With the aplomb of a multi-tasking mother, Diane Gross shifts her 7-month-old son, Marley, from hip to counter as she sniffs a glass of Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris, all the while listening to the cellar master from Oregon pitching New World wines for her modern shop, Cork Market & Tasting Room in Logan Circle.
“I always let him smell, too,” she says as the baby tries to lock his lips on the rim. “It’s about the curiosity.” Marley nuzzles his head into her neck as his mom takes a sip, swirls it in her mouth and spits.
The arrangement seems to work for the both of them.
“You get to make up your rules,” Gross says about managing the roles of hands-on mom and co-owner with her husband of the market and the restaurant across the street, Cork Wine Bar. “Restaurants are hard, because of the hours and how much you work. But you can bring your baby to work, and as long as he’s not screaming, everybody thinks he’s cute and nobody really cares.”
Gross’s assessment is spot on, as demonstrated by the wine rep tickling Marley’s feet and Cork’s accountant asking, “Can I hold him? I need my baby fix!”
This weekend, Gross, 41, and several other new Washington moms in the restaurant business will mark their first Mother’s Day — most likely on the job. The holiday is yet another thing Gross must fit into her busy schedule. As parents everywhere can attest, a new baby brings major scheduling adjustments. Women in the industry sometimes find it’s easier to manage than other working moms do because of the built-in flexibility. Working and mothering, though, don’t always allow time for cooking and proper eating.
With Marley in one arm, Gross heads down the stairs from the market office (which houses a Pack ’n Play and Jumperoo) and is stopped in the kitchen by chef Kristin Hutter, presenting her with fried duck skin, leftovers from duck rillettes. She takes a bite, muttering “I’m not going to lose my baby fat” as she walks on to meet a second round of wine distributors.
Marley is with Gross at the market by day and helps welcome guests to the wine bar at night, strapped in a BabyBjorn. Gross stays through early dinner service a few days a week before her husband, Khalid Pitts, leaves his full-time job at the Service Employees International Union and takes over.
For dinners at home, Gross takes advantage of her immediate access to top-shelf prepared foods. “I forage Cork Market for a lot of my meals,” she says, grabbing locally made Simply Sausage products, Italian pastas and the market’s own oven-roasted tomatoes.
Eight-month-old Sumi Norris leaves the restaurant life to her parents. Before their daughter was born, Ari Kushimoto Norris and her husband, Darren Norris, would leave together for their new sushi and izakaya restaurant, Kushi. Ari worked in the restaurant’s office, creating graphics and organizing special events, and at the host’s stand, greeting diners. She has worked mostly from their Palisades home since Sumi was born. The baby’s name means “serene” in Japanese.
Although teleworking allows Kushimoto Norris, 34, to stay close to her daughter and to dodge the distractions of working at the restaurant, she’s aware of its drawbacks.
“It’s a challenge for me to understand what’s going on there,” she says. The biggest challenge of her post-delivery world is trying to do something new.
“You have all of these great ideas every morning, but whether you can do it by the end of the day . . . nah, never. It goes on your to-do list.”
Shuffling between the restaurant and the house doesn’t leave much time for her to eat at midday, even though a nanny comes a few days a week. Kushimoto Norris will have “any kind of bar, anything I can grab or microwave. If we go out, we’ll order extra, and that will usually be my lunch.”
Nadine Brown eats on the run, often ducking into Starbucks and Chipotle on her way to work at Charlie Palmer Steak.
“I could not get out of the house,” she recently admitted upon arriving late for a meeting. “I just couldn’t find my shoe, and the dirty clothes are mixed up with the baby clothes.” As long as she was running behind, she figured, why not pick up caffeine and dinner?
As the sommelier and wine buyer for the Capitol Hill restaurant, Brown can show up in mid-afternoon. That means she can tend to 4-month-old Emerson during the day. Her husband, Dan Fisher, the butcher for Restaurant Eve and the Majestic in Old Town Alexandria, starts work at 7 a.m., so he can be home before Brown drives to work around 3 p.m.
The tag-team parenting doesn’t allow the couple much family time, but they have the industry-standard Monday off together.
At their Alexandria home in the morning, the 38-year-old Brown reviews wine lists while the baby sleeps on a pillow on her desk. Brown chooses Honey-Nut Cheerios for breakfast and will eat leftovers for lunch. “I do a lot of cooking on Sundays and reheat throughout the week,” she says; an easy chicken fricassee is one of her favorite dishes. But she still has trouble finding the time for a sit-down meal.
Brown books tastings in the afternoon, so she misses the 4:30 staff meal. Sometimes, however, she manages to be in both places at once. “I might taste [wine] with someone and then literally say, ‘I’ll be back in 10 minutes,’ and eat something and then go back and taste.”
With her double-booked schedule, it’s no surprise that she enlisted the help of the kitchen to plate her simple chicken fricassee rather elegantly for a photo session.
Finding something to eat isn’t hard for Carly Prow, the assistant to chef Cathal Armstrong and private-events manager for Restaurant Eve. Prow works on the second floor, steps away from two staff meals the kitchen provides daily. Scrambled eggs and fried potatoes become a second breakfast for Prow. Her first: a bowl of multi-grain Cheerios after 8-month-old Sadie wakes her at 7 a.m. If she’s not able to pull together a turkey sandwich to pack for work while keeping an eye on her almost-crawling daughter, she’ll grab a salad from the nearby Petite Fontaine Salad & Co.
Staff dinner entices her to eat more. “I’m trying to cut out the first dinner of the day,” she says. “I started doing that when I was pregnant. It was nice because I could have an afternoon snack, but now I’m still tempted,” with one night featuring egg fried rice, tender broccoli and battered tofu. Prow, somehow, maintains control: The 30-year-old new mom returned to her pre-pregnancy weight within two months.
A simple pasta dish or casserole is a normal dinner for the Prows. “I never make fish anymore,” Prow says. “It’s not something you can just throw in a pan and not think about. [Before Sadie,] everything would be a little more elaborate.” She has followed her boss’s admonition to cook with organic ingredients as much as possible.
Because Prow gave birth right before the restaurant’s busiest time to book parties, she took only a quick three weeks of maternity leave. She eased back into her job, going in two days a week and working from home in Alexandria.
But telecommuting became an obstacle: “If I was working, I felt like I should be playing. And if I was playing, I felt like I should be working.”
Husband Jason Prow reminded her that to best support Sadie, they both had to work. Although she would like to be home with her daughter more, Prow said, she’d ideally choose working part time as a compromise, “to be able to get out, to be able to talk to adults. I’d still be working in the food industry. It’s a part of me.”
Washington freelance writer Gans is editor of the food blog Endless Simmer.