From the outset, these two chefs knew where their combined destinies lay. "On our first date, we talked about opening a restaurant," Montella-Smith remembers. More than 20 years later, the inspired Southwestern cuisine of their Armadillo Café continues to please the palates of South Florida diners. With their long-awaited new location on University Drive in Davie up and running, they need look no further than each other for the reasons they were able to succeed.
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"I'm gonna brag on him for a while now," Montella-Smith announces, referring to McCarthy. "He's a fantastically talented technical chef. I was kinda mad about this at first -- technically, I'm not even in his league, but I have my talents too -- and there was a lot of friction."
Of course, combining a romantic relationship and a business partnership brought challenges. "I wouldn't recommend that," Montella-Smith notes dryly, pointing out that they broke up for good in 1993 and are now married to different people. (McCarthy has four children; Montella-Smith has one.) Still, she says, "Kevin and I have a bond that can't be broken. We really watch out for each other, because this business is tough -- physically, emotionally, and financially. But when you're a force of two against the world, that makes a huge difference."
Though he looks back with a mixture of fondness and resentment on the old days (the resentment being reserved mostly for the incessant road construction that plagued the now-closed Griffin Road location), McCarthy is gratified that he and Montella-Smith have remained business partners even after they split up. "It's easy to start in a small place, where we just threw everything we had into it," McCarthy remembers. "We didn't have any money; there was no place to go. It was a nothing-to-lose kind of thing: You take the rear-view mirror off the car and go forward and get better."
Now that they're in a bigger location, with a regular Sunday brunch and lunch service in the planning stages, McCarthy declares, "We've been through the rough years, and now we're seeing the light."