This time of year is often filled with not only love but the search for the perfect Valentine's Day dinner location. For several couples, including Sandy couple Brie and Juan Escalante, that location is their own business, where they spend their holiday in service to fellow sweethearts.
The Escalantes have owned Le Happy — the eclectic little yellow restaurant in Portland — for five years and are working to turn the former Chariteas Tea Shop on Proctor Boulevard into a new Sandy location.
Juan is a baker and was raised by a restaurateur in El Salvador. Brie also loves to bake but is a self-professed businesswoman.
Besides Valentine's Day, the couple also celebrates their anniversary in February, making the month very love focused.
"We don't put much stock in Valentine's Day," Brie admitted. "We got married in February and bought the first Le Happy in March. In this season, for us, working together is quality time."
Since the Escalantes don't really celebrate Valentine's Day as a couple, they usually make themselves available to other couples by serving up special crepe and cocktail menus for the holiday.
"Crepes and French food seem to be very Valentine's Day appropriate," Brie said. "We generally work on Valentine's Day, though Friday is usually our one dedicated day off together."
The Escalantes have been together for nine years and married for five. They first met while working as bakers at Costco.
"For most of our relationship we've worked together," Brie said. "We've always been a couple that likes to be with each other as much as possible. If we didn't work together, we'd have very little time together."
Fortunately, Brie and Juan are "both very passionate about creating food and drinks" and Le Happy gives them the perfect vehicle to do work and be together.
Brie added that without the chance to take time off together, their relationship would be very different.
"I think it's vital for any relationship (to have quality time) but for us because we work together, it's too easy to be all consumed by the business we run," Brie explained. "The business is like the child we have together."
She admitted that from spending most of their time in the same space "you get on each other's nerves from time to time," but added that "I think we've definitely worked through a lot of our challenges."
"Juan and I of course have some similar strengths since we're both bakers, but we also have some different talents we each bring to this partnership," she added. While Brie is the main brain on pairing flavors to add new items to the menu, Juan is usually the one executing those visions in the kitchen.
"I think we both appreciate that about each other," Brie said. "Hopefully that all translates to our customers and how we serve people. I think we both care about providing the best possible product and experience to our customers."
Creating a place for people
Though Jenny Beaudoin and Corey Lawrence only recently took over ownership of Harmony in Estacada, the couple has already fallen into a familiar routine.
Prior to purchasing the bakery from Beaudoin's aunt Linda at the end of last year, Beaudoin worked as a waitress and Lawrence as a chef at the longtime Estacada establishment in the early 2000s.
"We've always remembered that as being fun," Beaudoin said. "We're best friends, and we work well as a team."
Lawrence and Beaudoin haven't taken a day off since becoming the bakery's owners, and they'll be serving the community on Valentine's Day, Friday, Feb. 14.
"We're a really cozy place for people to come," Beaudoin said.
Harmony, at 221 S.W. Wade St., features a variety of offerings for breakfast and lunch, along with a collection of freshly baked goods each morning. On Valentine's Day, they will also offer chocolate covered strawberries.
The pair usually starts their work days at 5:30 a.m. or earlier, and they appreciate that they're in good company.
"We knew we could do this together well," Beaudoin said. "Parenting has never been inequitable for us. We recognized that that would give us skills that are transferable to this."
Both bring elements to the restaurant that the other appreciates. Lawrence values Beaudoin's professionalism, and Beaudoin values Lawrence's "calm, positive energy."
"It's awesome. The climate we've created is really peaceful and positive. There's a lot of laughter," Beaudoin said. "We're so happy we get to work together."
"We joke a lot," Lawrence added.
Beaudoin and Lawrence met when Beaudoin was studying at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif, and Lawrence's band played at a party she was hosting. They were married in 2003 and have two daughters, Rayley and Arrow.
The couple is excited to continue the legacy established by Harmony's previous owners, Beaudoin's aunt Linda and Sandy Walker. The bakery first opened its doors in 1984 and has been welcoming the community ever since.
"When Linda retired, it was pretty much a go. It's been a whirlwind," Lawrence said, discussing their purchase of the bakery.
Beaudoin is happy to continue to provide community members a place to connect with one another.
"It makes me happy that people are coming here for Valentine's Day. This place is definitely full of love. It makes sense that it's a good place to celebrate love," she said.
Cooking up compromise
David and Dana Ligatich first met when they were 2 years old.
Their families were neighbors, and the pair would get together for play dates. But they didn't become a couple until later at Parkrose High School, where David found himself transfixed in Spanish class.
"I used to sit across the room from her and think, 'God that gal is gorgeous,'" he said.
Though he was smitten, and doing terribly at Spanish as a result, it was Dana who made the first move.
"I just asked what he was doing after school one day," she said with a smile.
The two were married July 4, 1998, and have been in love ever since. Now they run a successful breakfast restaurant in Gresham, Biscuits Café, 1905 N.E. Division St., and are gearing up alongside other regional businesses to spend a portion of their Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, serving others.
"This is like our second home, the customers are family," Dana said. "There was never a question of us not being open."
Biscuits prides itself on being there for its customers. The Ligatichs enjoy visiting with regulars and newcomers, and that kindness has permeated throughout the restaurant. The staff goes out of their way to brighten people's day, Biscuits is always clean, and of course, the couple ensures the food is top-quality.
The customers often pay it forward. The other day, David had multiple tables vying for a chance to pay for a police officer and his family's tab — and it's rare that a veteran ever sees their bill.
"It's pretty amazing to see what our customers go out of their way to do," David said. "We love being a part of this community."
The couple's secret to staying together has been compromise, patience and love — a mindset that has also helped them in running Biscuits. Dana is the restaurant industry expert, while David takes on the brunt of the logistics and paperwork.
"We do well together," he said.
This year the restaurant is offering a special menu item for Valentine's Day — red velvet pancakes with white chocolate. They will be available for the entire month of February.
And while the Ligathichs will be busy brightening other couple's mornings on Friday, David revealed he has spent the last month planning something special for his wife — a secret he wouldn't even reveal to The Outlook. But at the end of the day, they are just looking forward to being together.
"I can't imagine my life without her," David said.
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