As businesses on Main Street in downtown Mesa have come and gone in the last decade, Il Vinaio restaurant has been among the few that have withstood the test of time.
Owners Cameron and Cindy Selogie opened il Vinaio (ill-vih-nye-oh) near Main and Country Club Drive 12 years ago.
The restaurant is located in a historical landmark of sorts that was built in 1973. It originally housed the Humpty Dumpty’s restaurant and the Selogies bought the building when it housed the Valley Eatery Diner.
“We gutted and remodeled the front and reopened in June 2009 as il Vinaio,” recalled Cameron, noting the name means “the wine merchant.” “We have wine clubs and a lot of wine dinners.”
“When we started as il Vinaio, we started with the linen tablecloths and that really turned a lot of people off,” he said.
So, the couple regrouped and remodeled in an old-world Tuscan decor with oak tables.
“We call it casual elegant,” explained Cameron. “There’s no dress code. You can come in with shorts and a T-shirt.”
The food is a bit Mediterranean along with American fusion.
“We do have quite a few Italian dishes, pasta dishes but we have burgers, seafood, steaks and chops, just a variety of things,” said Cameron. “We don’t like to pigeonhole ourselves.”
Even though the restaurant is more high-end, it even survived the pandemic because it has few employees.
“I’m the back of the house,” Cameron said. “I have a gal who has her own pastry business who comes in a couple of days a week and helps me with prep. We have a couple of servers and they alternate.
“Our guests have been very generous with our servers. So, our servers are making good money. Cindy’s the bartender and hostess. I’m the chef and dishwasher.”
Cameron and Cindy come from a manufacturing background but they love to entertain and so their career change made sense.
“We consider ourselves in semi-retirement right now,” Cameron said. “I guess it sounds like a lot when we have a restaurant that seats 160 to only have one cook. I think of it as a manufacturing process. I’m very efficient back there by myself.”
In addition to lunch and dinner served Tuesday through Friday, il Vinaio also serves a champagne brunch on Saturday and Sundays. The restaurant is closed on Mondays and sometimes for a few days in the summer or during a holiday weekend.
“My mother is 93 and she’s getting pretty severe dementia,” Cameron said. “Two years ago, we moved her in with us at our Chandler home. Monday is our day off and we spend a lot of time with her, getting her nails done, her hair done, and running errands.”
It’s a lot of hard work but Cameron says they love what they’re doing.
“Every day I associate it with having a party. You work really hard to get your house cleaned, get the food prepped and then you have guests over and you feed them dinner, you have drinks, and have a fun time partying. At the end of it, you clean everything up and then the next day you start all over again. We have a party at our house every day.”
In addition to daily specials, there are a few signature items customers keep coming back for.
“We have a pork loin dish. It’s a prime pork loin that we pound out flat – kind of like a Midwest pork loin – and we do just a little Panko breading on it and we deep fry it. It’s really soft and juicy on the inside, crisp on the outside.
“Then there’s an orange caper berry sauce and we serve it over a fontina cheese risotto. That’s the one dish that’s been on our menu since we opened. Many people come in just for that. One time we took it off the menu for a short period of time and people rebelled. That’s probably our most popular dish.”
The other popular items are linguine bolognese and burgers.
“Everybody tells us we have the best burgers in Arizona…We have on our marquee, ‘Best Burger in Arizona.’ People see that and they come in. They agree.”
Everything is made from scratch. Bread comes from a local bakery.
For the bottomless champagne weekend brunch, Cameron said, “We have the standard fare of pancakes, French toast, omelets, eggs. We do a regular eggs Benedict and a lobster eggs Benedict. We have lobster meat and avocado on it. Kind of like a California Benedict.
“But with the brunch, we just don’t have the breakfast items. We also serve burgers during brunch and we’ve got some specialty salads, scampi and ahi tuna. It’s not a buffet but it’s everything from breakfast, lunch to dinner.”
Right now, the restaurant has about 100 wines on the list, pouring over 50 by the glass. They also have reserve wines.
“We’re going to start our Wine Down Wednesday again,” said Cameron. “Before COVID, every Wednesday we had live music and we would bring out a little tasting plate and we would bring a representative in from one of the wineries.
“And they would pour four to six different wines. So, you could do a little tasting, have your tasting plate and then if you wanted to buy a bottle you could buy the bottles to go.”
The couple also offer full-blown wine-pairing dinners and a beer and donut pairing every few months, an event that was started in 2009. Cameron pairs homemade donuts with craft beers.
“I’ve done a banana bread cheesecake donut, a BBQ chicken fritter which is like a chicken and waffles flavor, and a cashew butter rose hip jelly fritter. We don’t do your traditional raised or cake donuts. We do something really special and geeky.”
His favorite thing about running a restaurant is “creating” and getting to know customers and what they like so he can pair wine and food.
Married almost 20 years, the couple has lived and worked together for 25 years.
“We enjoy each others’ company. Communication is the biggest thing. Customers sometimes call it dinner and a show. There’s occasionally an issue we have in the front and back of the house….Any time we have any issues is because something wasn’t effectively communicated.”
Information about events is available through a monthly email for wine club members as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Information: ilvinaio.net/index.php; 270 W Main St, Mesa, 480-649-6476.