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.
The first time Michael and Jacky Recchiuti met, they didn't hit it off. Then, on a blind date, they met again and realized they actually liked each other. Clearly meant to be together, they channel their chemistry and boundless creativity into making the chocolates and treats in the Recchiuti Confections family.
How did you meet?
Jacky: We met through an old roommate of mine, when I was working at Campton Place Hotel in the front office.I was roommates with the pastry chef who was very, very good friends with Michael, who was a pastry chef as well, and she introduced us. I was actually a little resistant.
Michael: She didn’t like me at first!
Jacky: He was a little bit too East Coast, he was coming on a little bit too strong. As it turned out, the funny thing was, when my friend tried to set us up and our first meeting didn’t go well. But I completely forgot about him, and he called several weeks or months later, looking for my roommate, and I got to chatting with this really great guy on the phone, not knowing who he was. And he set up a date, and it ended up being Michael after all.
Michael: She was like “Oh, man, you again?”
You didn’t give her chocolates to assuage her?
Michael: At that time, I was more in the pastry realm because I started out as a pastry chef back in Philadelphia. When I moved to San Francisco in '85 or '86, I was working in pastry at Taste Catering and doing a lot of independent wedding cakes and dessert-catered events. I made her a birthday cake.
Jacky: You did! You made me a birthday cake. He wooed me through my appetite. That’s the way to go.
What role do each of you play in the company?
Jacky: I take care more of the sales and business side. So until recently, I was managing the Ferry Building Store and now I’m revamping our customer service and taking care of the corporate wholesale and specialty sales here.
Michael: I deal with operations and I develop new recipes. I’m the guy who fixes equipment, which I enjoy actually.
How do you guys bond over chocolate?
Jacky: One thing we do well together is we conceptualize a lot of new products together. We go around and taste various desserts and pastries from other chocolatiers and just by loving food we develop a lot of flavors together in that way. We also work really closely together as to how we want the finished product to look and the packaging, in which case I work with the designers in translating that. We’re so happy with the designers we’ve worked with because it’s developed the brand and really translated how we wanted it so, so that’s where Michael and I work together. That’s the one overlap area where we’re able to do something creative together.
Michael: Where we also work well together is when Jacky and I do events together, and we just have a lot of fun because you really get a direct experience and contact relationship with the customer. In all the work we do, there are times when it all seems really hard and difficult, being in a relationship and running a company together, but it all makes sense at that point when you meet people who say “Oh this is great, it must be really cool to run this business together as a couple” and we’re like “Well it can be!”
What’s the best thing about working with your spouse? The worst thing?
Michael: I think that sometimes the most difficult thing is that it’s hard to separate it and not bring it home with you. We’re getting better at that. It’s at the point where one of us will say to the other, let’s stop talking about work and just go out and do something. We’ll do that for a little while and then we’ll start talking about work again! [Jacky laughs]
Jacky: What helps too is, as time goes by, we’re meeting more couples that work together. Getting to know them and laugh about the silliness of what we allow to get under our skins-- it’s kind of a support group where we know that other couples who are going through the same thing. In the beginning, there was that feeling of isolation, as if we were the only people who were experiencing this, like “What’s wrong with us? We should be able to handle it better” so I think just reaching out and knowing other couples who are going through the same thing and having a laugh over it has really lightened it up.
If anyone might know, it would be you: is chocolate really an aphrodisiac?
Michael: Well you get really horny eating it….[Michael and Jacky laugh] Sorry!
Jacky: That’s awful! [laughs] Well I think there is something still very romantic about chocolate making and consuming. Technically, it’s very scientific and that does take a lot of the romance out of it, but the execution of being able to create the perfect romantic gift for someone keeps it romantic. When I was at the [Ferry Building] store, there’d be many a time where a frantic husband would come into the store and say “I’m in such deep s***, what do you have to help me?” The awakening of the man to know that in order to get himself out of that deep hole is to buy his wife or girlfriend is to buy her a perfectly romantic box of chocolates, to me, is an aphrodisiac in itself.
What do you do to get away from the business?
Michael: Travel, definitely travel. Go far away.
Jacky: Another thing that we do frequently is whenever we can see a show --whether it’s music, going to museums or the theatre--anything that’s outside of food but still within the arts, is a nice escape for us. And they’re all great resources for us to get our creative resources going, so we can translate ideas we ideas we might have seen back into the business, whether it be packaging or flavor concepts.
Jacky: Our most recent trip we went to Australia. Michael’s got family there, and they’re really, really big foodies and just the influence of some of the foods we had there was big. They have the most incredible cheeses there, just as we do here, and there were some really great goat cheeses and we were thinking of using goat’s milk as another medium for us play around with.
Michael: We just saw Nick Cave’s band Grinderman at the Warfield, and it totally cleared all the cobwebs out of our heads. It was like being chased with a chainsaw. We had a really good time, and you don’t have time to think about anything besides what you’re experiencing. If we’re really going to get away from work and not think about it, we just want to submerge ourselves in something that’s going to draw us in completely.
Jacky: And Michael’s also a percussionist. We actually have three drum sets here at work, so if he needs the time to just bang away, that’s what he does.
Michael: I try to get the anger out on the drums. Whatever outlet we can find to make it all work.
Any advice for couples who run a business together, or are thinking about it?
Michael: Hmm…don’t’ do it! [laughs]
Jacky: No that’s silliness! The biggest relief I’ve had, and this is pretty mundane actually, is that we’ve been working with various consultants. Although we’re too small a company to hire in our own HR staff, I think the best decision we’ve made recently is to have an HR consultant who can actually who can field all of what's necessary to hire people you need but also find people who are more like-minded in culture and the way we do business because we aren’t your standard business model; we need to find a happy medium. Finding a good consultant is definitely the way to go because they keep you on track and still allow you to be yourself and will bring people who believe in your business to you.
Michael: Yes, I think it’s very important to understand what your strong points are and where you need help. Our egos get in the way and we think we can do it all ourselves, but then you realize that you only have a certain set of tools you can work with. And that’s why there are other people out there to help. It helps the relationship and removes some of the stress, like a pressure valve’s been released. And I think it’s really important for people to ask for help when they need it. And there’s even a lot of help out there that doesn’t cost any money, it is like a form of marriage counseling.
What are your favorite chocolates to give friends and family for the holidays?
Michael: The one thing I’m really excited about is just starting to take off. One of my favorite chocolates when I was a kid were Junior Mints, and I still like them. So I was trying to create a more adult version of Junior Mints, called Peps that have quality ingredients with fresh mint. Get a box of those and go to the movies. It’s this utlimate pure mint flavor enrobed in chocolate.
I’m also really excited about the Caramels to the Third Power box. We have the fleur de sel caramel, which is kind of our claim to fame, and there's a butterscotch with salt, and a chocolate caramel. It’s nice to have a box with fewer selections because people won’t end up fighting over it. If you’re a couple you won’t have to cut them in half!