1-on-1 w/ James Byus III
You’ve got a lot of culinary and wine experience. With your background, you could open a tasting room, a fine dining establishment, a tapas bar, or even focus solely on the commercial side of wine. But you’re taking on an American classic, the Burger. Talk a bit more about that: what led you to devote your talents to the quintessential burger?
You are correct, the reason I went with the Burger is that I feel that there should be a place where you can have a bunch of great burgers from all “walks” of the burger world, ha. Some places have “a” (one) good burger; but I want a collection of the best burgers I’ve ever had, all in one place, comparable to standout icons like Houston's Veggie Burger and Legal Seafoods’ Tuna Burger, as well as my own secret recipes for items like crab cakes–all with the highest quality meats, seafood and cheeses available. With partners like Sonoma County Meat Company in Santa Rosa, Anna’s Seafood in Petaluma, Marin Sonoma Produce, Costarella Seafood in SF and Franco American Bakery Brioche buns……This is the collection of the ultimate burgers all in one place. To me it’s genius! I can combine that with my love of wine to create a fun, casual and unique experience for my guests.
You’ve got a deep, abiding love for Sonoma County–the culture, the vino, the cuisine, the people. In what ways is Vine Burgers going to add to the cultural canvas of Sonoma County that you care so much about?
I feel like if you live here sometimes you take for granted what is in your backyard. I came here to wine country to be with my people. To have, all in my backyard, wine country, farms, cheeses, and a very special collection of wineries, hotels, and restaurants. We are simply blessed to be here. Vine Burgers will tap into some of the best things that Sonoma county has to offer and bring a very warm and genuine hospitality driven experience to the community. Wait until you come in and see a super fun collection of wines by the glass and have the option of learning more about our legendary crop here in the Russian River Valley but also from wine regions around the globe. Not many people can put focus on wines from Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Australia and South America quite like I can. And you know this my friend, very well….
What’s the hospitality experience you have in mind for Vine Burgers? What can we expect about the experience of dining with you? Any specific plans or trajectories that you have for the concept down the road?
I want to give back and serve the community that has been so generous to my family. Simply put: genuine hospitality, engagement and top notch quality! Local ingredients and something for everyone (vegetarian, gluten free, meat lovers, keto, sausages, seafood, and sick weekly specials). I promise we will always keep it interesting (even the Sonos speakers will be blasting great American classics). Wines from around the globe (have you ever had a Carmenere from Chile? Shiraz from Australia? Tempranillo or Albarino from Spain?), local and burger friendly craft brews, service beyond regular counter service and we even have the best sodas on the planet: Boylan’s! (No high fructose corn syrup in my restaurant, I care about my guests). As far as the future, there are never ever boundaries for me. I hope to open a few more fun food and wine bar concepts under the JB3 Restaurant Group LLC umbrella.
Hospitality is in James’ blood. It literally runs through his veins. Raised in Annapolis, Maryland, down by the naval academy, he started working in his parents’ bakery at the age of 11. Those humble beginnings launched him into a full-fledged career in both restaurants and the wine industry that’s spanned his entire life. Hospitality is an essential part of his nature–this is not an acquired skill for him. It’s what he loves to do, and he cannot see himself ever doing anything but.
Throughout the course of his career, he’s worked for mom-and-pop shops, big corporate moguls, and legendary restaurants, even spending a short time working for a celebrity chef in the city. In addition, he’s spent time at legendary outfits like Carrabba's Italian Grill, Vapiano, Legal Seafoods, Seasons 52, Hillstone/Houston’s, Vino Volo wine bars, and Outback Steakhouse. He’s truly done it all, from scraping floors and dishwashing to running $6-$8 million dollar stores and even restaurants in airports.
Finally, James is getting the opportunity to open his dream concept, with the help of his lovely wife Maria. She too is living her dream here in America. Originally from Bogota, Colombia, she’s a native-speaking Spanish teacher at Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa. Her support for and dedication to James and his vision has been monumental in the launching of this project.
James and Maria are immensely grateful for the community that they now call home, and they hope that locals and visitors alike will love Vine Burgers and enjoy what they have to offer for many, many years to come. They feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work here in the wine business with family wineries and online retail giants, and now, it's time to give something back. Wine, food, and people are James’ passions, and uniting those passions in the form of Vine Burgers is going to be a lot of fun for him, as he’s sure it will be for you.
Cheers, and best regards.
James & Maria