Siobhan and I met in New York 8 years ago. We worked at the Wythe Hotel at what used to be called Reynard. Siobhan was in pastry. I was on the savory side. It was my first restaurant job in New York City. I grew up in Florida and was born in Tennessee, and then just bounced around. My uncle owns a couple of restaurants in Durham, NC and I worked with him for 4 years. I fell in love with the camaraderie and the family aspect of the kitchen. I decided to go to culinary school in New York and did an intense 6-month program, which included 4 months in Emilia-Romagna. I got set up with an internship at this little restaurant on the beach of Tuscany. I worked there for a little over 2 1/2 months then moved to New York. And that’s where we met. Siobhan and I are business partners, but also she’s my fiancé. This last year’s been about opening a restaurant and trying to plan a wedding.

Taylor Manning and Siobhan Speirits

SIOBHAN My path is different from Taylor’s. I didn’t have a culinary upbringing of watching my mom and my grandma cook. I grew up in Austin and got to my junior year of high school, and I needed a PE credit. For some reason, culinary arts counted as PE at my high school. And I was like, I like food. That sounds fun. You had to interview to get into the class, and it was the real deal: the teacher had been a chef for 20 years; we had a professional kitchen in a Texas public high school; we ordered food from Sysco. It was a complete immersion in food. And I remember one class I made this focaccia bread and the chef was like, ‘This is the best focaccia I’ve ever had.’ And it was like a little light bulb went on in my head. And I was like, wow. I’m gonna go to culinary school.

From culinary school I had the opportunity to go to Scotland, where my family is originally from, and had an incredible few months. I returned to Austin where I worked for a number of years, then I got the itch to move to NYC where my sister was living. I met Taylor pretty soon after and it just changed my whole life, really.

TAYLOR What led us to do the cafe? Covid was brutal for the restaurant industry.

SIOBHAN I’d started my own little baking business out of the house, not really thinking it would go anywhere, yet it grew and grew. But seeing so many people we loved with restaurants that just go under, we both really questioned if we even wanted to keep doing this. But neither one of us is trained in any other
skill whatsoever.

TAYLOR In a way it was like, we don’t really have a choice. But we talked for a long time about what if we were gonna do it. How would we do it? How would we make it different? How could we affect change in a meaningful way? And feeling like Covid would never go away, is now the time for change?

TAYLOR Covid taught us to pivot and “make it work”, no matter how you had to.

SIOBHAN And we got lucky when we found this space, like, yes, it already has this wood-fired oven. We also have a really cool landlord who didn’t charge us rent until the restaurant opened. We feel very fortunate for that.

TAYLOR One of the biggest things we wanted was a restaurant that had a better, more democratic balance of the environment. We wanted to create a place where people actually liked coming to work, where they didn’t wake up every day thinking, ‘Oh God, it’s time for me to go to work again.’ We opened with five owners – right now it’s just
Siobhan and me – and one of the original owners helped us build a different model that gives our employees a bit more say. We opened an employee-owned trust (EOT) that owns 50% of the company. Siobhan and I are never going to pull a profit unless every single person in the restaurant does. We want people who want to stay and grow with us and help push this business forward. We hope that this model helps with that. We feel strongly about wanting to create a different culture while still supporting all of our local farms and purveyors.

SIOBHAN The way we both think about food is very simple. It’s the farmers who do the really hard work. We get to have fun with the produce.

TAYLOR There’s also nothing to hide behind. Everything has to be seasoned perfectly. The acidity has to be there, as does the lamination on the pastries. There’s no frills. We’re not fancy people. We are who we are. We don’t try and hide behind anything.

SIOBHAN And Cafe Olli came about very quickly – way quicker than we anticipated, and probably way quicker than we were ready for. Cafe Olli has brought us closer together because we realized how much this place means to us, and how much of it is us, and what we put into it being reflected back. I’ve also learned that Taylor is an infinitely more patient person than I am, but I think I already knew that.

We had our one-year anniversary on December 9th. And I feel like I’ve aged 10 years in that one year.

SIOBHAN I think the thing that I loved the most about Taylor from the time that we met is Taylor has no ego whatsoever. He treats every single person in the restaurant the same, from the sous chef to the dishwasher. We’ll never ask somebody to do
something that we would not do ourselves. Taylor and I will work shifts in the dish pit. We’ll cover a front-of-house shift. We’ll get down and scrub the floor. And Taylor really takes the time to build everyone around him up. It’s just who he is.

TAYLOR One of the things that I love about Siobhan? She forms relationships with people that truly transcend those four walls of the restaurant. Like a lot of our employees, you know, yes, we write their paychecks, but I truly consider them our friends. And we would do anything that we could for them. It’s important to us to create a place where everybody feels comfortable in coming to work and supported. Hopefully, we’re doing it.