Palm Springs Restaurant Owners Tell Their Stories
A large table bought at an estate sale and rejection of a lease for space changed the trajectory of two Palm Springs restaurant owners’ lives. Mindy Reed, owner of Zin Restaurant, and Willie Rhine, an owner of Eight4Nine and 1501 Uptown Gastropub, prove it is important to pay attention to the little things.
When Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels asked me to interview these two prominent people in our community, I jumped at the chance. Here are their stories:
Mindy was born in Michigan but moved to Alabama, where she lived for 18 years. When asked how she ended up in Palm Springs, she replied, “I got married, and we left Alabama and moved to Joshua Tree on acres of land surrounded by the beauty of the desert. I happily was a stay-at-home mom and raised my children, surrounded daily by the stunning landscape.”
Working in Palm Springs
When her children went to school, “I wanted something to do, so I headed to Palm Springs,” Mindy said. “I found a waitress job at what was then known as Chillers, recently called Moxie.” She enjoyed the work and appreciated the people, and ended up staying there for five years. When a casino job came along, Mindy applied and ended up being a cocktail waitress there for 10 years, before moving on to the Chophouse and then AJ’s.
“Located next to Sammy G’s was a small space that became available,” Mindy said. “After thinking about it, I made a plan to open a sandwich-to-go shop. By mortgaging my house, I had all the paperwork done. Then, much to my disappointment, the owner turned me down. He felt I did not have enough experience to make it work.”
The urge to own a place didn’t go away
Directly across the street, another space, once occupied by Jimmy’s Kitchen News Café, became available. “With a location on the corner of Arenas and South Palm Canyon Drive, I could see it was a great location,” Mindy said. “This time my offer went through, and work began while I maintained my position at AJ’s.” The origin of the name has a nice twist — they had no liquor license, so only wine could be served. The name decided on was Zin American Bistro, since they wanted to keep an American bistro feel, and Zinfandel grapes thrived in the United States.
Expanding her empire
Zin flourished, and when the beauty supply store next door closed, Mindy started thinking about expansion. “I got the space,” she said. “The wall was knocked down, enlarging the restaurant. Then by 2009, the itch began. I wanted to do something different. The space next door opened on Memorial Day 2009, under the name Zini Café Mediterraneo, Aliante, and finally we settled on Revel House, painting the picture of fun and partying.”
Before heading to Europe for a trip, Mindy received an offer for Revel House. She turned it down, but “reconsidered when I came back,” she said. “I was delighted to accept his offer, which was exactly the price I determined would entice me to sell.” She kept the chef, and was able to start offering catering services. That’s not the only change, she added. “With the help of my partner, we are expanding Zin’s wine list and looking forward to doing wine dinners and adding beer pairings,” Mindy said.
I asked Mindy, “You are known for your generosity to the community. What compels you to be such a supporter?” She replied, “Kathy, this community supported me when I just starting out, and they haven’t stopped. Without people helping at every stage, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you in Zin, which became part of my reality in 1992.”
With an 8th-grade education, Willie Rhine learned to listen to his intuition long ago. After years of construction work, Willie took his skills and developed 100 Top Hats Playhouse, where he served as director and producer for 13 years. Then he realized he had to close it, facing the fact that he had run out of money.
Needing work, he applied for a job at Cheeky Monkey, on the corner of Sunrise and Ramon. He stayed there for two years, serving mainly fish and chips and cider. He left for Le Vallauris Restaurant, and within five years, he moved up the ranks to maître d and head of catering at this fine-dining French restaurant.
His next stop was Piero’s Acqua Pazza in Rancho Mirage, where he was hired as manager and moved up to general manager within two months. When Barbara and Jerry Keller decided to open Lulu’s California Bistro in downtown Palm Springs, they asked Willie to go with them.
A catering gig changed his life’s path
Lulu’s does many catering events, and was hired for the wedding of John Paschal. John took notice of Willie, and later approached him about opening his own restaurant.
With a partnership agreed upon, the search for space began. Willie had learned through his positions what the need was in Palm Springs. Each place he worked served a different client. What if they had a space large enough to put all of these needs — corporate meeting spaces, weddings, intimate dining — under one roof?
It wasn’t an easy place to find, so it took a while. Then, Willie walked into a building serving as a consignment shop, originally built as a post office, at 849 N. Palm Canyon Drive.
John believed in Willie’s vision, and the space was named Eight4Nine after its address. This was a huge place to furnish, and once again, Willie’s vision not only seemed practical, but was also a great idea and inexpensive to implement.
Remember at the beginning of this article, I said a large table bought at an estate sale changed the trajectory of Willie’s life? Willie said, “Let’s buy furniture at estate sales and paint it all white and use it throughout the entire restaurant.” Thus, that large table he stored for years was painted white, and now serves as a communal space for dining.
All the white furniture in the other rooms is a result of Willie’s enjoyment of perusing garage and estate sales, with the exception of the white furniture seen when entering the restaurant, which was made per Eight4Nine’s specifications.
Today, Willie oversees the restaurant operation, and John is running the kitchen with no executive chef. They continue to ensure that each one of us who dine there can get the same quality food and service we have come to expect when we bring guests to Eight4Nine.
Not enough to do? Let’s start two new restaurants
Willie had been working with Chad Gardner, who owns 533 View Fusion and Roly China Fusion, at various catering events. They saw that the space at the defunct Draughtsman next to Arrive was vacant, and after a tour of the place, they were enthralled with the walls that opened to the outside and views from the outdoor patios. They decided to form a partnership and start another restaurant, again named after its address: 1501 Uptown Gastropub.
Today, the restaurant is thriving and equally attracting lunch and dinner guests, who come for the ambiance and once again the outstanding cuisine.
Willie and Chad’s partnership went so well that they recently opened Willie’s Restaurant in Rancho Mirage. When I smiled and asked, “Why was it named Willie’s?” he laughed and said, “We thought we were so smart we could name all the restaurants after their addresses. Then we learn that the new building’s address was 69830 CA-111. Thus, that wouldn’t work, so since we just kept calling it Willie’s, the name stuck.”
Willie believes he would not have accomplished what he has without the community supporting him in his theater days, during his serving jobs, and now at his restaurants. “I don’t look at giving to the community as an obligation,” he said. “It gives me great pleasure to give back to the community that supported me.”
Mindy and Willie are the spirit of Palm Springs
After thinking about these two interviews, there are some things very clear in my mind. These are wonderful individuals who use their skills and intuition to build their businesses versus relying on educational degrees. Both Mindy and Willie learned from their own serving days what good customer service looks like and make it clear to all under their employ that the highest serving standards must be upheld. Without excellent food, people will not come back — I can assure you will not be disappointed in a meal at any of the restaurants mentioned above.
Finally, don’t you find it interesting that Mindy Reed and Willie Rhine’s thriving restaurants were created by people who have lived and worked in Palm Springs for many years? Their generosity, including to the Palm Springs Preferred Small Hotels, is impeccable. Next time you are going out to dinner, we encourage you to support these restaurants by making a reservation and dining at places that firmly have their roots planted in Palm Springs.