Feature Article: Night Life Issue
For most of us, starting a family means our nights of closing down the bar have come to an end. But for parents who work in the city’s burgeoning nightlife industry, late hours are part of the job. As Austin grows up, so too does our service industry — and the people who work in it. From downtown to West Sixth to the east side, these three families share the realities of raising a family while serving a nocturnal city.
CATHERINE WEISNEWSKI & FIDEL CAMPBELL
Catherine Weisnewski and Fidel Campbell have known they work well together under pressure together for a long time now. Well before their six-month-old Lucy Weisnewski was born, the pair was practicing multi-tasking together. “He was my bar-back,” says Weisnewski, who moved to Austin four years ago from New York City to open Weather Up Austin as the lead bartender. “We met [at Weather Up] on the first night,” says Weisnewski, “I was living with [Weather Up owner] Kathryn Weatherup at the time, and I went home and I was telling her how great a worker Fidel is, I was like, ‘Dude, he’s great, he’s one of the best bar-backs I’ve ever had. I can already tell he’s going to be amazing.’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah but he’s in love with you.’ And I said that’s hilarious, like that will ever happen.”
And at first, it looked like it wouldn’t. “She was extremely rude,” says Campbell. Weisnewski confirms: “I was really mean to him. I totally fit all the New Yorker coming down here to Austin with attitude stereotypes.” But Campbell wasn’t discouraged. “I thought she was cute, and that she needed a friend,” he says. He kept working hard to make sure her bar was stocked and her juices and syrups were prepped, and she started requesting that all her shifts were with the hardworking Campbell. “It just evolved from there,” she says. “We worked a lot of shifts just the two of us from open to close, and we just became really close. We had so much fun together.”
Those early days spent working as a team is what gave the couple the confidence to embark on a much bigger project: starting a family. “We already knew we worked really well together. Our personalities complimented each other in that I take things really seriously and am very detail oriented and he snaps me out of it, and makes me laugh,” explains Weisnewski, who, after leaving Weather Up and the industry three years ago to work as a teacher, is once again taking shifts at the bar. “There’s so much more flexibility in the schedule [of an industry job],” explains Weisnewski, “And especially here, they were like ‘What do you need, how can we help you?’ [There are] not very many jobs where you can be like ‘I can only work two days a week’ and they’re going to make that happen for you.”
These days, Weisnewski and Campbell rarely work behind the bar together anymore, instead alternating shifts and doing a lot of “baby hand-offs.” But it’s clear that the initial chemistry and communication is still there. On any given night, it’s common to find Campbell working a bar manager shift (“I’m technically her boss now,” he laughs), while Weisnewski hangs inside with Lucy. The baby is clearly one of the gang, constantly cooed at by regulars and scooped up by staff for “rides around the bar.” Weather Up has played host to Lucy’s baby shower, and her six month birthday party last month. And a few weeks ago, crouching on all fours and with a very serious look of intent on her face, Lucy took her very first crawling steps in one of the bar’s booths. “Yeah, Weisnewski says happily, “she’s gonna grow up here.”
ASHLEY & SEAN FRIC
J. BLACK’S Feel Good Kitchen & Lounge + The Golden Goose
Sean and Ashley Fric began working together on the very first night they met. At an art gallery event for non-profit Catalyst 8, Ashley had signed up to work registration. “I was young and just trying to figure out how to network in Austin, so I was going to all these random groups and happy hours,” says Ashley.
Meanwhile, Sean, who was a co-founder of the non-profit, was working the bar at the event.
“I did think it was really cool that he was working the bar because a lot of people think that’s beneath them,” Ashley remembers, “But I mean, I wasn’t charmed. He thought he was really charming. I thought [he was] old,” she jokes.
At the time, Sean, 10 years Ashley’s senior, was working with a business partner to open up J. BLACK’s Feel Good Kitchen & Lounge on West Sixth Street. When it opened in 2007, West Sixth was hardly the entertainment district that it is now. “Key Bar was down there, and Star Bar, and the old Molotov, and that was about it,” says Ashley.
Looking for a change from her 9-to-5 job with the state, Ashley took a risk and joined the J. BLACK’s team as events manager. “She was our first hire,” Sean chuckles. “We weren’t dating when he hired me!” Ashley interrupts. “And I don’t recommend people date people they work with. I think it’s a bad idea. It works for us, it still obviously works, but it definitely comes with a unique set of challenges and it has to be a unique relationship to work.”
As the two started working together on opening the restaurant, an all-hands-on-deck, seven days a week process that involved “a lot of sweat equity love,” Sean’s charm began to work on Ashley. “I don’t think I even realized it was happening,” says Ashley, who remembers that first year telling Sean she wasn’t celebrating Valentine’s Day, only to have him show up at her house with food from Cipollina (one of her favorite spots), and Champagne. “It was cool, and thoughtful, and then all of a sudden I was celebrating Valentine’s Day,” she recalls. “That was probably when I started dating him.”
Nine years later, and the pair are still working together in hospitality. In addition to the West Sixth J. BLACK’s and the J. BLACK’s Houston location, Sean, with business partner Jason Steward, recently opened the Golden Goose, a new dive bar in the former Horseshoe Lounge on South First Street.
The couple is also working together to raise their two-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. Sean says the determined but relaxed attitude he brought to opening up a bar with Ashley is how he approached starting a family with her. “I haven’t done this before,” he remembers feeling about opening up the first J. BLACK’s, “but, we’ll figure it out. As long as you try hard enough, whatever it takes, we’ll figure it out, and it’ll be fine.”
“We consciously made the decision to have a kid knowing that we worked in this industry. But I don’t think I realized how much I worked before,” says Ashley, who no longer puts in the 12-15 hour days she used to, instead choosing to transition into more of a daytime operations manger role once Elizabeth was born. “Now we have to balance our schedules where we keep Elizabeth on a normal schedule. She doesn’t work a nightlife schedule,” Ashley laughs.
That’s not to say Elizabeth doesn’t make the occasional bar visit during the day. “We’re fine with babies coming into J. BLACK’s,” says Ashley. “It’s the 18-year-old kids we’re worried about!” For Derby Day, Ashley brought Elizabeth in to watch the horse races, dressed up in a hat and dress. She even made an appearance at opening day of the Golden Goose, although about 30 minutes in, “I was I was like, ‘Okay we gotta go,’” Ashley laughs, “’You’re making people feel bad about getting drunk.’”
CAITLIN WYETH & JOSH BOUDREAUX
Wyeth Pâtisserie + La Corsha Hospitality Group
Had it not been for a tipsy family friend, things between Josh Boudreaux and Caitlin Wyeth might never have been set into motion. Five years ago, Wyeth, who worked her way through pastry school as a cocktail waitress at Bar Congress, was serving Boudreaux, his mom and the aforementioned family friend. “[The friend] came up to me and was like, ‘He thinks you’re the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, and he’ll never hit on you because he thinks you’re the worst if you hit on people when you’re working,’” remembers Wyeth. “And I was like, ‘Well, he’s right, and oh, he’s totally cute but I have a boyfriend.’”
And that might have been that, had they not kept running into each other. “I saw her around town a couple times, which was weird,” says Boudreaux. One day as he was leaving Castle Hill Fitness he saw a Boston Terrier puppy waiting outside of the Einstein Bros. Bagels next door. “So I’m petting it and messing with it, and Caitlin walks out and I’m like, ‘Oh, what’s up?’ says Boudreaux. Wyeth chimes in, “He didn’t know it was my dog!”
After a few more chance meetings and some purposeful ones — “You totally started coming and sitting at the Second Bar + Kitchen bar,” Wyeth teases Boudreaux, to which he retorts, “One time!” — the two became friends, and a year later, after Wyeth and her boyfriend split, a couple.
Today, Stella, the Boston terrier, is Boudreaux’s dog, too, and can often be found in the kitchen of their Highland neighborhood home, optimistically waiting for their 10-month-old daughter, Lila Pearl, to drop a treat off of her highchair.
The Boudreaux-Wyeth’s family time happens in the morning, before Boudreaux heads into Second Bar + Kitchenaround 4pm to manage the front of the house. (Soon, he’ll be heading over to the soon-to-open Boiler Nine Bar + Grill, La Corsha Hospitality Group’s new venture in the Seaholm Power Plant, as general manager.) Wyeth works at night, too. On Fridays she picks up shifts next door to Boudreaux at Bar Congress, and during the week she bakes for her own business, Wyeth Pâtisserie, from her home kitchen once Lila goes to bed. When Boiler Nine opens, she’ll be baking macaroons for the three-restaurant concept and helping train the new cocktail waitress hires.
Juggling their non-traditional schedules can certainly be a challenge, says Boudreaux. “Trying to work these late hours and then coming home late at night and trying to wake up early to hang out with Lila, and then [Caitlin] has to do her baking work … you got to have a lot of communication as far as how to balance [everything] when you both work in the industry.” The flip side of that, though, is that they can both wake up and spend the day with her before work. “We probably get more time together than a traditional [9-to-5] couple would get as a family,” says Wyeth.
And even if that wasn’t the case, working a traditional job isn’t something either of them feels compelled to do. Says Boudreaux, “I’ve worked 9- to- 5 jobs — years ago — and now I’m like, ‘I couldn’t do that.’ Right now, this is what I actually love to do, I actually love to go to work and get to meet so many different people.” “Maybe sometimes people freak out, like, ‘Oh my god — I’m having a kid, I need to get a quote real job,’” Wyeth muses. But for Boudreaux and Wyeth, this set up is working out just fine, even if sometimes they’re not quite sure how they got here. “I was telling [Caitlin] yesterday how we went to get some lunch, and I’m tired from working the night before and I have to go to work again and I’m just sitting there, eating my food and I look over and Lila’s just sitting in the chair swinging her arms, looking at me and it’s just like, ‘Wow — I made you. You’re my little person. Wow.’”