Some of Pittsburgh’s most popular food and drink establishments are helmed by partners in business and in life. What’s it like to run a business with your significant other? We reached out to four busy couples to find out the secret sauce to successfully working together every day.

Here’s what these “culinary couples” had to say, including their favorite ways to diffuse conflict — because, no surprise, it crops up plenty in the pressure-filled world of the commercial kitchen.

Michael and Carleen King
Carmi Soul Food
Years in business: 9

Q: How did you get started?

A: Mike’s parent owned a takeout restaurant and he is a classically trained chef and has worked in the industry for years. Carleen has a huge family known for serving up amazing soul food. The business started when friends requested that we bring signature items to events. Then friends of friends asked. Then total strangers. A catering business was born.

Q: What’s the best part of working together?

A: Being on the same accord, and having someone to have your back. This business can be brutal.

Q: What is the most challenging?

A: Trying not to talk about work all the time.

Q: How do you communicate and resolve conflicts?

A: We have very specific and separate duties. Mike keeps his business the back of the house, and Carleen keeps hers in the front. We can make suggestions to each other, but never cross over or override. “Don’t start none, won’t be none,” as my mom used to say.

Q: What advice do you have for other couples who work together?

A: Have clear lines of responsibility and do not cross them — even if you think your idea or method could be better. And put dates on the schedule. They are even more important than business meetings.

Kat Muscianesi and Zack Shell. Photo courtesy of Baby Loves Tacos.

Kat Muscianesi and Zack Shell
Baby Loves Tacos
Years in business: 2

Q: How did you get started?

A: Kat came from a career in admin and education. Zack had opened/operated restaurants and had grown weary of partnering with people who didn’t share the same work ethic and vision.

After a year of raising a son on someone else’s schedule, we decided to sell our house in Philadelphia and move to Pittsburgh (where Zack grew up) to open a small, family-oriented restaurant. We wanted to build community and a place where you can meet your neighbors over a burrito.

Q: What’s the best part of working together?

A: Spending time together and learning about different parts of each other. We witness strengths and skills in each of us that we were not aware of outside of the work environment.

It has changed the dynamic of our relationship in ways we could have never imagined. We really support each other’s ideas. We have grown so much as partners, business owners and a family.

Q: What is the most challenging?

A: Solving problems in real-time. Immense pressure yields diamonds.

Q: How do you communicate and resolve conflicts?

A: We both agree that you have to address problems as they arise. There is a major upside to the immediacy of working together in public. We don’t have the time to let the small things become bigger than they are. Someone told us “it’s better to be happy than to be right,” and that’s helped tremendously.

Q: What advice do you have for other couples who work together?

A: Practice gratitude. It’s a big decision to go into business together. We feel so grateful that we get to wake up and do what we love.

Christa Puskarich and Katie Heldstab. Photo courtesy of Leona’s Ice Cream.

Christa Puskarich and Katie Heldstab
Leona’s Ice Cream
Years in business: 6

Q: How did you get started?

A: We both worked corporate jobs (Katie in PR and Christa in the legal field). We received an ice cream maker as a wedding gift and Katie started making lactose-free ice cream because she is lactose intolerant. There was a market for super premium, well-sourced ice cream that was also lactose-free. We aimed to fill the hole with Leona’s.

Q: What’s the best part of working together?

A: Trust. We both know that each of us will always do what needs to get done. We can also count on the fact that we are both equally invested.

Q: What is the most challenging?

A: The months of July and August. It’s the peak of our season and we work seven days a week with no time off. Without a lot of downtime to connect as a married couple, it’s a hard few months.

Q: How do you communicate and resolve conflicts?

A: We talk every morning about what needs to happen that day. We don’t work in the same space very often and we try not to have conflicts. We try to just have discussions.

Q: What advice do you have for other couples who work together?

A: Stay in your lane. Create a job description for yourself and stick to that. Do what you’re good at and know your strengths, and allow your partner to do the same. Also, your marriage/partnership is more important than your business, so remember your priorities.

Apteka’s Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski. Photo by Tom O’Connor. 

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski
Apteka
Years in business: 3.5

Q: How did you get started?

A: We started a pop-up pierogi event together and it grew into a much bigger project.

Despite a tight budget, we decided to build out and open our own restaurant. We had to do a ton of the work ourselves, so we ended up with a space that we built together.

Q: What’s the best part of working together?

A: Hanging out with your best friend every day.

Q: What is the most challenging?

A: Separating the business from our personal lives.

Q: How do you communicate and resolve conflicts?

A: We have a tackle box of tools and experiences to help us navigate conflicts. But recently and most often, just reminding each other when we’re frustrated that we’re exhausted and stressed out usually diffuses conflicts.

Q: What advice do you have for other couples who work together?

A: Be really honest and open, forthright and generous. Really challenge yourself to see things from the other’s perspective.