Michael Wiley was so over the unfortunate comparisons of his restaurant with the popular shampoo brand that happened to share its name.
But that won't happen anymore, since the new owner of the former Herbal Essence Cafe recently rebranded and reinvigorated the longtime downtown Spokane dining spot, now called Wiley's Downtown Bistro.
"The name of the restaurant has been the bane since day one," Wiley emphasizes, adding that Herbal Essence first opened in 2000, and had kept that name through previous changes in ownership.
New signage with the Wiley's Downtown Bistro name and logo went up last month, though the restaurant has been operating continuously since Wiley took over ownership in February, and also while projects to spruce up the space and menu were underway.
Wiley has more than two decades of experience in the regional hospitality industry, including stints at Latah Bistro, Churchill's and the Spokane Club, but says he's always wanted to have his own place.
"I've been trying to get my own business up and running for the last three years, but met obstacles and failures and one major disaster before the opportunity to purchase Herbal Essence came up," he explains.
Since being handed the keys, Wiley has completed several remodeling projects in the space, including the removal of an awkwardly-placed divider wall in the front of the dining room that blocked the view out of its street-facing windows. The back bar has also been entirely rebuilt, in addition to other aesthetic upgrades made throughout the dining room.
A fair portion of the menu from the restaurant's previous iteration, however, has remained.
"If people come back for it, does it need to be changed? No," Wiley says. "But one thing I found in my history is that sometimes doing fewer things better is a more favorable approach. Our kitchen is the size of a closet, so to do a 40-50 item menu, that led to some disorganization."
Wiley's more streamlined menu offers familiar European-American bistro fare such as soups, salads ($8-$15), sandwiches ($12-$14) and wraps ($10-$12) for lunch. Dinner offers a selection of the former dishes, in addition to entrées like prawn linguini ($19), salmon ($26), braised short ribs ($24) and other surf or turf plates with vegetable-based sides. The restaurant also features a full bar, and variety of shareable starters like hummus, eggrolls, baked brie and smoked mozzarella on baguettes. (Happy hour runs weekdays, from 4-6 pm.)
Other changes to the menu are seen in the addition of more gluten-free and vegan/vegetarian options. Wiley also undertook a major review of the restaurant's ingredient sourcing to focus more on fresh, seasonal and locally available items.
Another change that comes with Wiley at the helm is the restaurant's continuous hours of operation from lunch time through until dinner. He's also been regularly showcasing local artists' work on the restaurant's walls.
"We have a commitment to the community, and I'm a big fan of the arts," he adds.
To attract diners heading to arts and culture events around the downtown core, Wiley has also offered specials like a $33, three-course meal for anyone attending Best of Broadway's recent run of RENT.
"You have to have more than good food and good service," he summarizes. "We want a good environment and a good drink program, but to also make people happy. That is what it all comes down to." ♦