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New Restaurateur Doubles As Capitol Hill Aide

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In addition to co-owning Unum with her husband, chef Phillip Blaine, Laura Schiller works as Senator Barbara Boxer’s chief of staff.
Katie Stoops
In addition to co-owning Unum with her husband, chef Phillip Blaine, Laura Schiller works as Senator Barbara Boxer’s chief of staff.

On our Global D.C. show, we met Unum's owner and chef Phillip Blaine, whose internationally inspired dishes represent a long-held dream of opening his very own restaurant.

Blaine's fellow dreamer is his wife: Unum's other owner, Laura Schiller. By night, the longtime foodie, cook and mother of a toddler acts as the restaurant's hostess, greeting and seating dinnertime customers. But by day, her job's a little bit different.

She's chief of staff to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

"I grew up in the Bay Area, in her congressional district," Schiller says of her boss. "I knew of her, and even had a play date with her daughter when I was in second grade. And really my first political memory is of Sen. Boxer coming out to the car with campaign literature. And legend has it her husband coached me in soccer at one point along the way as well."

Fast-forward to 1992, when Schiller graduated from UCLA and worked on the campaign that propelled Barbara Boxer from the U.S. House of Representatives to the Senate.

Schiller moved to D.C., where she helped Boxer with legislative and policy stuff for a while. Then came a stint as first lady Hillary Clinton's speechwriter, another stint as the head of a consulting business, and in 2005 Schiller returned to the Boxer camp, to become the senator's Chief of Staff.

"My job really is to help her to best serve the 38 million Californians and the nation, and really at the same time to help our amazing staff grow and serve her in the best possible way that they can," Schiller explains.

Speaking of that "amazing staff," communications director Zachary Coile says Schiller's pretty amazing, too. At the office, he says, Schiller is "extremely energetic. I mean, just on the go all the time."

Coile says he's extremely impressed by his boss's ability to juggle two such demanding careers.

"This is an incredible job that you have to do here in the Senate," he says. "It's not a 38-hour-a-week job. It's a really intense 60-, 70-hour-a-week job and then to on top of that be raising a great son and pull off opening a restaurant - it's a pretty incredible accomplishment. So, we're very happy for her!"

But at first, Schiller says, they were actually kind of weirded out.

"I had to sort of convince them that they had to let me take their coat!" she says with a laugh. "[That] they needed to let me bring them their menus and help serve them. And that was an amusing transition. But once I did it, they were relishing it. They loved having me serve them!" Schiller and her staff may kid about the benefits of having a boss serve her employees. But all joking aside, she says it's service that actually connects the dots between her two seemingly disparate gigs.

"Both of them are about trying to make life better for other people," Schiller explains, "whether it's trying to get them better health care or whether it's about serving them food, which is such a universal bind that brings people together."

And that, she says, is also pretty refreshing. Because after a long day of partisan politicking on Capitol Hill, any sort of "universal bind" - especially one that's created over a meal with friends or family, can be a very welcome thing, indeed.


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