The pandemic shutdown hasn't stopped some new, local food spots from opening, and even thriving

click to enlarge Rachel and Taylor Gano are navigating the pandemic as new business owners. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
Rachel and Taylor Gano are navigating the pandemic as new business owners.

Fluffy's Candy in North Spokane opened for the first time on March 16, the morning after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all restaurants and bars to close their dining rooms to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Owners Taylor and Rachel Gano had been aiming for that date; it was the promise they'd made to many curious onlookers who stopped by the storefront on a busy corner of the Newport Highway while renovations were underway.

As a food-based business considered essential under subsequent stay-home orders, Fluffy's has remained open in the weeks since with limited hours for carry-out orders. Easter gave the candy shop a boost; Fluffy's stocks imported specialty and bulk candy, as well as a house line of caramels, bon bons and marshmallows. To better adapt to the business climate they found themselves in, the couple quickly launched an online store (fluffyscandy.com) for easy pre-orders, also offering shipping.

"We're going to keep on," Taylor Gano says. "We have no business history and we don't know how we're being affected; it could be that we're having great sales, or it could be terrible. We're not the type of people to give up and stop."

Gano emphasizes that Fluffy's was developed, pre-pandemic, with high standards for food safety and hygiene. All bulk candy is packaged by employees wearing gloves in lieu of self-serve bins.

Since the pandemic, "A lot of people are more self-conscious of germs and how their food is handled," Gano says. "This was already our plan; no one touches the unwrapped candy."

While social-distancing restrictions continue, Fluffy's is open Monday through Saturday from 2-6 pm for pickup and walk-in orders. The couple are the shop's only two staff right now and say they're optimistic that Fluffy's will weather the current situation since they built their business plan without factoring in any profits until two years in.

Over the recent Easter weekend, Fluffy's was a welcome option for several families who couldn't find holiday sweets at over-shopped big box stores.

"We are providing a service for people to try and maintain a sense of normalcy," Gano says.

In Spokane Valley, the mouthwatering aroma of smoked beef brisket began wafting from an unlikely location — a historic train caboose parked along busy Sprague Avenue — on March 31, signaling the arrival of SmokeRidge BBQ.

In the weeks since, owners John and Julie Sherwood say they've sold out of food each day they've been open, and received encouraging calls from residents just to say they're happy to see the business open amid current economic uncertainty.

"We of course got the closing order while we were in the middle of doing the remodel and making repairs to the entire train," John Sherwood says. "So we decided we would stop spending money and time that way and go ahead and open for take-out."

The community response has been so unexpectedly positive for SmokeRidge that the Sherwoods have hired six part-time employees to work with themselves and their two daughters. The restaurant is operating a 450-pound-capacity smoker to fill orders during the three days a week (Thursday through Saturday) it's open for carry-out orders, Sherwood says.

The couple still plan to open for dine-in service once that's allowed, having transformed the parked train's 1914 Pullman passenger car into an Art Deco-inspired dining room, with the engine serving as a cozy cocktail bar and the caboose as the restaurant's kitchen.

"Some of us didn't have much of a choice, [the pandemic] threw us into a very unique situation," Sherwood reflects. "It's kind of scary and has been an up-and-down experience, but fortunately we've had such a great outpouring of support from the community."

The pandemic has thrown a few hurdles in chef Ian Wingate's way, too. He'd originally hoped to open his new restaurant, Outsider, just north of Riverfront Park and across the street from the Spokane Arena, by this spring. But he's been slowed by some permitting delays, among other factors.

Yet the chef remains optimistic that come summer he'll be up and running, while also feeling relieved that Outsider's opening was delayed.

"It was almost a blessing that I wasn't already open. A lot of people opened up right before this and I feel sorry for them," Wingate says. "For me, I can now sit back a little and take some time to get open when all this calms down."

Wingate says once a building permit for the restaurant space's remodel is approved, it should be about three months until a targeted opening, putting Outsider's debut at mid to late summer.

By another stroke of luck, perhaps, Wingate had already planned for Outsider's concept to be take-out friendly, offering a more casual breakfast and lunch menu of grab-and-go fare, like salads, smoothies, fresh-squeezed juices, sandwiches and espresso. Dinner will feature a more formal menu and service, but Wingate is also going to sell rotisserie chickens to-go, a meal he became known for back when he cooked at the long-defunct downtown bistro Harry O's.

"Being by the park, we're going to do take-out packages where you can get a meal and it's set up so you can have a picnic in the park," he explains. "I'm really happy my concept is in line with trends and what was coming up. I think we'll be pretty prepared when we open up to have those tools in place."

Before the coronavirus upended the restaurant industry, Jennifer Davis had aimed to open the Scoop's new second location in Kendall Yards by mid-March.

"For us, being so close to opening and then everything being shut down was a blessing, but also scary because how do you move forward?" Davis says. "Do you abandon this other space, and where is the business?"

click to enlarge The Scoop's Jennifer Davis. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
The Scoop's Jennifer Davis.

After much reflection, she decided to open the new store, in the former Brain Freeze location, by the end of this week. The Scoop is only selling pints of ice cream ($10 each) at both of its locations until gathering restrictions are lifted. Customers can find rotating flavors on its Facebook page and should place pre-orders to ensure availability.

Davis says that since shops like hers had to cease traditional in-person service, the Scoop has actually seen its sales increase compared to this time last year. While she's deeply thankful for the support, Davis says it's bittersweet because so many of her friends in the industry are struggling.

"I'm so thankful and so grateful I'm able to pay my rent and keep most of my employees and expand," she says. "But when so many people aren't sure if they are going to ever be able to open again, or make it through the next week, it's really hard." ♦

Breakfast To-Go Fundraiser for MLK Jr. Community Center @ Allie's Vegan Pizzeria & Cafe

Sun., June 7, 8 a.m.-12 p.m.
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About The Author

Chey Scott

Chey Scott is the Inlander's food and listings editor. She compiles the weekly events calendar for the print and online editions of the Inlander, manages and edits the food section, and also writes about local arts and culture. Chey (pronounced Shay) is a lifelong Spokanite and a graduate of Washington State University...