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There are countless reasons why couples don’t make it, but relationships are particularly challenging for those working in the food industry. Whether it’s the high-stress environment, grueling physical conditions, atypical schedules, or even the relatively low take-home pay that hospitality professionals earn, all can tear a relationship to shreds. So, the fact that Rayme Rossello, the owner of Comida at Stanley Marketplace, and Erik Duffy, co-founder of Tender Belly, have made their partnership work—despite meeting when each was technically married to someone else—is a testament to true love and second chances.
Their story began in 2012, as Rossello planned the opening of her first brick-and-mortar Comida in Longmont (based on the success of Tina, the hot pink Comida food truck she launched in 2010). Rossello was hunting for a great bacon purveyor for her now-legendary griddled bacon-jalapeño taco, and asked her Shamrock sales rep for a recommendation. Going off book, he told her to get Tender Belly’s bacon, even though Shamrock didn’t carry their products. Rossello placed an order.
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Duffy, who co-founded Tender Belly with his brother Shannon, also in 2010, was making the company’s deliveries at that time, and when he saw the order, he stopped short. “I didn’t want to drive all the way out to [expletive] Longmont!” says Duffy. “But Shannon said I had to.” Unsurprisingly, Rossello recalls those first deliveries as unusual. “Unusual? She was mean to me at first,” Duffy says. “Cold.” “I probably didn’t give him the time of day,” Rossello responds. “He had a wedding band on his finger.”
That he did. Rossello’s own wedding ring had come off about six month prior, and while Duffy was in fact separated from his wife, he was still living with her and their two children, then ages five and nine. But Rossello began to soften toward Duffy, hearing stories from Comida’s then-chef, Serena Romeo, about how he had dropped off a Tender Belly delivery at her house at her request. “That got my attention,” Rossello says. “I realized that [Erik and Shannon] were just starting out too, and pretty scrappy. So, one day I introduced myself.”
After comparing similar forearm tattoos—each relating to their exes—Rossello asked if she could bring her staff to see Tender Belly’s farm. “I told her that it doesn’t really work that way [Tender Belly sources pork from area farmers, but does not own its own farming operation], but I’d be happy to take her to lunch and tell her how it does work,” Duffy says. “I was pretty rusty, so I was proud of that one.”
That first date was good and bad: Bad because it was Opening Day at Coors Field and parking was terrible downtown; good because it ended with a “smooch.” And while both Rossello and Duffy blush when they talk about that kiss, their road to a relationship was rocky for months thereafter. It took time and patience from them both to weather the end of Duffy’s marriage and his comfort zone regarding his kids. “If it wasn’t for the kids, Rayme and I would have been handled at that first date,” he says. But he wanted to wait until the right time to introduce the children to Rossello, and that came after he moved into his own place in the Baker neighborhood.
While she waited, Rossello put her hopes out into the world. “All along, I was never sure,” Rossello says. “But I spent the month of August , every single day, writing a list of all the things I wanted in a partner. It was always just a description of Erik.” On the list? A partner who was a father; who loved what he did; who was an entrepreneur; who loved to cook; who was fun and not so serious. “30 days I made these lists, and it all came true.”
By early 2013, Duffy was on his own and ready for his children to meet Rossello. “We were seeing each other all of the time,” Rossello says. “The gates were open.” The relationship gelled over the next several months, and by 2014, Rossello and Duffy had combined households, renting an old house with amazing views on Lee Hill outside of Boulder. There was a porch off the master bedroom at that house, where the couple set up their first outdoor sleeping bed.
Duffy grew up sleeping outside, on the screened-in porch of his family’s home in Fairfax, Iowa. “As a kid, you can sleep in your room—boring,” Duffy says, “or you can sleep outside. And when there’s weather, those are the best nights to sleep out. When it’s windy, raining, snowing, and there’s nothing on television, by 7:30 p.m. I’m like, ‘Babe, let’s get in bed.’” Rossello chimes in, “The wind blows and it’s like you’re listening to a story. But we don’t get wet; we have a good set up.”
At their current home, located just a mile from that first rental property, Duffy and Rossello have a sleeping porch with a roof, which makes rainy and snowy nights a non-issue. Duffy made their outdoor-ready bed for Rossello for her birthday a few years ago. It has a thick headboard with doors so their books and belongings don’t get wet or blow away, and he waterproofed a tin-cloth tarp that goes over their wool and fur blankets come wintertime. Duffy transformed their old bed into a trundle on wheels, which they roll out for the kids when they are there. “From the beginning, the kids would always sleep out there with us,” Rossello says. “And we have dogs. Sometimes, it’s a three-dog night. But we sleep so well. You wake up and see the stars… and meteor showers… and animals, for sure.” (For the record, they’ve seen bears, foxes, and turkeys, but only the footprints of wild cats.)
Rossello and Duffy’s sleeping arrangements aren’t the only unique aspects of their relationship. Married on a Kuaui beach in Hawaii on Thanksgiving Day 2017—Duffy’s then-13-year-old daughter performed the ceremony, and his eight-year-old son was the photographer—Rossello and Duffy are partners in ways many married couples only aspire to. While she spends most of her week running Comida at Stanley Marketplace, with only Sundays off for family time, Duffy, who has enjoyed enormous success with Tender Belly (which can be found at Costco and Whole Food Markets nationwide), works less-than-part-time these days. He is building a wood-workers quonset hut on the couple’s 14 acres in Boulder and planning for a licensed hemp growing operation, as well as horses, cows, and pigs eventually; a new puppy, Jolene, comes home in a few weeks. “I take care of the stuff I’m better at,” Duffy says, “and she takes care of other stuff. We divide and conquer. We’re good partners without even talking about it. That’s the cool thing. And she’s just the nicest person ever. I do a lot of stupid shit, and she’s still here.”
For Rossello, her dream man is made real in Duffy. “He can do anything. He’s incredibly tenacious. He’s a really good father. He loves the things that he loves and doesn’t give any time for the rest,” she says. “He’s not a perfect man; he’s more like a wolf than a human sometimes. But he’s helped me see myself in a better way.”
Rossello also loves being a step-mother to Duffy’s son and daughter. In fact, that’s who the couple will spend Valentine’s Day with this year. The plan? In Rossello’s words: “I’m going to come home from the restaurant and pop open a bottle of bubbly; Erik will have the Champagne of Beers. We’ll have a pizza-and-movie night with the kids. That’s what’s most romantic to me: a fireplace, a little bubbly, the people I love, and a homemade margherita pizza topped with pepperoni and Tender Belly sausage. We generally don’t exchange gifts beyond cards, but we will watch a movie, play cards and Rummikub, eat, and drink. It. Will. Be. Heaven.”