It’s not a coincidence that two of the busiest and most successful restaurants in the Palm Springs Valley happen to be overseen by the same person. Rancho Mirage residents Barbara and Jerry Keller—owners of Acqua Pazza, situated in Rancho Mirage at The River, and LuLu, in downtown Palm Springs—handpicked Scottish-born Willie Rhine to oversee their very big and very popular duo of eateries for a very simple reason: The man lives and breathes his own service motto, “The customer always comes first.”
I’ve known Willie for just about as long as I’ve been in the desert. He’s got quite an eclectic background that includes not only working in construction (which I’m sure came in handy when he assisted the owners as they did a major renovation on the LuLu space) but opening and running a small legitimate theater in Palm Springs in the ’00s. Some of you may remember it—the Top Hat Playhouse on Arenas. That’s where Willie met Barbara, who was one of the angels helping to raise funds for the venue. Willie’s restaurant experience was honed while working first as a server, then as the head of the catering team, for the posh Palm Springs French restaurant Le Vallauris. He was brought in to Acqua Pazza to help manage the restaurant, which had been open for about a year at the time. Hard to believe, but LuLu has now been open for just about a year, too.
Acqua Pazza and LuLu are well-known for their “all day happy hour” specials and for their bargain-busting three-course menus, with amazing deals in the summer as low as $14.99 for an appetizer, main course, and dessert. Sit next to the waters of The River on the misted patio, or on the terrace overlooking bustling Palm Canyon Drive for fun and casual dining. Not into “the scene”? Then opt for a quieter table or booth inside these beautifully-designed spaces for a more intimate affair. Either way, chances are good that you’ll run into Willie. He’ll be the one orchestrating the staff and ensuring that the customers always really really do come first.