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Keeping it Simple 

by Leah Sottile


When your customers are rolling up to pick up their takeout orders in Cadillac Escalades and crowding your bite-sized parking lot with luxury sedans, you can be pretty sure that your business is officially booming.


For Gordy and Jaymie Crafts, owners of the South Hill's much-coveted Gordy's Sichuan Caf & eacute;, seeing each and every one of those gas-guzzlers must make them smile - especially considering that, on their first day of business nearly eight years ago, they only made $7.57.


"It was one of those passages of time you never forget," Gordy says as he ladles clear oil over a wok full of broccoli, causing it to ignite in delicious-smelling flames. "You invest $55,000, and you get back $7.57. You couldn't do that these days."


In fact, there's a lot about Gordy's that any sensible restaurant owner would say would never work - like the complete absence of a microwave. But for the Crafts, it's never failed them.


"We don't have a hostess/greeter, we don't have a fax, we don't have a Web site," Gordy says, gesturing to the main dining room. "We have the people to take your order out there, and we cook it and turn it around in here."


That's pretty much the gist of Gordy's, where they couldn't care less about what car you came in, whether you want a reservation or if you need your next party catered. They keep it simple. It's a place that makes customers happy by focusing on what Gordy and Jaymie know how to do best - cook great Sichuan cuisine. And that's been their one and only motivation from that fateful seven-dollar day back in August 1997.


The idea of opening a Sichuan restaurant was always one floating in the back of the Craftses' minds, even before they made their move from Santa Cruz, Calif., to Spokane. Gordy was a cook - he'd hawked fast food, made sandwiches, boiled pasta, fried fish and tossed pizzas since he was 14 years old. Even after graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in European history and philosophy, he always knew he'd work in the restaurant biz. But he never even came across Sichuan cuisine until he was 27.


"I didn't know Chinese food from a hole in the ground," he says. "But I thought what these guys were doing on a cooking range - in 1979 - was eye-opening."


When the Craftses moved to Spokane in time to get their son into kindergarten, Jaymie got a job in retail and Gordy spent his days as a cook at Salty's. But when Salty's closed its doors in the late '90s, those ideas of owning a restaurant sped to the top of the priority list. "When Salty's closed, I filed for unemployment and really turned up the heat on looking for opportunities," says Gordy.


Soon thereafter, they encountered a small storefront spot, holed up next to a dog groomer in a small strip mall on 30th Avenue, outfitted it with all the requirements of Sichuan cooking and unleashed their cuisine on Spokane diners.


Now, eight years later, Gordy's is still in that same storefront, still serving a lot of the same dishes and still not taking reservations. They're only open six days a week. And they are perfectly happy in keeping it that way.


"I need my day off, because I'm an avid supporter of the local disc golf scene, and I need my Sundays," he says, without a smile even cracking across his face.


"I think we [have been] brazen enough and stuck to our guns and said, 'This is what we want to do and this is what we know how to do,'" he adds.


And, like any restaurant owner's dream, the Craftses' steadfast dedication to their food has spread Gordy's popularity simply by word of mouth. They've enjoyed eight years of success without ever investing in advertising.


"We've got a small place here. If we were trying to invite the public in a big way, then a lot of people would be disappointed," Gordy says.


Gordy and Jaymie work with what they have, and what they have works. From the very beginning, they've made sure of that and have never jumped on any food trends or popular food culture. Gordy makes the food that he knows how to make, the food that he learned how to make on the job - not in any fancy chef school or frou-frou establishment.


"Those kinds of chefs are itinerant chefs. They aren't as dependent on the success of their endeavor as I am here," he says. "I had to make this job, it's not like I can just go somewhere else."


So Gordy's hasn't expanded physically since that $7.57 day, but the Crafts have enjoyed an expansion of both their wait staff and cooking staff. Gordy personally trains each and every cook, starting each one at the very bottom. ("There's no starting on the line here," he says.)


"We started with a mom and pop and a busser - so that's one employee," he says. "Mom and Pop are still in it," he pauses and yells to the other cooks. "How many checks did I write yesterday? Fifteen. I have fifteen employees now. And the guys in this kitchen are the only ones who know how to cook like this."


The menu hasn't changed in four years. But as a restaurant owner and member of the Spokane culinary scene, Gordy is a revolutionary. He doesn't budge unless he has to. But miraculously, the lemon chicken, the Dan Dan noodles and the ants climbing trees somehow taste better every time. He's a chef, he cooks - that's it.


"We have an exclusive commitment to the one golden goose we've got," he says. "I live for this. My main ambition is to leave a small legacy, so when I retire, I'll have somewhere to have something to good to eat."





Publication date: 04/14/05

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