Restaurateur Allan Bass turns love of wine into career

Allan Bass has come a long way from the day he got fired from his first job waiting tables. He’s now an accomplished restaurateur and a certified sommelier, someone who’s trained and knowledgeable about wine.

When he was younger, Bass worked as a waiter in a variety of restaurants from Macon to Athens to the U.S. Virgin Islands. At one time, he owned three restaurants in Macon.

Bass, now 44, is a sales consultant for Quality Wine & Spirits, and he not only calls on grocery stores and retail stores, but he also gets to do something he really enjoys.

“My passion is selling to restaurants and doing wine dinners,” he said.

Although Quality Wine is based in Atlanta, Bass’ territory covers the midstate and south Georgia.

Bass, who lives in Macon, moved here when he was a year old. He mowed grass and babysat in his youth, but by the time he was 16 he was working at the former TCBY yogurt shop on Eisenhower Parkway.

After a couple of years, he began his first job as a waiter at the former Bennigan’s on Riverside Drive.

“I got fired after a couple of months,” Bass said.

At that time, Bennigan’s guaranteed a customer’s food would be served within 15 minutes of the order. If it wasn’t, it was free.

“I had given away too many lunches,” he said, laughing. “I loved people, and I thought I was great at that job. ... I was mortified (at getting fired).”

Bass asked the restaurant’s manager to change his firing to a resignation so it wouldn’t follow him through his career. The manager agreed.

The next few years, while attending what is now Georgia College, Bass worked as a waiter at a French restaurant and a Mexican restaurant in Macon.

“I got a lot better,” he said.

Bass had planned to become a lawyer, but the three law schools that accepted him were out of state, and he decided not to pursue a law degree.

Bass continued with what he knew, working in restaurants for nearly 15 years.

“I had nothing to do, so I moved with a friend to the U.S. Virgin Islands on St. Thomas,” he said. “Within three days we found a job and an apartment.”

Bass worked at a fine dining Italian restaurant called Virgilios and said “it was a level above what I was prepared for.”

The maitre d’ gave him some valuable advice he’s never forgotten.

“He asked me, ‘Why do you think people come here and spend $60 when they could go across the street for $35?’ ’’ Bass said. ‘‘ ‘It’s the details. Everything has to be perfect.’ ’’

Even though Bass enjoyed living in St. Thomas, he moved back to Georgia, worked as a waiter in Athens for about two years before returning to Macon.

Bass worked another two years for restaurateur Tom Noelke, former owner of Downtown Grill and other eateries, ending up as a manager before striking out on his own.

Bass opened Bert’s restaurant at 442 Cherry St. in June 1999. After about a year, he opened two other businesses during the same week: Trio’s, a jazz and wine spot at 430 Cherry St., and Five Eighty, an upscale eatery at 580 Cherry St.

Bass owned Bert’s about eight years, but after facing some financial difficulties with Trio’s and Five Eighty, he closed both of them in 2004. He converted Bert’s to a lunch-only business and went to work for Bibb Distributing Co. to launch the company’s wine and spirits division.

While working for Bibb Distributing, Bass was selected for a reality show, “The Winemakers,” which debuted in fall 2009 on PBS. He said he enjoyed the experience and came in fourth of 12 contestants.

Bass closed Bert’s in 2006 and went to work for Georgia Crown Distributing as a salesman of beer, wine and spirits in the Atlanta area.

About five years ago when the job opportunity came along at Quality Wine & Spirits, “I jumped at it, because they were one of my favorite companies to buy from when I owned restaurants,” Bass said.

The best part of his job is educating restaurateurs and retailers about various wines.

“I enjoy wine and food pairings and introducing people to new wines they’ve never heard of, new regions and new grapes,” he said. “Having them create wine lists at restaurants that match their cuisine. I really enjoy that part.”

About two months ago, Bass became a certified sommelier, achieved after successfully completing a course and exam given by The Court of Master Sommeliers.

“It was challenging,” Bass said. “It involves a blind-tasting component, and you have to identify the grapes, the region, the country and the vintage of a red and white wine. Also, there is a service portion. You have to serve master sommeliers at a table and have to do everything technically correct, and then there is a written exam. ... It’s intense.”

Richie Jones, who bought the Downtown Grill from Tom Noelke in 2008, said he counts Bass as a friend and knows him through their business dealings. Jones said Bass’ current job is “a perfect fit for him, because he has so much passion for wine and really enjoys what he’s doing.”

Bass lets people know that wine is not just for wine snobs, Jones said.

“He makes it very approachable where anybody can feel comfortable and not be intimidated,” Jones said. “His logic is more ‘just try it and see what you like and go from there. ... Then you will know what you like and don’t like.’”

Macon businessman Chris Sheridan, who has known Bass for years, said he enjoyed going to Bert’s because Bass paid such close attention to the details -- proving the restaurateur followed the advice he had learned years earlier.

“Bert’s had an ambiance that my wife and I still really, really miss,” Sheridan said. “Allan’s personal service and attention to detail ... were just wonderful.”

Sheridan said Bass’ current job “certainly suits him ... but from a personal perspective I wish he would open another restaurant. ... He genuinely cares for people, and it comes out in the way he interacts with people. It comes from the heart.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.