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Bay Area 'Power Couples': Craig & Annie Stoll

It's hard to start a business in the Bay Area. And even harder to make it successful. We're inspired by the couples who have done it together and have decided to highlight them every week in our new "Bay Area Power Couples" blog series. Check back on Fridays for Q&A's with the couples who run some of our favorite local businesses.

Last week we sat down with Matt & Lena Reynoso of the Compound Gallery and this week we chat with Craig and Annie Stoll of Delfina and Pizzeria Delfina.

Since they met in the late 90s and married in May 2000, Craig and Annie Stoll have continually hatched ideas to push the SF culinary scene into the future with three (soon to be four) wildly successful restaurants. Here's what they had to say about working together.

Which one of you was behind the Delfina idea?

Craig Stoll: We had both wanted to open a restaurant all our lives. When we met we decided to open one together shortly after. It wasn't necessarily sparked, it was something we always knew we wanted to do.

Your restaurants are some of the most popular in the city. When the going gets rough, how do you two deal with the challenges that come your way?

Craig Stoll: We talk things out. Annie's an incredible communicator. Me, not as much. Because of that, it works incredibly well.

Annie Stoll: Each day you ask, "What problems am I going to solve today?", not "I hope today is problem-free." We have eachother, so no matter how bad it gets, I have him to talk through things and be on my side. We've seen so much, but sometimes things still surprise us. Sometimes if I'm really stressed out I'll look at Craig and he'll say "It's going to be okay" and I'll say, "You promise?'" It's just great to know he'll be there.

What are the best and worst things about working with your spouse?

Craig: The best thing is that we get to see eachother all the time. The worst thing is its hard to leave work behind. It can be hard for things to be just about us.

Annie: The best is that we can really understand what the other is going through. If he says, "Let's have a date at 9" and it's 11pm and he's still not home, I know where his heart is. I know where he is and why he's there. If he were a lawyer or something, it would be more like "You said you'd be home at 9, what the hell?" The worst is, if we're on a date, sometimes we end up talking about work. It's hard not to think about work, and we try not to talk about it in front of our daughter.

How do you two come up with ideas for Delfina and future projects? Is it a collaborative effort?

Craig: For Delfina, we're constantly coming up with new things. The only constant at Delfina is change. It drives our staff crazy. I'll leave work at 9 with a bag of food and a bottle of wine, and we'll just talk about ideas and things. After a bottle of wine, the ideas really start flowing. We do that quite a bit with a staff too.

Annie: We live in this idea, it's our life. And it's such a great business, with food and wine and friends. Craig always wanted to do a pizzeria, but we almost did a gelateria for the California street space. For the fourth spot [Valencia and 16th, in the former Ramblas space], we always wanted that location. We've been after it for years and finally the owner came to us about it.

How do you escape from the business? What other things do you two like to do together?

Craig: We love down time. We have an eight year old daughter, Lucy, who's busy with school and sports. As a family we love dinner at home.

Annie: That's our favorite time. Every Sunday night is really sacred because we have our family dinner. Craig cooks, I do the dishes, and Lucy sets the table. We get to sit around and talk.

Do you have any favorite dinner date spots in the city?

Annie: We have a handful, we like to try new places and see our friends. We especially like Bistro Aix when we come back from trips and Thep Phanom on Fillmore and Waller.

Can you offer any advice to couples who work together, or are thinking about it?

Craig: Communication's huge and it's good if you complement eachother. Annie's front, I'm back all the time. I see couples who say, "we'd kill eachother, we could never work together." Annie was just away for a week and the restaurant felt empty without her. I mean, separation's nice, but I just felt like it wasn't the same without her.

Annie: Either it works or it doesn't. There's no middle ground. Just be there for eachother. Just have time for your marriage and yourselves. Family time is the most important for the three of us, and our daughter knows that.