Three couples share their secrets of running a successful business togetherBy Marisa Briggett • Photography by Betty Wiley
The term “work spouse” has entered the vernacular to describe a couple who spend so much time together at work they know each other as well as if they were married. What happens when work spouses are actual spouses, spending 24-7 together? Meet some couples who share two kitchens, one at home and one at work. They are the restaurateurs behind some of the Cape’s most successful restaurants (and marriages).
Cape Sea Grille
The four Ramler boys (ages 8 to 12 years old) wolf down seared duck breast with pomegranate demi-glace with as much enthusiasm as they eat George’s Pizza and hot dogs. Their adventuresome palates probably result from growing up in and around their parents’ restaurant, the Cape Sea Grille, which specializes in creative American cuisine. “There hasn’t been a time since we opened the restaurant that I haven’t either been pregnant or had young children,” says Jennifer Ramler, who owns the restaurant with her husband, chef Doug Ramler. As babies, each of the boys was passed around the Sea Grille’s dining room. So it’s no surprise that the Ramler boys have absorbed a healthy respect for good cuisine. In fact, it’s not unusual for them to make their own omelets before school.
Jennifer and Doug Ramler were friends at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. They reconnected years after college, after Doug had gone to culinary school at Johnson & Wales in Vail, Colo., and returned to the Boston area—Doug was born in Boston and grew up in Worcester—to work at Hamersley’s Bistro in the South End and Gargoyles in Davis Square. At the same time, Jennifer discovered that she wasn’t cut out for the 9-to-5 life that her master’s degree in biostatistics had otherwise prepared her for. She asked him, “Wouldn’t it be great to move to a fun town and open up a restaurant?” He readily agreed, saying “The Cape or Montana?”
Jennifer thought Montana was too far, but the Cape sounded about right. They had started looking seriously for a good space when their Realtor brought them to a 19th-century sea captain’s house by the water’s edge in Harwichport. As she nudged Doug out of excitement, she remembers thinking, “This is exactly what we were looking for!”
They moved into the small apartment upstairs (as the family has grown, they’ve since moved a couple of miles away) and set to work renovating the space and inventing their restaurant. Cape Sea Grille has been racking up accolades and great reviews ever since.The family is expanding this summer with the introduction of—not a baby—a food truck. Doug and Jennifer bought a used FedEx truck during school vacation week last February in Miami. Jennifer and the boys boarded the plane back to Massachusetts, while Doug relinquished his plane ticket and drove the truck to Rochester, N.Y., where it was reincarnated as a food truck. He left sunny Miami in shorts. He arrived in Rochester where the thermometer read 3 degrees. When you’re a restaurant owner and the father of four boys, you learn to accept the extremes.
The food truck, dubbed the Salt Block Food Truck (“Because the food is worth its weight in salt,” says Jennifer), will be making its way around Harwich and will feature elevated lunch fare: fish tacos, arancini, spicy fries, pressed sandwiches, and Caesar salad with the fried polenta croutons that the restaurant’s customers go crazy over.
After 13 years running the business, the couple still loves working together. In particular, Jennifer says she loves seeing Doug’s passion for the restaurant. “This is his dream,” she says. “Imagine it’s 120 degrees on the line, he’s been cooking every single night, and he still has a smile on his face at the end of the night. It’s inspiring.”