Book tour brings Wizenberg to Auntie’s
‘Delancey’ reveals challenges of running a restaurant
First came love, then came marriage, then came a pizzeria – and low points that Molly Wizenberg never imagined.
The author and food blogger will talk Tuesday night in Spokane about how opening a pizza place changed her life and sparked the first crisis of her new marriage.
That’s also the stuff of her latest book, “Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage,” which details – among other things – the seemingly endless obstacles of owning, opening, and successfully running a restaurant.
“There was a lot we had to learn,” Wizenberg said during a recent phone interview from her home in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Hiring. Bookkeeping. Tip-sharing. “We were learning how to do everything. There was a tremendous amount of stress there. It happened that my husband’s dreams felt really scary to me.”
Fears about finances particularly worried her.
“I’m pretty risk adverse,” she said. “My husband doesn’t mind taking risks. I didn’t want to open a restaurant. He did. He really believed it would be a good thing for us, and I was terrified. I wanted to encourage him to go after it yet, at the same time, I was really scared of sort of the practical side of it, whether we would fail and it would be a big financial disaster, whether we would be able to staff it with people who were nice.” The list goes on.
Wizenberg, 35, met her husband, Brandon Pettit, 32, a composer-turned- restaurateur, through her popular blog, Orangette, which she started nearly 10 years ago. She had just decided to quit a graduate program in cultural anthropology and wasn’t quite sure what to do next.
As she writes on her blog, “The only thing I knew was that, whatever I did, it had to involve food and writing.”
She hadn’t attended culinary school and had no formal background in writing, but she was passionate about both.
“I’m most interested in food for the ways that it sort of gives a rhythm to our days and for the moments it sort of creates between people,” she said. “I love to eat and I love to cook, but I don’t spend a lot of time geeking out about complex foods. I like simple foods prepared well. I love a great hamburger. I love a good brownie. Sometimes, a can of baked beans is a really delicious thing.”
A few months into Orangette, Pettit, who was living in New York, sent Wizenberg an email through her blog. It led to more emails, phone calls and, finally, an in-person meeting in Seattle in 2005. The couple were engaged within the year and married on July 29, 2007, three years to the day after Wizenberg started Orangette.
The Times of London named it the best food blog in the world in 2009, the same year Wizenberg’s first book, “A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table,” was published. The New York Times’ best-seller takes readers from quitting graduate school to visiting Paris, starting Orangette, finding love and, finally, getting married.
“Delancey” continues the story. The couple opened the pizzeria in 2009, just after the height of the Great Recession.
“It was tough,” Wizenberg said. “Brandon and I both agree if I hadn’t worked in the restaurant and really understood what he was going through I don’t think we would still be married. And, if I hadn’t stopped working in the restaurant, I don’t think we would be married either.”
To clarify, Wizenberg still works at the restaurant – she’s the manager – but she has since quit working in the kitchen. And that seems to have made all the difference.
“I do feel, in the end, ‘Delancey’ is a love story, and it’s a very real love story,” said Wizenberg, whose work has also appeared in Bon Appetit magazine and the Washington Post.
Grub Street, the New York Magazine food blog, recommends “Delancey” as summer reading for those who “want a book that’s basically the exact opposite of “Eat, Pray, Love,” the 2006 memoir from Elizabeth Gilbert which describes the author’s yearlong world travels after her divorce and a rebound relationship.
Wizenberg said she hasn’t read it – “I’m like the only person on earth” – but, perhaps like Gilbert, she said, “Writing about (struggles) helped me to understand them.
“I think that my husband and I have very much the same big vision of what we want for our lives. It looks the same and feels the same, but our ways of getting there are different.”
Wizenberg’s Spokane stop comes on the heels of a two-week national book tour and the “tail end” of additional regional talks. At Auntie’s, she’ll read passages from “Delancey,” then take questions on topics from the craft of writing to running small businesses.
“We end up having a very organic discussion that’s sort of different in every town,” she said. But, in the end, “I just hope they enjoy the story.”
It doesn’t stop with the pizza place.
After love, marriage and the family-run restaurant came Essex, the couple’s handcrafted cocktail bar next door, and, like the nursey rhyme, a baby.
June turns 2 in September.