Building an Empire

For restaurateur David White and fiancée Allison Thompson, having a family means focusing on one career at a time.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY SMEETA MAHANTI

Like most parents with young kids, David White and Allison Thompson are skilled jugglers when it comes to the demands of careers and a growing family. David, 43, is a founding partner of Ne Timeas restaurant group, which operates Flour + Water, Central Kitchen and Salumeria on 20th Street in San Francisco’s Mission district. Before the appearance of the couple’s two little girls, Daisy, 29 months, and Ruby, 11 months, David was putting in 100-hour weeks while he worked towards the opening of Salumeria and Central Kitchen in 2012. Meanwhile, Allison, now 29, was killing it as a brand ambassador for Templeton Rye, working boozy events even as she became increasingly pregnant with the couple’s first daughter.

“There were nights when I would be super pregnant and pouring samples of whiskey,” Allison says. “People loved it. Our sales went through the roof. The bump definitely helped. We weren’t engaged or married at the time, so maybe they just thought I was in a hard way or something. It was memorable.”

David White and Allison Thompson

From left: Ruby, Allison, David and Daisy have a family moment in the private upstairs dining room of one of his restaurants, Central Kitchen.

But they maxed out the juggling act following the challenging birth of their first daughter, Daisy (she was a frank breech, with her bottom lodged low in the pelvis and her feet up by her head). Allison had a C-section that put her back in the hospital for two weeks with a massive infection in her abdomen. “She was so ill that she could barely move, let alone even lift the baby,” David says. “Whereas I was in the last month of opening Central Kitchen, so I would start work at 7 a.m. and work straight through until 7 p.m. when I would go to the hospital to relieve Allison’s mother, who had been staying with her. Then I would take care of Daisy all night, changing her and passing her back and forth for feedings, and trying to nod off in the chair for a few minutes at a time,” David says.

After she recovered during her maternity leave, Allison continued working with the help of nannies and babysitters. When Ruby came along last summer, however, Allison hit the tipping point faced by many parents, where a feeling of wanting to spend more time with her kids combined with the challenges of scheduling and childcare costs. “They were both so young, and I kept thinking about how much time I was missing,” Allison says. “I felt a lot of guilt when I wasn’t spending time with just Daisy, so even when I had a sitter for the girls, I felt like that was time for me to spend with just one baby at a time. I’d let the sitter take Ruby while I did something special with Daisy.”

Last August, she quit her job and became a stay-at-home mom. The transition was slow, but meaningful. “It’s been a better adjustment since I’ve been home,” Allison says. David describes his fiancée’s decision bluntly, “She’s incredibly smart, young and motivated. She really sacrificed something to be home for the kids,” he says.

ruby-david-white-nursery

Warning: Objects in lens may be closer than they appear. Ruby, 11 months, gets up close and personal in the bedroom she shares with her older sister, Daisy.

As Allison gravitated towards the idea of staying home, David altered his schedule as well. He moved into new business development and took on the wine programs for the Ne Timeas restaurant group, a change that helped scale back his hours to something that resembled a 9-to-5 workweek. “I didn’t see any other way,” White says. “I didn’t want to be the guy who saw his kids just once per week.”

The adjustment allows him dramatic freedom in terms of how and when he works. But the volume of work is relentless: David spearheads the group’s new projects, which currently include a space opening in late 2014 that will add 100 employees and up to four new lines of business to the group’s roster. To offset the increasing demands of his workload, he intensively trains his hires, and then promotes them to take on more responsibility—which recently freed him from running the wine programs at both Flour + Water and Central Kitchen. “Empower them and set them free,” he says of talented employees. It’s a method that makes his work life manageable, and allows him to be home at night before bedtime routines.

Allison Thompson and Daisy

Allison and Daisy at home. Allison and David are getting married at Central Kitchen over Labor Day weekend.

David is candid when discussing the division of labor at home. “I know I have the easiest part,” he says. “The girls are always excited to have breakfast with daddy. Then I go to work, and when I come home we have baths and dinner and they go to bed. For me, going to work is actually easy, because it’s stimulating, creative, fulfilling and it keeps me ticking.”

For her part, Allison says that she misses working but feels lucky to be able to be with her girls. “The hardest part has actually been finding people in a similar situation,” she says. She had Daisy when she was 27 (“relatively young for San Francisco, but old for Iowa, where I’m from”), and found herself in short company among her friends, none of whom had kids. Her solution? Trolling the local parks for new parent buddies.

Despite heavy workloads for each parent, they still manage astounding feats of family bonding, including a recent 4-day camping trip to Fort Bragg with friends. David describes a setting on a bluff above the ocean, with his kids digging around in the dirt as the adults were getting a campfire going—an endeavor that sounds nearly impossible to most parents with two toddlers in tow. But Allison chalks it up to their laid-back attitude about parenting, “We’re not overly obsessed with germs,” she says. She also credits her fiancé’s belief that two adults and two babies in a tent wouldn’t be a complete disaster. (Bedtime was, actually, a bit of a disaster, as a quartet of adults hanging out by a campfire has a way of enticing toddlers out of their bedtime routine.) But once they gave up on trying to put Daisy to bed with her little sister, things went more smoothly. “We let her stay up until she was nodding off by the fire at midnight, and then she went to bed immediately,” says David.

If they seem unflappable, it’s because they are. David and Allison are tying the knot at Central Kitchen over Labor Day weekend, and even wedding plans that involve blocking off nearby streets and erecting a colossal white tent haven’t thrown anyone for a loop just yet.

It’s all down to the knowledge that they’ve had worse. “When you ask about balance, Daisy’s birth was our baptism by fire,” David says. “After that, we could do anything.”