Meet Your Merchant: Turning loss into new beginnings at Fondue Blue
July 2, 2014
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Every afternoon before unlocking the front door and welcoming customers inside his restaurant, Craig Gummer puts fresh flowers in a vase on top of the bar.
The gesture has become a daily routine, an act that allows the restaurant owner a bit of predictability in a life that cannot offer that at all.
"I'd trade it all for one more day with her, but that isn't going to happen," Gummer said of his late wife, Marcia.
After a quick battle with cancer, Marcia died one year ago. The devastating loss resulted in Craig buying La Fondue Restaurant and moving to Incline Village.
“I’ll never make a meringue shell or bake a soufflé. But this is imminently doable … This is something I can grow into.”
owner, Fondue Blue
The venture has been a much-needed challenge to occupy his time and his mind — and to begin again.
"Being here was good medicine for me," Gummer said. "I've been coming here since I was 12."
This change is not an attempt to erase the past, he said, but to open up to the future: "I'm not moving on, I'm moving to the next chapter."
NEVER A DREAM, NOW A REALITY
Social media, marketing and wine make up Gummer's background, areas of expertise he knows will play into his new career as a restaurant owner.
The path he's on now is one he admits to never having foreseen at all, but something he is excited about.
"I'll never make a meringue shell or bake a soufflé," he said. "But this is imminently doable."
Gummer admits he never had the dream of owning a restaurant, like so many chefs do, but sees the opportunity for positive avenues and community involvement.
"This is something I can grow into," he said. "I can take the hospitality background with the wineries and breathe some life and energy into this place."
Flowers to color the patio were one of Gummer's first endeavors in bringing light to the restaurant.
In honor of his wife, the novice gardener got his hands dirty and heard the voice of Marcia saying her famous quote, "you can never have enough flowers."
Gummer plans to paint the words on a wooden sign and hang it in the patio. And, as he works to learn and improve his business, Gummer believes that Marcia is still with him.
"I try to make her proud of my efforts," he said. "There isn't a day that passes that she's not helping me out."
CUSTOMERS DO THE COOKING
Gummer has renamed the restaurant Fondue Blue, which offers a dining experience unlike most on the lake. The interaction makes the night fun for all members of the family.
"Because they can cook it, we seem to be a restaurant that kids really, really like," he said. "There should be a different name than 'restaurant' … It's a very different model — if you come here tonight, you cook."
Gummer said most of what he does is "count prawns and slice chicken" and it's rare to have plates come back to the kitchen with any food.
The experience is relaxed and lingering, he said, and can be a "longer commitment than a movie."
The menu at Fondue Blue has been reduced from what was offered at La Fondue, though there are plenty of options.
Cheese fondue is offered with appetizers like stuffed mushrooms or escargot, and hot oil is served for the entrees like the chicken, sirloin, lamb, prawns and veggies.
Gummer warns clients to save room for dessert. Bananas, strawberries, pound cake and marshmallows dipped in chocolate fondue is irresistible for most.
FONDUE BLUE FUTURE
Most Incline Village locals have celebrated an anniversary or birthday at what once was La Fondue, and Gummer hopes to give people incentive to keep coming year-round.
"I think there's a way to extend all the best things this restaurant has ever done for this community and give people a reason to come," he said.
Having clients try new wines is also a goal. Because of his background working with wineries, the new owner hopes to introduce varietals like Barbera or Sangiovese to clients, and to pair each entrée with a beer or wine.
"I'm a believer that if a food can get you to try wine you're not familiar with, then that's really helpful," Gummer said.
Gummer's high hopes for Fondue Blue and its space include a pop-up restaurant for innovative grilled cheese sandwiches from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., called North Shore Melts, and special wine and craft beer fondue pairings and private events for locals.
Fondue Blue is open every day except Tuesday, at 5:30 p.m.
As a gesture to support the community he feels has supported him, Gummer plans to donate proceeds from each entrée to Keep Tahoe Blue.
Jenny Luna is a local freelance reporter for the Sierra Sun and Bonanza newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.