I couldn’t be more excited to introduce you to Aaron and Andrea Barnett, the next couple in the newest series on the blog, My Other Half. Aaron is a chef and the owner of the reputable, beautiful, unfussy French restaurant, St. Jack, here in Portland. Andrea is a former librarian, stay-at-home mom, writes a blog, and (it would go-without-saying) a rock to her family.
When I wrote Andrea to see if she and Aaron would be interested in being a part of this series, I knew it was a long-shot and wasn’t expecting a response really. My dad used to own a restaurant (and has always worked in the food industry in one way or another), so I’m not naive to the hours. I know time is always coveted. So when they responded with a yes, I. was. floored. They were incredibly generous, invited us into their lovely home, and gave us a morning to get to know the two of them, their two sweet dogs, Bradley and June, and their amazing two-year-old son, Ewan. He’s a book lover like his mama and can already recognize words (!).
It’s with great pleasure I invite you all to hear the story of how Aaron and Andrea met, the challenges and rewards of owning a restaurant and being a family, and how they do it all with an authenticity and grace that will stick with me…
What are three facts about Aaron that you love or that people may not know about him?
1. He was actually studying to be a vet before he became a chef. But he was bad at calculus, so he decided to become a chef.
2. His favorite food is pickled herring straight out of the jar.
3. He’s a very gentle person. He looks very big and threatening but really when you get to know him (and why his employee’s are so loyal) he’s actually very gentle and kind-hearted.
What are three facts about Andrea that you love or that people may not know about her?
1. Grew up in Korea for a chunk of her life.
2. She’s an amazing singer.
3. She knows a ridiculous amount about food for someone who really hates to cook.
I would love to hear the story of how you both met from each of your perspectives… Aaron, how did you meet Andrea?
We met when I was 20 and she was 16. I didn’t know that though. So I used to go to this coffee shop all the time and she used to go there as well. One night I saw her there and was enamored and thought she was beautiful. So I walked up and asked if I could sit with her. I was a bad egg at that point in my life so all her friends advised against it.
It was the middle of winter and a few of my friends were going to have a New Year’s party, and we found out that her friends were also throwing a New Year’s party. I convinced the two groups to combine the parties so I could be with her again. Our first kiss was at midnight on New Years Eve.
Andrea, how did you meet Aaron?
I saw Aaron at the coffee shop multiple times and he seemed very mature. I was reading Anna Karenina but wasn’t getting anywhere. I read the same sentence over and over again. I was awkward and introverted and didn’t really know what to do. So when he finally asked if he could sit with me my jawed dropped. It’s pretty much the same story… somehow all our friends decided to throw the party together and we’ve been together ever since. Seventeen years.
What is the biggest challenge, relationally, of owning a restaurant?
Aaron: Mostly hours and time. The restaurant business isn’t easy. The schedule isn’t conducive to family life. Having a child has changed my priorities a lot. I’ve started hiring more.
Andrea: Our schedule is the opposite of most people. I am solo parenting in the evening, and most people aren’t. There are gains and losses. When I start comparing my life to other people’s it can be very discouraging. But, at the same time, Ewan has time with his dad in the morning. They get to go to the park together. Not every kid gets that.
Aaron: Trying to be present. I spend the entirety of my day making decisions so I don’t really want to at home. Andrea takes care of a lot of that so I can just be present when I’m home.
It’s a lifestyle choice, its not just a job. I wouldn’t recommended it to anyone. It’s not for everyone, but for the people it is for you don’t really choose it. It chooses you. You just accept it for what it is. It’s your life.
Conversely, what is the biggest joy?
Andrea: You have a very different sense of what family is. Your restaurant staff becomes part of your family. If you’re in the business there’s an automatic kinship and connection with the other people in the business, whether they work for you or not. You can relate and take care of each other.
Whenever you go out to eat they treat you like family and vice versa. It’s nice to feel buoyed by a community. When we first went out to eat after Ewan was born we went to Biwa and the owner held our little 4 week old our entire meal for us.
Aaron: I didn’t start cooking until I was 25. I’ve only been doing this 9 years. It’s very much a learned skill. So to be able to do something and make it work in a way that makes people happy and have a life is really rewarding.
How as becoming parents changed your relationship?
There’s more logistics now. We can’t be as spontaneous. Ewan needs a lot of structure and running a restaurant is not structured. It’s hard figuring out how to marry the two. Trying to find ways to spend time together and for Andrea to have time to herself. Right now, it’s working ok but three months ago it was really hard. It’s a moving target. If two people are patient enough and kind enough to deal, it works ok.
What do you guys love about Portland? Favorite date night place(s)?
Andrea loves Expatriate. Kyle was the bar manager at our original location.
Pho Oregon is a weekly go-to. The owner loves French food and Aaron loves Vietnamese so they talk shop. Biwa, Deruma Sushi, Lardo, Frice Pastry. We love pizza night at Nedd Ludd, PREAM. Aaron loves Tanuki. It’s amazing.
What is your best advice to staying connected as a couple?
It’s really important to check in all day long. Talking about the tiny details because it all matters. No matter how small. So then we feel like we’re with each other. And then staying present when we’re actually together. Sometimes that means sacrificing sleep.
It’s also important to find what works for you and not constantly comparing yourself to other people. It feels weird to be giving advice when my main advice would be to figure out what works for you and be proud of it. Comparison is the thief of joy. That’s like the number one thing I’ve learned. I should have that cross stitched above my door.
Thank you so much for being a part of My Other Half, Aaron and Andrea! It was such an honor to have you.
All photography by the talented Alyssa Elliott.