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Elia Brunner - ASSP Certified Sommelier & Restaurant Coordinator

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

Firstly thank you for your visit and if we’ve not had the pleasure already, I hope we'll meet sometime soon at the restaurant.

After a childhood in Winterthur, Switzerland, full of culinary experiences, being raised in the true wine tradition, I moved to Michigan in December of 2011. It proved to be a difficult adjustment, starting with language issues. Beginning high school half way into the semester, I gotta tell you, it was not easy.

Our big day of opening the restaurant began just two years into our new lives in Frankenmuth. But opening a “restaurant” is not really what we should call it. Let’s call it a small cafe for now, with the main attraction being an antique Christmas ornaments museum, who would have thought that? It really didn't take long for us to figure out that our theme wouldn’t work out as planned… there just aren’t enough people in the world interested in our extremely rare collection while enjoying a Italian cup of coffee, so we had to evolve.

As the years went on, we kept doing the best we could possibly do. And did I mention? None of us had at that point worked in a restaurant before; nor did we have a restaurant education. All we did was wing it! Strangely enough it somehow worked out. In 2015 we got our liquor license, and many of you started noticing us. That was a good beginning, but still it was not enough, we wanted more.

With the motivation to succeed, the search for proper education started. Many college visits in Michigan ended with disappointment. It was simply not what we were looking for, as we were not interested in learning the corporate way. Time went by, and suddenly we received an email out of the blue. It was from not only Switzerland's, but the world’s most prestigious business administration school with a focus on hospitality, announcing a new campus opening in Chicago. A week later, we found ourselves in Chicago for an orientation with Les Roches - Global Hospitality Management. In a heartbeat we signed to enroll into 3 1/2 years of world class education in hospitality management. I was blown away by this school, and not only was it a new campus opening (the 4th of of Les Roches) but also the first non-American based school on American soil! I became the first person to attend the first non-American school on US-soil, and to prove it, my student number was #1.

After a couple of months, I packed up my things and moved to Chicago. Not anywhere in Chicago; however, as our student housing was in the heart of Chicago, just two blocks away from the bean and Millennium Park! Our campus was located on Goose Island, the only island in Chicago, where the Chicago river splits for half a mile or so. Let me tell you... that view we had from our classroom every day was priceless, and one I’ll never forget!

As school started, my entire outlook on life changed. I connected with the world’s leaders in the hospitality industry, and was soon exposed to opportunities and experiences beyond any I ever expected were possible. I was invited and flown into San Francisco / Silicon Valley, where I was brought to the Google HQ, Facebook HQ, Instagram HQ, Lyft HQ, Hotel Tonight HQ, as well as others. In each instance, I met with executives and CEO's giving insight regarding what it means to be entrepreneurial; starting something out of love and passion for what you do, and reinforcing the hard work and persistence it requires, even when a situation seems hopeless. During my studies, I not only got to meet many hotel and restaurant icons, but also spent some time in some pretty incredible places. I got hotel experience working at The Peninsula Chicago, and later managed to work for Roister, at that time a 1-Star Michelin Restaurant, owned by my biggest inspiration, (and Michigan native) Grant Achatz. While working at Roister, i was fortunate to encounter Grant several times. One time, he introduced me to his friend and mentor, Thomas Keller!

One of my final Chicago experiences was the training I had with a famous Italian top chef. What made him particularly interesting was that he was not only the executive chef at the Four Seasons Hawaii for 10 years, but also the personal / private chef for Tom Cruise. Unfortunately, aside from Tom’s preference of his steak medium rare, I was unable to get any secrets. At the same time, pastry was taught by the executive pastry chef at the Radison Blue Chicago who later worked for Tickets (formally El Bulli, one of the world most iconic restaurant, and changed the way of molecular gastronomy).

So over all, of course I leaned a lot, academically, was also practically, by some incredible people in this industry, while i got to visit.. well... you know, and met.. well.. you know..

Fast forward a bit, and it is now June 2017, and time to put some things I’ve learned into practice. I accepted a position at one of Zurich's finest dining spots, Restaurant La Soupiere inside the Hotel Schweizerhof, right on the Bahnhofs Platz. Of course I started at the bottom, getting up at 5am every day for breakfast service. Fortunately, La Soupiere appreciated my work ethic, and after only 3 months, they gave me a shot as Chef de Rang! With that promotion, I was no longer in charge of the breakfast buffet, but the finest lunch and dinner service in Switzerland. It was great! I had an amazing team, with good workers, and soon learned what exceptional service with the highest standard actually means. Even tough days were very long (10.30 am until often past midnight), let me tell you…it’s very cool.

Before I knew, it was 2018, and time to move on. My next stop was Marbella, just south of Malaga in southern Spain. It was my fourth semester, and meant moving to a country where I didnt speak the language. Somehow I managed, and I’m extremely glad I did. What can I really say about Spain? time passed really fast, it was quite heavy on academics, and well... the Mediterranean sea... some of the best fiends I've ever made, and trips I will cherish in my memories forever. My travels spanned the Netherlands, Barcelona, Gibraltar, Tariffa, Sevilla, Crans-Montana, Zurich, and the list goes on.

Before too long; however, it was time to find a job. While I applied for more than 20 jobs on 4 different continents, I had10 interviews and 5 job offers. I had offers from The Emirates, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Thailand, and Tanzania. Each had their own advantages and disadvantages. Now looking back at that decision, I don't know what I was thinking... I ended up choosing Africa.

Among the biggest factors, the position I was offered in Tanzania was a direct management position, which is something no other organization could offer me. It was my best chance of doing something crazy, jump over my shadow and move to central Africa, and assume a role most others felt was beyond my capability.

The arrival was strange, my first time in a third world country. During the 6 months that I lived in Africa I could probably go on and write for hours. As this post is already long, I won’t go so much into that, but soon will post and entire one just about Africa, for the ones really wanted to read it. I promise, it'll come soon! Spoiler alert, it includes a lot of wild animals, snake attacks, lions, safari, the most beautiful beaches, nature and the African way of life, as well as working ay the most stunning hotel I have ever seen in my entire life!

Anyways, lets skip a bit and move on. We are soon coming to a close, just one more year. My last year, and just before taking off an incredible birthday surprise from no one else but my mum. Just a week before take off, we went to Chicago, the holy grail of restaurants, Alinea. Not just a restaurant of a dining experience, this was one incredible show, like a 3 hour long theater. Cooking in front of you, without even realizing, dry ice inside table decoration, fire within that same decoration also cooking something else, later roasted sweet potatoes hidden in the "soil". A show, 18 courses, a square yard large dessert, where first part of the ceiling was taken down, put on the table, temporarily used as a plate and the entire kitchen staff came to the table to create the dessert, in the style like you would do a painting, finished off by Alinea's infamous green apple helium balloon. Literally a flying/floating balloon! Where in the world can you get that?!

I spent my last year in school in Switzerland, and was fortunate to room with my brother. We had one of the most stunning apartments ever. Two stories, six bedrooms, and best of all, a massive balcony with a wonderful view of the Swiss Alps. Classes started soon, and early mornings led to late nights, but at least we could look forward to the the sunrises, which were absolutely stunning. Week days kept me busy with regular classes, papers, projects and rebranding work, while weekends were reserved for my sommelier education. Taking these weekend courses surely made regular classes seem easy. Focusing on old world wines, we needed to not only be able to know all wine regions of all major countries, but also their sub-regions, and often also the sub-regions of the sub-regions, hundreds of them, and each of them have their own individuality, their grapes, their climate, soil, good years, bad years, all in all, just A LOT to learn. But of course it was not only just the dry academic part, each day included tastings and blind tastings, some days over 15 wines, which honestly, needed more energy and focus than academics. Finding all flavor profiles out of different wines, age, regions, weather and much more.

My first weeks in Switzerland passed very quick, between all the school work and wines studies, there was limited time for the much needed skiing. As April approached, and spring break was just around the corner, I needed to clear out my head. I was looking for inspiration, a vision, time for myself to get more ideas for the upcoming rebranding of our restaurant, and became absolutely clear on what I had to do. Pack up some clothing and start driving.

I drove all through northern Italy and France…over 40 hours of driving in 7 days and 3500 kilometers. From Crans-Montana to Parma and Modena, the mecca of food, through to Tuscany, the Antinori winery, Castello Banfi and of course Bolgheri, a tiny town (just a fraction of Frankenmuth), the home of the legendary wine maker, San Guido, who produces the king of all Super Tuscans, Sassicaia. Moving on I made my way to Pisa, Monaco, all along the French gold coast, Nice, Cannes, St. Tropez all the way to Marseilles. The Rhone Valley, where I stopped in Chateauneuf-du-Pape met with various wine makers many of which can be found on our every growing wine menu. After a quick stop in Burgundy and Paris I was already at the end of my journey and as they say, saved the best for last - Champagne. A 7-day trip was properly finished off with pop, deep down in the caves of Epernay, where several 100 million bottles find rest and age for us to enjoy later on.

Several weeks later, back in Crans-Montana, Switzerland after hundreds of hours of studying, I received my level 2 Sommelier certification, making me a certified Sommelier by the ASSP and ASI (Swiss & International Sommelier Association). And just before the semester was to come to an end there was additional recognition, the induction into Eta Sigma Delta, a international Hospitality honors society for excellence in Academic achievements and volunteer work.

Before coming back home for a last Michigan summer vacation, one more trip to Italy was needed. Together with my family, just a day after my older brother’s wedding, I went to my grandfather’s house, a place where you will find more to read about separately soon. The trip was not for nostalgia alone, but also because I needed to drive though Tuscany once again, this time with my family. We went to Antinori, where I got to see the progress of each vine, small grapes slowly growing, to what will become some of the best wines in the world, Tignanello and Solaia. But also Castello Banfi and Bolgehri were again on the list to visit before going back home to Michigan.

The highlight for years when back home, culinary inspiration during a Chicago Trip. This time, Boka, Sepia and The Aviary. If you very get the chance to go to The Aviary, make sure to get a Black Truffle Explosion, just to have said it, try it, just do it, you will thank me later!

But for now, we are back in Switzerland for a last time, 6 month to focus almost entirely on Marketing, content creating, and well... learning how to fly a drone. And believe it or not, one day i just had the strong urge to find out how the grapes back in the Tuscany are holding up. I took some of my best friends in Switzerland, rented out an old 7-stoy military castle, refurbished into the likely most amazing Airbnb i have ever seen and once again visited my favorite wineries. While there for the third time in 2019, as life wants it, it was just the opening weekend of harvest season. Even if i tried describing the taste of these wonderful grapes, I couldn't, simply pure perfecting, just like the wines they will soon become.

The remainder of the year was all around projects, weather it was to create real-life marketing campaigns for hospitality groups, of getting to create a real event with a budget of more than $30,000 - yes we were give $30,000 to organize our own event. An event with international performances and food with hundreds of people, students and global hsopitality leaders attending.

Totally unrelated, but check out this video, all it took was 5 hours of climbing an super steep mountain, pure exhaustion but that was the result of it.

To stay up to date with all what is going on in the wold of wines, make sure to visit the Exopvina, if you are ever in Zurich in November. There are 6 boats in the harbor of Zurich, each hosting around 100 wine makers, for you to sample and learn about their wines.

And now here we are, 3 1/2 years later, what started in Chicago is now ending, its the 24th of January 2020, just before a massive pandemic, little did we know back then what was just about to happen. Here we are ready to go out into the world and find sucess, graduated with a Bacchelor in Business Administration with Distinction, specalized in Digital Maketing, Eta Sigma Delta, 2 sommelier certifications, having worked and studied in 3 continents, 4 countries and 6 cities, while having seen and experienced the world. A year of planning a rebranding and a global pandemic giving us 3 months time to put (almost) everything into place transforming from The Old Christmas Station to The Station 100 - we look forward welcoming you soon!

And after a run of tremendous experiences which literally spanned the world, we find ourselves back in Frankenmuth just 3 1/2 years later. What started in Chicago has now ended, but the experience we’ve gained has positioned us well to craft the finest culinary and dining experience in mid-Michigan. Having graduated with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration (with distinction), 2 sommelier certifications, while working and studying on 3 continents, 4 countries and 6 cities, I’ve seen and experienced the world.

Elia Brunner

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