The Doyennes of Fine Dining

Think women should stay in the kitchen? Meet the effervescent ladies of La Cave.

Attention snobby oenophiles: the next time you dine at La Cave Wine & Food Hideaway, don’t be so quick to ask your female server to fetch the sommelier. Chances are, she’s it.

“The look on some guests faces when they find out that we’re an all-female wine team is priceless,” says Chloe Helfand, the restaurant’s wine director. Unfortunately, an inconvenient inquisition begins once the shock ends. “That’s when they ask how long I went to school and studied to earn my position. There have been times when gentlemen have practically shooed me away from the table.”

Got a problem with her credentials? Don’t complain to the managers—they’re all women, too.

“I’ve been mistaken for a hostess, coat-check girl, personal assistant …” says general manager Jennifer LaSala-Holley. “You name it, and someone assumes that’s my title. But that’s OK. I’m not above any task, including mopping the floor on a Friday night in my suit!”

Fellow manager Rebecca Ochs has also been on the receiving end of false assumptions. “I still find it funny when we walk through the dining room and someone waves us down to ask for a manager,” she says.

In a male-dominated industry, Helfand, LaSala-Holley, and Ochs are anomalies. Together with manager Miriam Fitchett and sommelier Kate Basista, the group makes up one of few all-female restaurant management teams on the Las Vegas Strip. In an unusual twist, the only men of the house management are owner Michael Morton and executive chef Billy DeMarco.

Does it matter that double-X chromosomes dominate the dining room? While it can be considered either a genius marketing ploy or a great wake-up call to old-fashioned guests, DeMarco has a more diplomatic take on the genetic makeup of the team: “Forget gender. If you’re good, you’re good, and that’s the case with these ladies.”

“I’ve never really paid attention to the male-to-female ratio on staff,” Morton adds. “But perhaps it’s a testament to the ladies on our team that they’ve achieved their positions in an industry that tends to favor men.” “There is always potential for an interaction to go in a certain [sexist] direction, and I just don’t go there,” Basista says. With collective experience on and off the Strip, and in various facets of the hospitality industry, good service from each member—regardless of gender—is all that counts. “Be professional but genuine, and the horror stories are generally avoidable.”

Fitchett, whose industry experience has always involved an exclusively female staff, generally avoids the topic of gender politics. “A good team is one made up of people with a common goal,” she says. Sex is not a factor.

So then what makes dinner at La Cave special, other than the fact that the restaurant is run by a bevy of beautiful women?

“It’s not so much that we’re all women, but that we’re like-minded individuals,” LaSala-Holley says. “It’s as easy as breathing when it comes to interacting with one another. This is our home, and we welcome any guest who enters La Cave as it is. You just have to walk past a few slot machines to get here.”

The guest is not always right …

The ladies of La Cave do their best to meet even the strangest customer demands—here are their favorite examples:

Helfand: “I’d be more than happy to mix your $500 red wine with Coca-Cola!”

Ochs: “Guests sometimes want to create their own menu or ask us to make something we don’t carry, so we end up calling other kitchens to borrow their food.”

LaSala-Holley: “We’ve had everything from handwritten poems delivered with each course to one gentleman who jumped out of a cake at midnight to surprise his family. We like the challenge … as long as it’s legal!”

Basista: “Of course you can have ice in your Malbec, sir. But I am sorry, I don’t know where you can get weed on the Strip.”