The Dish on Love

Three Philly couples get frank and intimate in sharing their recipes for romance.

15 min read
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Working in the restaurant industry is something of a high-stakes balancing act. Sometimes the balance is literal: you're carrying a tray of precariously perched mimosas to a table of hungover college students in a mad brunch rush. But just as often it's existential: you're trying to have, you know, a life.

Dating, let alone sustaining a relationship, can feel at bitter odds with so much of restaurant life. There are the long nights made longer by that one lingering table. There are very few days off. There is the fact that occasions reserved by most civilians for kicking back and connecting — weekends, holidays — are your busiest time. There are the notoriously strained tempers. 

Yet, much like restaurant work, romance is an act of inspiration and improvisation with a history of beating out long odds. Here, three couples discuss how their relationships have flourished amid the chaos of the kitchen.  


Phila and Rachel Lorn (pictured above) are the team behind Mawn, a Southeast Asian restaurant they've run together since 2022, where he is head chef and she serves as manager (while also being the director of banquets at the Logan Hotel). The couple met in 2011 and married in 2017. They have a two-year-old son, Otis. 

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Since 2015, Chad and Hanna Williams have co-owned Friday Saturday Sunday, winner of the 2023 James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant, where he is the head chef and she's the front-of-house manager. Together since 2007, they got married (in the restaurant's kitchen!) in 2016 and have a four-year-old daughter, Ruby.

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Andrew Farley has been a chef at Enswell, an all-day cafe in Rittenhouse, since 2023. His girlfriend, Ashlee Ballard, is a therapist (who worked front-of-house in restaurants until 2022). The couple have been dating since 2021 and have a dog, Carlos. 


Do you remember your first impressions of each other? 

Phila Lorn: So, I was a little bit rough in the kitchen. Maybe a little harsh on people. But when I met her, she wasn't going to take it. It was kind of the first time someone was like, "No, dude." And so I was like, "You want to grab a beer?"

Hanna Williams: I thought he was super handsome, very charming. He still is.

Chad Williams: I remember asking her to make my espressos or cappuccinos. I'd wait for her to get to the restaurant where we both worked and then ask for one, just to interact with her. I thought, Maybe there is something there

Ashlee Ballard: I think the first time Andrew ever met me I was crying in the break room at Fork, where we worked together in 2018. We had a really good rapport and we just got along really well. We listened to a lot of the same music and bonded over that. 

Conflict, familiar to anyone who has worked in a kitchen, is also part of all relationships. How do you guys navigate it? 

Phila Lorn: We do a really good job of separating business and personal — church and state. We also have a safe word or a pause word.

Rachel Lorn: If we are arguing about something that has to do with a work-related issue, we make a conscious effort to squash that before we get in the car and go home. When we worked together at Zama, we would go into the walk-in freezer, and it was mostly me screaming at him. It was never a bad fight — something service-related. But we'd deal with that before we got home.

Hanna Williams: We've been together so long at this point that I know when he's mad and he knows when I'm mad. So we choose a day and a time that we're going to work through that. You can't go into the next day still angry, because you have service.

Andrew Farley: I think we've maybe had only four arguments ever, and it's all about work. It's definitely hard. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't have past relationships where I've heard "I'm not going to be with you if you keep doing this job."

Ashlee Ballard: He's just been so busy with opening the restaurant and having to take care of everything. We're not able to talk as much as I want. I just try to remind myself how much Andrew loves his job and is so passionate about it. I do want more time, but I also know I would never step away from my job. Holding that in mind is really important. 

And what about juggling differing schedules? 

Rachel Lorn: We were definitely ships passing in the night for six months to a year. We would really try to make sure that our days off were the same. If you don't have days off that are the same, then you can never get anything done; you can't hang out. 

Phila Lorn: We're so industry that on our days off we do things to stabilize the work week: laundry, making sure there's food at the house. I just want to be with her, right? It doesn't matter where. 

Hanna Williams: Now that we have a baby, I'm in the restaurant much less than I was before. When he comes home, I'm already asleep. I'm still there three days a week, but during that time we're in service. 

Chad Williams: We have off on Monday and Tuesday when our child is in school. So we have two days like normal parents. From nine a.m. to three p.m. is ours, which is nice. 

Ashlee Ballard: We make sure we talk on the phone sometime between two and four and eight and nine p.m. every day, just to have a quick conversation and check in. We didn't really see each other that much the first year we dated, so he worked his schedule around to make sure we had a day to spend together. 

Andrew Farley: Part of the problem with this industry is, it's such an old-school mentality of like: you have to work, work, work, work, work. If I wasn't in a relationship, I would probably be at work more. She gives me a reason to step away. 

Part of the problem with this industry is, it's such an old-school mentality of like: you have to work, work, work, work, work. If I wasn't in a relationship, I would probably be at work more. She gives me a reason to step away from this.

This is an industry where, more so than others, people tend to date within it. Why do you think that is? 

Rachel Lorn: I would have a hard time if we didn't both work in the industry. It'd be very difficult if I was at home waiting for him to get off of work — I feel like you'd lose a lot. 

Phila Lorn: I literally need my partner to speak my language. 

Hanna Williams: Industry to industry, there's a mutual understanding of the life you live. I think it's difficult for people who don't work in service to understand that you can't just request the day off. Like, 90 percent of your money is on a Saturday night. If you're dating a chef, don't expect that they're going to your friend's wedding with you. 

Ninety percent of your money is on a Saturday night. If you're dating a chef, don't expect that they're going to your friend's wedding with you. 

Ashlee Ballard: The first year of our relationship, his schedule didn't feel as strange because I was also working at a restaurant. This past year, now that I'm working as a therapist, has been more difficult. Something I've really held on to is that this is just a transition period and it's not going to be the rest of our lives. 

Andrew Farley: It's hard now, but at a certain point it's not going to be hard. I'd rather work really hard now and then be able to sit at a cabin, staring at a lake, once I retire early.   

How do you manage both operating a restaurant and having a family? 

Rachel Lorn: We have our son with a babysitter Monday through Friday and our parents help us as well. 

Phila Lorn: There's no blueprint. But there's always compassion, appreciation, and acknowledgement. I'll give her the occasional back massage or whatever, but I also tell her, "You killed it today!" Last Saturday, one of my chefs looks to me and he goes, "This place would fall apart without Rachel." 

Hanna Williams: There are days where it feels like everything you're doing is wrong. Your baby is melting down, she won't eat her dinner. And we just look at each other across the room and I have to smile. Because it's just absurd. You just have to find a way to laugh about it. Opening a restaurant is never-ending, all-consuming. There isn't a lot of time for dates. But like, you made something. That's magical. 

Opening a restaurant is never-ending, all-consuming. There isn't a lot of time for dates. But like, you made something. That's magical.

Chad Williams: There's uncertainty, chaos. If you make it through, what survives is usually pretty, pretty strong. 

How do you make time for dates?

Hanna Williams: We only had one day off in the beginning — we were only closed on Monday. And the last thing in the world that he wants to do on the first moment of a day off is cook a meal. So we get breakfast together every Monday. We also try to get up to New York for a night about every six weeks. 

Andrew Farley: We always go to the Penrose Diner for breakfast on Sundays, and Villa di Roma for dinner. In the summer, we'll take the dog to the beach. And we watch a lot of really bad movies. I think it helps that we don't have a lot of time to do things like that — it makes the time we do have together feel so much more meaningful. 

How do you stop comparing yourself to other couples who have more "normal" schedules? 

Rachel Lorn: It's hard when you see people that are not in the industry and that are having these normal lives. We didn't do any Hanukkah this year at all because every night it was too late. 

Phila Lorn: I don't want to say "It's not forever," because saying that implies that it's bad now. I would just say that people live different lives. We have this, and they have that. We'll go to the beach with our son one day. But those other families can never say they were in The New York Times' Top 25 restaurants. 

What advice do you have for other couples?

Rachel Lorn: Don't hold it in. If you're upset about something, you have to put it on the table. And just like, really have respect for each other. Be friends. 

Phila Lorn: If you can find someone to be insane with you, then you'll be fine. 

Hanna Williams: We were in our thirties when we really committed to our relationship. You're grown — you know what you want; you know what you don't want. And I think so much of your twenties, you're still trying to figure that all out. And to try to work that out with another human is impossible. You have to figure yourself out during that time. I say this to the kids that work for us all the time. They're in their twenties and they go through breakups and relationship stressors. I always tell them, "You don't know shit about fuck until you're in your thirties." Like, you just don't. If we had been married in our twenties, we'd have long been divorced by now. 

Ashlee Ballard: Really knowing how to fill your time when you're at home alone, and really working together to find time to do something special together. Communication is huge.

Andrew Farley: I think that a healthy part of building a relationship is respecting each other's passions. It's not hard, but it does take effort. And the time you get together — you have to savor those moments. 

About Secret Menu

We created Secret Menu, a print and digital magazine from DoorDash, on the belief that one restaurant's story can help or inspire another. We're proud to elevate stories that connect local restaurant communities and celebrate the craft and ingenuity that makes them so vibrant here on the Merchant Blog. Read more Secret Menu stories here.


Rachel Wisniewski
Rachel Wisniewski

Independent food writer

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