Willamette Valley icon revitalized under new ownership
In 1991, Tina’s Restaurant in Dundee was a fine dining rarity. Besides Red Hills Provincial Dining — also started in ’91 and just down the street — the only other northern Willamette Valley restaurant worthy of a serious wine list and white table cloths was Nick’s Italian Café in McMinnville, founded 14 years earlier.
As the number of wineries and vineyards multiplied, owners David and Tina Bergen knew they had made the right decision, closing Paul-Bergen Catering & Charcuterie in Portland and moving out to Yamhill County, the heart of Oregon wine country.
A focus on top-notch service, local ingredients and wines to match won the palates of travelers and winemakers alike, despite Tina’s humble space, a nondescript cinder block building with seating for 16. Over time, the Bergens improved the atmosphere to match the food, eventually building the charming, now iconic cottage on Highway 99W.
Twenty-four years of successful service has been made possible by the Bergens’ dedication to excellence with the help of a talented staff, including Michael Stiller, a waiter and eventual manager for 14 years, who left for an opportunity at Nick’s in McMinnville in 2011.
Fast-forward four years, and Michael has hung up his apron at Nick’s and is back in Dundee, but with a major change to his title; he and his wife, Dawn, along with Dwight McFaddin, a waiter at Tina’s for 22 years, and his wife, Karen, have purchased the restaurant.
While David and Tina can finally focus on their other interests like travel and studying Buddhism, the new owners have had their hands full, updating the space. The vision for the interior is “clean, classy and a bit more chic,” Michael says.
In regard to the menu, Tina’s Northwest wine country cuisine will continue to be inspired by the seasons and fresh, local ingredients. Michael adds, “The menu is small but well-considered and everything is house-made. Great dishes paired with Pinot and other wines.”
The wine list should maintain its fine reputation as well. Initially, Michael will work through inventory from his recently closed wine shop, Vino Arcanum, located inside Peirano & Daughters, the deli and market owned by Eric Ferguson and Carmen Peirano of Nick’s. Focus, of course, will be Oregon, with a small selection from other parts of the world.
The new owners are also dedicated to “precise service,” something Michael has been instilled with since his first restaurant job at Café Terra Cotta in Tucson; its executive chef, Donna Nordin, was one of 50 chefs featured in a PBS television series, “Great Chefs of the West” — the restaurant closed in 2009.
“I started there as a busser in 1990 and worked my way to the bar and became the lead bartender; I taught myself wine probably before I should have, legally,” admits Michael.
“Before I moved to Oregon, I met Dick Erath at the bar in Tucson,” he continues. “I had been planning to move to Oregon, and then I met Dick and started talking to him about working in the wine business. I had thought about being a winemaker.”
Erath put him in touch with the winery’s then-winemaker, Rob Stuart. In 1995, Michael moved north to the Dundee Hills and began working at Erath; he quickly realized he did not want to be a winemaker. Within one year of the move, he picked up part-time work at Tina’s, an accomplishment considered a coup by many wine country locals.
Michael recalls, “On the final drive up from Arizona, my very first stop was at WillaKenzie — I already had the job at Erath — and I talked with Laurent. He said, ‘You know if you need extra money, you could work at Nick’s in McMinnville, or you could work at Red Hills, or there is Tina’s, but nobody ever quits there.’”
He had heard this sentiment from others, too, but networking worked its magic when and Suzanne Metcalf, an employee at Erath and friends with Tina Bergen, helped him secure a position. Eventually, Michael started working at Tina’s full-time in 1998.
It’s been a long journey for everyone involved. After attempting to sell for a couple years, the Bergens have found a fitting team to take on their beloved business. In fact, the new partners know how important the restaurant is to the wine community, so they’re keeping the name.
“[David and Tina] gave me their full blessing to change the name, but we decided not to,” Michael says. “I think they were happy about that.”
“It’s a sweet story. It’s a sweet ending.”
For the sake of the Stillers and McFaddins, it’s really just the beginning.