Photo: The Muellers with their chocolate hearts
Reading Terminal Market may not be first on your list of Philadelphia's most romantic dining destinations. But it's proven to be a singles stir-fry for Market employees, as fine a place for them to find a life partner as it is for customers to find candy, flowers and ingredients for a romantic dinner to share with their Valentines.
Roger Miller of Miller's Twist pretzels is a perfect example. In his prior job as manager at the Dutch Eating Place, Miller hired Shauna Glick to waitress in 2000. In less than a year-and-a-half, they were husband and wife.
When Flying Monkey manager Shane Monroe first got a job at the bakery in 2011, he admits, "I knew very little about baking. So I had to do a lot of one-on-one" with then-manager Elly Koenig. And not just one-on-one about baking, apparently. After dating for two and half years, Shane and Elly (who no longer works in the Market) recently moved in together.
Surveys say that 10 to 20 percent of couples meet in the workplace. That percentage might be even higher at the Market, according to Glenn Mueller of Chocolate by Mueller, purveyor of anatomically correct chocolate hearts and noses (instead of roses) and chocolate-covered long-stemmed strawberries, among many other Valentine's treats.
"I think it's probably easier to approach someone you're interested in in the Market than it would be in a big company. Going to someone's office or cubicle might be awkward whereas here, everyone's accessible." Moreover Mueller believes the Market's reasonable hours makes stand employment attractive to a particularly diverse and interesting group of young artists and activists. Or, as Mueller puts it: "There are people here for every taste."
Glenn speaks from experience. He married longtime Chocolate by Mueller employee Jazmine Maita in 2010. Mueller has his sister Cristen to thank for hiring his future wife when she was a 15-year-old high school student looking for a part-time job. For Mueller, then the 22-year-old son of owners Theresa and Glenn Sr., "It was truly love at first sight. I thought she was the prettiest person I had ever laid eyes on. She had a great personality and a brilliant mind." But Jazmine also had a high school sweetheart so she and Glenn were just co-workers and friends until Jazmine graduated from high school and her first beau.
Like Roger Miller, Joe Nicolosi of DiNic's and Roger Bassett of Bassetts Ice Cream and the Original Turkey, both hired the women they eventually married. Joe's wife, Christina, worked at DiNic's for about four years before they started dating. One of Joe's previous long-term girlfriends also worked in the Market. He explains the phenomena as "proximity. You get close to people, you get to know them and things happen."
Roger Bassett well remembers the day now-wife Mary showed up to interview for his bookkeeper opening.
"I was at the turkey stand when I got the call that she was at the ice cream stand and as I walked up the aisle I saw this young lady in a suit and heels and I remember thinking, 'If that's her, she's hired.'"
Roger was further wowed when the interview spilled into the lunch rush and Mary jumped behind the counter of his turkey stand to pour sodas.
"At that point in my life I had lots of girlfriends. But they were not people you would think of sharing your life with. I saw how she could be a partner, in terms of both life and working."
Twenty-seven years later Roger and Mary are still working together in the Market, along with 21-year-old son Eric.
And romance at Bassetts Ice Cream does not end at the top. Bassetts manager Mia Maldonado also met her future husband at the stand. Roger Caulfield was her boss before she became her husband. "He proposed right there," she said, pointing to the southeast corner of Bassetts' marble counter. Another current Bassetts employee is the girlfriend of a Salumeria sandwich stand worker. The Market's extremely active rumor mill also tells tales of matchups between workers at Fourth Street Cookies and Tootsie's, Beck's and Carmen's, and Market housekeeping and security.
The Market has a long history of romantic pairings. Eva Godshall worked at Godshall's poultry stand before marrying boss C.K. Godshall's son, Ernst, in the mid-1930s. The late Domenic C. Spataro met his wife, Dorothy, when they both worked for the buttermilk stand he took over in 1947 (also the year they married).
But his son, current stand owner Domenic M. Spataro, has also seen the downside of Market romance, as in the day two Spataro's employees who were dating had a fight behind the stand. "I fired him, though she still works here and ironically, they are still a couple," he noted.
Glenn Mueller agrees with Spataro and most human resource experts in believing that fraternization on the job is generally a bad idea. "If there's a break-up, you could potentially lose two good employees. If one employee gets disciplined, their girlfriend or boyfriend might also take it personally."
Mueller is currently a little concerned about a romance between one of his employees and a worker for a competitive Market candy business. But given his own personal history, he doesn't have the "heart" to put it to a stop.
Carolyn Wyman is the Market's news correspondent and operator of the Reading Terminal's bi-weekly Taste of Philadelphia Food Tour.