– 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 choices. Not to despair, though—a new bistro in town is aiming to cut through the complexities of this classic combo by simply bringing friends together through food and drink.
“We’re here to make wine and cheese more accessible for everyone,” explains 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 small tasting, they can take wine and cheese to go, or they can dive into a more complex, diverse tasting experience with a group of friends. There’s 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 start a bistro where people could gather with friends.
“During the pandemic we all realized just how much we missed that aspect of gathering, eating and enjoying wine with friends, and I really wanted to be a part of that coming back. But the one thing missing was I didn’t have a strong knowledge of cheese,” he explains, sitting in the bright, modern space.
A mutual friend connected him with Guillaume who was sharing his vast knowledge and love of all things cheese through his business, L’Apéro Experience, a mobile cheese service, featuring cheese boards and seminars. After partnering with Page and opening L’Apéro Wine & Cheese Bistro, Guillaume has now found a permanent home base from which to share his passion.
The two took possession of the space last summer and worked through the season to renovate it. The bistro is bright and spacious with tables downstairs and a loft area upstairs which can either accommodate regular dining during peak hours, or private functions. A glass showcase presents carefully curated cheeses, and a beautiful feature wall behind the front counter displays the current wine selection. The walls are adorned with local art by Victoria Heryet, evoking somewhat of a French feel, and the rest of the décor is clean and simple.
“We worked throughout the summer to make sure everything was just right, but eventually, you just have to bite the bullet and open,” explains Page, adding that their decision to finally open the doors brought about a moment of great coincidence.
“I remember we were tearing the paper off the windows,” laughs Page. “As we did, there was a couple standing just outside the door. They asked us when we were opening and I said ‘Today, you’re our first guests!’ It turns out that this very couple were the first guests of L’Apéro three years earlier! We took that as a good omen.”
After that soft opening, they’ve had wonderful response from their clientele, he adds. “We’ve been incredibly supported by the community and we’re so thankful 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’re a really tight team and they’re at the heart of what we do. They’re such a huge part of the experience because we rely on them to provide a warm, welcoming environment and, most importantly, to help us create a memorable experience for our guests,” says Page.
Also at the heart of what they do are the themes of sharing and keeping it simple.
“There’s a reason we don’t have more types of wine on the menu, and why we keep our options simple,” explains Page. “We try to build a friendly, easy list that has something for everyone, so people can share and try different things. I always say you don’t have to be a sommelier to know what you like. If you come in and tell your server what kind of wine you normally like to drink, we can make it easy by building you a cheese-tasting experience around that.”
And don’t think if you’ve been to L’Apéro once or twice that you’ve tried it all, Guillaume adds. The flexible menu provides a unique experience for guests with each visit.
“I really make sure to always have new options for our clients,” he explains, pointing to the bistro’s generously stocked showcase. “Every time I order cheese, I make sure to bring in new cheese—even new to me. That way, there’s always something new for guests to try when they visit.”
Along with the lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch menus served in the bistro, L’Apéro offers an array of other options, including customizable online cheese boards, picnic boxes, vegan and dairy-free options, cheese to go from 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 about how a wine pairing complements a specific cheese, and why certain pairings complement each other or don’t,” Guillaume adds.
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, and on nights when there’s a show on at the Royal Theatre.