Chef Howie Fournier and Bob Fournier
By Andy Armano
This series focuses on individuals who give to our community and make a positive impact on the lives of others. Often it is through our personal adversities that we discover who we are and transform the challenges into strength.
Chef Howie Fournier and Bob Fournier are a Wilton Manors institution. Howie is the chef at The Pub. Bob provides administrative and logistical support. They have been together for nearly 38 years and had a very successful restaurant and bar outside Boston. With a commitment to giving back to the community and their gregarious nature, they are well-known up and down the East Coast. They have traversed time and challenges as a couple and are enjoying life here in Wilton Manors. They recently took time to talk with me about their work, their lives, their families and their spirituality.
Andy Armano: You guys have been together for 37 years. Tell me how you guys met. I want to know about that.
Bob Fournier: It will be 38 on March 10. Well, the way we met wasn’t glamorous. I worked as assistant vault supervisor. After I got off of work every day I would wait at a gay bar, two doors down, for my bus to come. I met him there. He was 17 and I was 23. One thing led to another and we moved in together.
Andy Armano: Were you open with your families?
Chef Howie: Yes. My family was great. They took Bob in like family.
AA: Oh man, that’s wonderful.
Chef Howie: Bob’s family did too, except his father.
BF: Well at the time, my parents did not know I was gay. For the first six months that we lived together, my father thought we were just roommates. And one day we were visiting for the weekend and Howie went out to the store to pick up something and I just said, “I got to tell you something. Howie is not my roommate. We’re lovers.” And it was just five minutes of emotion with my parents saying, “We had no idea. And you always wanted kids and a house” and all that kind of stuff. But I had to cut them off and say, “You guys have to get a grip with this because if you can’t deal with it, then I can’t come back here.” My mother adjusted very quickly. It took my father 12 years before he would even start talking to him.
AA: But he came around?
BF: Yes, he did.
Andy Armano: I’m glad to hear that. You both work together as a couple now. Has this always been the case?
Chef Howie: Well, for 13 years, we owned a gay bar and restaurant near Boston called Hobos. We named it after our names- Howie and Bob – Ho and Bo.
AA: What was your bar and restaurant like?
BF: It was in North Shore, Salisbury Beach, a very small, six block radius, low budget resort, right on the ocean. We never hid who we were. At first, friends said we wouldn’t last six months being an openly gay couple, but that wasn’t true. We became friends with everyone, the business owners, local politicians, the locals, everyone.
CH: We were on the front page of the local paper for being interviewed as one of the first gay couples in Massachusetts to become married.
AA: I love that. It’s the individual trail-blazing that drives such an important part of change. You provided a venue for the community and you didn’t hide behind anything and just are who you are. And you won them over. You guys have been together so long. Tell me about what that journey has been like.
CH: When you’re younger, of course it’s a high. But as you get older, it levels off. You realize what life’s about. I mean it’s a journey. He was my first. I had never been with a guy but him.
BF: I had never had a boyfriend. He was the first one and last one. In terms of being a gay couple, especially an interracial couple, I feel like we had very few obstacles from day one right up to today.
CH: My grandfather said to me “You’re going to have struggles child.” Because my grandfather’s gay, he knew what gay life was like, But he also knew going in, what being an interracial couple would be like for us.
BF: He left his marriage to explore.
CH: And then came back to his family and the church.
AA: That’s incredible that you know about his journey. If I may ask, how did your grandfather reconcile his sexuality with the church?
CH: My grandfather was always a church person. When he came back to the church, he lived by its rules. He ended up being a Bishop for a Church of God in Christ. If you look up Church of God in Christ, it’s a black church and all over the south.
CH: He talked to us about being gay, but he decided he couldn’t act on it.
AA: He couldn’t have sexual relationships with men while he was in the church?
CH: Yes, he stopped. He still had gay friends, but he wasn’t active. When he talked about us, he would say, ”That’s my grandson and that’s my other grandson.”
AA: Yet he was openly accepting of you. That must have taken some courage for him. Did his congregation know about him?
CH: No, I don’t think so. If anybody knew, it was the older elders and his sister. But they never talked about it around us.
AA: And so in terms of having your long term relationship, I’m sure people ask you this kind of cliche question, but what’s the key, what’s the secret?
CH: Tell him your story.
BF: I bought earplugs by the case. Seriously, though, I think if you want to make it work, you have to pick and choose your battles and there’s nothing wrong with letting some things slide. There’s nothing wrong with compromising. If something is really important to you, just talk it out, fight it out – whatever it takes to get through it.
CH: As you get older, you don’t even have time for that. You don’t, you don’t. You realize stuff you argued about or stupid stuff when you’re younger and you when think about it, “Was that even worth the time and energy?” It wasn’t worth it. Life is just too short.
AA: You both didn’t retire since moving here. You’re both very active and working hard.
CH: We do. But we love it. I enjoy being a chef. I’m a seafood chef. I get a lot of our fresh seafood from up North to serve here. And we have a clientele that just comes here because I do serve the first season stuff.
AA: Actually I did not know that and I love fresh seafood. So now I know that.
CH: All fresh. We get the lobster, the lobster roll, and whole belly clams.
AA: How did I not know that?
CH: Because you’re not on my Facebook.
AA: Oh, I am a terrible Facebooker. I will keep up with you there. Thank you both for sitting down with me and sharing so much about yourselves.