Date Night: Jamie Gluck and John Wentworth
Just a handful of years ago, the small California town of Los Alamos was nothing more than a couple of moth-worn hotels, a dive bar, some mediocre restaurants and Full of Life Flatbread, which, once-upon-a-time, was the town’s only bright spot; a hugely popular eatery among Central Coast winemakers and farmers. Then, in quite rapid succession, a string of vital, fun and invigorating businesses began to hang their shingles there and the town came alive.
Today, there are 29 businesses in what is essentially a one-street country town. Babi’s Beer Emporium, the Alamo Motel, Bob’s Well Bread Bakery, Plenty on Bell, Pico & the Los Alamos General Store, and numerous other businesses offer visitors a diverse and very agreeable eating, shopping and antiquing experience. As I drove into Los Alamos for this interview, a cowboy riding horseback was making his way down the town’s major thoroughfare, Bell Street. As he and his horse passed my car, a tumbleweed made its way across the street in the distance. For all of the great new businesses in this once sleepy little town, it remains achingly un-gentrified and charming.
Much of this town’s renaissance began when Bell Street Farm opened; a terrific little restaurant offering up delicious food, with many ingredients sourced from local farmers. As is often the case with highly successful brick and mortar businesses, particularly in small towns, colorful and engaging business owners can be as big a draw as the products or services they offer. This is certainly the case with Jamie Gluck, who founded Bell Street Farm with his husband, John Wentworth, in 2011. Gluck is known by locals, and repeat customers who visit frequently from Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, for his wide, sweet smile and big Stetson hat.
I meet up with Gluck and Wentworth on their date night, which they are enjoying at Pico, Los Alamos’ newest restaurant. Pico and the Los Alamos General Store, as it’s formally called, offers not only terrific, modern cuisine, but also an elegant selection of gifts, including Tru wine decanters, Zalto wineglasses, a number of wonderful wine books, leather goods and domestic, as well as imported wines.
Gluck arrives first in his signature Stetson. While we’re waiting for Wentworth to arrive, I ask him, “So, why the Steston?” “Male Pattern Baldness”, Gluck says, laughing. “No,” he adds, “actually, when we were house shopping in Santa Barbara County with this big, burly realtor, we looked at about 5 undeveloped acres one day, and the sun was beating down on us. So, I reached into the back seat of this guy’s Bronco, and there was a cowboy hat on the seat. I didn’t know at the time that it was bad etiquette to put on someone else’s cowboy hat, so I put it on…otherwise I would have been sun-burned! And, there’s something about a big nose and a big hat that just really works.”
“Hi Honey!” Gluck calls out to Wentworth, as he joins us a few minutes after Gluck and I have taken a seat at Pico’s large, family-style table. Gluck immediately rises to greet his husband and to fetch him something to drink. I thank them both for making time to sit down and chat with me, and Wentworth, who is the shy and soft-spoken one, says, “Oh, we’re flattered you’d even want to interview us.” Gluck quickly chimes in, “Oh, I expected it!” It’s Gluck’s frequent and dorky bursts of humor that have endeared him to this community and to his customers.
Gluck and Wentworth will be celebrating their 15th anniversary next month, (they were officially wed in 2008, but have lived together since they met in 2001). I ask them if they made a commitment early on to set aside one night a week for date night. “No”, Gluck responds. “It just evolved organically. We both realized early on that we really enjoyed our time together. I’ve always said that one of my favorite things is just dinner with my husband. We love the stimulation of going out and having fun with other couples but if I had to pick who I want to have dinner with?” Here Gluck takes Wentworth’s hand, “This guy.” “We’re a couple without children”, Wentworth adds. “We aren’t looking at a date night the way some other people do. Those who have children may view date night as an opportunity for some relief from parenting, but we don’t view date night that way. It’s just a part of our routine that we enjoy very much.” “We have never missed Monday night date night” Gluck adds.
They typically spend their Monday date nights in Los Angeles. What kind of restaurants do they frequent on their romantic night? “Decadent, special and where they know us,” Gluck says. “It may sound over the top, but when we’re done with work, and we work hard, we do want a little taste of luxury. That runs the gamut from Beverly Hills Hotel, to Cut or Spago by Wolfgang Puck, La Scala; we like old-school Beverly Hills restaurants.”
After dinner on Monday nights, the two enjoy watching television together. “We live in a house that was built on television”, Gluck says, referring to the successful run Wentworth has had as an executive with CBS Television, “so television is a great, fun part of our lives that we share. By the time we reunite in Los Angeles on Monday nights, we’ll watch some of our favorite shows that we’ve missed.” The couple maintains two homes; one in Los Angeles and the other in Los Alamos. Wentworth commutes to Los Alamos every Friday, and returns to LA every Sunday night, with Gluck joining him then. Gluck is otherwise in Los Alamos more often than Wentworth to run Bell Street Farm. “John will watch his shows when I’m in Los Alamos and I’ll watch my shows when he’s in LA,” says Gluck. “I’m addicted to “Girls”; John doesn’t care for it.” Wentworth loves “Billions”, which Gluck isn’t crazy about. I explain to them that I too love Billions, Girls and a slew of stupid reality shows, all of which my wife despises. I tell them she loves the show “Castle”, and Gluck looks confused. “Tell me about it. We don’t have a medieval streak.” I have to explain to him that it’s a really silly detective show set in modern day New York. Wentworth interjects and says, “It’s really stupid!” regretting what he’s said a second later, thinking this might somehow offend my wife, even though she’s not there. “Driving to Los Angeles, I listen to two hours of Forensic Files and Nancy Grace,” Gluck says, “so tell your wife it’s okay: we all have our guilty pleasures. If John ever ends up dead, it’s because I’ve listened to every episode of Forensic Files,” he says and we all three guffaw.
Following dinner on Monday nights, though, they come together to watch their mutually preferred programs, which recently include “The People Versus O.J.” and “11.22.63”, with James Franco. “And, anything on HDTV,” Wentworth adds, “and, we love Homeland. We spend the whole time screaming at Carrie (the shows main character).” After watching television together, they wind down date night by doing things they each enjoy; Gluck will read while Wentworth plays “Words with Friends.” They conclude their date night with an evening constitutional: a walk together in their neighborhood with their Jack Russell mix, Hazel, whom they affectionately refer to as “The Dirty Little Rat.”
I ask them if it’s hard to stay healthy, with all the commuting back and forth and dinners out. “It is hard,” Gluck tells me. We had such a great regime for exercise when we were living solely in Los Angeles. We had weekends off together, so we were religious about our spinning and our weight training, and now it’s just…GONE. I have no discipline. I need someone screaming at me. John is self-disciplined. He does what he needs to do, but I’m terrible. We went to a black tie event recently and I was so busy tucking my love handles into my pants all evening long. It was just ridiculous!” Wentworth adds that they made a commitment after that fateful evening to give up sweets. “And I park my car at the house when I get to Los Alamos on Friday,” Wentworth tells me, “and I don’t use it again until I leave on Sunday. I get a lot of walking done. Not just to Bell Street, but all around town and to visit the other businesses here.”
Wentworth describes his role at Bell Street Farm thusly, “I’m here to support Jamie. I run errands and I help entertain customers, but I just really enjoy watching Jamie in his element. He is so hospitable, conscientious and warm.” “It’s because of my dad,” Gluck adds. Gluck’s father, Etienne, was a well-known restaurateur who, like Gluck, never let a minute pass before offering a guest a glass of wine. “I am my father’s son because of the reputation he had for being so hospitable at his French restaurants. I would have kids at school come up to me on the playground and say, “Your dad kissed my mom’s hand when my parents went to his restaurant.” That was the most common thing I’d hear from my school mates. The elder Gluck was widely known and respected for his French restaurants in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley in Arizona, as well as restaurants in Cleveland, Ohio and San Clemente, California. “He taught me how to cook. What I learned from him was a sensibility about food and hospitality that I can’t even articulate. I guess it’s just a very organic experience for me. I love being able to give people a food experience. It’s so much more than a meal. I love the challenge of demystifying or explaining our menu to somebody who might not be comfortable with our cuisine. Anybody can get fed, but I want to give someone more than that. Taking care of our customers is a very satisfying experience for me.” Wentworth adds, quite sweetly, that he’ll “usually find our latest Yelp reviews and I’ll read them to Jamie. And, it’s fun. There are now 356 Yelp reviews that give us 5 stars!”
I ask them if they ever worry about keeping Bell Street relevant and contemporary. “We’re very lucky in that we’ve become a part of a food movement that is so attractive to a younger generation,” Gluck says. “In fact, that younger generation doesn’t really look at prices. They are so used to paying for quality that they never even hesitate. So, we have this hipster audience, from Silverlake and Echo Park in Los Angeles, and what I call The Big Sur circuit; these young, cute people who love to get in the car and have their California weekend, so we’ve been able to capitalize on that. And, because we are serving quality food and because we have a fantastic reputation for service and food, we also naturally get a mature audience, too, that is looking for a quality experience. And we deliver on that promise. Sometimes a mature person, who has been referred to the restaurant, will walk in the front door and I can see this disoriented look on his or her face and they’ll say, “You have to order at the counter?” They’ll look a bit uncomfortable about this, but I’ll go over to them and explain how it works and hand-hold them a little, and they feel comfortable almost right away. I really love making people feel comfortable.”
What dishes are they best known for? Wentworth thinks it’s their Porchetta. “I only allow myself to have it once a month, because it’s rich, but it’s so good!” Gluck adds that “it’s a little piece of art. Italian visitors that we have had have been blown away by it.” My personal favorite dish on their menu is their Roasted Chicken; the best chicken I’ve had outside of the unforgettably perfect chicken at Zuni Restaurant in San Francisco. Visitors can also enjoy a glass of Gluck and Wentworth’s Bell Street Farm house wine. They have two vintages under their belt, having debuted with a pleasant Grenache Blanc. Recently, though, they’re more enchanted with “lighter, higher acid wines,” so Gluck has enlisted winemaker Ernst Storm to help them producer a lively Rose and a rustic, food-friendly Mourvedre, which they will sell exclusively at the restaurant as their house wine.
We begin to wrap up our interview a bit early because the couple are expecting out-of-town guests and need to prepare their home. Before they depart, I ask them what they both love the best about Los Alamos. “I love waking up here, Wentworth says, “because it’s a peaceful, sweet, leafy green environment and it’s growing in just the right direction, at the right pace with the right people.” Gluck adds that “It’s got a super cool burst of LGTB vibes, too, that you just can’t beat.” And, indeed it does. I share with them that my wife and I feel comfortable walking hand in hand, or arm in arm, up and down Bell Street when we visit, which is a bit rare for a country town where most of the inhabitants wear cowboy hats or baseball caps to work. There’s an openness and spirit of tolerance, though, in Los Alamos, which underscores something I’ve always wanted to believe about people who live in the country. If they’re often looking at wide open vistas, shouldn’t their minds, as a result, also be wide open? At least in Los Alamos, and in no small part because of Gluck and Wentworth’s warm inclusive spirit, this might just be so.