Merrilee Lindaman is celebrating. She’s taking the whole year to do it. And who could blame her – the gourmet takeout restaurant she started with her brother David is 25 years old.
As Lindaman’s approached its silver anniversary, Merrilee says she felt like she needed to tell her longtime customers what was happening behind the counter and how she felt about them. She began by writing profiles of her staff in regular e-mail messages, then wrote about some of her loyal customers.
One day as she was trying to settle on someone to feature in one of her notes, she looked out into the dining room for inspiration.
“I look up and I’ve got three groups of customers where four generations are sitting there at the table,” she says. “Grandma to great grandchild and two generations worked for me and I did their wedding receptions…
“I cried looking out them and thinking, ‘This is a really special thing that happened as a result of wanting to create community. I got it.’ ”
Lindaman and her brother were just looking for comfort and scratch cooking when they first thought of starting the restaurant. Their father had died unexpectedly.
“We really were just looking for a place that was kind of homey and warm to go, to just regroup and figure out, ‘What next?’ ” she says. “We couldn’t find anywhere to go.
“There was a need for a place that was a community. … It was the need to have the smell of homemade food, made from scratch. We didn’t have any big grand ideas about a chef, it was just a joint that we were looking to do.”
She and David came across the gourmet takeout concept at Macy’s in San Francisco and decided to try it. They found what was a small, old warehouse building on South Grand Boulevard near St. John’s Cathedral.
They salvaged the floors from local elementary schools, pulling nails and refurbishing the wood for the restaurant, and bought a 24-pan oven from a Safeway auction for $600.
“It was in pieces in boxes and we had to figure out how to reassemble it,” Lindaman says.
Gourmet takeout was a pioneering concept in Spokane, but their customers embraced it from the start.
“We were idealistic and naïve, but we knew what we wanted,” Lindaman remembers. “But those first few years we grew so fast that honestly I didn’t go home at night. I would fall asleep on the chest freezer in the back.
“I would go behind the oven and cry because I didn’t even know what we were doing. People were coming in and buying us out every three hours and we were just cooking to try to keep up with it.”
That oven is still churning out the pot pies, King Ranch chicken, German chocolate cake and Nanaimo bars that have become Lindaman’s favorites. Scones are reappearing on the morning menu after about an eight-year absence.
Although there are things that have become such customer favorites they can’t be taken off the menu, Lindaman’s has stayed fresh with dishes inspired by cultures around the world: lamb ragu, butternut squash baked ziti and shrimp pozole.
The café corretto menu offers espresso drinks infused with sambuca or other liquors. They can’t make enough of the gluten-free oatmeal, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.
Lindaman says the business has changed so much and then circled back on itself in 25 years that she sometimes feels like she’s “chasing her own ghost.” Her brother retired from the restaurant about eight years ago.
There is a new mainstream consciousness about knowing where food comes from and how it’s made. But Lindaman says she sometimes takes it for granted that customers know her food is all made from scratch.
She’s also been energized by the community embrace of the soon-to-open Main Market Co-op downtown. She says the co-op will help make it more affordable for Lindaman’s to bring local, organic foods into the deli case. She’s been experimenting with new dishes to show off local foods.
“It is exciting for me because I really love and want to support the local organic industry… that isn’t something that I thought would come around in Spokane as soon as it is,” she says.
Lindaman credits her customers and staff for the restaurant’s enduring popularity. There are buttons on the cash register programmed for some of their customers’ regular drink orders. A Spanish club has been meeting there every Friday afternoon for 24 years, she says.
And her staff? Half of them have worked there for more than 15 years. A few have been around since the very beginning, including Lindaman’s sister and one of the bakers.
“They just take so much ownership,” she says. “It’s wonderful.”
Lindaman’s is located at 1235 S. Grand Blvd. It is open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays. The restaurant is closed Sunday. The Web site is www.lindamans.com.
Wine Cellar to reopen
First the bad news: The Wine Cellar in Coeur d’Alene is closed.
The good news is that it will reopen with same management and staff on Dec. 1
Restaurant manager Mary Jay says a dispute over the ownership of the restaurant and the building on East Sherman Avenue forced the closure in early October.
The restaurant was purchased about three and a half years ago by the investment company Fortress, L.L.C. According to news reports, Fortress filed a lawsuit in Kootenai County District Court in May against a former manager, accusing him of wrongfully taking loans, advances and other payments from the company.
The complicated case also raised questions about how The Wine Cellar was purchased from previous owner Edward Fu, according to the report.
The Wine Cellar was opened 17 years ago by Jim Duncan, who is back to help train a new sommelier, Jay says.
Employees and customers were devastated when the legal battle forced the doors to close. Every single employee will be back when the doors reopen, she says.
The restaurant is also a popular venue for live jazz and blues music.
The Wine Cellar is located at 313 Sherman Ave. in Coeur d’Alene. Call (208) 664-9463 for reservations, or look online at coeurdalenewinecellar.com.
Santé chef blogging
Want a glimpse into the kitchen at Sante Restaurant and Charcuterie? Check out Chef Jeremy Hansen’s new blog, Black Box Kitchen.
Hansen has been writing about his visit to the Culinary Institute of America with Pete Tobin, a chef and instructor at the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy at Spokane Community College.
He includes details about the prep work they’re doing in the CIA kitchens, as well as some of the restaurants they’re visiting in New York City. Older posts include notes about Sante and one of its food suppliers, Rocky Ridge Ranch.
Find the blog at http://blackboxkitchen. blogspot.com/.