From the second you step out of the car and onto Bon Appétit’s terrace, you feel a wave of relaxation crash down over you. Perhaps it’s the gulf breeze drifting in lazily from St. Joseph’s Sound carrying the sweet smell of salt. Or maybe it’s the astounding sight of the water’s vast expanse dotted with barrier islands. For many, it’s the faces that greet them. After 46 years of fine dining on Tampa Bay’s waterfront, we’ve gotten to know some of our guests quite well – and vice versa! But if we haven’t yet had the pleasure, we’ve gone ahead and skipped the awkward small talk phase for you. Meet some of the folks behind your favorite drinks!
Robbie – Head Bartender
“The question I get asked most often is ‘where in California are you from?’” Robbie tells us while gesturing to his nametag, “I’m from Kingsburg. It’s a rural town three hours north of LA and three hours south of Sacramento.” Growing up in rural California is a far cry from the luxury of Hollywood Hills, but for Robbie, it just happened to be the perfect environment to hone his passion for flavor. Surrounded by family farms, he remembers the local produce being intensely flavorful and fresh without the addition of preservatives. He got his first job packing raisins at the Sun-Maid Raisin factory when he was just 16.
A few years later, Robbie decided to serve his country by enlisting in the United States Navy. The experience left him with a strong work ethic and attention to detail, skills he found highly transferable. In 2010, Robbie moved from California to Maine in pursuit of new opportunities in the hospitality industry. Starting as a dishwasher, Robbie hustled day-in and day-out to move up the ladder to become chef garde manger, and eventually a patissier.
After spending a decade in the less-than-tropical New England climate, Robbie took his passion for flavor to sunny Tampa Bay, Florida. In April 2021, he joined Bon Appétit as one of our head bartenders – he has been invaluable ever since. “I just love to serve people,” Robbie explains earnestly, “seeing how their faces light up when they take a sip of a great cocktail and having them exclaim, ‘Oh, that’s good!’ That’s what I’m about. I just try to serve everyone the way I’d want to be served.” Mission accomplished, Robbie!
A Chef Garde Manger [gahrd mahn-ZHAY] manages the cool, well-ventilated pantry area where cold dishes are prepared and stored. A Patissier is a French term for pastry chef, which in Robbie’s case meant pasta and bread.
Michael – Head Bartender
Michael is one of those guys who you can’t help but smile when you see because you’ll almost always find him smiling. A familiar face around the bar, Michael has been part of the Bon Appétit family for more than eight years and is a welcome addition!
Hailing from Pittsburgh, Michael worked at the local steel mill before work slowed and he decided to get a job at a local sports bar. “I’m a huge Steelers fan,” says Michael, “well really everyone is up there. It’s like a requirement.” A season ticket holder for the University of Pittsburgh, the sports bar scene was full of life and excitement for Michael. But it was also cold. Freezing cold. Like, sub-zero cold. Not to mention, “I noticed that I was getting older or everyone else was getting younger,” Micheal jokes with us.
That’s when he and his wife decided to move to Florida where her family lived. Michael got a job at The Vinoy Hotel in St Pete as a bartender.
He says the atmosphere was totally different than the sports bars in Pittsburgh. “Everyone is on vacation. They’re all coming to relax and enjoy themselves,” he explains, “it’s a great environment. Very happy and positive. Nobody drowning their sorrows with a boilermaker.” He feels that Bon Appétit has the same energy, “especially out here,” he says in reference to the outdoor bar where we’re talking. “It’s gorgeous, and one of the only places in Dunedin to drink on the waterfront,” he says, “it’s impossible not to enjoy yourself here.”
One trend that Michael’s observed is a return to classic cocktails. “We get folks who can’t find a decent Manhattan or Old Fashioned around here, and what they make at home doesn’t compare.” Many guests will lean over the bar with bated breath as they watch the master at work. Michael says, “I answer any questions they have about the drinks. The next time I see them they’re telling me they made it at home but it just isn’t as good.” No wonder he’s always smiling.
Here We Go, Steelers!
Michael is one of the biggest Pittsburgh Steelers fans on staff, but he’s not the only one. Peter’s wife Mary also bleeds black and gold!
Bruce – Bartender
Candid as ever, Bruce may have the most experience with alcohol out of all of our bartenders, having enjoyed his first glass of wine at the ripe age of nine. “My parents are French and German, so wine was standard growing up,” he tells us, “in fact, my parents were the only ones in our neighborhood to drink wine. All of the other families were beer drinkers.” This is where his passion for wine began, but like a fine wine, his passion matured with age.
By the time he was old enough to work, Bruce already planned to join his older brothers in the restaurant industry. He found abundant opportunities in his hometown of Minneapolis, and after ten years of different roles, he committed to bartending. “It’s really the perfect fit for me because I love serving people, but wine and liquor are my specialties,” Bruce says. He sees the secret to top-notch service is anticipating guests’ needs – a skill he picked up as a young child helping his mother navigate the world after she was partially paralyzed by Polio.
“My favorite part of the job is when people ask me about the different liquors,” Bruce expounds. He begins telling me about the difference between Cognac and Brandy, pulling bottles off the shelf to illustrate his point. It’s clear that it’s more than an interest, but something he’s studied and pored over… no pun intended.
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