Bob Hemphill is the kind of guy who says "God bless you" before he hangs up the telephone. He smiles when he slides your order across the counter at his downtown mom and pop chicken 'n' ribs joint. And when you ask him what he thinks of his restaurant's new digs, he calls the new Chicken 'n' More new location "a blessing." It's that laid-back attitude that has always seeped out from the kitchen into his small dining area, and added that cozy and comfortable feeling to the restaurant's living room-like atmosphere.
That's right, the downtown Spokane barbecue haunt was forced to move after the buildings on the 500 block of West Sprague were scheduled for demolition in early July.
Hemphill closed the doors to the restaurant he built up for 12 years, and Spokane went without authentic barbecue for two months.
But Hemphill isn't bitter about being forced to move in the slightest.
After a complete renovation of an old hearing aid shop just a block from his old location, Hemphill found a new home for his beloved restaurant and re-fired up the grills and fryers.
He says that he'd thought about moving to this location before -- even before he'd made major changes at his old restaurant.
"The management had asked me before to relocate. The whole block wanted me to," he says.
"I really had the red carpet treatment moving in here," he says, sounding satisfied.
Despite having to renovate everything from the plumbing to the floors in the new location, Hemphill is beyond satisfied with Chicken 'n' More's new digs.
When you open the door to the new restaurant, you can't help but smile -- this new version of Chicken 'n' More feels just like it did before. That same feeling you might have gotten before -- the feeling like you're just stopping in to your aunt's house for some homemade ribs -- is still there. The caf & eacute; is housed in a long, narrow room with a counter perched at the end; it's outfitted with twice as many tables as the old joint. Hemphill, his wife Teresa, daughter Peaches and son Winston are still standing behind the counter. In fact, the new place feels more like your aunt's house in the way that nothing has changed. The menu is the same, the people are the same, and the aroma? Well, that's exactly the same.
And, aside from fresh plates of jo-jos, sweet barbecue sauce and spicy rice and beans, it's that consistency that has made Chicken 'n' More a Spokane staple over the past 12 years. The business was Hemphill's first, and he opened it without any restaurant experience -- if you don't count his days as a dishwasher long ago.
"The only knowledge I had about food was from when I grew up," he says of his Texas background. "I knew how Southern food should be barbecued and should taste. I just knew how everything should taste and smell."
Those tastes and smells have brought his loyal customers to their new location and even attracted faces that he doesn't recognize, he says.
"It's been fantastic, and I love the new space I'm in now. I love working here and I love coming to work," he says.
Hemphill says that it's the people of Spokane who make him enjoy his business so much - and he likes to extend the kindness he's felt back to his customers.
Before we get off the phone, Hemphill instructs me to "come on in and have a piece of chicken."
Sure, Hemphill wants you to come and eat good food - but, more important, he wants you to come in and enjoy a little Southern hospitality.
So go on in - have yourself a piece of chicken, and celebrate the continuation of one of Spokane's most-loved eateries.
Chicken 'n' More is now at 414 1/2 W. Sprague. Call 838-5071.
Moving, Part II -- A lot has been happening to our downtown eateries, and we're proud to say that our favorites are surviving nicely. As a matter of fact, some of us have been spending a lot of time soaking up the hip new digs of one of Chicken 'n' More's old neighbors: Aki's. The sushi joint that once stood in the glowing green space on Stevens Street has moved to a great new space at 523 W. First Ave. The narrow space houses around 50 sushi-eaters, with two U-shaped bars for those hoping to get a glance at the line chefs' fast chopping, rolling and slicing action. We spent a good portion of our weekend sipping flavored sake and chomping down crunchy rolls at the high-backed bar stools.
A less-local Spokane eatery is also moving after being booted by the city. Azteca, formerly located in front of the Doubletree Hotel on Spokane Falls Blvd., is getting settled into a new home a few blocks west of its old spot. Stop by their new location, down some chips and salsa and drink a margarita to celebrate the survival of one of Spokane's best restaurants.
Call Aki's at 747-4266 and Azteca at 456-0350.
We Like Asian Food -- Do you love traditional Japanese cuisine, but have no idea where to start in making your own California rolls? Didn't think you did. Fortunately, Mukogawa Institute is offering some classes to get you going. A class showing how to roll your own sushi will be held tonight, and an advanced class will be held on Oct. 21.
A "Teriyaki-Salmon-Beef-Mystery-Meat" class will be held on Oct. 14. All classes run from 5:30-8:30 pm. Call 328-2971.
Herbal Essence, Version 2.0 -- Ever checked out that little caf & eacute; with the shampoo name around the corner from Auntie's Bookstore? Well, if you haven't, wait a couple of weeks and then go. The caf & eacute;, which specializes in tasty Northwest cuisine, is renovating its current space and plans to reopen with a full bar and an updated lunch and dinner menu. The new hours will be from 11 am-11 pm.
Herbal Essence Caf & eacute; is at 115 N. Washington St. Call 838-4600.
Brats und Brau -- Rumor has it that the solid oak beams at Catacombs weigh about 2,800 pounds each. And so, we expect, will we after taking part in Catacombs' Oktoberfest. Starting Oct. 12, the cozy subterranean lair is offering an $11 Bavarian Plate which includes all of the following: Hefeweizen-stewed Bratwurst, braised pork shank with cider sauce, spatzle, hot Bavarian potato salad and Rotkraut red cabbage.
The former boiler room of the Montvale was designed with the pubs of Germany and Vienna in mind, and indeed, the enormous brick hearth, stone walls and warm tapestries all have a special way of saying Wilkommen! Friday, Oct. 22, is Oktoberfest proper at Catacombs and from 9-11 pm, the "Jager Girls" will be in attendance with $3 Jager shots and plenty of Jager-themed giveaways. Other drink specials include pints of Spaten Oktoberfest, German toddies and other beverages of a tummy-warming nature. Raise a stein - or two - to this glorious season of crisp sunny days, fallen russet leaves and heartier lunch and dinner fare.
Oktoberfest takes place at Catacombs, 110 S. Monroe St., on Friday, Oct. 22, from 9-11 pm. The Bavarian plate is available from Oct. 12-26. Call 838-4610.