On Sunday, Feb. 8, as an ebullient Michael Bryan greeted guests to his wine-and-dine emporium, Vino Venue, his prosthetic leg was the only clue that the event had a serious purpose – to raise funds to cover his medical expenses as a result of his battle with Stage 3 pleomorphic sarcoma.
But his joyful take on life was the reason most cited by the several hundred guests who paid $75 per ticket to attend the sold-out lavish food-and-wine event.
“Michael is a really great guy,” they said repeatedly when asked.
One of the most beloved people in the metro Atlanta food-and-hospitality scene, Bryan first made his mark when he opened the Atlanta Wine School on Holcomb Bridge Road in January 2003. Just in time to catch the growing wave of fine wine washing over metro Atlanta, Bryan’s school introduced many Atlantans to the study and love of wine.
In October 2012, he opened Vino Venue, in the Georgetown Shopping Center. Three weeks later, he was diagnosed with Stage 3 pleomorphic sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that usually results in the amputation of extremities.
In the midst of launching what was to soon become one of Atlanta’s most popular wine destinations, Bryan and his wife, Lelia, were faced with adjusting to a life filled with doctors’ appointments, chemotherapy, radiation and, ultimately, the removal of Bryan’s left leg and part of his pelvis.
As his medical expenses mounted, including $85,000 for his mechanized prosthetic leg, two of his friends decided to invite his other friends, especially those in the food-and-beverage industry, to help.
“We were overwhelmed by the donations,” said event Co-Chair Yolanda Jones, publisher of Flavors Magazine. “All we had to do was mention Michael, and people wanted to give.”
In fact, everything at the event was donated, from the food and wine served to all the items in the silent auction and raffle. And everyone involved in the event, from the chefs and sous-chefs to the servers and cleanup people, was a volunteer. Many volunteers even bought tickets.
“Having known Michael for so many years, we felt there was something we should do to show our love,” said event Co-Chair Gina Christman, publisher of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles magazine. “But Michael has so many friends in the wine-and-food industry that the thing became way bigger than we had expected.”
Donations ran the gamut from a four-night stay at an historic inn in Savannah to a pair of passes to the high-profile Atlanta Food and Wine Festival, a signed cap from the Falcons’ Matt Ryan and a concert picture signed by Sting. And, of course, the auction included many bottles of wine.
As serious as the purpose was, the event was staged as a fun event.
“We called it ‘the Michael Bryan Fun-Raiser,’” said Jones.
And one of the most fun activities was the Mystery Wine Pull, in which bottles of wine ranging in value from $15 to $110 were wrapped in plain brown paper bags and arranged in a large wine rack. For $10, guests could “pull” a bottle from the rack.
After an hour into the event, well-wishers crowded every inch of Vino Venue, enjoying the hospitality they’ve come to expect from Vino Venue. In the midst of them all was Michael Bryan, being the perfect host.
In the words of one of the guests, the event was “a celebration of life.”
“It was an outpouring of love,” said Lelia Bryan.
All the proceeds from the event will be used to pay Bryan’s medical expenses. Anyone who did not attend can make a donation by credit card at localwineevents.com/ events/detail/573681 or by check to “Friends of Michael” at the Piedmont Bank at 5496 Chamblee Dunwoody Road.
Another way to support Michael Bryan is simply to visit Vino Venue.