by Marty Demarest & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & n the Saturday morning before Easter, a man in a sky-blue plaid shirt slowly unloaded a small fortress of food boxes from a delivery truck parked behind Luna, the signature South Hill restaurant. The boxes were full of fruits, vegetables and herbs, taking their first deliberate steps -- handcart by handcart -- into the world of fine dining.

Within hours, some of those ingredients would be chopped, pureed, cooked. They would arrive in the dining room having been baked atop a pizza in Luna's wood-fired oven, or perhaps merely minced into a garnish for lunch. But the journey that would end in their transformation into some of Spokane's most prized cuisine was organized at every stage by William and Marcia Bond -- the owners and founders of Luna.

As he sips a cup of black coffee at a large table near the front of the restaurant, William Bond tells me that the hardest thing to get right in the long run has been the food.

"The year before we opened Luna, we went to New York five times," he recalls. "Not for the big fancy restaurants -- not Le Cirque. We went to neighborhood restaurants and looked at how they ran all over the city. And we found that the thing that made them all good was that the food was extraordinarily good. It was exciting, interesting, nurturing -- it fulfilled."

The Bonds wanted to provide the food that they knew would sell, but they also felt the need to occupy a niche that was then unoccupied in Spokane. "I think at that time in Spokane there weren't that many places that did really interesting food. We knew what we were missing here and so did many people -- people that traveled would say 'Why can't we have that in Spokane?' We wanted a restaurant that we would love to come to.

"Thank God it did work out," he continues. "And as it did we tried to create situations where we would have really tasty food that was affordable by college students and so forth. That's why we got into the pizzas and pastas. And for the first 10 years we had a hundred wines under $20. Now we have a hundred under $25."

Luna has added "about 50 wines a year" to a wine list that began with an initial 40 to 50 offerings. Now the restaurant employs a sommelier to help diners navigate the cellar. (Bond suspects Luna may have the state's best selection of Spanish wines.) Several expansions of the dining area and kitchens, plus an added bakery have nearly doubled the restaurant's capacity.

Less than a decade after opening Luna, the restaurant's success led the Bonds to begin contemplating opening another neighborhood restaurant. They settled on Browne's Addition, where they opened Caf & eacute; Marron in 2005 -- a more informal presentation of Luna's model. Bond says that, despite their experience with Luna, Marron at first drew fewer diners than they were expecting.

"Probably the problem when we first came in," Bond reflects, "is that the food wasn't good enough."

Ceaseless tweaking has solved the problems to Bond's satisfaction, however. During the course of discussing Marron, the conversation ranges from consideration of a customer's budget to a genuine love of the French bistro experience. He ends by recommending I now try the Reuben for lunch and the pepper steak for dinner.

"We eat at our restaurants several times a month," Bond confesses. "But we come and observe quite a bit -- we look at the food. And on most days of the week, one of us will be tasting the food at one place or another."

"For the first four years of [Luna]," he explains, "Marcia and I were here virtually every day. I'd come in at six in the morning and get things open, and we'd help with the food and I'd do all the paperwork and inventory and payroll. I'd do taxes -- none of the things I knew how to do beforehand. I was a neurologist and Marcia was an interior designer."

Now he can evaluate the rarified market of apple wood -- its smoke tinges the air around Luna's pizza oven. "We get it from wherever we can find it -- from either the Wenatchee area or Yakima or Green Bluff. The Yakima area seems to be pretty good for us because there's a lot of conversion of orchard to vineyard. But it's pricey."

Bond walks me through Luna's kitchen, introducing me to everyone and recollecting where each member of the staff hails from. Luna's executive chef Dave Radford steps forward to greet me with an immaculate handshake. Behind him, a slab of luxuriously fresh meat (glistening salmon? spice-rubbed beef?) disappears behind his chef's whites like a curtain closing before show time.

The entire kitchen operates with the same, easygoing sense of purpose that the Bonds bring to running their restaurants. "Running a restaurant is a business of daily problem-solving, just like running a neurology practice," William explains. "Problems come through the door. Those problems need to be analyzed and dealt with. And then there is this whole issue of thinking of how to interact with people that is at the heart of medicine -- well-done medicine. And it's the heart of a well-done restaurant.

"But restaurants are all about joy," he continues. "You can't say that about medicine. You hope to have some good outcomes, but it's not about joy necessarily."

A group of people exit from the wine bar in the back of the restaurant -- happy-looking victims of a late lunch. They stop to visit with another customer coming in the front door.

"I just love this afternoon atmosphere," Bond says, watching the neighborhood make itself at home in his dining room.

A woman walks towards Bond with her hand extended. The two greet each other -- she sells local produce to Luna. They briefly discuss celery, and Bond sounds excited to try finding a good local source. "We work with the best ingredients," he explains after returning to his coffee, "and as many local providers as we can find. The diners expect it." Bond pauses, then adds the touch of a successful business owner: "But it's also been good for our chefs. Giving our staff the best is a big morale booster."

Newport Rodeo & Festival @ Newport Rodeo Grounds

Fri., June 25, 1-9 p.m. and Sat., June 26, 12-9 p.m.
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