Marlene DeMarchi, co-owner of Aldo Los Altos restaurant, wife and mother of three, is grateful that women before her paved the way for women's equality in business.
What she didn't anticipate was how much she'd have to juggle to make it all work in her own life.
"I had three hours of sleep last night," said DeMarchi, whose three children are in elementary, middle and high school. "We women juggle. The more we have to juggle, the more organized we are. We make sure everyone's needs are met. We can't allow any balls to drop."
To say she leads a fast-paced life is an understatement. In addition to her responsibilities as a mother, DeMarchi runs the operations at Aldo, which opened in 2005.
The restaurant, which can seat about 80 people, serves Italian cuisine prepared by DeMarchi's husband, executive chef Donato DeMarchi.
"Our menu is modern, updated Italian," she said. "Donato was trained in Italy. He traveled for many years and got the influence of the world. His food isn't fusion. It's innovative (for) today. We're not the old spaghetti and meatballs."
While Donato handles the kitchen and menu, Marlene spends her time managing business details.
"I handle human resources, the hiring and the firing," she said. "I go from sitting on top to sitting on the bottom. I wait, bartend, I do the books and get the bills paid. And I do marketing. I'm even trying to build a Web site."
DeMarchi entered the restaurant business in the classic trial-by-fire method.
"I was working in the pharmaceutical industry, and Donato had a dream to run a restaurant," she said. "So, he sold Emilia Romagna pasta factory in 1995 and invested in Vino e Cucina restaurant in San Francisco. I thought it was going to be an investment, but I soon found I was managing it. I didn't go to school for it. It was the college of hard knocks."
After a 10-year run, they closed the restaurant and opened Aldo in 2005.
"Small business gives a place character," she said. "That why we liked Los Altos. It's unique because there aren't a lot of big chain (restaurants) here. It has a small-town quaintness and wholesomeness."
In 2006, the DeMarchis opened a second restaurant in Berkeley.
"It's called Misto Italian Bistro," she said. "We expect to open in June."
DeMarchi, 40, remembers the professional women who frequented Vino e Cucina.
"You could tell how the older women had to pay their share of being in the man's world," she said. "Women judges came in and I could see the respect they demanded and they earned in their line of work. They had to swallow so much to get ahead, and it paved the way for young women today."
DeMarchi's daily routine today is not unlike a high-wire act. There's little margin for error.
"We women raise our own bar because excuses and reasons can't come into play," she said.
What's more, her family and work responsibilities are different sides of the same coin.
"If one part of it falls," she said, "if I choose to take care of my children over my job, how are they going to eat? If I choose my job over my kids, who takes care of the children?"
She relies on her husband for emotional support.
"In order to survive, you have to support each other," she said. "But that's the hardest part, keeping the business out of the marriage, because our office is in our home."
DeMarchi describes having morning coffee at home with Donato.
"The next thing we know, it's a board meeting," she said with a chuckle. "If it starts to get heated, we decide to discuss it another time."
With all the demands on her time, the loss of self concerns her.
"I'm balancing the demands of motherhood, of being a spouse and business woman," she said. "We take care of people, the laundry and where people need to be on time. So when is there time for you? You feel selfish for thinking that. Women carry a lot guilt."
DeMarchi said she doesn't always do a good job maintaining her sense of self.
"When I find myself getting lost," she said, "I give myself a swift kick and tell myself, 'One day, I'll get my turn again after my kids are grown.' This is the choice you make when you have kids. That was the choice I made.
"As long as I'm able and enjoy what I do, and as long I have two hands and a brain that's functioning, I'll keep working toward my future, which helps facilitate my family's future."
Aldo Los Altos is located at 388 Main St. Lunch is served Mondays through Saturdays starting at 11 a.m. Dinner is served seven days a week starting at 5 p.m. For more information, call 949-2300.