Eat your heart out with these five tales of love among Denver's food and beverage folk. Not everyone can meet cute, but sometimes it happens in the most serendipitous way, with or without booze or a good meal. This Valentine's week, learn a little more about the people who make the food and drinks you love.
Aileen V. Reilly and JP Taylor Jr.
Beast + Bottle, Pizzeria Coperta and Coperta
Aileen Reilly and JP Taylor have been married since 2016, but their romance started with Encore, the restaurant Aileen owned with her brother Paul, and being stood up for dinner. Aileen had just moved back to Denver from Los Angeles to open Encore, and she and her brother had planned to meet at Vesta for a special Infinite Monkey Theorem dinner. "I had only been back in Denver about six weeks, and Paul ended up ditching me for dinner," she recalls. "Paul told me that JP had wanted to attend, so the two of us went and it was super-awkward, as nobody else ended up sitting at our table."
However, both had an affinity for wine and soon started discussing it with the same passion guests of Beast + Bottle and Coperta now experience firsthand. The two started working together more and more, and over time the connection deepened; they officially started dating in 2010. Eventually, Taylor left Encore to pursue his wine education at Osteria Marco and Luca D'Italia. When Encore closed in 2012, JP and Eileen took a twelve-week sabbatical to Italy and France to study wine, something that would help them develop the menu at Beast + Bottle, which debuted in 2013.
"A decade in, we are still crazy in love and still work the floor together nightly," Aileen notes. "Currently we are a one-car family, so we do commute in daily, but we do our best on days off to not talk about work."
Linda Hampsten Fox and Steve Fox
Linda Hampsten Fox, chef/owner of the Bindery in LoHi, loves the ocean, but not as much as she loves Steve Fox, her husband of five years. In fact, it was the ocean that brought the couple together in 2012. It all happened because Hampsten Fox fell hard — while surfing in Mexico. Her surf board hit her in the head and caused severe trauma, something she would continue to seek care for back home in Boulder. One day, as she waited for a procedure to look for the cerebrospinal fluid leak in her skull, a technician she knew began talking to her about the injury and her activities, so she told him about previous adventures surfing and racing mountain bikes in Europe. The technician asked for her email — not for himself, but to give to his friend Steve, who also loved biking. Soon afterward, Steve emailed her, and the two struck up a romance.
"Everyone always says you were in the hospital with a cracked skull and you got a date and later a husband from it," says Hampsten Fox. "I always respond, 'I was injured, not dead!'"
Linda and Steve went on their first date to Black Cat Bistro in Boulder. Two months after they met, Steve bought a ring (though he didn't propose right away), and the couple got married in 2014.
John and Lauren Maggio
For these two lovebirds, their boozy business Cocktail Squad came after they were already head-over-heels for each other. The pair met on a plane to New Orleans in 2000, where they were both headed to a baptism. Turns out it was for the same baby; John was the godfather and Lauren was an aunt. Two weeks later, John jetted to New York City — where Lauren was living — ostensibly for a business trip for his company, Boulder Canyon Chips. He asked her to dinner while he was there, and it went so well that a few months later, she moved to Boulder.
Eighteen years later, the Maggios have four kids and multiple business endeavors, including the couple's fifth baby, Cocktail Squad, a line of canned cocktails that was born in 2018. The inspiration for this project came during a date when they wanted to indulge in the pleasure of a good cocktail but realized that busy parents rarely have the time to measure, mix, garnish and pour a good drink on demand. While John and Lauren admit that working together day in and day out can be challenging, that original magic that brought them together remains just as strong as their canned bourbon smash, but with even more power behind it.
Austin Carson and Heather Morrison
Restaurant Olivia and Bistro Georgette
Heather Morrison wasn't the biggest fan of Austin Carson when he was first hired at Mizuna, though it wasn't his fault. "We needed a host and he was a sommelier, but eventually I got used to him," says Morrison. "His work ethic caught my attention first, and then he told me one of his favorite movies is Love Actually — and I was in."
Not that Carson knew that right away. For about six months, Morrison worked on getting him to smile one of those genuine, toothy grins, which she eventually got. By that time, Carson had his suspicions something romantic was afoot, and the pair finally started dating in 2015. By 2017 they were married, and Carson is now stepdad to Morrison's nine-year old daughter, Olivia, the namesake of the Washington Park restaurant they launched with chef Ty Leon earlier this year. The trio also runs Bistro Georgette, a counter-service French eatery at Avanti Food & Beverage in LoHi.
"She's my best friend and my business partner, and I couldn't, and wouldn't, do any of this without her," says Carson.
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"I love working together. The only challenge is taking a night off together," Morrison adds.
Alon and Emily Shaya
Chef/restaurateur Alon Shaya didn't mean to go to a mixer for Jewish singles. It was about a year after Hurricane Katrina, and he had just worked over 150 straight days at a steakhouse in New Orleans, and one of the customers invited him to a party. So he dusted off a button-down shirt and some jeans and decided to take a little break. Turns out the party was a meetup for singles and, feeling awkward, Shaya stood to the side chatting with staff and eating finger sandwiches. That's when he saw Emily and knew he wanted to find out more, and after a conversation, the chef invited her to his restaurant so he could cook a feast for her and her friends.
The two fell in love over epic meals Shaya would cook for Emily and the adventures in crawfish boils and music Emily would bring to his life. The couple married in 2012 in Louisiana and started Pomegranate Hospitality together in 2017, opening Safta in Denver a year later. While the pair still calls NoLa home, they travel back and forth between the two cities, and especially enjoy summers in Colorado.