Meet the Keets: Busy Restaurateurs Keep Family First
Jake and Stephanie Keet do pretty much everything together. Like any family, they’re living together and raising kids together, but they also both work for the family business, meaning nearly every part of their day is intertwined in some form or fashion.
But they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Their sons, Holden, 9, and Dashiell, 3, are their number one priorities, and a little ways behind come the group of central Arkansas restaurants — Petit and Keet, multiple Taziki’s locations, Paninis & Co. and Watercolor in the Park — that Jake runs alongside his father and brother.
With Jake recently promoted to chief operating officer and Stephanie running the company's marketing and advertising as vice president of marketing, the two have a few tricks up their sleeves to help them stay organized and keep family first.
A Working Family
When your family is also part of your work, it could be easy to let work take precedence in day-to-day life. But Jake makes a conscious effort to keep it the other way around.
“I drop my kids off in the morning, every morning. I eat dinner with my family every single night,” Jake said. “Work-life balance right now is really good.”
While it can be easy for work topics to overrun conversation at home, the Keets say that they’ve learned when to put the brakes on restaurant talk.
“Every few days we have to say ‘that’s enough,’” Jake said, laughing.
But the duo counts it a blessing that they get to work together and alongside Jake’s dad and brother. Jake started working with the family business when he was 22, and while he has no expectations for his sons, he and Stephanie would love to see them involved in JTJ Restaurants some day.
“We would be thrilled if (Holden and Dashiell) joined us or we were able to partner with them later in life in some sort of business venture,” Stephanie said. “I think Holden is probably a natural. He’s really good with people.”
Jake said it would be a joy to work with his kids someday and, already, the boys have been part of the family business. Occasionally, Holden will go with his dad to Petit and Keet to help greet guests and check on tables and both he and Dashiell have been in commercials for the restaurants.
Jake summed it up: “At the end of the day, family is very important to me.”
5 Things the Keets Love
1. Free Play
Jake and Stephanie say they were immediately drawn to their current home when house shopping a few years ago because as soon as they entered the gated neighborhood, they saw kids running around and playing.
“We just love getting outside and having Holden play basketball, throwing the football with Jake or taking a walk. We really enjoy taking a break from screen time,” says Stephanie.
Jake is a bit of a movie guru — he says he owns more than 10,000 (and that was after he got rid of his VHS collection in college). Jake writes Blu-ray reviews for what Stephanie calls “his just-for-fun job.”
3. Working Out
Stephanie plans ahead for classes she’s interested in because she says she hates working out when she doesn’t have a specific direction. Just walking into the gym isn’t her jam, but she knows fitness is important and they’ve found ways to make working out fun for each of them.
“We go to the gym all the time; that’s probably my favorite thing to do,” Jake said. “I love the (Little Rock) Athletic Club. They do a great job with the kids so we can drop them off and work out.”
Jake and Stephanie’s organizational skills come in clutch when planning trips for the family. One of their favorite vacation spots is Destin, Florida, where they stay at their condo several times each year. Stephanie said they also enjoy weekend getaways to closer destinations like Dallas.
“We love traveling — we’ve got it down to an art as far as the organization, the packing, what you need,” she said laughing.
Jake is a on the junior board of Easterseals Arkansas where he serves alongside other young professionals on a team called The Guardians. Stephanie works alongside ACCESS to help run the HOPE program, which stands for herbs offering personal enrichment.
Through the initiative, students at the Mississippi location of ACCESS Academy grow a variety of herbs that Taziki’s then uses in several of its locations.
“They’ve grown rosemary, oregano, cilantro — it kind of varies but they always grow something and we partner with them and they supply a couple of our stores,” Stephanie said.
The Keets to Success
Like any working parent, Stephanie basically has two full-time jobs on her plate: mom and vice president of marketing for JTJ Restaurants. But her key to balancing it all is simple: organization.
“I live off of my Google Calendar,” Stephanie says. “I even have my workouts that I would want to go to even if I can’t make it planned out in my Google Calendar.”
She keeps all of the kids’ activities in her shared calendar as well and says she is constantly inviting Jake to events so he stays on top of things as well.
“Working full time and being a mom of two is a lot,” she said. “I’m always going and always planning!”
In Jake’s eyes, one of the reasons the family works so well together in the business realm is their willingness to joke around. He says that everyone has a good sense of humor and they’re able to work hard while having fun.
“That’s probably the defining thing in our family — taking everything with a little bit of humor makes everything a joy,” Jake said.
Watercolor in the Park
The Keets’ latest restaurant project is the revamped restaurant inside the Arkansas Arts Center, now called Watercolor in the Park, which opened in late November 2018.
They plan to host opening night dinners for some of the Children’s Theatre shows and offer kid-friendly options on the menu. The Keets are members of the AAC and enjoy bringing Holden and Dashiell to visit the museum.
“I’m just excited about getting the kids more involved in the Arts Center as well,” Stephanie said. “I grew up doing theater at my high school at Parkview and I love the arts. I’m excited to have them exposed to that.”
Stephanie said she’d like to also plan other seasonal and kid-friendly events at Watercolor in the Park such as holiday brunches or a princess event. Stay up to date on events at the restaurant at ArkansasArtsCenter.org.