|Courtesy of La Belle Vie|
When you're entering La Belle Vie, several things catch your eye. There's the elegant chandelier dripping with crystals, the stately lounge with plush carpet and a swanky bar, and often, there is a tall man with dark hair, elegantly dressed, awaiting your arrival. Bill Summerville, wine expert and managing director at La Belle Vie, is the man who, for over a decade, has facilitated the best fine dining experience in the Twin Cities. On Friday, it was announced that the Summerville would step away from the restaurant to work on several unnamed upcoming projects.
We spoke with Summerville about where he's been, what he loves, and how he spends his tax refunds.
The Hot Dish: How did you get into the hospitality industry?
Bill Summerville: Well, my mother was a great cook and I always loved food. I started out working in kitchens before I moved into the front of the house. I had come back from college to work at a restaurant I'd worked for before. The chef informed me that they didn't hire summer help. So, I moved to front of house.
When would you say you knew you were really good at service?
Um, a couple of years ago?
Where did your passion for wine come from?
When I was at Pronto, which was in the downtown Hyatt where Oceanaire used to be. They put me in charge of putting together a wine list, and I had no idea what I was doing. I turned a bottle around and started reading the label and I wondered what it meant. I knew nothing about wine. It began there: I was reading, tasting, and traveling. There is so much to learn.
I love everything about wine -- drinking it and meeting the winemakers, kicking the dirt and speaking with the farmers that actually grow grapes. There are plenty of wineries where they don't actually farm the land and it's just a vanity project. The wines that are grown by people who work hard, get their hands in the dirt, that's the wine I like to drink most.
I convinced [Pronto] to put together a list of wines that no one would be able to find anywhere else. That was the beginning.
When did you first meet Tim McKee?
We were talking about that. We think it was in 1996 when we were both working at D'Amico Cucina. When Tim and I were there, Cucina was at its peak. This was when people were really dining out often. Target Center was new and the Timberwolves were going like crazy. People went out and really celebrated.
I remember one night when they were filming Grumpier Old Men in town and Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon were waiting for Sophia Loren. She came in dressed head to toe in red. I remember the entire dining room, the decibel level just dropped in half. It was wild. We had Paul McCartney come in, Jane Goodall -- it was such a great time, a fun, energized, beautiful time.
I ended up working there 10 years off and on. Tim and I didn't realize it, but turned in our notice on the exact same day. We both gave three months' notice. He would go on to open La Belle Vie in Stillwater. I went to live in Italy. Our last night was New Year's Eve 1997.
How did you and Tim come back together?
Tim asked me to do the wine list for Solera when I was in Italy. When we moved back, Tim and his wife picked us up from the airport. Tim made the best dinner I've ever had. That was 1999. I went back to Cucina one more time. Then, I helped Tim open Solera. In April of 2003 we became partners and I went to run La Belle Vie in Stillwater.
510 Groveland Ave., Minneapolis, MN