Our Town Spotlight: Vita Vite

“I’m not Italian, but I feel like I should be.”

–Lindsay Rice, owner, Vita Vite art gallery and wine bar

by Jessie Ammons

photographs by Juli Leonard

We don’t believe in limits here – with food or with wine,” Lindsay Rice said as she welcomed 48 guests to her Italian-themed Sunday Supper on a recent winter evening. They gathered around farm tables bearing heaping platters of pasta, communal bowls of salt and cheese, and centerpieces overflowing with wildflowers and local produce. “It’s not a tomato, it’s a persimmon,” Rice said of one of the fruits. Persimmons are common in both Italy and North Carolina, a fitting choice for the homecoming feel of the night. “I’ve traveled a lot in my life. It’s an important part of who I am and what inspired this place. This dinner is about sharing that with the community.”

Rice hosted the dinner at Vita Vite, the art gallery and wine bar on Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh that she opened in 2015. With rustic-cozy decor and cheery paintings, Rice says her intent at Vita Vite has always been to create an approachable place for “community and togetherness, over wine.” But it wasn’t until she and Vita Vite manager Christian Coley sojourned to Italy for the wine grape harvest last summer that they set out to serve a meal. In fact, after the whirlwind week-long trip of winery visits, Rice said, “I was completely exhausted. But I immediately got home and threw a dinner party the next weekend because I wanted to share the inspiration.”

What Rice and Coley experienced in Italy was “so much abundance,” Rice said to the guests, along with on-the-ground wine education, “and we wanted to bring some of that back here to you all.”

To share the inspiration with Raleigh, Rice teamed with chef Jeff Seizer of Royale restaurant (despite his French themed bistro, Seizer has a passion for Italian food, Rice says) and Durham-based Piedmont Wine Imports for straight-from-Italy vino. Hillsborough company Vietri envisioned the tablescape, a mismatched combination of three dinnerware designs meant to evoke an authentic Italian table. Tickets were available online and sold out quickly. The meal was served family-style, and Rice added her own family touch: “the silverware and the cocktail napkins are my mom’s.” Rice’s father was in attendance; by the end of the night he jumped in to offer guests second helpings of tiramisu. “This is what they do,” Rice said about her parents. “They throw big parties and they love entertaining. Now it’s what I do too.”

There may be future Sunday suppers at Vita Vite, Rice says, but she makes no promises. For now, she’s focused on opening the second Vita Vite location at North Hills later this year. “I feel like I’ve learned a tremendous amount from traveling all over the world and experiencing winemaking in different parts of it.” This one-time Italian winter feast, Rice says, was her offering to the city she’s made her home. “Raleigh has been so supportive of us (at Vita Vite).”

Guests arrived mostly in couples and left in groups, having made new friends at the table. That, Rice says, is precisely what she wanted: “If I can bring meaning into every little thing we do here, I try to do that.”