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PODCAST: Running Neighboring Restaurants While Married with Children

By Emily Frost | May 22, 2015 6:01pm | Updated on May 26, 2015 8:52am
 The Milners say they keep work and life in a state of flow, moving from their nearby apartment back and forth to their restaurants. 
Nat and Elizabeth Milner
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UPPER WEST SIDE — For Nat and Elizabeth Milner, a typical day involves picking up and dropping off their three kids from school and after-school activities — not to mention running two local restaurants.

Nat has operated Gabriela's Restaurant and Tequila Bar on Columbus Avenue since 2006, and three years ago the couple decided the timing was right for Elizabeth to jump into the business.

So she decided to open her own restaurant, Elizabeth's Neighborhood Table, right next door to Gabriela's.

Though the two eateries have different menus and approaches — a relaxing Mexican spot with a hefty tequila list versus an American comfort food spot focusing on sustainability and local sourcing — they do compete for customers.

But the couple also shares tips and best practices, as well as the enjoyment of being able to pop back and forth to each other's places. 

DNAinfo sat down with the Milners to talk about their life together — from their meeting in Juneau, Alaska, and living on a block that felt like "Sesame Street" to running restaurants in the neighborhood.  

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Emily: I’m talking with Nat Milner, the owner of Gabriela's, the Mexican restaurant on Columbus Avenue, and Elizabeth Milner, who owns and runs Elizabeth's Neighborhood Table, which is next door. In addition to running these neighboring restaurants, the Milners are married and they have kids on the Upper West Side.

Nat: We sure do.

Emily: Before we get into how you ended up opening these neighboring restaurants on Columbus Ave., how did you meet and how did you end up on the Upper West Side?

Nat: I guess the short story is I was searching the world and I found Liz in Juneau, Alaska. That is where we met, and fell in love, and we lived there about ten years. We had our first child out in Alaska, in Juneau.

Elizabeth: I will add, since my birthday is May 22nd, Friday, and Nat arrived in Alaska on my birthday, so I always tell the kids and whoever, I am like, "He was my birthday present."

Emily: Were you in the restaurant business then? What were you both doing in Juneau?

Nat: I originally went out to fish in Alaska. I worked for a couple years on salmon tenders up there in Bristol Bay and herring openings. Then my captain went from a three-month boat to a six-month boat. I don't know if you know anything about living on a boat, but six months is a long time for a 22-year-old guy to be living on a boat. I didn't go on the six-month boat, but I knew I wanted to go back to Alaska and work up there. In the interim, another friend had gotten a job up there in youth services working with runaway homeless youth and delinquents. He got me a job as a wilderness guide up there. I ended up doing that for a while. After ten years, I was residential director and did all kinds of funny things.

Elizabeth: I went up there right after college just as a volunteer. I was really wanting to travel and go somewhere, and a great way to do that was to be a volunteer. I was a Jesuit volunteer. I went out there in '92, and they cautioned you that you might not return. I was not believing that, but I didn't return. I stayed for 13 years.

Emily: You had your first child there. Then you moved to New York City?

Nat: My family has always been involved in the restaurant business. My uncle has always had restaurants. A lot of big, large restaurants on the Upper West Side.

Elizabeth: Can I add that when we were living in Alaska, his uncle would send us Carmine's meatballs, so I had my first Carmine's meatball camping. Then when I would visit Nat, when we were dating, he would say, "Do you want a dumpling?" I had never had a dumpling either, but it was an Ollie's dumpling.

Emily: That was his way of wooing you a little bit?

Elizabeth: Yeah.

Nat: With Carmine's meatballs.

Elizabeth: Food is definitely a way.

Nat: My uncle, he passed away in '97, and my dad went to work for my aunt, who was running the business to that point. When you're in Alaska, it's a long way away from family. Liz is from Boston originally, so her whole family is up there. With children, every vacation, you want to go see the grandparents, and the cousins, and the aunts and uncles. It was just a good opportunity to come back. My aunt's company was expanding, so I came back and got back into the business.

Emily: What was the first year that you lived together on the Upper West Side? What was the neighborhood like then?

Nat: We moved in here in 2003. We actually lived right around the corner from the restaurants here on 91st and Columbus.

Elizabeth: Between Columbus and Amsterdam.

Nat: I would say, this was before Whole Foods was up here. All the traffic went south. You never saw anybody walking north ever right here. Everybody would come out of their apartments and go south from wherever they were coming. As soon as the new developments up there happened, Whole Foods, now suddenly we see people going north. It just created a lot more traffic, a lot more foot traffic, people up and down.

Elizabeth: We loved our neighborhood on 91st Street.

Emily: What did you love about it?

Elizabeth: We just loved it as far as, we had our dog, the brownstone we lived on had a little fireplace and a little outdoor patio. We loved the entrance into Central Park. It was just magical.

Nat: It was really like Sesame Street. We knew all the neighbors. Pedro would sit outside with his Mets hat every day, and listen to the radio, and hear the game. Mr. Nelson was down the street. Our friend Michael lived a few doors down. The famous people from the El Dorado would walk by every day. It was just an amazing ... Guest stars coming through our neighborhood. It was great fun.

Emily: You moved from there?

Nat: Now we live on 81st and Amsterdam. We have three kids now, so we needed a little more space. We wanted our kids to go to P.S. 87, so we moved down to that neighborhood.

Emily: Nat, your family was in the restaurant business, but what made you want to join in? When did you start Gabriela's?

Nat: Gabriela's was actually formed by my uncle originally back in the early 90s. Gabriela worked in my uncle's house as a nanny and housekeeper. Gabriela would have cooked dinner for my uncle's kids, my cousins. The food was amazing. "Gabriela, what kind of food is this?" She's like, "I don't know what this is. It's just stuff I cook at home. This is what I make every day." He said, "We have to open up a restaurant and do this."

I think in the back of his mind, he felt like in all of his restaurants there was a lot of Latino chefs and cooks, and after work, they would want to go someplace that had more authentic food for themselves. Of course, that really didn't happen because when people leave, they go home.

The neighborhood really fell in love with Gabriela's. It really took off. We had two locations, my uncle did, on 93rd and Amsterdam, and 74th and Amsterdam. When the leases ran out there and the rents were going through the roof, my aunt was going to just let Gabriela's go. I was ready to do my own thing, and she was ready to set me free and do my own thing, so she helped me put this thing together. We moved Gabriela's over here and the rest is history.

Emily: Then when did Elizabeth's come on the scene?

Elizabeth: It's been three years. A little over three years. We opened on October 28th. I always share this story. My friend and I, it was a summer night, we sat on the porch of what was the corner. I would always look at these two porches because Gabriela's would be just thriving and just full of people, and the other side almost was like the sad side of the porch. I'm like, "Oh my God, we need to go over there." My friend Sheila and I had such a wonderful, wonderful evening dinner one summer night and we were like, "What is the deal? This is a magical porch." I was like, "Nat, we got to go and support our neighboring restaurant." We went to go and there was a little note on the door saying, "Gone for the summer." We were just like, "Whoa."

Then I think we were eager and excited for something new, and then sat with that thought. Nat can share more, but it was just like, "What are we waiting for?" We know what the neighborhood is looking for. We've lived in the neighborhood. We just knew.

Emily: What was the restaurant before you took over?

Elizabeth: It was Roth's Steakhouse. It was just a real high-end steakhouse.

Nat: He was doing high-end steak over there when the recession hit. He just really couldn't-

Elizabeth: And music.

Nat: He had jazz. When the recession hit, people weren't going out for those kinds of steaks in the neighborhood, so he was having trouble. I knew the landlords, obviously, because we're in the building here together. I knew him pretty well, we had a great relationship. He basically sold it off to us.

We knew whoever moved in was going to be a little competition to us because the price point would probably be closer to us. When the steakhouse was there, it wasn't much competition because the customers were so different. We decided we might as well do it ourselves. Plus we know the neighborhood, we know the regulars here. We didn't feel like we needed another party room for Gabriela's or anything like that. Liz had gone to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and was all fired up about-

Elizabeth: I was looking for grass-fed burgers. I was looking for grass-fed steak. I would have gotten a steak at Roth's. Being pregnant, a couple of times in the neighborhood, I would just be calling around, "Do you know where your steak is from?" I could never get an answer. I always laugh that I would be with the kids a lot, waiting for Nat outside of Gabriela's, and my little guy and I would hang out on that side of the porch once it was vacant. It was just the sunniest, greatest little corner. We seriously would play restaurant. I would give him my orders. I'm like, "I want an organic coffee," and he would run and get me that. It just was funny, we would just pretend. I laugh, I'm like, "Our pretend play has come alive on this porch."

Emily: What was your vision? You mentioned organic food.

Elizabeth: The thoughtful piece, the local piece, and seasonal. I grew up with meat, and I feel like we're just in a time where things are changing so much. We wish we could trust our sources. You always have to really question and know where things are coming from. I think the more that I studied and learned what's happening currently, it was just a stronger feeling. We wanted to do food the way we're doing it at home with our kids.

Nat: We call our food thoughtful, American comfort food. Sometimes it's organic, but it's always thoughtful, so we know it's either come from a small, family farm where we've met the farmers, or our milk is single-sourced milk. We work with just small farms.

Emily: It's called Elizabeth's Neighborhood Table.

Elizabeth: Neighborhood Table.

Emily: What's the neighborhood element? There's a picket fence outside.

Elizabeth: Being from Boston, I love hearing people say, "This is like my Cheers." I think that's so adorable. The lunch crowd, we have those regular people that come in. It really matches. It's sort of an age thing, I always say. They know what table they want. We love to be certain that table's available and just remember that.

We've actually gone as far as to have some tables that are now dedicated to people that have moved along and passed away, but we still remember Sylvia and her table is 30. We all remember what she ordered and what her favorites were. She was a wonderful person for us. Yvette, who can't come here anymore, we call her when our lamb chops are as a special. She loves that.

Nat:  The whole neighborhood comes in and it's a whole-

Elizabeth: The whole neighborhood. Families come in all the time. I feel like our team over there just really knows everyone and can just expect what they're going to order.

Emily: Were you nervous at all starting another restaurant? You already had a lot going on with three kids, Gabriela's. I don't know how much you were involved, but has it turned out that you have a work/life balance?

Nat: In terms of work/life balance, we just have a continuum. We're back and forth. We live in the neighborhood. We're here all the time. We go back and forth. If there's a gymnastics recital, we can leave and go to the gymnastics recital. I went to the Top of the Rock field trip with my son's second grade class. We just kind of go back and forth. At the time, the kids were starting to go to school, so Liz was move available because the kids were in school all day finally. The opportunity was prefect.

Elizabeth: I thought the timing was great. It was a good opportunity for me to get out. Nat would come home and the kids, I think, were refreshed with dad taking over and happy to say bye to me, which was fine. I felt like-

Emily: You would leave for the dinner time service?

Elizabeth: For the nighttime scene and just really have some great adult interaction. It was great.

Nat: I think it's really important for the kids to see both parents working and doing their thing. They can come in and see us work. It's not a big secret. We're not sitting at a desk behind a computer or anything all day. It's real obvious what we do.

Elizabeth: I have to share. Our son, we were in the bathroom next door at Elizabeth's and he said, "Mom, I really hope this restaurant becomes a landmark building." I thought that was so funny. That's what they're studying. I was like, "That's a real great intention." He said, "I just think places like these have to just turn into landmarks." I was laughing, like, "All right."

Emily: Do you think it will be a landmark in the sense of an institution that you don't see it going away any time soon?

Nat: The way New York City real estate is, there's no guarantees in life, but Gabriela's has been here since the early 90s and we're still plugging along. We might change the way we do things, we might change where we live, but I don't see it going away.

Emily: For Elizabeth's?

Elizabeth: I think people really count on us. We were just commenting that people come day after day. They want to go through the entire menu. They're looking forward to trying that soup they didn't get to try.

Emily: Every time the lease comes up, you negotiate with your landlords and feel secure that you can stay, or would you ever move?

Nat: In our old locations, the rent just got unaffordable. You see it happen all around. It's just the way New York City real estate is. There's no guarantees.

Emily: What is it like being married and both running neighborhood restaurants that are right next to each other?

Nat: She's really beating me up at brunch. She's taken my brunch business. It's great. It's fun.

Emily: Elizabeth's is known as a-

Nat: It's nice to wave at each other across the porch.

Elizabeth: I view Gabriela's as sort of a big sister in this scene. I feel like Gabriela's had so much experience. I always look at that. I feel like we've learned a lot from them, and Gabriela's takes some of our ideas. It's not so bad. When we started composting, without hesitation, they were like, "We're composting too." They were just on it and doing such a great job with it. I feel like it's that dynamic sisters relationship.

Nat: Our thing here is just about celebrating. We're just excited to be here and to celebrate. We're having fun. Just celebrating we survived Monday. That's good enough for me. Come home, take your tie off, come down, have a margarita and the guacamole before the rest of your night, or whatever. It's just a fun place to come. That's really what we work on with the staff is that every question can be answered through celebration somehow. We just want it to be fun, casual. Try not to take ourselves too seriously.

We're not trying to be the best restaurant in New York City, but we're trying to be the favorite. You only go to the best restaurant on your birthday or your anniversary. You go to your favorite restaurant once or twice a week. That's what we're trying to be. If they have friends, family visiting, nobody really entertains in their own apartment because all your stuff's there.

Emily: They're not big enough.

Nat: In the suburbs, you have a dinner party, but in the city, you rarely do that. We have these little rooms and places you can just grab with nice tables. Big groups can come in and you can visit, have fun. That's all we're trying to be.

Emily: You mentioned you have a hard-working lunch crew. I talked to another restaurant owner and he said lunch is really tough. It sounds like you're busy at lunch time. Why is that?

Elizabeth: I give our waitresses and waiters credit. We have one waitress that has dedicated her time to that lunch hour. It was once said to me that your waitress is going to be the one that brings people in. I'm seeing that. They love our food, but they love how thoughtful and wonderful our waitress is. She just has it. It's building and building, and we're getting busier and busier.

Emily: Who's coming in? People who are working in the area?

Elizabeth:  Yes, and I'm laughing. We have all these young boys. I'm like, "They're coming in for you," but it's so funny. There's like eight of them.

Nat: Trinity School seniors.

Elizabeth: Columbia.

Emily:  Collegiate.

Nat:   Retired people. The teachers come over right after school, or they sneak away for lunch. When the construction was going on next door, we had a lot of construction workers popping by. Anyone who's not at work downtown.

Emily: It sounds like you keep your prices reasonable that people could come every day. Is that important to you?

Nat: That's definitely important. Our pillars of success, we have three of them. Good food, good service, good value. If we can hit all three of those in both restaurants, we'll be doing okay. If people come in and they're not full when they leave, or they feel like they've spent too much money, or it's not good food or good service ... It's harder at Elizabeth's because the food is more expensive to purchase. The chickens over there are free-range chickens, and antibiotic-free, and all kinds of specialty birds over there. That costs more.

Elizabeth: Grass-fed burgers.

Nat: Grass-fed burgers.

Elizabeth: Grass-fed lamb.

Nat: Organic spinach when it's available.

Emily: Do you guys ever bicker? Do you ever go into the other restaurant?

Nat: No, never. Never.

Emily: Say, "Why is that?" Do you ever point out little things you notice?

Nat: We work together. We work together. We don't bicker. Sometimes the chefs will get into a little something over who took whose mint sprig or something.

Emily: Do you have rules for how you both operate these restaurants and keep marital accord?

Nat: We don't have rules. Like I said, it's a continuum. We're flowing. We're always flowing. I'll be here during the day or Liz will be here during the day, and then one of us will go pick up the kids, and then I'll go home later and do dinner. She'll come back in to meet the guests at Elizabeth's.

Emily: You're right next to each other, so you can walk back and forth.

Nat: Yeah, if we lived out in the suburbs-

Emily: The restaurants are actually connected?

Nat: Yeah. They're totally different kitchens and everything, but there is a door in the back that, slip back and forth. If we lived in the suburbs, we just wouldn't have that back and forth if you had to commute an hour. That's why it's so important for us to live in the neighborhood. If we were commuting, I wouldn't be able to get home and Liz wouldn't come ... Even if we lived in Brooklyn and had to sit on the train or something. That's why Upper West Side is home and we're not going anywhere.

Emily: It sounds like you distribute the parenting pretty evenly.

Elizabeth: We do.

Nat: We do a good job. High five.

Emily: You're going on field trips, you pick them up this day, I'll pick them up that day.

Nat: Between gymnastics, hockey, piano lessons. The Upper West Side runaround. Everybody's doing it.

Emily: Elizabeth, we talked about your food passion. Nat, you are big into tequila.

Nat: Yeah. Yeah, the tequila is big stuff.

Emily: That's a big part of your menu.

Nat: You can't celebrate without tequila, right?

Emily: How many tequilas do you have? Why do you have so many?

Nat: Currently, tequila is the fastest growing liquor in the country. Vodka sales, obviously, are much higher, but tequila is growing year and year. It's been such a blast of different brands out there and different ways of doing things that they're constantly developing different styles of tequila and different brands. We just think it's important to have a wide variety.

We have, I don't know, 150-170 different bottles of tequila back there, depending on the week, and what's available and what's not. It's always changing. We have legacy bottles, treasure bottles that will never be made that way again. Then we do our own select barrel tequila here as well, where Liz and I got to go down to Mexico and actually taste the individual barrels before they got blended into a uniform product, and buy the whole barrel.

Elizabeth: To Tequila.

Nat: Tequila, Mexico is where it all comes from. It's an amazing spirit. If you do any medical research, now they're saying too that the same way agave syrup affects you compared to sugar is the same way, that say, tequila would affect you compared to rum because rum is made from sugar cane and tequila is made from agave. What it does to your hypoglycemic index and all these kinds of things. I'm not going to go as far as saying tequila is a health food, but your body does process it better than other alcohols. The good tequila, I should say, not the stuff we had in the 80s.

Then we do a lot of education. We got the people who come in and they want the lime and salt, and that's okay too, but we say, "There's a lot better tequilas out there than the one you just chose. You just chose it because of habit. Why don't you try this?" There's just amazing products out there. It's more like a scotch type experience.

People come, they don't know what they're looking for. We have a huge menu. I always say just get the Gabriela's Select Barrel. Liz and I went down there, we tasted every tequila, and this is the one that we love. Can't go wrong with the Gabriela's Select Barrels. We have it in añejo, repository. It's only available until it's gone. Once 360 bottles is gone, we have to go down and get another one. We're hoping to sell it fast so we can go back down to Mexico.

Elizabeth: Bring the kids.

Emily: That sounds like a fun trip.

Nat: It's great fun.

Emily: Let's talk about the location. South of here, there are not a lot of restaurants along Columbus for about-

Nat: We're a little oasis right here.

Emily: Yeah. Why did you choose this spot?

Nat: Where we live on 81st Street, there's restaurants. Every place is a restaurant or a bar and all the buildings are five stories. You come up to this little corner of the universe and all the buildings are 20, 24 stories, and there's really not a lot of restaurants around. It's residential. That's really what attracted us to it at the time. That was before Whole Foods and all those new buildings came in, and it was, like I said, all the traffic was going south. When you did see people walking, nobody was going north.

Elizabeth: Where we lived in the brownstone, the rumor was this is a cursed corner. We would laugh, but it really felt like, walking by it, there was something happening here. There was a time when this was such a great spot. When you talk to regulars, I love the people that have raised families here, or grown up here, that come in here and tell us about what used to be here and what it was like.

Nat: This space used to be Under the Stairs, which I guess was a big jazz club. It was a very popular place.

Elizabeth: Everyone knows Under the Stairs.

Nat: Because we still have people coming back and like, "I used to come here when it was Under the Stairs in the 70s."

Emily: You don't mind that other restaurants haven't joined your club and are nearby?

Nat: Do we mind? No, it's a good thing for us.

Elizabeth: We love our little nook. We love Manny's across the street. We love Ivan's. We love the little dollar store. It just seems like we've got-

Nat: And the fruit vendor out here. It's a nice little, friendly little neighborhood of small business owners.

Elizabeth: They've been here since we've our little kids. They've watched us. We've all watched each other through the years.

Emily: Has Whole Foods and Columbus Square helped your business, do you think?

Nat: It just brings more traffic around and maybe exposes us more. When people walk by, they're reminded that we're here. Then when they're thinking about what they want to go eat, hopefully they think of us. It's got to help.

Emily: You mentioned the neighborhood changing. How do you think the neighborhood's changed?

Nat: Rents are going up. That's really the big thing. All this construction and rent goes up. Things change. It's harder for small restaurants to maintain a foothold, especially once rent's tripled. It just doesn't make economic sense to stay some place if that happens.

Emily: How do you create that Cheers vibe at your bar with the regulars?

Elizabeth: I feel like our bartender, I just think he's a great listener. I think that's a key thing. He really is. There's a couple of them that work together. I think that they really, genuinely enjoy people and want to hear their stories. I bump into more people that are checking in to see if Mark will be there, or will it be Elias? I feel like depending upon what their needs are, they're just checking in. It's so neat. I think it's just a presence. Someone who's able to really listen. I think people really come in for that local piece.

Nat:    Neither place is really a sports bar. We have the game on, but we don't have the sound up. If people are looking for that, there's other places you can go for that.

Emily: Or to take shots.

Nat: Yeah, or do shots with the salt and the lime, and that kind of stuff. We don't want to be a fraternity house here or anything. We're just having a good time and we're here for the neighborhood.

Emily: You talked a little bit about some of the activities you do with your kids. What's a typical day like for you guys?

Nat: Typical day. Well, today we got up and put our oldest on the bus. Then we walked the other two to P.S. 87.

Emily: That was like around 8?

Nat: Yeah, around 8.

Elizabeth: Can we add that we went to yoga? How lucky we are.

Nat: Then we went to yoga, so we just got here from yoga. Now we're here talking to you.

Elizabeth: Our yoga teacher tells us he thinks about our buns all the time. We call them Betty's buns next door, but he loved our burger. He's like, "That bun."

Nat: Then I have appointments after this. I have a call with Facebook. I'm talking to our web designer. Then right after school, you have to go take Quinn to tutoring today, so she'll run over there. My mom is actually getting the kids after school, so I'll meet up with them around 4:30. Then Liz will get home, and then Liz'll probably come back in to work from 5 to 7 with the guests. By 9:00, we'll be watching "Game of Thrones" or something.

Emily: That's great.

Elizabeth: We hope.

Emily: You feel like the businesses are running smoothly enough, you have enough people, that you don't have to be here until the bitter end at night?

Nat: Yeah. We have amazing staff here, and managers. You walk around here, everyone I introduced you to has worked here for at least 10 years. Our staff have been here forever.

Elizabeth: Trust is huge.

Nat:  Over 10 years, most of the people you see walking by. Since we opened in '06 in this location. A lot of them came from the old location before they even moved over. We just have great staff. They know what they're doing. Honestly, you come into Gabriela's, you want to see Gabriela. You're not really looking to see me. Now Elizabeth, they want to see you.

Elizabeth: Yeah, I definitely get that.

Emily: Yeah, do you feel like you have to put in face time?

Elizabeth: I do. I was thinking, "What did I do yesterday?" Sometimes I'm the person that has that freedom. Then I was just finding myself running out the door, we had an event we went to.

Nat: You do a lot of baking, though, too. You make the lemon bars.

Elizabeth: Right. I also make, we call it a Liz Lemon bar. Speaking of regulars, when I see this guy on the sidewalk, he's like, "Have you made those yet?" I always laugh. I'm like, "For you, Tony, yes. I'll go and I'll make those." He's definitely one of those people that makes it feel like Cheers, where I'm like, "Got to make those again." Every day is a little bit different depending upon what's going on.

Nat:    You work with the chef at least two or three times a week on the specials, and-

Elizabeth: We have a good relationship.

Nat: Finding out new vendors and where things are. You make them take a walk around the reservoir just to get them outside, get them out of the kitchen.

Elizabeth: I'm like, "This is your yard." I think that what I see back there is such hard, hard work, and I think all of us know what it's like to get some fresh air and take a breather, and come back and feel just rejuvenated and ready.

Emily:  Do you ever want to just leave it all behind and go on the road again, and go back to Alaska, or go to some far-flung place?

Elizabeth: Oh my gosh. I do think of Alaska.

Nat: We get the travel itch once in a while, but our kids are here and we love it here.

Elizabeth: I want to bring our kids to Alaska, to be very truthful. I think someday we will.

Nat: Going to school. We love the city, we love being here. We still own a house in Alaska. Someone else is living in it, but maybe in retirement, a month a year in Alaska would be pretty nice.

Elizabeth: We take off to see my family in Boston, which always feels like a real getaway because it's a small, small little beach town, lobster town. They're surrounded by their cousins.

Nat: Sometimes I think about going fishing again. Heading out to the blue water.

Emily: Favorite food on the menu: I guess you could name one at each restaurant.

Nat: I've been really into the tacos lately. We just opened a taqueria downtown on 44th and 8th. We've been tasting our tacos. We've been deep in-

Emily: Gabriela's Taqueria?

Nat: Gabriela's Taqueria, yeah. We make all our own tortillas here. Everything is made by hand. I think we're the only place in New York City that I've ever seen that makes each tortilla by hand. I know a lot of places use machines or purchase them, but we hand-press every tortilla.

Emily: That's just about quality?

Nat: That's just about quality, yeah. You don't get that if it's pre-made.

Elizabeth: And tradition.

Nat: Tradition, sure. You don't get that quality from a machine or a bag. Machine can come close, but it's not as good.

Emily: Favorite thing at Elizabeth's?

Nat: The veggie burger is really a standout. I've never had a veggie burger that is as good. You make a good veggie burger, Liz.

Elizabeth: It's an amazing veggie burger. It is.

Emily: What are your favorites?

Elizabeth: My favorites. Nat, I'm thinking I love the tamale. I just always think that that is so amazing. Next door, I was going to mention Nana's chicken, but I see everyone have this pork chop with red braised cabbage and the mashed potatoes. I'm just dying. I'm like, "How can I never get sick of looking at that, or seeing that, or smelling it?" You just want a bite. It's really, really yummy. We're proud about the pork chop, where we get the pork chop from. It's just from a farm that cares more about how they're treating their pigs. It shows in the taste of the pork chop.

Nat: Free-range pigs.

Emily: There's another husband and wife duo who are opening restaurants next to each other.

Nat: Really? We'll have to compare notes.

Emily: Danny Abrams, who owns the Mermaid Inn, his wife Cindy Smith, or partner.

Nat: Oh yeah. Danny actually helped me out a little bit back in the day when we were opening this place up.

Elizabeth: We love the Mermaid Inn.

Nat: He's a great guy and the Mermaid Inn is a fabulous restaurant.

Emily: She's opening an Italian restaurant next door. I was wondering if you had-

Nat: Actually, they're moving the Mermaid next door and the Mermaid spot is turning into the Italian restaurant.

Emily: Yes. Right, it's turning into that. I was wondering if you had advice for them, or for husband and wife duos with neighboring restaurants.

Nat: Danny's given me all the advice, honestly. He's helped me out quite a bit over the years. What I could tell him is just have a good time with it. I don't know.

Elizabeth: Getting people together collectively. Every holiday season, we get together after the holidays are done and just celebrate.

Emily: Both teams get together?

Elizabeth: Both teams. What I see happen at that evening is always just incredible. It's that reminder of how people connect with each other and the importance of those deeper connections, aside from just what you do at work. Dancing.

Nat: I would say just know what your roles are. Liz knows what she's doing when she comes in. I know what I'm doing when I come in. People don't get mixed messages or anything like that. We do our thing.

Emily: Do people know that you're married, customers at Elizabeth's and Gabriela’s?

Nat: Some do, some don't. We don't make a big highlight of it. This is probably the first time publicly that it's going out. It's an exclusive. It's not a secret either. A lot of people do know, a lot of people don't.

Elizabeth: I guess I would say it almost can be fun to keep the two restaurants a little separate because you hear interesting things. I love to hear people share about Gabriela's. "Oh, tell me more about that." They don't really put it together. I'm not saying, "Oh well, did you know," I'm more just listening. That's kind of fun.

Nat: Or, "I'm not going to wait. I'm going to go next door." Okay.

Elizabeth: We would also hear, "I'm so glad you're doing better than them next door." I'm like, "Oh, really?"

Emily: That's funny. Well, thank you for talking with me. I really appreciate it.

Nat: Yeah, thanks for coming over. It's great to see you.

Elizabeth: Thank you.

Nat: Let's go try some tortillas.