Looking from the outside in, Bistro 7 1/4 owners Alex and Danielle Svenne have one of the best marriages going. Either that, or all that grill smoke inside their Montreal-style eatery has made them woozy.
Even with three kids they homeschool, new food projects, catering, charity work, and the stress of running one of Winnipeg's top restaurants, the former seems to be the case.
Communication, and lots of it, is the recipe for their success, they both say. "We're like two girls at a sleepover," says Danielle. "We talk constantly."
"We love working together," Alex adds.
The Winnipeg-born couple of 24 1/2 years, both 43, recently sat down for a joint interview inside their lounge where they talked about life in the restaurant business and maintaining their sanity.
Alex Svenne spends a lot of time in the kitchen. (Robin Summerfield)
They opened the south Osborne Street eatery in 2006 after running their own successful catering company and Alex's long run working as a chef in some of the city's most well-known restaurants.
"The first year was really crazy and I thought 'We're going to look back at this and say, this was really crazy and everything else is going to seem easy after this,'" she says.
The craziness hasn't really abated.
Business was brisk inside the 50-seat spot from day one. Small plates, signature mussels and frites, carefully curated cheese boards and a risky menu (at least for Winnipeg tastes) garnered critical and popular acclaim.
More than two years ago, they expanded Bistro, adding a 50-seat lounge which doubled their capacity.
After that came
School Nights, themed food and drink nights open to everyone and held from September to June. The Svennes also donate their time to Baconfest, 100-Mile Dinner and a variety of other charitable endeavours.
They also feed Folk Festival performers every year and this winter Alex was one of a handful of city chefs at RAW: almond, an outdoor pop-up restaurant on the frozen river at The Forks.
Around the same time, Alex was also tapped as menu consultant for Market Burger, a new Corydon Avenue hotspot.
In the fall, cooking classes are in the works. They are also on-tap for Burger Week, a new multi-restaurant initiative set for the first in September.
"I can't say no," he says.
So how is it all possible? Family support from five grandparents, who shuttle their children to and from appointments and activities, is the recipe for their success.
As Danielle says, "We couldn't do all this without them."