Robert Millare is a Québécois with an appreciation for beauty and culture. After moving to Sarasota, Robert explored his passions and opened his very own European Decor shop. Today, Robert works at Lolita Tartine, where he extends his passion and knowledge to his guests. We caught up with Robert to hear about how he became the friendly face of Lolita Tartine.
Are you from Sarasota? If not, where are you from and what brought you to Sarasota?
I’m from Montreal Canada, Quebec. My sister is American and my mom is a full-time resident. I used to come to Sarasota to vacation and visit my family. I worked for a newspaper in Canada for 25 years and when I retired, I decided no more freezing my feet off, I’m going to get away from these winters. I moved here about 9-10 years ago.
When you moved, did you know you wanted to work in the service industry?
I originally had a boutique downtown for 5 years. It was European decor such as pottery, furniture, fountains, all kinds of things. The products were from Southern France, Italy, Spain, and Morocco. When the economy went down, so did Robert. I was so passionate though, I loved the products I was selling. It was just the wrong time, so I then went back to Canada. I didn’t move back until the owners Christophe and Geraldine Coutelle said they thought I would be a great fit for Lolita. When I had the boutique, it was right in front of C’est La Vie, which they also own, and we got to be great friends. At one point I think they were my biggest customers. They also did business with the bank my sister was the vice president of, so it was the French connection.
Where does your interest or love of antiquities and art come from?
It’s about the beauty of selling it to people, for me. A lot of these great houses in Sarasota have these beautiful entrances and great big doorways but no design to them. I enjoyed selling the decor and I enjoyed the people. It’s the same here at the restaurant, it’s about passion. The people I meet, after a while they’re not just customers, they’re friends. I call them by their first names. I enjoy working with the public.
What is the connection between the kind of fine art and decorative objects you sold and the food you now serve?
Both are specialties. The food here is a speciality, it’s French food. We don’t have many restaurants in this area that have French food. Like the pottery, this place is unique. It’s easy to have a passion when you know that what the people who come here are expecting from the food. They’re not expecting pizza, they’re expecting beauty.
Talk a little about the menu.
Each of the menu items are named after famous painters. By having it that way, the menu is more artistic and interesting. The food so fresh and unique. Besides the tartine, you have the panini, or the salad (which is exceptional), and the quiche— it’s not everywhere you can get several kinds of quiche. Everyday we have different kinds of soup and each is homemade. Then you have our pastries, which are well known. You can’t get enough of them. Everything is very fresh.
What is the history behind Lolita Tartine? When did it open and what was the inspiration?
Lolita Tartine opened 4 years ago. This October is going to be our 5th season. This place is a 1927 building (I didn’t do the first shovel of dirt)! We kept a lot of it’s originality. In the beginning, this was a church for the Black community. After that it became a theater and I was told it was then turned into a garage. In time it became a little cafe, and then again transformed into an olive oil company. People who’ve lived here in Sarasota more than 10 years have seen the changes. I like this building a lot because it feels very contemporary. When you look at the decor here it is light, like a bit of New York and Europe.
How do you feel about the transformation happening in the Rosemary District?
With everything that’s being built, it’s like mushrooms growing all over the place. You don’t see a single house by itself anymore. I believe that the Rosemary District will be the new downtown of Sarasota one day. If you go to downtown Main Street, it hasn’t evolved that much. Yes, there are some new restaurants but, if you look at the structure of Main Street, it’s almost always stayed the same compared to here. There are new apartments and buildings everywhere.
What excites you most about the future of Lolita Tartine in the Rosemary District ?
I like the art and everything happening now. I hope there are other restaurants. Competition is fantastic for everyone, it brings more people. If you think that another restaurant coming is bad, you have to think outside of the box when it comes to the future.
Would you say the customer service style here is unlike many other restaurants here?
Definitely. People come here to eat, but also for the ambiance. We enjoy having fun with customers. It’s a friendly place, they come and we know their names, as they know ours.
Do you have partnerships with any of your neighbors?
We usually partner with Alfstad& next door. I’m always the bar man. Regardless of age, we like to stand out front and ask for ID’s and pour wine. It brings a level of sociability. We also hold events for groups and cater parties. People come back to us often because they enjoy the service and food, especially the pastries.
Do you have a favorite Tartine?
They’re all fantastic. It’s filling but not heavy like spaghetti or pizza, which I love. My favorite would would be the Cezanne, which is Tuna Tartare. It’s fresh and light.You can have it with a salad or with potatoes. That’s my favorite, but I enjoy it all and I recommend everything to the guests.—
Who creates the ambiance at Lolita?
All of us. We’re a group, we all think alike. I might be the funniest one of the group, but we have a really good group of hard workers. There’s about 7 or 8 of us who work here. For events usually we have 2 or 3 people on. During season we need to bring more people on and our goal is to always do better. Hopefully we’ll increase our business and go to another level. I think from what I’ve been hearing, people are talking about us and the area itself. I remember 10 years ago people wouldn’t go north of Fruitville. But we’ve been here for 4 years. We don’t have any problems and people are always nice to us. Even the other businesses here are polite and seem happy. Coming to a restaurant here or a gallery, you feel secure and don’t have to look over your shoulder. Anything can happen anywhere, but I can see that people feel safe here.
–What lies ahead for Lolita Tartine, any thought of expanding and opening up another location?
You would have to ask Christophe about that, but I think if the possibility were to occur Christophe would expand and grow to become well known. When you have good people working and there’s a good coordination, why not open another location? We are successful when each of our customers have a glass of wine in hand and are smiling.