Chris and Kirk Voelker
Co-owners, State Street Eating House + Cocktails
One of the first things you notice when you meet Dr. Kirk Voelker and his wife, Chris, are the genuine love and admiration they have for each other. Kirk, a successful pulmonary physician, and Chris, co-owners of one of the swankiest lounges in downtown Sarasota, first met in Southern California before moving to Sarasota in 1996. Their shared love and admiration for working together launched a side passion in renovating homes and then in 2012, they decided to jump into the volatile restaurant business by opening State Street. The restaurant, a mix of industrial chic with taxidermy accents, cozy sofas and intimate spaces, reflects the passion of a couple who created much of the interior space by hand. Meeting them one late spring afternoon inside the hip downtown eatery revealed a couple who doesn’t sweat the small stuff, admits they’ve only had two fights in their 17-year marriage, and readily shares their secrets to happiness.
How did you first meet?
She Said We met through friends in Southern California. Kirk was completing a fellowship and we happened to be invited to the same party.
Kirk, as typical of him, was helping out. The night before he had gone to drop off some food and beverages for the party, which was going to be on Saturday. He was leaving the house and I was coming to help too, I guess. We didn’t know each other and my girlfriend kind of yelled out to me, “Hey, have you met Dr. Kirk?’ I said, “Met him? Are you kidding? We’re engaged!’
He Said It was one of those parties where you bring somebody who you are not involved with, a friend, someone of the opposite sex. She brought a date. She didn’t even know I existed. I could have lit myself on fire!
She Said That’s true! We ran into each other the next day again at the same friend’s house and he said he remembered meeting me the night before and I’m like “you are…. oh right, right….I don’t remember you.” But we ended up literally in the kitchen cleaning up, helping out. So we started to talk and talked all the way through washing the dishes, cleaning up and helping. I was dating the gentleman I was with the night before. That was pretty much the end of him.
How did you find a comfort zone as a couple that worked for you?
He Said The difficulty was that I was working like a dog (in the beginning).
She Said He was.
He Said I work like a puppy now (laughs). That was a huge stressor. I transported Chris to this new place, and just sort of left her here, while I had to go off and do what I had to do.
She Said With no friends…
He Said I would come home after 36 hours at the hospital, say hello and pass out. Oh boy, this is married life!
She Said It was hard.
He Said The great thing about her work at the time was the travel. She was traveling around the world and I would be able to catch up with her in Buenos Aires, Paris, wherever it happened to be. We would pre-extend before the work or on rare occasions, I would be hired as her assistant.
She Said I did hire him!
He Said I would shlep bags. I would do whatever I had to do. She was a pretty hard boss, I must say.
She Said You were great!
He Said That really exemplifies our collaboration. It’s a partnership; it’s a collaboration. We call it two idiots, one brain — both of us work together — our strong suits and weaknesses. We compliment each other.
What is your yin and yang to each other?
She Said We are so different, aren’t we?
He Said Are we?
She Said We are and we’re not. I’m much more impatient than he is and that’s great because, I don’t know who else would put up with me. He’s very patient. I’m much more disciplined in my own way. I’m a list maker. I’m an organizer. I’m a get it done ahead of time, get all of the ducks lined up and make sure everything is straight. He’s not so much that way.
He Said I’m a guy.
So what would have been your biggest argument or biggest decision you didn’t agree on?
She Said Ok, we’ve been married for 17 years and we’ve had two arguments.
He Said As probably most big arguments, they are a culmination of things that have been building up. Then you air it out and you find out you really don’t want me to fix things when you come to me and say “I’m having this problem.” You don’t want to hear all of the ways I can come up with solutions. You just want me to listen. It took me a little while to figure that out.
Did you always want a restaurant?
She Said Absolutely not. We owned the building and we had different tenants for years. When the last tenant went out of business, I called our ex-partner, never intending to partner on it. Just wanted to pick his brain on ideas. He suggested to do a restaurant and I said “ok.” So Kirk came home from work that day and I said, “Guess what? We’re going to open a restaurant!”
He Said I said, Sure. Whatever.
She Said Afterwards he said “What’s the worst that can happen?” I said “We can lose literally xxx amount of money. Are we ok with that?” You have to willing to do that and we both said we can do that.
What advice would you give others reading this piece? What’s worked for you?
She Said For me, I think the most important thing is respect. If you respect someone and you treat them well, you give them weight. I think that’s important, in any relationship, especially in a marriage. I know he respects me, my thoughts, my opinions, my feelings, and I feel the same way about him.
He Said That’s the two things I was thinking about: partnership and respect. I admire her, respect her and respect her opinion. She looks at things from a different angle than I do and we compliment each other. We’ve made sort of a conscious decision not to disrespect each other. When you start saying negative things, you start believing it. That’s a destructive force, rather than a creative force.