With few students on campus and no spectator sports events at Eastern Washington University for the past year, Barrelhouse Pub and Pizza in Cheney has acutely felt the economic pain brought on by COVID-19.
That's why owner Mike Lyons is hopeful that the Great Dine Out will help give his restaurant a boost. The new Inlander-created event, backed by local financial institutions, is encouraging diners to safely patronize local restaurants March 12-27 — one year into the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's great we have so much support and that the community and banks and everyone are able to put this on, and are supporting and aware of how bad everyone's been down," Lyons says. "There are a lot of costs we're having to bear that we're not used to."
Takeout sales and limited seating on its small patio this winter helped some, Lyons says, but he's most grateful for the ongoing support of the Cheney community.
"Local Cheney has saved our bacon for sure this year," he says. "It's been great to us."
For the event, Barrelhouse chose to spotlight its massive calzones ($15), Barrel Bites appetizer ($8) and the family-size Barrelhouse Bundle ($40) that includes a 12-inch, three-topping pizza, large house salad and Barrel Bites.
In downtown Spokane at Europa Restaurant, operating for nearly four decades now, owner Aja Engels is also looking forward to seeing the return of regular customers and new faces alike during the Great Dine Out.
"Obviously this last year has been challenging for everybody, especially so for hospitality and restaurants," Engels says. "Not really knowing what is coming next was the hardest part, but now it seems like we're turning the corner and moving forward."
At a quarter of its usual indoor-only capacity, she says Europa can seat about 40 people max, and thus guests are encouraged to make reservations to dine in. Takeout and easy curbside pickup are also offered.
Europa is showcasing three customer favorites for the 16-day event: its decadent chicken Gorgonzola fettuccine ($25), custom-blended Myropa red wine ($42/bottle) made in partnership with Coeur d'Alene Cellars, and house pastry chef Christie Sutton's famous raspberry white chocolate cheesecake ($8.25). Order all three for an easy, complete meal.
Across town in East Central Spokane, staff at the recently opened Red Wheel Bar and Grill are also eager to introduce its relaxed atmosphere and pub-style grub to new patrons during the Great Dine Out.
"We're excited for things to start getting back to normal and as people feel comfortable coming out, we'd love to have them here," says Red Wheel operations manager Jason Martinez.
Red Wheel opened last June, although its debut was initially planned for March 2020 until the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down. The bar on South Thor is part of the Social Provisions restaurant group, which also has Borracho, Fast Eddie's, Boombox Pizza and River City Brewing in its portfolio.
For the Great Dine Out, Red Wheel hopes guests will try the classic Red Wheel Burger ($14) which Martinez says rivals the area's most popular gourmet burgers. The Buffalo Cobb salad ($13) and Southern Philly sandwich ($14) are also showcased.
Martinez says Red Wheel has already become a neighborhood hangout for residents of southeast and East Central Spokane. Being located on a main corridor to the South Hill also makes it a convenient stop for diners passing through.
Fortunately, he says, the bar has been able to utilize space in its parking lot to set up large patio tents this winter, and they will be an option for diners during the Great Dine Out. The tents allow the all-ages restaurant and bar to expand its total seating up to 100 diners even at the current capacity cap.
Mid-March usually falls just a few weeks after the conclusion of Inlander Restaurant Week, the annual 10-day dining celebration during which restaurants spotlight their best cuisine and culinary talent via fixed-price, three-course menus. Right about now is also when we'd normally be celebrating regionwide excellence in food and many other categories with the Inlander's yearly Best Of readers poll. But like 2020, 2021 still isn't "normal," at least not quite yet.
While both of these annual Inlander events are coming later in 2021 — Inlander Restaurant Week is rescheduled for Aug. 19-28, and will return again in 2022 from Feb. 24 to March 5 — the Great Dine Out is an alternative to Restaurant Week better adapted to the current pandemic state.
"With so much uncertainty for restaurants, it was clear we needed to move the traditional Inlander Restaurant Week until later in the year," says Inlander co-owner and general manager Jer McGregor.
"At the same time, it was also clear our region's restaurants needed help now, so we set out to create an event that was more flexible for the restaurants and diners. It's been truly moving to work alongside 14 of our region's banks and credit unions to make this event possible. It's inspiring to see these organizations pull together to support another industry in our community that's been so profoundly impacted by the pandemic."
All 160-plus restaurants in the Great Dine Out are participating at no cost to them, thanks to that collaborative support of regional financial institutions, including STCU, whose team helped coordinate those efforts.
"Since the pandemic started, our focus has been on helping our staff, helping our members and helping the community at large with both their immediate needs, but also looking beyond so that when it's over we're all still standing and the community is in the best possible shape," says STCU spokesman Dan Hansen.
"So supporting efforts like the Great Dine Out is all part of that," Hansen continues. "It's true that we're all competitors, but when it comes to supporting the community, we know it's important to all work together." ♦
Find the complete event guide to the Great Dine Out at inlander.com/greatdineout.