Frenchtown's Villa Olga has seen many changes through the years from a gambling hall and bordello in the 1700s to a Russian consulate early in this century (hence, its name), to several restaurants, most recently the Chart House.
All of that history is being considered in the plans for a new restaurant that will replace the Chart House next month. Jeff Smith, managing director of the new venture, says he and owner Tom Colameco "discarded the bordello and gambling idea, and even the consulate, but we were determined to keep Villa Olga in the name."
And so, The Point at Villa Olga it will be.
Smith and Colameco have been fixtures of the St. Thomas restaurant scene for many years. They worked together at Frenchman's Reef for several years, heading up the hotel's food and beverage executive office.
Smith's restaurant career had an inauspicious beginning in the early '70s at St. Croix's venerable Fredricksted watering hole, the Persian Virgin. In 1975, he and his wife, Sandy, moved to St. Thomas. She began teaching school, while he officially launched his restaurant career within the cavernous but charming confines of the old L'Escargot in Royal Dane Mall, where he presided as the only maitre d' at the only place to dine downtown.
In the mid-'80s, he moved to Williams and Daniels, a new second-floor restaurant across from the A.H. Riise shops. There he continued dispensing his now established joie de vivre until the restaurant's demise in 1989, when he moved to Frenchman's Reef.
For the last year Smith was with Albert Paiewonsky's Premier Wine and Spirits, where he said he got an eye-opening education "and I thought I knew a lot about wine before!" he says. Expect his knowledge to be reflected in the new restaurant's wine list, which he promises will be extensive.
Smith says when Colameco approached him about the new restaurant, he gave it some hard thought, but let his heart sway him in the end. His enthusiasm for what he loves carries over.
"The salad bar will be regional and Mediterranean," he says. "How about pick-up saltfish, Middle Eastern humus, roasted garlic and peppers, grilled vegetables, foccacia, grilled breads, pitas, fused oils and herb and balsamic vinegars?"
Right, how about it? As was the case at the Chart House, the salad bar can be a meal in itself, or added to an entree for a $3.95 charge.
Basically, the offerings "will be very similar to the Chart House menu, adding some chops and seafood," Smith says. Much of the staff will be kept on.
"We want to make the transition as smooth as possible, and there is an excellent staff in place right now," he says.
Inside renovations planned for the restaurant include extending the bar, installing air-conditioning and enlarging the private dining room upstairs.
The Chart House closes Aug. 31. The plan is to open The Point on Sept. 1, Smith says, rolling his eyes.
And, yes, they will have mud pie.