For Valentine’s Day, we spoke to a few Brooklyn couples in food about working together and living together—and how it all balances out.
First, we talked to the vegans behind Chickpea & Olive, then the bread experts at Gristmill. Today, we go up to Greenpoint to talk to the mad geniuses behind pumped-up diner Hail Mary: Sohla El-Waylly and husband Ham El-Waylly. Sohla runs the pastry and cocktail programs, making her the force behind their newly iconic funfetti cake covered in long, flavorful house-made sprinkles (and I know from experience that she’ll make you a killer flaming birthday cocktail if you’re vegan); while it’s Ham in the kitchen cooking up the beloved fried chicken. Here, we talk about how they’ve made working together work.
Edible Brooklyn: How did you guys meet?
Sohla El-Waylly: We met in culinary school—CIA in Hyde Park. We had the exact same schedule.
Ham El-Waylly: We got married after externship and when we got back, we moved off campus, so we actually needed to have every class together. That’s when they fought us and tried to not put us in any of the same classes.
EB: And how do divide your work here?
SE: Well, it’s changed since we opened the restaurant. When we opened, we tried to do everything together. We came up with all the dishes together and worked on the front of house together. But now, further down the line, we realized it’s better to divide it. It just makes it a lot easier for staff as well, because they’re hearing the same thing from one person. So now Ham does the food and I do the front, beverage and pastry.
HE: It’s definitely a lot better having a clear divide. You end up with less camels. Because there is a clear direction that everything goes in, because we have different point of views on a lot of things.
EB: Is there an example of where you veer in different directions?
SE: Culinarily, we have really strong perspectives that are different. Like I really like American classics with a little influence from my background. But I really like American comfort food.
HE: I like to veer more towards fine dining, as opposed to just general comfort with more Asian slants. So very, very different.
SE: Polar opposites.
EB: Well, it does seem that that comes together in the menu.
[In unison]: It didn’t in the beginning.
HE: That’s because there’s a clear divide. People were coming in and just feeling very confused. They didn’t know where they were, because they’d get a plated soup with a lot of garnishes and then a super-sloppy cheeseburger, and it was all just super weird. It didn’t really mesh.
EB: So you find that it makes more sense to people to find more composed dishes on the savory side, and then, with dessert, a more homey vibe?
SE: Dessert and cocktails are where people seem to be more adventurous, so I can make things look really stupid and it’s fine.
HE: They both mesh when we’re working independently; they mesh together better than when we’re kind of working on everything at the same time. You can bring a cocktail with a dessert and a dish together.
SE: We also found we just work, like think very differently. I do everything in my head and Ham needs to touch food. So we’ve figured that out now and we have a good way of communicating.
EB: What comes home with you from the restaurant, or do you have clear lines?
SE: No lines. Both of our parents work together. The dinner table was always work, so we don’t know anything else.
HE: The discussions that we start here, we end up finishing at home. The discussions that start at home, we end up finishing here. There are zero lines.