It only took a few months for Staci Miller to open the doors of her Oceanside wine bar and restaurant last fall, but it took 20 years of hard work to realize her dream.
The Miller's Table, which opened Oct. 1 near the Hill Street Cafe, is the culmination of everything Miller has learned about wine, beer and food since she started in the hospitality industry in the mid-1990s.
Along the way, the Oceanside resident worked in the wine industry as a buyer, educator, program director and sommelier and she has worked as a restaurant manager and a chef. For all those years, Miller said she was working for someone else. Miller's Table is her first opportunity to bring her own vision to life.
The Miller's Table
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesdays-Mondays (closed Tuesdays)
Where: 502 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside
The Miller's Table is an intimate wine bar with most of its 24 seats situated around a large communal table. Customers can choose from an eclectic mix of wines from California, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and Italy. There's also a selection of soft drinks and bottled beers, as well as six beers on tap.
While wines are available by the glass or bottle, Miller's Table's signature service is wine flights, where customers can choose from an ever-changing list of trios spotlighting reds, whites, California labels or foreign selections.
"Wine flights and an ever-changing wine list is something I'm not afraid of," Miller said. "I'm also not afraid of working with different wine varieties and styles. The flight method allows people to go along for that journey."
Miller studied viniculture at Napa Valley College, worked as a wine educator for L.A. Wine Tasting and in wine export and sales for Wine Expo. She also worked as wine director and manager for two French restaurants in Los Angeles, The Little Door and The Little Next Door bistro. And before she opened Miller's Table, she worked as the wine department director for Whole Foods supermarket in Del Mar.
Miller is also trained a a chef. She was once a recipe-tester for the Los Angeles Times food section and and she worked in the Bay area for Bon Appetit Management, which provides onsite food services to Silicon Valley companies.
Miller said that she had longed dreamed of opening her own restaurant/bar business, but she was never able to make it work financially. Her last effort was an attempt to open a beer bar in the Silicon Valley.
When that fell through a few years ago, she decided to relocate to Oceanside to be closer to her sister, who lives in Carlsbad. As soon as she arrived, she realized she needed to rework her business plan.
"I had wanted to open a beer bar in Silicon Valley but in San Diego, that's like bringing sand to the beach," she said. "I knew I could go back to my wine roots, so that's what I did."
The space Miller leased in Oceanside was once a Chinese restaurant, so its small, wok-centric kitchen wasn't suitable for launching a full menu. Instead, Miller has developed a simple menu meat and cheese boards, snacks, appetizers and sandwiches. She has relied on customer suggestions and the creativity of her staff to develop the farm-fresh sandwich menu, which includes a variety of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and artisan takes on roast beef, turkey, tuna and vegetarian options.
One of the most unique features of Miller's Table is its communal table, which takes up most of the dining room. Miller said she hadn't planned to position most of her seating around a grand table, but the configuration of the space and the tables she had forced her into the decision. Surprisingly, it's become the most-desired spot for the restaurant's regulars, a mix of local residents, fellow hospitality workers and tourists passing through.
After working for so many years in hospitality, Miller said she wanted to address one of the industry's biggest problems when she opened Miller's Table - the disparity in wages between servers, who can earn tips, and kitchen or "back of house" workers, who can not.
To make all employees eligible for a share of the tips, Miller's Table workers split responsibilities. The person who cooks sandwiches in the kitchen also delivers it to the customer's tableside. Miller said this not only creates a more fair wage system, it has created an intimacy between the staff and the customers.
"For the person who has made that sandwich and delivered it, they get that sense of gratification because they've just made the dish or created the recipe," she said. "They get immediate feedback and the guest will get the interaction with the person who made their food."
Miller said she's been grateful for the public's warm reception of her business and she's working hard to grow the business and respond to customer requests.
"It's so thrilling," she said. "I'm burning the candle at 12 ends each and every day. But the feedback from the regulars and the new guests infuses me with so much energy. I'm excited by what's taking place here. It's been fantastic."