Meet the husband and husband team behind Palms LA

Michael Tsai and Christian Jensen talk mums, Mormons and marriage

Where did you both start out?
Michael Tsai My dad left Taiwan after he got into a gang fight when he was younger. I was born in a farming town in California, one of two Asians born in the local hospital.
Christian Jensen I grew up in LA, born into a very Mormon family during a blizzard in Salt Lake City, Utah. I’d call my family open-minded, but conservative in terms of behaviour. Church every Sunday for three hours. No tea, no coffee. Choir practice. Boy Scouts.

What changed?
CJ I did my mission in Brooklyn and Queens. Someone was murdered on my block, I saw a guy get a baseball bat to the arm – I heard the bone snap. But I met a lot of wonderful people and I realised a life of self-denial wasn’t what I wanted. I know closeted, married gay Mormons, and that’s rough. At 23 I left the Church, came out and moved to Hollywood.

Michael, what was coming out like for you?
MT I was found out! My dad looked at my laptop when I went to work. He challenged me, I ran away, then gave it a few minutes, came back and said: 'So what if I like that stuff?' He started to cry, he’d put all his hopes on me, but my mum was like, 'You always knew Michael was kind of weird.' I sort of forced them to live with it.

Where did you both meet?
CJ In a Mexican-themed gay bar called Fiesta Cantina.
MT It was the same day I broke up with my fiancé of three years.
CJ You bastard. The day keeps changing.
MT Oh, does it? Well, I felt bad, and made my friends take me out, and Christian was there, celebrating before he went to China. And it led to this week-long whirlwind. I was there at the airport stalking him. His family were there, taking, as Mormon families do, f**king forever to say goodbye. Finally I ran down and pulled him out of the security line…
CJ We ‘said our goodbyes’ in the car. They’d already called my name several times. The flight attendant ran with me, all four engines on the jet were already running. I’ve no idea why they let me on board.
MT That’s the day I said I was going to China with you. We’ve been here eight years, and we got married last year in LA.


How did that go down with your parents?
CJ Our parents got over it – I threatened to never see mine again if they didn’t.
MT Your mum cut all her hair off in front of you and starved herself for three days.
CJ Until food overcame her.
MT Your dad took it surprisingly well, though internally he was processing it pretty hard. Your dad is how I feel all Christians should be.
CJ Very accepting.
MT He’s never shown any judgement, and your Mormon family was there at our wedding, probably their first wedding with alcohol, and my parents arrived on a party bus with 40 of their friends, drunk already.
CJ They drank us out of wine.

So, you were settled in China, and you decided to start Palms LA.
CJ We missed home and we hated our jobs.
MT I studied food and beverage in Rhode Island. I was working at the Hilton, then I helped a friend open a restaurant in Gongti, which I really enjoyed doing.
CJ Then one day you said: 'Christian, I want to open a Mexican-Korean restaurant. Google it, it’s a thing!'
MT Christian helped with PR, marketing and branding, and I focused on the menu. I had a team that has followed me through all my jobs in Beijing. Our managers and employees connect with the customers – a lot of whom are from LA.
CJ Our core team is the best – loyal, amenable, hardworking people, and all our success is down to them coming into our lives. Our managers remember clients’ names, orders, allergies.


How do you manage your working relationship alongside your marriage?
CJ We know people who work together and it’s really taxing on the relationship.
MT There’s no showmanship.
CJ Right, it’s a partnership. But Michael has progressed so much in understanding the marketing side, while I feel I’ve learned a lot from him about dealing with partners and managing the business.
MT We do argue sometimes about work, particularly about things getting finished on time.
CJ It’s hard to have an argument as co-workers and then go home and have a functional marriage. What we do is we always fight to the death, we never go to sleep until we’re done.
MT We also try not to talk about work at home. At one time, all we’d talk about was work. Now we leave it until the next day.

What’s next?
CJ We’ve talked about kids, but that’d be a spanner in the works.
MT For me, my employees are like my children, so having real children and still function as we do… I don’t think you can.
CJ It’s now about what can we afford to sacrifice, and what are we willing to. I think those are just things you decide when it happens.
MT You make it work. I could be superdad, make a cocktail with one hand while holding a baby in the other!

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