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" My focus is my children."

For one restaurateur, there's always room at the table for family.
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Running a business and starting a family seems counterintuitive: One wants to work less, not need to work more, which is a cold reality of entrepreneurial life. But as one woman has discovered, having her own company has brought her a fulfilling professional life, as well as a rich family life.

Former J.P. Morgan VP Monica Chitins traded business suits and power lunches for flip-flops and island cuisine when she and her photographer husband, Ricardo Betancourt, left New York in 1997 and started Café Media Luna on the island of Vieques, seven miles off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. Eight years in banking had left her itching to "exercise a different part of my brain, and to do something that would allow me to be creative." Plus, "we wanted a family," says Chitins, 34, "but we didn't want to live our family life between Friday afternoon and Sunday night, as our jobs in New York demanded."

The couple moved to the island and bought a building, and soon, the career woman who could only "boil an egg" had taught herself to cook, serving as many as 80 meals a night, five nights a week, during high season (Thanksgiving to Easter). "I worked hard in New York--60 to 80 hours a week--but this is harder," she says. "You produce food every single night to an unforgiving market, and the reputation and success falls on two people's shoulders." But, she adds, "it's hugely more gratifying."

"We didn't want to live our family life between Friday afternoon and Sunday night."

So much so that she doesn't miss the regular salary that once paid for a Long Island beach house and European vacations. "You can get so involved in work and the centrality of money in your life, it's hard to think about what, perhaps, you are missing. I make a fraction of what I used to make, but there was a time and place for that, and things that were important then aren't now."

Now life is centered on her children, Gabriela, 2, and Leonardo, 6 months. And no amount of money could buy the joy of watching them grow up, she says. "The thought of saying good-bye at 7 a.m. and not seeing them until 7 p.m. sends chills down my spine."

She brings them to work, where she preps in an open, homey kitchen from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; a babysitter takes over at 5:30 p.m. "The restaurant business is amenable to family life. The restaurant comes alive when the children are going to sleep."

Spending so much time with your family--in the Caribbean no less, with Septembers off (hurricane season)--seems a charmed life. Horses trot by all day, and the children spend hours on the beach. But there are days "when Ricardo and I look at each other and wonder why we are doing this," she says. There are the tedious menial tasks, constant personnel management chores, and exhaustion, especially since a new resort opened nearby and business has increased.

Still, she would trade this life for no other. Next summer she may take time to write a cookbook--she specializes in a fusion of Indian, Asian, and Caribbean cuisine--but she has no ambitious plans for expanding the restaurant or starting new ventures. "I could not walk away from the lifestyle I have created," she says. "And right now my focus is my children and our family."

Continue Reading The Good Life

Last updated: Oct 1, 2003




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