When you marry a passionate chef you must know one day you’ll be in the restaurant business. And that’s exactly where Wendy Weinstein Karp ended up. But her path was leading her there anyway. Beginning her career in the food and beverage industry, her mission was to introduce San Pellegrino beverages to North America. The project was so successful it became a case study for the Cornell Business School. And then she was asked to take the same model globally. Newly married, she and her husband, Matt Karp, moved to Milan to take San Pellegrino to the global market – what better place for a chef to hone his craft. After three years, a merger deal on the table and a baby in the oven, Wendy and Matt decided it was time to come home and settle down, so she took the exit. Not wanting to give up her passion for advising clients on how to take products to the market, she took on consulting projects for large firms.
It was then time to put her husband’s passion to the test. He has worked for David Bouley at the renowned Bouley Restaurant in New York for more than 6 years and was ready for his own kitchen. Finding a unique building in Larchmont, Wendy suggested they buy the building so profits weren’t being eaten up by rent. A charming landmark building on the pond near town was renovated to provide the downtown yet down home, setting for Plates, the name a take-off on the plates they had collected from a myriad of restaurants around the world. Talk about a partnership. Wendy was in charge of the business end of things, being crowned “Chairman of the Bordeaux“ marketing, financials, legal, and Matt was in charge of the day to day, the kitchen, food and staff. Wendy says, “He cooks and I cook the books.” And now throw three young girls into the mix and you’ve got some soup.
The building has a small attic room that Wendy converted to a playroom and sleeping loft. On many nights the girls come to work with mom in their pjs. With their parents working downstairs, they can fall asleep and be carried home after the last diners leave. This works. Not only that, the girls have a big sense of ownership of Plates, spending a lot of time there and feeling a part of the success.
Wendy says, “Working with your husband is not for the weak-kneed but the reward is our own business.” And the restaurant has become a well known establishment with many accolades including Best New Restaurant 2005, Best Wine Program 2007, Best Dessert 2009 (Westchester Magazine) and an excellent review from the New York Times. Where does Wendy find her gratification? “I always wanted my own business. After years of consulting for other firms, to be able to create your own brand and bring it to the marketplace; now that’s exciting.” In these difficult economic times, it’s Wendy’s job to get diners in the door and catering assignments. So she creates innovative marketing ideas like the “Your Holiday Party” night where smaller firms can group together to enjoy cocktails at the bar with other small businesses for that big party feel and then dine with their co-workers. Or the (Your) Wine Wednesdays – BYOB and no corkage fee. This is what Wendy thrives on – coming up with unique ideas. “The marketing showcases my voice, my writing, my point of view. The opportunity to express myself from a business and creative stand point is where I find my fulfillment.”
Wanting fresh local produce, 4 years ago Wendy and Matt started the Larchmont Farmer’s Market, as if they didn’t have enough on their plates. They completed the process and turned it over to a manager and now they are one of the vendors offering fresh fish, their own baked breads and Matt’s famous pulled pork sandwiches. Wendy believes in being a locavore – eating what’s local, fresh and from the farmer. She steers away from any packaged or processed foods for her girls. The market on Saturdays in the Larchmont train station parking lot is huge now and provides food products from the surrounding area.
The chance to give life to a vision and have the whole family involved has been the best reward of all. Hearing that the restaurant serves handmade pasta, freshly baked breads, uses their own infused oils and vinegars for fish and meats, and makes fresh gelato every day – I’m starved, let’s go.
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In a business that could eat up family time, find a way to make your venture a family affair.