doesn’t want to laugh, but she doesn’t have a choice.

Raul Rauda and Andrea Paz in 2007, roughly six months into their relationship. Photo courtesy of Raul Rauda.

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. Thank you for gathering all these sweet stories about people who contribute so much to our neighborhood.

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