The short version of how they met: He was cooking at a restaurant in La Jolla, Calif. She was managing an art gallery in Los Angeles. She had just finished a big project and went on a vacation by herself to La Jolla. A mutual friend connection led to an invitation to a late-night dinner with a group that included chefs from an area restaurant. She didn’t want to go.

“Dinner at 11:30 at night? I was, really like, a proper girl,” Mary Kenworth remembers. But not wanting to offend, she went. Jackson Kenworth was invited to the same dinner, after work that night. He didn’t want to go. “I had stayed out late the night before, I was dressed in crappy clothes,” he recalls. “But I felt the pressure so I went. I think I wore a polyester blue blazer with gold buttons. She sat in an empty chair next to me.”

The year was 1985. “We’ve been together ever since. And everyone takes credit for it,” Mary laughs.

Now more than three decades later on a chilly, misty spring day Jackson and Mary Kenworth sit across from each other at the long table on the glassed-in porch at Beach Road, their fourth Vineyard restaurant in the past 20 years, locking eyes and laughing, spooling out the memories and their story. Mary is classic front of the house: gregarious, forward thinking, at times wise and philosophical. Jackson is pure back of the house: chef, man of few words, serious and funny, sometimes all at once.

“I quit my job and chased her to L.A.,” he says, gazing across the table. “She had a big job — she was managing a very successful art gallery in L.A. I was in awe.”

Beach Road in Vineyard Haven is their fourth restaurant in 20 years. — Maria Thibodeau

There was time to relax and laugh on this day. Eight months ago was a different story. Beach Road, their newest place overlooking the Lagoon Pond in Vineyard Haven, had just opened and they were both scrambling. Everything that could go wrong did — or so it seemed. The opening was months behind schedule. Chairs that had been ordered hadn’t arrived, hung up somewhere due to a shipping strike on the West Coast. It was August on the Vineyard. Dinner reservations had been taken. So they found some folding wooden chairs and opened.

Three weeks later a vacationing President Obama came for dinner. The Kenworths had served the Obamas before, at their West Tisbury restaurant State Road. But when the President comes to dinner, it never gets old.

“We had a worker at the restaurant who was here on a J-1 visa,” Mary says. “And for that worker it was a thrill, such a thrill, to meet the President of the United States. . . that’s just something that I will never become jaded about.”

In truth for the Kenworths, jaded isn’t in their DNA. Hard work and a genuine love for the restaurant business are, going back to the L.A. days when they were first married, working more than one job, planning for the future.

Jackson was cooking for Michel Richard at the acclaimed restaurant Citrus. Mary was still managing the gallery.

“I definitely had the sense that one day we would have our own place. And I thought, I better learn about this business,” she recalls. “So I took a second job at Joe Allen [the famous restaurant born in the theatre district of New York had a place in Los Angeles at the time]. It was part time, in management. And I learned a lot from them — there are still lessons from them that I put to use today.”

They had Sundays off.

“It was a wonderful time when I look back on it. We were young,” Mary says.

“And L.A. was hip, it was exciting,” Jackson adds.

Years later they were ready for a change. “Tired of the traffic, I know that’s a cliche in L.A. but it was true,” Mary says. “We were at a bit of an impasse because Jackson wanted to come to the East Coast, but I wasn’t in any hurry to get back to this weather. We would talk about it all the time, we were all over the map. Then one day I said, I could do the East Coast if it was the Vineyard. In the next breath he said, okay, let’s do the Vineyard. So we packed up our life and came.”

In 1995 they moved to the Island. Jackson began cooking at Savoir Fare in Edgartown (owners Scott and Charlotte Caskey, today owners of Alchemy, remain close friends.) Mary worked at the Oak Bluffs town hall.

But they wanted their own restaurant and loved the site of the Red Cat on State Road in West Tisbury. Owner Tony Friedman didn’t want to lease but said he would sell for $800,000. “It might as well have been eight million,” Mary says.

Built from the ground up, State Road opened in West Tisbury in 2009.

Instead they found a building available for rent in Oak Bluffs, a run-down Victorian at the top of Circuit avenue that had housed college kids in the summer. They could renovate the place themselves, they decided. They opened Sweet Life there in 1996. There were 42 seats inside and 30 outside in the garden. Daily reservation headaches revolved around the weather forecast. “What do you do when it rains — I can’t tell you how many times a day I heard that question,” Mary says.

For all its quirks, the Sweet Life had a certain romance. Jackson cooked in the tiny kitchen, turning out simple, elegant meals that would cement their fine dining reputation and presage their menus for years to come: pan-roasted cod, summer vegetables straight from local farms, fresh pastas.

“It really was our Island beginning. And there are people who still work for us who worked at the Sweet Life,” Mary says. “I loved it there. But we knew something was next — it was a lease, it was never going to be ours.”

Next turned out to be Slice of Life, a few doors down the street from Sweet Life, in a building they bought. Slice, a casual year-round restaurant, opened in 2003.

“We were all about quality,” Jackson says. “We wanted to have everything be quality, dressed down. A good salad, breakfast, baked goods.”

Islanders flocked to the place, and today Slice of Life remains largely unchanged; the Kenworths later sold the business to their chef but remain owners of the building. They sold Sweet Life in 2007.

And all the while kept searching. “We had some investors, people who were customers and willing to help us out. But we hadn’t found the right place,” Jackson recalls.

Then in the late fall of 2007 Deon’s, one of a number of restaurants that had succeeded the Red Cat, was destroyed in a fire. Suddenly the property that had first caught their eye so many years earlier was again for sale.

“So many things had changed,” Mary says. “But it was our opportunity to really have our own mom and pop, to be stewards of a place. And that’s what has happened.”

Custom built from the ground up, State Road opened in 2009 and is today a magnet and a mainstay for year-round farm-to-table dining up-Island. Then about two years ago, the Kenworths decided to go one more lap, buying the building that had housed Saltwater in the Tisbury Marketplace. And Beach Road was born. To those who ask why, Mary has a quick answer.

“That,” she says, pointing through windows to the Lagoon, tranquil and scenic with its fringe of marshland. “And the staff,” she adds. “It was a whole other interesting project for us to do.”

The Kenworths credit all success to their loyal staff, many of whom have been with them from the early years. “I look at Maura, Chris, Emma, P.J., Rosie, Sean, Jack, Caitlin, Colette — I’m not even naming them all — I have a tremendous amount of respect for them,” Jackson says. “They work for us . . . . but we really operate like a team. They work with us, not for us.”

Mary agrees. “We are living our lives together, we feel that way and they do too. We don’t ask you to do anything we wouldn’t do.” About restaurant work, she says: “It’s something that’s in you. You’ve got the bug. People go out to eat, not just for the food, but for a need to commune, to share . . . there’s a lot of reward. And the Vineyard — the people that walk through the door, that’s part of the pleasure. You can have the plumber at table number one and the United States senator at table number two.”

Now a new season looms and the Kenworths are looking forward to their first full summer at Beach Road, their seventh at State Road.

And on the rare days off?

“We walk the dogs,” Mary says. “Jackson cooks for me. Sometimes we just eat pasta.”