I knew when I was six years old that I wanted to run my own restaurant. I grew up in Chicago, which was very much the Michael Jordan era and I was a loyal sports fan. With the city at our fingertips, my family was lucky enough to eat out a good amount, but sitting around at the table for dinner at our house was a big deal, too. Even if we were going to hang out at a friend’s house, we’d always have our family dinner first.
When we would go away on family trips, my mom would make my brothers and I keep a journal. Mine was always filled with stories about the food. which my parents were then like, “either you have a problem or this is a good passion.” It was definitely a passion. I just loved it. I always helped in the kitchen with my mom at home, and we would even take Mommy-and-Me Cooking Classes and was always the only boy. As I got older, I later on worked in restaurants during my high school and college years.
And I also loved the theatre of restaurants, so I went to school for hotel restaurant management - Cornell University’s hospitality program. It was pretty intense. I basically got a business degree. After graduation I needed a break. I came out to Jackson in 1996 to be a ski bum. Like everyone else I was trying to make it work. I had three jobs and was working in the restaurant industry again.
After a year or so I thought that I maybe couldn’t do it forever. I thought about moving to San Francisco to go work in hotels. I eventually went to Italy and France to study wine and I thought maybe I’d have a wine business. I really learned a lot, but realized that it wasn’t for me. It was the two months in Europe that I wrote my business plan. And Rendezvous Bistro was my first restaurant. We transformed it from a Denny’s in 2001.
Our most recent restaurant just opened this year – Bar Enoteca. “Enoteca” means “wine bar” in Italian. It’s a small little wine bar next to Osteria up in Teton Village. It provides another small space to dine, which keeps the intimacy of both restaurants. And that’s a lot of what dining is about to me—it’s breaking bread and getting to know the people around you.
Learn about the January 25, 2018 Chamber Mixer at Bar Enoteca at jacksonholechamber.com/events-calendar.
Existing in such a small community and for so long, we’ve been lucky enough to get to know and build relationships with people. We have a few people on staff who have been part of Fine Dining since it started. That’s over 15 years. Cooks, a couple servers, and Neil Loomis is our beverage director. He was the first bartender at the Bistro – the first person I hired and now he’s a partner in the business. It’s super cool. That’s also why we’ve done this whole thing. We’re trying to make a family. Most people who live in Jackson aren’t from here and you spend a lot of time at work. So, we try to make it something more than just going to work. And there are so many people who tell me stories about their nights at the restaurants. “I met so-and-so” or even “my water broke!”. It’s the fun stories from the community that are the most rewarding.
What’s also been rewarding is the philanthropic role we’ve been able to take in the community. Years ago, Liz Gibbs helped come up with our off-season program. When someone orders an entrée, we only charge $2 for a second entrée. And it’s the $2 that is donated to various local nonprofits. Since it started the program has given approximately $200,000 back to the community
Learn more about Jackson’s vibrant nonprofit community at jacksonholechamber.com/directory/category/non-profit-organizations-associations/.
Off –season also allows us to be more creative. At The Kitchen, we’re hosting takeover menus. For the people who can’t travel, Fine Dining is trying to bring other places to Jackson Hole. Menus have included cuisines ranging from Peruvian to Cajun. Speaking of special menus, people have asked me if we have any secret things for insiders or something like that. We don’t really have secret menus at our restaurants. While it’s not a secret, not everyone knows that though grilled cheese with the avocado is not on the Bistro’s menu. It’s still a favorite!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Now encompassing six restaurants, a catering company, specialty grocer/bottle shop, craft sausage company and artisan ice cream brand in Jackson Hole, the Fine Dining Restaurant Group was founded in 2001 with the opening of Rendezvous Bistro. The Fine Dining Restaurant Group now includes Bistro Catering, Roadhouse Pub & Eatery, Il Villaggio Osteria, The Kitchen, Bin22, Bodega, Bar Enoteca, Cream + Sugar and Bovine + Swine. Explore Jackson’s culinary offerings at jacksonholechamber.com/food-and-drink.
This story is a part of #humansofjhchamber: The campaign places a focus on the faces of our local businesses and nonprofits. Learn about their inspirations, why they got started in their industry, and more! Find the Chamber on Instagram, @jhchamber. For information about the program, please contact Director of Membership, Elisabeth Rohrbach, email@example.com or 307.201.2301.