Tony Brown grew up in Spokane's restaurant industry — Twigs, Luna, Mizuna — before opening Stella's, followed by Ruins, a popular and eclectic eatery with a completely new menu every week, from Morroccan to Mexican and vegetarian to Brown's take on fast food. Poised to open two new places — Eyvind and Hunt — Brown offers his thoughts on the industry.
Restaurants are a business
"It's a gamble to open a restaurant," says Brown, so decisions need to balance sustainability, nutrition, flavor, price point, etc. Consumers can help by being aware of that, he says. That means, for example, being thoughtful about substitutions that revamp dishes entirely, which can throw off food costs, supplies and kitchen workflow. Another consideration: "Local is not always better," says Brown. If he can get as good a product as what's grown locally at a price that's sustainable, he'll do so. "Don't ask, 'What's good?'" Instead, says Brown, if you find a restaurant you like or maybe you've never even been there... trust your chef. And if it's bad, let them know it so they can fix it.
Spokane's restaurant future
Media coverage, including social media, is important for restaurants, yet there's room for change, says Brown, who sees a need for a bona fide restaurant critic. "I just think it would be good for shaping the culinary map." Knowing that a lot of places don't get coverage, says Brown, it's also important for restaurants to be savvy about promoting themselves.
Staffing continues to be a challenge, says Brown, who sees talented chefs hone their skills and go elsewhere. It's not just chefs, he says. "[The restaurant industry's] still seen as a last resort, not a profession," he says. "It should be treated as a profession." He hopes an increase in restaurants will help expand the workforce and sees one area that's still relatively untapped: the cuisine of Spokane's immigrant population. "I see it as pioneer country."