Local chef opens Chowderhead, a hearty soup and sandwich spot on North Monroe

click to enlarge Travis Tveit's smoked steelhead chowder and chop cheese sandwich. - ERICK DOXEY PHOTO
Erick Doxey photo
Travis Tveit's smoked steelhead chowder and chop cheese sandwich.

Chef Travis Tveit long dreamed of having his own place, but as is often the case with big plans, timelines can be fickle. That is, until Tveit was met with an unexpected opportunity to take over a restaurant operated by his previous employer, chef Tony Brown.

After an unusually fast transition between Brown's fast-food inspired burger spot McRuins, which closed at the end of 2021, Tveit's Chowderhead debuted in early March on a busy corner of North Monroe Street near the Spokane County Courthouse.

The focus is, naturally, chowder-style soups alongside several super-loaded sandwiches and a handful of grab-and-go breakfast items, with the main goal of offering tasty, affordable food to the daytime crowd.

"Working here for McRuins, I'd be here a lot during the day, and I just noticed how many people were out walking around," Tveit says. "So I thought whatever concept I was going to do here, it should be a daytime thing."

After sprucing up the small building with a fresh coat of paint inside and out, plus new flooring and a deep clean, Tveit crafted a concise menu that he'll tweak seasonally — rotating out some hot soups in summer, for example — but won't stray too far from his initial offerings.

"I love soup, and I can make a lot of them," he says. "I wanted it to be soup-centric, kind of a lunch concept, and Chowderhead is just a funny name."

The restaurant's namesake comes as a traditional New England clam chowder, and a house-smoked steelhead chowder, along with rotating specials, plus tomato basil soup and plain broth ($5/cup; $8/bowl each).

click to enlarge Chef Travis Tveit - ERICK DOXEY PHOTO
Erick Doxey photo
Chef Travis Tveit

Tveit's sandwich ($14 each) lineup ranges from the chop cheese, essentially a cheeseburger on a hoagie — and all of Chowderhead's bread is made fresh in house — to the already popular pork belly Cuban. Other choices are traditional cheesesteak, ham and Swiss panini, turkey bacon pesto, meatball with burrata and basil, and pesto grilled cheese.

Each sandwich comes with tots, fries or a cup of soup (for $2 extra), plus house-made dipping sauces like a mustard-y fry sauce and ranch.

A handful of breakfast items ($8 each) are also served all day: sausage or bacon egg sandwich, breakfast burrito, smoked steelhead bagel or avocado toast. Four fresh salads ($12 each) round out the menu.

"Every day it's a different sandwich that's the high seller, so I like that it's well-rounded that way," Tveit says.

"And I made the menu so simple and approachable and familiar. I could get crazy with the components on the sandwiches, but I think it's better to be familiar, and have a familiar item that's just done really well. Everybody knows what a cheesesteak is, so they can come here and get it, but it's a particularly good one."

For the restaurant's first few weeks, Tveit worked himself to the bone, coming in at 6 am to bake bread for the day and often not leaving until midnight before starting all over again. Realizing how unsustainable this schedule was, he's since hired more employees and a part-time baker.

"I was really doing whatever I could to make sure that we had stuff and it was right because, you know, those first couple of months for a brand-new restaurant are crucial," he says. "I want this to stay a relaxed environment that's unassuming and really just focused on the food."

Since Chowderhead's opening, the community's response has been overwhelmingly positive, he adds. Tveit credits some of that to the restaurant's nearly simultaneous timing with the end of the Washington state's face mask mandate, and people eagerly returning to life in public.

"I don't think I could have opened a restaurant at a better time. So many things for me just lined up perfectly." ♦

Chowderhead • 825 N. Monroe St. • Open Mon-Sat 8 am-6 pm • facebook.com/chowderhead.spokane • 509-315-5318

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About The Author

Chey Scott

Chey Scott is the Inlander's Associate Editor, overseeing and contributing to the paper's arts and culture sections, including food and events. Chey (pronounced "Shay") is a lifelong resident of the Spokane area and a graduate of Washington State University. She's been on staff at the Inlander since 2012...