Bay Area Power Couples: Felipe and Liza Sandoval of Maya Restaurant
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 "Bay Area Power Couples" blog series.
Opened in 1999, Maya Restaurant quickly became one of the best Mexican fine dining destinations in the city, and a nationally-recognized and family-run one at that. It's helmed by the husband-wife team Felipe and Liza Sandoval, who are different sides of the same coin: Felipe's savvy business skills and shy demeanor perfectly complement Liza's bubbly, front-of-house charisma. Hope on over for their delicious authentic dishes and celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a few margaritas from their bar!
When and how did you meet?
LIZA: We met in 1985 in Emilia's Restaurant in Lido Island in Newport Beach California, introduced by mutual friends.
You guys were one of the early upscale Mexican eateries in SF. Who came up with the idea for Maya?
FELIPE: We were living in Acapulco, Mexico, where I was running two family restaurants (one which was an upscale Mexican Restaurant called Madeiras) with my brother Chef Richard Sandoval. My brother moved to New York to open Maya in the Upper East Side and after it became a great success we moved to San Francisco to open Maya San Francisco.
What roles do each of you play in day-to-day operations at Maya?
LIZA: I am the General Manager and in charge of day-to-day operations, Felipe is more in the background. I am a people person so I run the front of the house and interact with guests on a personal level, while Felipe is in charge of back of the house and making sure that the operations run smoothly.
How do you two keep each other sane during the day-to-day craziness of owning a restaurant?
LIZA: I think one of the challenges of being a couple and working together is that you don't really have your separate spaces - you're together all the time. That’s one of the reasons, besides our personality differences, that we manage two different parts of the restaurant. We keep each other sane by giving each other the space to do what the other needs to do! It wouldn't work if we were side-by-side, day in, day out - we would go crazy! By "staying away" from each other, we are able to really utilize our personality strengths in making sure the restaurant runs smoothly. When crucial things need to get done though, we have that other person there instantly to help make tough decisions. It's nice to have that individual freedom - but know you've got your partner there when you need them.
What would Maya be like if the two of you weren't running it together?
FELIPE: It would not be a family run restaurant which gives our guests an atmosphere we think is important. There’s a lot of soul and history in a restaurant that’s been open for over 10 years, and while we may not be your typical “mom n’ pop” setup, we are a family-run business.
What's the best and worst thing about working with your spouse?
FELIPE: The best is we are together most of the day and the worst is we are together most of the day. It changes every day.
Worst fight you've had over business-related issues?
FELIPE: It took me a long time and many fights to convince Liza (she does not like changes) to switch Maya from an upscale restaurant to a casual restaurant with all entrees under $20 dollars. We did this two years ago and the changes took about six months. Now we offer an entire menu for under $20, including a three-course $18 prix-fixe that’s been really popular!
What do you do to get away from the business, or even each other for rest and relaxation?
LIZA: We entertain at home and travel with our son who will soon be leaving to a university.
Any advice for couples who run businesses together, or are thinking about it?
FELIPE: Each should be in charge of separate areas that overlap the least possible and respect each other’s decisions.