– Words by Devon Smith Photography by Don Denton
Wine and cheese. Simple, right? But in reality, this classic French pair can often overwhelm with too many rules and an overabundance of choice. Don’t despair, though – a new bistro in town aims to take the complexities out of this classic combo by simply bringing friends together over food and drink.
“We’re here to make wine and cheese more accessible to everyone,” says Page Loten, co-owner of L’Apéro Wine & Cheese Bistro. “We’ve designed our experience to be as flexible as possible, so people can come in and enjoy a little tasting, they can take wine and cheese on the go, or they can dive into a more complex and diversified tasting with a group of friends. There is something for everyone here.
The bistro, which opened last fall in downtown Victoria, is the brainchild of Page and his business partner, co-owner and resident cheese expert Guillaume Kieffer.
After many years in food and beverage management in hotels and restaurants, Page wanted to create a bistro where people could meet up with friends.
“During the pandemic, we all realized how much we missed that aspect of collecting, drinking and wine with friends, and I really wanted to be part of that return. But the only thing missing was that I didn’t have a solid knowledge of cheese,” he explains, sitting in the bright, modern space.
A mutual friend put him in touch with Guillaume who shared his vast knowledge and love of cheese through his business, L’Apéro Experience, a mobile cheese service, offering cheese platters and seminars. After partnering with Page and opening L’Apéro Wine & Cheese Bistro, Guillaume has now found a permanent home base to share his passion.
The two took possession of the space last summer and worked all season to renovate it. The bistro is bright and spacious with tables downstairs and an upstairs loft that can accommodate regular peak hour meals or private functions. A glass display showcases carefully selected cheeses and a beautiful wall behind the counter displays the current wine selection. The walls are adorned with local art by Victoria Heryet, evoking a bit of a French feel, and the rest of the decor is clean and simple.
“We worked all summer to make sure everything was okay, but in the end, you just have to bite the bullet and open,” says Page, adding that their decision to finally open the doors caused a moment of great coincidence.
“I remember we were ripping the paper off the windows,” Page laughs. “As we did, there was a couple standing right outside the door. They asked us when we opened and I said ‘Today you are our first guests!’ It turns out that this same couple were the first guests of L’Apéro three years earlier! We took that as a good omen.
After this soft opening, they had a wonderful response from their clientele, he adds. “We have been incredibly supported by the community and we are very grateful for that.”
Of course, they both note, they couldn’t do it without their chef, kitchen staff and servers.
“We are so, so lucky with our staff. We are a close-knit team and they are at the heart of what we do. They play such an important role in the experience because we rely on them to provide a warm and welcoming environment and, more importantly, to help us create a memorable experience for our guests,” says Page.
The themes of sharing and simplicity are also central to what they do.
“There’s a reason we don’t have more types of wine on the menu and why we keep our options simple,” says Page. “We’re trying to create a friendly, easy list that has something for everyone, so people can share and try different things. I always say that you don’t have to be a sommelier to know what you like. If you walk in and tell your server what kind of wine you normally like to drink, we can make it easy for you by designing a cheese tasting experience around that.
And don’t think that if you’ve been to L’Apéro once or twice, you’ve tried everything, adds Guillaume. The flexible menu provides a unique customer experience with every visit.
“I really make sure to always have new options for our customers,” he explains, pointing to the bistro’s generously stocked display case. “Whenever I order cheese, I make sure to bring new cheese, even one new to me. That way there is always something new for customers to try when they visit.
In addition to the lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch menus served at the bistro, L’Apéro offers a host of other options, including customizable online cheese boards, picnic boxes, vegan and free options. dairy products, take-out cheese at the counter, event catering, subscription boxes delivered to your door, and seminars like Cheese Tasting 101 and Wine and Cheese Pairing Parties.
“Our classes are always a fun experience because people can really learn how a wine pairing complements a specific cheese, and why certain pairings do or do not complement each other,” adds Guillaume.
You can visit Guillaume and Page at L’Apéro Wine & Cheese Bistro at 1028 Blanshard Street in downtown Victoria. Reservations are recommended on Friday and Saturday nights, as well as show nights at the Royal Theatre.
To order online, visit laperobistro.net and to be aware of the latest pairings as well as the fall 2022 class schedule, follow them on Instagram @aperobistro.
Story reprinted with kind permission from Boulevard Magazine, a publication of Black Press Media
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