Marriage is hard. But throw in working in one of the toughest industries around, the restaurant business, with your significant other, and your relationship just got that much more complicated.
Ashley Darby is learning that the hard way this season of The Real Housewives of Potomac. Oz, the Arlington, Virginia restaurant she started with her husband, Michael Darby, is up and running, but making it a success has been a personal and professional challenge for the couple.
Ashley told The Daily Dish that part of why she and Michael have been butting heads over the business has to do with the difference in their ages. "Michael and I do have this age difference. He's 29 years older than me. And he has so much business experience that I think that he kind of forgets that I don't necessarily have all those years. And so, he has these expectations of me to be this strong, confident, self-assured businesswoman when really I'm still navigating the ropes. I'm still learning as I go. And yes, I'm definitely going to make some mistakes," Ashley explained. "So stepping into this role of being responsible for people's livelihoods and having budgets with a lot more zeroes on them has been a learning experience for me, to say the least, so it does cause some issues for Michael and me and really made us think about why we were doing this. We didn't do this restaurant to tear ourselves apart; we did it to bring us together. So we'll work on that."
And this restaurant has brought Ashley and Michael closer together in some ways. "Focusing on the fact that Michael has been such a successful real estate developer for the last thirtysomething years of his life, he wants to give me knowledge. He wants to be appreciated for his business acumen. So I think the fact that he can feel like he's pitching me something helps support our relationship. And then at the same time, we're both working to build something. We don't have kids yet, but this is like a child. So both of us are really giving, literally, 110 percent of our effort. So it makes us both feel invested in something, like we're sharing something," Ashley said. "And no one knows what we're going through. And everyone has an opinion and we should do this or we should be doing that, but no one actually knows what Michael and I are going through but us. [It's] intimate conversations about the restaurant and how it's affecting our lives and the people who we're supporting and the fact that we're in the community. No one gets that but us."
But maintaining a relationship that is both romantic and professional does have its challenges. "I can't lie and say it's easy because it's been quite a challenge, probably one of the most challenging things I've ever done because in my life usually, I just do things for me. When I did Miss DC, it was all about me. When I've done anything that's just been personal, the only thing I've had to care about is just myself. But now, I have to consider another person's feelings, another person's point-of-view, and it's not a situation that I could just walk away from. So we have to both be very committed, and it's been hard," she said. "It's very hard for me to think about something not working. I have this idealistic nature where I think, 'Oh, this is gonna be great.' No, it takes a lot of hard work. So that's kind of a challenging part for me in particular."
In fact, navigating the social dynamics of a restaurant has been difficult for Ashley in general. "The restaurant industry is definitely an interesting business, and it's not white collar corporate like Michael's industry," Ashley said. "And the personalities of those of us who work in hospitality, we're very eccentric people, so it's been about feeling out all the different personalities and learning how to adapt to the Type As, the Type Bs, the Type Cs, to the B pluses. It's a whole spectrum of individuals I've had to learn how to motivate them, encourage them. [Learning] how to actually fire people, which is not fun to do."
It hasn't been easy educating the denizens of the Washington, D.C. area on Australian cuisine, either. Oz offers a modern take on traditional Australian fare, serving up food like burgers, boar, and kangaroo sliders. "The reason it's been challenging is because there's really no definition as to what Australian cuisine is. I can't say that it is like Asian cuisine where there's a lot of spices and a lot of different elements of noodle dishes and things like that. Australian cuisine is very influenced by British cuisine. So it's very meat and potato, protein, starch, and vegetable-focused. So we've had to find some way to kind of blend that with the American palate. Australia now has a huge Asian influence, so it's a meld," Ashley explained. "But we're trying to be traditional Australian, it could be pretty lackluster, which we learned the hard way. So now we're trying to find more ways to incorporate the Australian cuisine with the American cuisine, adding some more spices, adding some more varieties from different cultures. That was literally like a year of trial and error. I think we're finally getting there."
Ashley just never imagined getting there would be this difficult. "It's really funny because when we were doing the reunion last year and Andy Cohen asked me what's been the hardest part, and I told him I didn't really know it was gonna be this hard, he laughed at me and was like, 'What do you mean? How do you not know?' I think that anticipating the challenges of not only opening the first [Australian] restaurant [in the greater Washington area] — not a chain, not a franchise that's already been established, but opening a new restaurant and introducing a cuisine that's not in this area, I didn't realize how hard it would be to educate people and at the same time entertain them and make them want to come back," she said. "That's been very hard to find the sweet spot. Being fun and engaging, at the same time being interesting without just being a novel, onetime place is the biggest challenge I've had."
Find out how Ashley and Michael's love story began, below.