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Owners of Elk, Moon Time, plan next project
Geno’s is latest endeavor for restaurant entrepreneurs
From left, Brad Fosseen, John Grollmus, Jeff Meagher and Marshall Powell laugh as they make plans for their sixth bar renovation project, Geno’s pub near Gonzaga, on Friday.
Anyone watching Spokane’s Restaurant Monopoly game board will notice one already successful player continues to expand and buy properties.
That would be a Spokane-based partnership that recently bought Geno’s, a north Spokane restaurant that closed this year, damaged by a fire that started in a nearby building.
The acquisition of Geno’s helps the group of four partners earn the title of Neighborhood Pub Conglomerate of the Inland Northwest.
Their foray into restaurant ownership started 17 years ago, when the original three partners pooled their savings to buy a funky Coeur d’Alene restaurant that was converted into a hip restaurant and pub.
That restaurant, Moon Time, is still doing well. Over the next 15 years the partners acquired five more eateries, including Geno’s.
The original three partners – Brad Fosseen, John Grollmus and Jeff Meagher – this year invited Marshall Powell, a restaurant manager, to become part of the group.
While they carefully structure their business as a series of limited partnerships, the group prefers not to have a business name or brand that would apply to all six restaurants.
“From a business viewpoint, (not having a common business name for all the restaurants) is considered a drawback,” Grollmus said. “But that’s our plan,” he said. “We won’t change that approach.”
Their business plan is based on finding locations where neighborhood residents can get good food and a pleasant place to hang out, said Powell, who’s been the manager at two of the restaurants for several years.
In addition to Geno’s and Moon Time, the group operates the Elk Public House and the El Que in Browne’s Addition, the Porch Public House in Hayden and the Two Seven Public House in the Lincoln Heights Shopping Center.
That geographic diversity is by design, said Grollmus.
Grollmus said the partners are cautious about taking on more than they can handle. For instance, they’ve eyed possible sites in either the Garland neighborhood or the South Perry District. But they’ve held back, not seeing a good investment opportunity.
They’re in the process of remodeling Geno’s and expect to open in early October. The one variation from their other restaurants: Geno’s has a fryer that lets them make french fries.
The partnership has a website, wedonthaveone.com.
Matt Goodwin, who operates a pair of Spokane restaurants, Fast Eddie’s and Press, said the four partners’ success stems from making each location intimate and distinct. “Each of their places feels like it’s a new place and fits into the neighborhood,” Goodwin said. “They don’t feel like they’re part of some chain.”
Their initial restaurant was Moon Time in Coeur d’Alene. The three partners lived in North Idaho and sometimes visited the business, which was a hybrid of restaurant and antique shop. They paid about $60,000 for the building and spent $30,000 renovating it, Grollmus said.
In 1999 the partners took over the Elk, remodeled it and revised the menu, offering a wider selection of food such as pulled pork sandwiches and gumbo.
They began discussing the Geno’s deal with previous owner, William Webster, before the fire in June that slightly damaged the restaurant.
Webster told the partners he wanted to focus on other food service businesses, Grollmus said.
“We’re always looking for new locations,” Grollmus added. “The neighborhood there is a good place to be. It’s close to the University District corridor.
“Plus,” he added, “since it was remodeled by William (before the fire), it’s in good shape. We don’t have to do a lot of work.”
Grollmus said the restaurants they’ve acquired are all growing and remain profitable.
Fosseen said the partners embrace a philosophy of customer focus he adopted after working for William Bond, one of the owners of South Hill restaurant Luna.
“When people come to your restaurant, don’t forget to treat them like they’re coming to your house as guests,” Fosseen said.
With local and neighborhood eateries now a trend, the partners are often asked if Spokane and North Idaho have too many food establishments.
Their answer is no, not yet.
“I think there’s always room for good ones in any town,” Grollmus said. “As long as you’re doing better than others, you’ll be successful.”
THE MOON HAS a gravitational pull that tugs inexorably at the tides.
The Moon Time has its own gravitational pull that tugs inexorably at me whenever I get anywhere near Coeur d’Alene.
For years now, I have ended every fishing trip to Idaho or Montana with the words: “Hey, let’s stop at the Moon Time. I need a Moon Burger.”
Or a Santa Fe Chicken sandwich. Or Linguini Con Vongole (linguine with clam sauce). Or the eyeball- -popping 74th St. Gumbo.
The Moon Time was one of the first of the region’s English-style pubs when it opened nearly eight years ago. With its Tetley Red Lion sign hanging prominently overhead, its wall photos of English and Irish pubs (you’ll even see them in the loo) and its 19 beers and ales on tap, it certainly qualifies as an exceptionally welcoming public house.
Yet it’s the menu that keeps the Moon Time thriving, “We just keep getting busier and busier,” said manager Chris Taylor.
Some of the menu items (the Moon Burger, the gumbo) may be familiar from the other pubs owned by partners John Grollmus, Brad Fosseen and Jeff Meagher: The Porch in Hayden and the Elk in Spokane.
But remember, the Moon Time was there first. It set the standard, and continues to do so in many ways.
To give you an example of what a bargain the Moon Time can be, let me describe one new menu item we tried on a recent visit: the Potato Encrusted Ahi.
A saucer-sized disc of ahi tuna was covered in a grated potato crust (like a latke mixture) and pan-seared until golden brown. The crispy crust made a satisfying snap under the fork. The ahi was cooked through, yet not dry because the crust prevented the fish from drying out.
Drizzled over the top was a crawfish cream sauce, which provided a rich, savory sop for the potato crust. On the side were Several silver-dollar-sized corn cakes, studded with nutty wild rice. A sweet honey – chipotle sour cream was poured over the top, like a particularly tangy orange-colored syrup.
Doesn’t this sound like a high-end item? Something Emeril might whip up in one of his New Orleans restaurants?
Well, at the Moon Time, the price is $9.75. Less than one Alexander Hamilton.
And the sandwiches, available anytime, are an even better bargain. The old standbys are two kinds of burgers, occupying opposite ends of the camivore-herbivore spectrum.
On the carnivore side is the Moon Burger ($6.50), a thick, chargrilled, lean beef patty topped with cheddar. What shoots this burger over the moon is the topping of caramelized onions. A person can become addicted to those sweet, deep-brown beauties.
On the vegetarian side, the Anasazi Bean Burger ($6.50) is a handmade patty of mashed Southwest beans (similar to black beans) mixed with a healthy wallop of spices and served on a grilled bun. Think of it almost like a retried beans patty, pan-seared and topped with cheddar.
The patty is nicely crisped on the outside for a nice crunch, and the chilies give it a nice mouth-kick. My only complaint is a somewhat mushy interior, but I suppose that goes with the bean territory.
Other sandwiches include the smoked Turkey ($6.95), the Caribbean Pork ($7.25) and the popular Grilled Lamb ($7.25, like a gyro on a roll).
However, I am convinced the Moon Time’s most inspired sandwich is the Santa Fe Chicken ($6.95). The tender chicken breast looks deep fried, complete with crunch, but it’s not. It’s breaded, pan-seared and oven-roasted.
It arrives on a toasted bun and the first bite might surprise you. You’ll detect a tangy sweetness from the honey-cream cheese and a distinct, earthy-hot richness from an entire roasted poblano chili skin. Throw in a little mayo, a little red onion and some Monterey Jack cheese and you’ve got a brilliant combination of flavor and texture.
All sandwiches arrive with either potato chips, potato salad or roasted corn pasta salad. The latter two are homemade and highly recommended.
The Moon Time has a knack for Italian fare as well, especially its Linguini Con Vongole ($9.25). A generous collection of fresh steamed clams decorates a tangle of linguine, parsley, butter, red chili, parmesan and garlic. French bread is served on the side for sopping.
I must pay homage to the 74th St. Gumbo ($6.50), a bowl of utter dynamite. A nutty brown roux provides the base; chicken, sausage and shrimp provide the protein.
This recipe was borrowed from the 74th St. Ale House in Seattle, and it is thicker, richer and more fiery than any gumbo I tried in an entire week of gumbo-trekking in New Orleans. I have always been impressed with the intensity of flavors and the no skimping preparation, but one warning: It’s not for the heartburn prone.
With all of those dishes, the Moon Time is exceptionally rich in can’t miss main courses. Yet let’s not forget, it’s also a pub.
A beer-expert pal accompanied us on one visit and was pleased that the Moon Time has both a nitrogen tap and a hand pump for cask- conditioned ales. On one visit, we tried the Boundary Bay cask conditioned IPA out of Bellingham. It arrived British style, at room temperature.
Most of the beers come chilled, of course. The Moon Time even has two British-style ciders on tap, including the bone-dry Taunton’s Blackthorn from Somerset, England.
To accompany those beers and ales, I highly recommend the Spicy Curried Cashews ($3.25), which have a serious yellow-curry kick.
“Now, those are some quality beer nuts,” said our college student dining companion.
One plaintive complaint: What happened to the caramelized onions on the roasted garlic and onion bread ($3.25)? The Moon Time has replaced them with plain old roasted onions, which is fine, but hardly as addictive and distinctive.
A quick note about the service. On a busy Friday night, our server took our five-person, nine-item order by memory, without benefit of pencil or pad.
We glanced at each other, girding for disaster.
Soon after, she returned with all of the correct dishes, all of the correct sides, served to all of the correct people. Now there’s a 20-percent-worthy waitress if there ever was one.
The Moon Time has one other quality which is more difficult to put into words. It just seems… homey. On one recent visit, a 6-year-old kid was sitting at the bar with his mom having dinner and a pop. It seemed utterly natural.
The Moon Time invariably seems less hectic than its Spokane sister, the Elk, probably because it is more spread out and has higher ceilings. The Elk may soon solve this problem, since it is making plans to expand into an adjacent space.
In the meantime, the Moon Time manages to be a prime local variation on British hospitality.
Except for the food, which, thank goodness, doesn’t seem British at all.
Jim Kershner can be reached at (509)459-5493 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Moon Time
The tab, etc.
Entrees range from $8.50 to $9.75, sandwiches from $6.50 to $7.25. The restaurant is wheelchair accessible, and nonsmoking until 9 p.m. Visa, MasterCard and local checks are accepted.
ROASTED CORN PASTA SALAD
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon cooking oil
½ cup diced red onion
1 ½ cups frozen corn
4 ½ cups uncooked fusilli
1 cups mayo
1 bunch cilantro roughly stemmed
2 Tablespoons chipotle puree
Salt to taste
1) Combine corn, onions, butter and oil and roast in a 400 degree oven until onions are translucent and tender. Remove from oven and cool in refrigerator.
2) Cook fusilli as directed and cool under running water.
3) Combine cilantro, chipotle and may on food processor and puree.
4) Mix fusilli, corn/onion mix and puree ingredients. Add salt to taste.
-Chipotle puree is canned chipotle peppers usually found in the Mexican section of most grocery stores. Before using place the contents of the can in a food processor and puree well.
-This recipe is a downsized version of the restaurant version so some amount may require slight adjustments.
74th St. Gumbo
8 cups flour
2 cups canola oil
1-1/2 cups olive oil
3 tablespoons each: oregano, thyme, chili powder, chill flakes, file (powdered sassafrass leaves), black pepper, salt
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup garlic, chopped fine
1 gallon warm chicken stock, preferably homemade
2 cups tomato juice
2 cups clam juice
3 yellow onions, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
3 green peppers, chopped
3 red peppers, chopped
9 Anaheim chiles, chopped
5 large tomatoes, chopped
8 bratwurst, roasted at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, cooled and cut into chunks
2 whole chickens, roasted at 400 degrees for approximately 80 minutes, then cooled and shredded
3 cups bay shrimp
Combine flour and oils and heat in a large stockpot over low heat for approximately 4 hours, stirring regularly to ensure the mixture doesn’t slick or bum. Once it’s reached a dark caramel color, add the spices and garlic. Stir.
Remove from the heat and slowly add the warmed stock. Stir until smooth, thoroughly mixing the roux and the liquid. It should be the consistency of a thick pudding.
Add the tomato and clam juices. Add the chopped vegetables and roasted bratwurst. Add more stock or water if the mixture seems too thick.
Cook over low heat until vegetables are soft and translucent, about 5 hours. Cool overnight in the refrigerator.
To serve, reheat and add shredded chicken and bay shrimp. Taste and adjust for seasonings- Serve over steamed rice or Dirty Rice (recipe follows)
Yield: 24 servings
1/4 cup canola oil
4 caps white rice
8 cups cold water
2 tablespoons each, chili powder, cumin, black pepper, chili flakes, salt
Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add rice and fry until golden, stirring frequently. When rice is browned, add the spices and continue cooking for 5 minutes. Add cold water, bring to a boil and cover. Reduce the heat to low and cook until rice is tender, approximately 20-25 minutes.
Yield: 12 servings