One of the appeals of fine dining is how effortless it all feels, being served quality food, excellent wines, along with quick and accurate service. Every day, the staff of restaurants like William B’s Steakhouse put on a magnificent show for their diners, but every show needs a director. For William B’s, that is Patrick Cullars, the restaurant’s manager and sommelier.
Food and drink have been a part of Cullars’ life for as long as he can remember. As a young adult, he started helping out in his mother’s tavern, and he’s been in the food and beverage industry ever since.
“It’s kind of a funny story to be honest,” Cullars laughed. “I started bartending in my mom’s tavern back in the late 60s or early 70s. I had been going in there since I was 8 or 9 years old to help sweep the floors, mop, and things like that. So, I kind of fell into it at an early age and had a lot of fun with it.”
He started more professionally at Harrah’s (now Ameristar) in East Chicago as a bartender, back when it was a showboat. He stayed there for a number of years, gradually working his way up the ladder and learning more about food and drink. One day, he was called on to serve the supervisor at the casino’s French Quarter restaurant after the maître d' called off. He was so successful that he got promoted to being the permanent maître d' the next day.
“I got called in to take over for the maître d' who needed a day off,” he recalled. “They told me to just go in and make everybody happy, so I did. The next day I walked in, and the food and beverage director asked how it went, and I said it went well. He said, ‘well good, take a day off and get a tuxedo because you’re the new maître d' of the steakhouse.’”
He had never ran a steakhouse before, and never made a wine list. It was all new, but he took up the challenge and excelled. Cullars took every new experience and challenge to be a brick in his road to success.
“Every time that I got a new venue was a new learning experience,” Cullars said. “Everything I’ve done has led me up to what I’m doing now as the manager and sommelier of Blue Chip’s William B’s Steakhouse.”
He loves a lot about his work, but his favorite thing is interacting with the restaurant’s guests. To him, the most important thing a manager can do is be out on the floor making sure that the customers are as happy as possible.
“The best part of running a dining room is being with your guests,” he said. “And when I am in the dining room, and something does go wrong, I’m there so I can go to them and take the opportunity to fix things right then and there. Some people might say, ‘I hate to complain,’ but I want them to, because it’s the only way that I can fix things and make sure they have a great dining experience.”
But beyond being able to provide the best service possible, he simply enjoys being among the guests, learning about them and making friends.
“The best thing I can equate it to be is like working at Cheers,” he joked. “Everybody knows you, they look forward to seeing you and I love to see them come in. It’s interesting that in the casino, I get to see some of the same people every week. I get to throw a party every night, and I don’t even need to invite anyone because they just show up!”
Never content to rest on his laurels, Cullars is constantly seeking to improve himself. He is currently working towards becoming a master sommelier. Sommeliers are wine professionals, and experts in wine service and wine and food pairing. Becoming a Master is a journey fraught with exams, certifications, and continuing education, but it brings great prestige and personal satisfaction.
As a lifelong Region resident and food and beverage professional, Cullars never lost his love for Northwest Indiana. He especially appreciates the growing craft brewing scene.
“I’ve lived in Northwest Indiana all my life,” he said. “I’ve just always enjoyed the ever-changing Northwest Indiana. I still have some of the same friends that I went to high school with, and I really enjoy the booming food and beverage industry we have up here.”
The next time you’re looking for a night out, consider stopping by William B’s and seeing just what kind of party an expert like Cullars and the rest of the restaurant’s staff can put together.