Jack Amon and Richard "Van" Hale opened the doors of the Marx Bros. Cafe on October 18, 1979; however, the two had already been partners in cuisine for some time, having created the Wednesday Night Gourmet Wine Tasting Society and Volleyball Team Which Now Meets on Sunday, a weekly evening of food and wine. It was actually the end of the weekly event that spurred the name of the restaurant: hours after its final service, Amon and Hale were hauling equipment and furnishings out of their old location and to their now-iconic building on Third Street, all while managing arguments about equipment ownership, a visit from the police, and quite a bit of wine. "If you've ever seen the movie A Night at the Opera" starring the Marx Brothers, that's what it was like," Hale explains.
"It was a big storm here at the beginning," Amon says, but that storm laid the foundation for a decades-long partnership. "The strength of our partnership is we've both really committed to the same vision of the kind of restaurant we want to have and the kind of experience we want to provide... We've been really transparent with each other, and we both know where all the money is. I think that after forty years, we've managed to work a few things out," he laughs.
"People ask when I'm going to retire, and I say why?" Hale says. "I'm enjoying life... I want to work--it keeps me going, it keeps me young."
As they have for forty years, Hale and Amon share the workload, with Hale managing front of house and Amon managing back of house restaurant responsibilities.
Hale explains the level of trust they have in each other does allow them to have time away from the restaurant. "We're taking a little more time off than we ever have," he says. "We've got pretty good staff. When Jack takes off to Italy for three weeks, it's nice because he knows I'm at the restaurant covering, and when I'm gone, I know he's here."
That said, "We both still like to be here at least some of the evening, and sometimes we split the week," Amon explains. "The customers still like to see us and know we're here--plus, I don't want the inmates running the asylum for a long time," he laughs.
Hale and Amon also look for balance for their employees. "There's an attitude among the younger workforce that it's not all just about the dollars, it's about work accommodating their lives and their other values," Amon explains. "A small group like us can find some of that flexibility, which helps with retention."