The economic downturn has taken a toll on Inland Northwest restaurants. While many have survived by implementing shoestring budgets and skeleton staffing, others, in spite of sometimes enormous financial investments, have had to close their doors. Many of these owners are my friends or previous students; it has been gut-wrenching to watch.
The topic of the recession came up when I was chatting with my mechanic not long ago. “How’s business for you?” I asked. “Patty, even in hard times people like their cars and their bars,” he said with a smile.
Duane Sunwold, instructor of hotel/restaurant management at Spokane Community College, says bars can often survive when restaurants struggle. “Beverages like beer, wine and spirits at your favorite ‘watering hole’ have very low labor costs. Ordering a beer is a simple twist and pour, yielding healthy profit margins,” he says. “Plus, casual experiences call for comfort foods … [In hard times] people are assessing the value they receive — in the type of food and how well they are treated.”
Howard Bateman, executive chef at the Globe Bar and Grille agrees. “Think about the Great Depression. The two things that did well were movie theaters and bars. As callous as it sounds, people will always find a way to afford their vices.”
So while the tavern survives hard times with comfort food and drinks, how can the chef’s creative mind stay challenged? Bateman’s found an answer.
“Our guests are a lot more at ease than in a more formal restaurant setting,” he says. “Regular customers come in saying they’re hungry, but not knowing what they want. I ask them a few questions and go make something for them.”
This simple concept’s popularity led to Howard’s famous ACME Test Kitchen on Thursday nights. The name came from the old Road Runner cartoons.
“It’s meant to have a sense of fun about it.” Bateman adds, laughing. “I’d love to have a sign that says, ‘Wait Here to be Seated’ with an X on the ground and a big fiberglass anvil dangling above it.”
Bateman didn’t really know he had a knack for this on-the spot creativity until he worked with Chef Gina Lanza of Amore, a former Spokane restaurant. “She had me creating specials for my nightshifts.” Bateman says.
But at that point, he’d already been cooking for a long time. Bateman says his mom told him from an early age, “You’re not living with me forever, so you need to know how to do things to survive.” So he started cooking at age 6 and made his first bolognese by the time he was 9.
Still, he was planning to be a musician. And he says that’s what eventually brought him to the restaurant business. “If you’re gonna be a musician,” he says someone told him, “then work in a restaurant, so you always get at least one meal a day.”
I asked Bateman what he does to stay healthy. “I love hiking. My dad worked for the Division of Forestry. Living near Cleveland National Forest, in California, hiking was what we did,” he says. “It gives me time to think and talk to ‘the guy’ up there about everything and anything. I also have a 1937 Columbia Speed liner bicycle named Matilda. She weighs a ton, but I love her.”
His healthy side shows at The Globe, where Bateman likes his guests to know that they can have things broiled, grilled or steamed as opposed to fried or sautéed.
But he doesn’t stop there.
“I’ve been trying to introduce our guests to other whole grains, like quinoa, especially those with gluten allergies and people trying to become vegetarians.”
Now in his 13th year at the Globe, Bateman has found a good balance. Whatever the economy, he says, “I love this town. I love this business. And I challenge my cooks here to be creative, like others did for me.”
Spice Road Chicken
6 four-ounce chicken breasts
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon clove
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon cumin
1 medium apple, cored, sliced thin
1 cup red onion, julienne sliced
12 ounces green beans
1 Tablespoon all purpose fl our
1 cup chicken broth
2 Tablespoons cream sherry
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
4 ounces Havarti cheese, grated
2 cups brown rice, steamed
1/4 cup dates, chopped, add to steamed rice
Grill chicken and set aside, keeping warm. In large sauté pan, heat sesame oil, then add paprika, clove, cardamom and cumin. Add apple, red onion and green beans, sauté to al dente. Stir flour into the sauté pan, then gradually add the chicken broth.
Let sauce reduce a bit. Add cream sherry, apple cider vinegar and sugar.
To serve: plate each grilled chicken breast on top of steamed rice and dates. Immediately sprinkle each serving with cheese. When cheese melts, evenly divide sauté mixture and spoon over chicken.
NUTRITION: 505 calories, 42g carbohydrate, 18g fat, 43g protein, 5g fiber