For Valentine’s Day, we spoke to Brooklyn couples in food about working together and living together—and how it all balances out. First up is the vegan couple behind Chickpea & Olive, makers of perfect jackfruit sandwiches, beet burgers and shoestring fries (great for hangovers and all other times) you can pick up at Whole Foods Market Gowanus or at Smorgasburg when it returns.
They met while working at West Village restaurant Dell’anima in 2010—Danielle Ricciardi as a bartender and server, Daniel Strong in the kitchen as a line cook—and began dating the next year. He wasn’t vegan at the time, but in his attempts to woo her with his cooking, he ended up trying it out for himself and losing 50 pounds. In 2012, they launched their business and have been growing it ever since, with lines of ready-to-cook jackfruit and beet “meat” available at Whole Foods now. Here, our chat about what it’s like to blur the lines of work and romance.
Edible Brooklyn: How did you meet?
Daniel Strong: [To Danielle] You take this one.
Danielle Ricciardi: Dan had been pursuing me for a long time. He started wooing me—it really started while dancing at Corner Bistro.
EB: And you, Daniel, became vegan for her?
DS: That was part of the process. I didn’t intend to go vegan, per se, but I wasn’t opposed. I wanted to be able to surprise her with home-cooked meals. One day I went over to her apartment at like nine in the morning and threw pebbles at her window and when she finally let me in, I had an assortment of homemade spreads, toasts, bean dips.
DR: He showed up with breakfast and I was like, “Oh, hey.” Obviously I was vegan, and he started eating with me and started losing weight—he lost 50 pounds—and he started feeling better. Once we were dating, we also weren’t drinking every night anymore, partying very hard.
DS: My last two carnist meals, one was at a steakhouse and it was a very depressing staff-management meal. My boss got really drunk and embarrassed everyone. My second to last meal was at a hot-dog-eating competition. After eating eight hot dogs in twelve minutes, I never wanted to eat another piece of meat again.
EB: When did you decide to start Chickpea & Olive?
DS: I got into some trouble at work and decided Danielle and I ought to make some moves. I approached her and said, “Maybe we should start a business?” She said, “Maybe,” and two days later I gave my notice.
DR: That really forced my hand on that, but it all worked out perfectly. We were really trying to figure out what the hell we were doing for a long time and we were first thinking of doing a vegan version of Dell’anima—
DS: Mediterranean, Spanish, Italian, French bistro-y…
DR: I was thinking Italian the whole time, with an amazing wine and cocktail list.
DS: I wanted a tour of the Riviera.
DR: And then we started doing catering and just hustling and taking any job that was coming our way. Then we found Smorgasburg.
DS: When we found Smorgasburg, they didn’t have a veggie burger. So that’s when we said, “Boom. We’re doing a veggie burger.”
EB: So you guys have been working together throughout your whole relationship.
DR: It’s been quite a challenge. I actually tell people to not go into business with their partners.
DS: It takes a lot of grit.
DR: It’s just hard to find a separation of work and life. It’s all jumbled. It’s a daily struggle.
DS: We lay in bed at night and Danielle will roll over and hit me and say, “We should do this sandwich tomorrow.”
DR: That is pretty much how it happens, because I’m always thinking about food. But that can also turn into an argument because he’ll say, “I don’t want to think about work right now!” and I’ll say, “I’m just hungry!”