Bringing the flavor of the Old World
Business owners partner to set up their own corner of Europe in the middle of Montrose.
By Ryan Vaillancourt

A few blocks south of the Montrose Shopping Park, two business owners are working together to bring an authentic taste of Europe to the neighborhood. In the process, they hope to share their clienteles.

Bistro Verdu and Rosso Wine Shop go together like cheese and wine, said the owners of the side-by-side shops on Verdugo Road. So when a regular patron visits one store, he or she is bound to take an interest in the other.

"It's definitely planned," Bistro Verdu owner Michael Ruiz said. "We're trying to get a little European-village vibe going on. We're not there yet, but we're going in that direction. It's a good thing."

Rosso Wine Shop owner Jeff Zimmitti opened the small boutique in September after career stints as a representative of a wine maker and wine consultant. As a consultant, Zimmitti helped Ruiz compile his wine list not long after he opened Bistro Verdu in the fall of 2003.

The pair soon became pals, sharing in their epicurean delights. So when the 1,000-square-foot storefront next to Bistro Verdu came on the market last year, Zimmitti jumped at the opportunity to open his own boutique and wine bar in the space.

The store has a stock of about 230 different wines, the bulk of which hail from France and Italy, with a small selection from Spain and California. Most of the wines bear labels that many people won't recognize, but reasonable prices help customers try something they've never heard of, Zimmitti said.

"The majority of the wines are in that sweet-spot range between $10 and $30," he said. "It's a little easier to convince them to try something new if it's $10 to $30."

Part of Zimmitti's business focus is in appealing to the neighborhood — regular customers are on a first-name basis and passersby are made to feel comfortable, he said.

"For some people, wine can be intimidating, but it doesn't have to be," Zimmitti said. "The reality is it's just a beverage. There's no reason you need to come up with 10 descriptors and be a wine snob."

The business is off to a good start, but it hasn't been easy, Zimmitti said.

"It's hard work," he said. "It's not like we have foot traffic."

But that's where Bistro Verdu comes in.

Since opening, Ruiz's French- and Spanish-style restaurant has become a neighborhood mainstay and many of the people who show up at the bistro ultimately take interest in the wine shop, Ruiz said.

"We're drawing from the same market," Ruiz said. "I'm established in the neighborhood. He's new, but it's the same people. A lot of the food lovers are wine lovers, too, and it's nice to be able to give them the full package."

And even as a new business, Zimmitti's store has exposed Bistro Verdu to a new clientele, as well, Ruiz said.

"I think that because it's wine and because he has some connections in other parts of town, he has exposed us to different customers," Ruiz said. "It's getting more people into Montrose."

Though an out-of-area audience is welcomed by both business owners, their focus is local.

"French and Spanish cultures both lend themselves to tight-knit community neighborhoods," Ruiz said. "This is a very cool neighborhood of people that would love to be able to eat on the west side, but with kids now they've got to stay in the neighborhood."

Michael Ruiz, left, owner of Bistro Verdu, and Jeff Zimmitti, owner of Rosso Wine Shop, in front of their stores on Verdugo Road in Montrose. The pair specialize in European cuisine and wine. -- Dan Watson / News-Press
April 22, 2007