Region’s restaurant industry devastated by COVID-19, but there are still bright spots to celebrate | Food News | Spokane | Interior of the Pacific Northwest


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The Spokane Hospitality Coalition was formed to help local restaurants.

As 2020 draws to a close, the restaurants are in a perilous place.

Washington’s current indoor dining ban still has several days until Jan.4 and a potential return to limited seating for meals. Take-out-only sales, coupled with limited outdoor seating in the dead of winter, were not enough for the majority of independent local restaurants to emerge from the red after nine months of activity hampered by the pandemic.

The list of Northwest Interior restaurants that have closed permanently this year due to the pandemic is likely to grow and already includes Geno’s Pub, Paper & Cup, Fleur de Sel Creperie, Tomato Street in River Park Square (the north side location remains open), River Rock Taphouse, and the Cheap Shots Bar.

Meanwhile, dozens of local restaurants and bars have chosen to close for most of the year, hoping to wait and reopen at full capacity when they can. Some of those pushing the break include Baby Bar / Neato Burrito, Mizuna, Steelhead Bar & Grille, Eyvind and Satellite Diner, and many more.

As the grim impact of COVID-19 has shaken our region’s thriving food culture, signs of hope remain. Residents who have the financial means continue to support their favorite restaurants by ordering take-out as often as possible, buying gift cards to spend in the better days to come, and using social media with unsolicited praise and sincere opinions of the hospitality industry.

Local philanthropists and food bloggers have come together throughout the year to raise awareness of the industry’s struggles. On Christmas week, Spokane Quaranteam founder Rick Clark announced plans to dedicate $ 40,000 to his efforts to help local restaurants. Throughout the pandemic, Clark has raised money through live Facebook broadcasts to spend at struggling restaurants, with food purchased going to area nonprofits or given to the public for free. In recent weeks, the total daily donation ranged from $ 2,000 to $ 11,000. The Spokane Eats Food & Lifestyle Blog also recently raised $ 8,000 to distribute as tips to area restaurant staff.

Ross Carper and Maisa Abudayha from Feast World Kitchen.  - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO

Photo of young Kwak

Ross Carper and Maisa Abudayha from Feast World Kitchen.

Another collective effort to help support the industry is the Spokane Hospitality Coalition. The mission of the newly founded group is to promote public health safety among member restaurants and to share creative efforts to support business. Big Table Spokane, an existing nonprofit that helps struggling hospitality workers, also saw unprecedented demand in 2020 for its financial aid, as well as its mental health support.

Despite the stagnation and setbacks of a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Inland Northwest has still seen many newcomers to the region’s culinary scene.

Many of the owners of these establishments planned their openings long before the onset of the pandemic, and with construction underway and leases already signed, they had no choice but to move forward. In some ways, opening for an extended “slow” period was actually an advantage, allowing for a gradual adjustment to the ebb and flow of restaurant operations.

Among the many openings in 2020, downtown Spokane has seen the arrival of several expected new spots that have been very successful. At the west end of downtown, the Magnolia American Brasserie inside the recently restored historic Indigo Hotel debuted in late summer. With a kitchen led by Chef Steven Jensen, Magnolia offers a fresh, French-inspired approach to upscale yet accessible cuisine.

A few blocks west, Brick West Brewing opened before the pandemic in early January, offering pub snacks and a wide variety of craft beers. Next to it, Watts 1903 Spirits & Eatery was also launched just before the COVID-19 hit; it belongs to the people behind Saranac Public House at the east end of downtown.

Wooden City Spokane is another newcomer to downtown. Open at the end of the summer, the restaurant has a sister location in Tacoma. Chef and co-owner Jon Green brings his experience to two Michelin-starred restaurants, Gramercy Tavern and French Laundry.

Pets and food may seem like a chaotic couple, but Spokane saw the debut in 2020 of not one, but two places that serve food and house adoptable animals. Spokane Kitty Cantina opened mid-year and offers cafe-style dining with a separate on-site room of adoptable cats and kittens that guests can socialize with. A similar place called Bark, A Rescue Pub, arrived in early fall, offering a full-service pub-style menu and separate areas for housing and caring for Spokane Humane Society adoptable dogs and cats.

In northern Idaho, an area with much looser restrictions on restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic, the southern-inspired Izzy’s Comfort Kitchen in Coeur d’Alene and the authentic India House in Post Falls are two notable openings in 2020.

Some of the biggest debuts of the year include the non-profit Feast World Kitchen, Rind & Wheat bakery and cheese shop, Garland’s seasonal ramen and pho Little Noodle kitchen, Hillyard-based Market Street Pizza. and the downtown Revival Tea Company tea house.

Even more new features or extensions announced in 2020 remain on the horizon. Cascadia Public House in Five Mile is expanding with a second location in the Logan neighborhood near Gonzaga. New Orleans-inspired Spokane’s first restaurant, Vieux Carre, is moving to a historic Midwestern building, and a downtown location of Seattle restaurateur Ethan Stowell’s Tavolata concept pasta is on the way.

There have been many more strengths and weaknesses throughout this eventful year. We hope that our current situation will improve in 2021 for the good of all: local restaurateurs, their employees and supporters. ??

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