Meshelle Armstrong’s Story

Happy August Everyone!  Can you believe this summer is beginning it’s wind down? Say it ain’t so, it went so fast!

I feel very blessed to be able to say that I have, in the FIRST year of launching Married to a Chef, had the honor of featuring two of my Top 5 significant others in the Washington DC Metro area. Being a hard core fan of Old Town Alexandria, Virginia (including getting married there!) – it’s not long before you hear the word on the street about this restaurant you HAVE to try, situated NOT on the main drag in Old Town, but set off it’s main thoroughfare. I remember my first inquiry into Restaurant Eve, hearing that it was booked months (even a year?) in advance. Okay. Message received. This place is NOT to miss. For me, It’s when I saw the owners of Eve open Eammons that I was officially obsessed. Both so different in their style but focused on doing what they do best. I kept hearing “Award Winning Restaurant” and “Featured Chef” whenever Eve was discussed. SO it became my mission to feature the other half of this dynamic duo, the co-owner and partner, the TRUE back of the house in this restaurant relationship, Meshelle Armstrong.

Meshelle takes a hands on approach in all of their restaurants, from design to marketing to how the restaurants going to be run. Her “my co-workers are my family” sense about her makes her very approachable, but you can tell her wit and wisdom from the many years in the industry have made her revered, not just as an owner, but as a mother of two and wife of celebrated chef, Cathal Armstrong. As a regular writer for Northern Virginia Magazine, her articles are full of both laugh out loud moments as well as tell all grit, sharing with those that do not know what life in the restaurant industry is REALLY like. Let me tell ya, this is a busy lady! She almost slipped through my fingers, as their many projects (including opening up another Old Town Restaurant Virtue Feed & Grain) has kept her very busy. Understandable, this pair have a LOT of exciting things going on. So I let out a collective sigh of relief when she so graciously answered our infamous 5 questions, of which I am SO excited to share with you all.

Everyone, I give you, Meshelle…   

Photo by Ralph Alswang

 What were your first impressions when you first realized that by being with your restaurant man/woman, that you have become a part of the restaurant world?

I met Cathal while I managed a restaurant in Adams Morgan in the nineties called Cities, (a restaurant ahead of it’s time) It was a restaurant that spent one year bringing the flavors of a signature city to the people, the space got a makeover with each destination change and I was also in charge of the design.

The current city was Palermo and Cathal was was ‘on loan’ to us from New Heights (a very important restaurant to the Washington dining scene by the way) to make pizzas at the bar which was situated conveniently across from the front Host desk where I was usually perched

He had recently arrived from Ireland and I had just seen the movie, The Commitments (a great movie about a young band who brought soul music to the people of Dublin, Ireland) I was immediately fascinated with the Irish never having been there and I believe it was fate that Cathal was sent to Cities soon after I saw the movie. –So really, he became part of my world.

When did you know that you had what it took, within the parameters of his/her career, to find success in your relationship?

At the end of one of our first ‘dates’ (if that’s what you called, going out with a crew of pals, smoking, dancing and boozing the clubs back then) he told me he owned a restaurant when he was only 19. (Again, fascinated) It closed for the reasons it would –being only 19 and owning a restaurant. He told me it was his life and he wanted to do it again, but this time , only after he learned how to do it the right way. I admired that he was not afraid to learn from his mistakes, it made him even stronger and that drew me even to him. My plan was to always become a restaurateur it was clear to me even prior to Cathal. But when I met him I instinctively knew we were meant to be. As it’s as if God, said, “Here, here’s your path, and he’s part of it.”

What is the BEST part of being married to someone in the restaurant industry? The really great food and flowing wine.

How do you handle the holidays knowing you are both going to be so busy at work?

We make it work. When it’s time to stop, we just stop. We make sure that we allow other families to do the same. Especially at Christmas time, It’s important and since we are fortunate and blessed to own our restaurants, for 5 days during this period – we close. Sure we could make loads of money during that time, it’s one of the busiest seasons, but as I’ve learned as I’ve aged time does’t come back.

How has achieving acclaim and success, within the restaurant industry, changed your relationship?

It’s always a balance. I treat the relationship like a business, I believe you have to. “Love” is not enough to make things work well. If that sounds harsh nor unromantic then chances are you aren’t married for as long as we’ve been. You have to work at it, focus, nurture, make it grow. Then know when to take a break so you can come back with a fresh attitude. Success to me = 18 wonderful, crazy, hard, funny and loving years together as a couple.