PULLMAN – The plan was to open mid-March coinciding with the start of golf season.
To prepare, remodeling started in early January: fresh paint, updated lighting, new tables and chairs, the removal of a wall to make the space feel more open, the addition of commissioned works by a local artist and booths to better take advantage of the sweeping views of the golf course.
The concept: eclectic but elevated eats with one of the best restaurant views in the region. With its rolling hills and stunning sunsets, Round Top Public House at Palouse Ridge Golf Club would – its owners envisioned – become a hot spot for destination dining on the Palouse.
Everything was on track – until the day before the new restaurant was slated to open.
“Work was progressing on time until the pandemic hit,” said co-owner Jim Harbour, a hospitality industry veteran and clinical professor in the School of Hospitality Business Management at Washington State University’s Carson College.
“Our opening day was supposed to be the day after we had to shut down,” he said. “We were prepared to open on St. Patrick’s Day.”
On March 16, Gov. Jay Inslee closed restaurants and bars statewide due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The emergency order delayed Round Top’s opening by three months and dramatically affected its launch.
Once Inslee’s phased plan for reopening was announced at the end of May, Harbour and his team scrambled to reconfigure seating and comply with other public safety measures.
Then they hoped for the best.
“We try to find the silver linings in everything,” Harbour said. “Typically, when you open a restaurant, there’s a rush at the beginning, and it can be very hectic. That’s not the case in the current environment. It allowed us to work out some kinks and work on our menu.”
Originally, Round Top was going to feature street foods from around the world – a variety of fun, ethnically inspired handhelds and easy-to-carry-out items that would be convenient for golfers-on-the-go.
The pandemic caused Round Top to streamline its offerings while still striving for variety. Look for a colorfully plated flat iron steak, crab beignets, house-made tamales and a gyro, which Harbour said is the eatery’s top-seller so far.
The steak, served atop a bed of sweet potato purée, includes chimichurri sauce, roasted grape tomatoes and grilled asparagus. The tamales – chicken, pork or both – are accompanied by ancho chili or tomatillo verde salsa, Spanish rice, citrus cabbage slaw and pickled garlic scapes. The gyro features a mix of lamb and beef with tzatziki sauce, cucumbers and tomatoes on pita bread.
For starters, try Bayou Beignets, Creole-style deep-fried balls of lightly battered crab served with remoulade. Rounding out the appetizers are pulled pork spring rolls, meatballs, barbecue flatbread pizza and Crimson Fire Cheese Dip featuring spicy WSU Creamery cheese.
Entrées include creamy shrimp pasta, chicken Madeira and Huli Huli chicken with grilled pineapple rings and Hawaiian-inspired sides. There are carne asada tacos, too, with arugula, cotija cheese, pico de gallo, house-made guacamole, garlic crema and corn tortillas.
The menu also features a half-dozen sandwiches and three salads: the clubhouse with bacon and avocado, the “root steak” with pickled beets and flat iron steak, and garbanzos with arugula and feta.
“We’re just looking forward to bringing something new to Pullman,” said co-owner Wade Dissmore, a commercial banker in Spokane, WSU alum and Pullman native. “We want Round Top to be a place where guests can be proud of taking people from out of town to experience a part of the Palouse and a beautiful golf course.”
Golf season generally runs March through October, but Harbour and Dissmore plan to keep the restaurant open all year. You don’t have to be an annual pass holder – or even a golfer – to dine here. The restaurant is open to everyone, not only those who tee off. That’s why “public house” is part of the name, Harbour said.
“It’s a very nice golf course,” he noted. But, to be successful, “We have to create an environment that goes beyond golf. Our goal is to elevate the overall experience.”
The restaurant is named for a local landmark. Roundtop Hill offers a short hike to a pastoral perch with panoramic views of the Palouse. “You drive by Roundtop as you enter the (golf course) property,” Harbour said. “It means a lot to people who have been around Pullman a long time.”
He’s one of those people. Harbour grew up in Pullman and stayed for college, graduating from WSU in 1999 with a degree in hotel and restaurant administration.
The university, which owns the golf course and leases the restaurant space, stands to earn 5% on gross annual sales exceeding $1.3 million in addition to the annual base rent of $100,000 in the first year. JW Links, Harbour and Dissmore’s hospitality company, is leasing the space for five years, with an option to extend the agreement to a decade.
Harbour and Dissmore also own South Fork Public House in Pullman’s Wheatland Shopping Center, as well as Fork in the Road Catering, which provides concessions for the new Cougar Den in Beasley Coliseum.
Harbour also owns downtown Pullman’s Porch Light Pizza with his wife, Jennifer, who also grew up in Pullman – as did Dissmore’s wife, Mindy.
Because of the COVID-19 crisis, they had to make adjustments at all their restaurants while waiting to open Round Top. It was, Harbour said, “an emotional roller-coaster. The first two weeks (of the lockdown) were some of the most intense times of being in business I’ve ever experienced just because of the unknowns.
“There were so many variables. Most of the time in business, there are rules to the game, and you have to play by the rules, and you know what the rules are. All of a sudden, we didn’t know what the rules were, and we didn’t know the timeline.”
South Fork and Porch Light transitioned to online ordering “literally overnight.” Mid-July, about half of the sales remained takeout orders. And, Harbour said, staffing has been “a struggle.”
Summers, he regularly employs WSU students. But this year, “there are far fewer students than what’s traditional for this time of year.” That led him to reduce operations to five days a week. “It’s not because of demand,” he said. “It’s because we don’t have enough employees.”
Harbour has worked in hospitality since college. After graduation, he moved to Arizona and California to gain experience in the industry before returning to the Inland Northwest in late 2000 to manage the now-closed Sawtooth Grill in River Park Square.
In 2005, he earned a master’s degree in business administration from Gonzaga University. And, in 2012, he moved back to Pullman with his family. By then, South Fork was already open, and he was teaching at WSU Pullman.
Round Top is his and Dissmore’s biggest restaurant endeavor, and it’s only the second restaurant at Palouse Ridge Golf Club since WSU’s 18-hole golf course opened in 2008. Banyans on the Ridge closed in December after 11 years in business. (The owners now operate Oak on Main, a new Italian restaurant in downtown Pullman.)
Dissmore and Harbour signed the lease for the nearly 9,000-square-foot space in January and went right to work adding 10 booths, gray paint and several works from local metal artist Brady Boone.
The renovated space sports clean lines and a modern feel and includes a main dining room and full bar, as well as an expansive patio and nearby pavilion, where Dissmore and Harbour hope to host special events such as private parties.
“Hopefully, as we get back to normalcy, we’ll be able to use the space for weddings and other gatherings,” Dissmore said. “The rules and regulations that Inslee’s put in place make it tougher to do that, but we’re trying to work the best we can with what we have. Right now, the demand for outdoor seating is big.
“More and more people are beginning to realize that we’re here, we’re new, and we offer a view you can’t get anywhere else in Pullman. This really is a destination. So, people have to make an extra decision on top of making the decision to go out. They’ve got to decide to drive past all these other places and go up the hill.”
Dissmore and Harbour expect business to build slowly. But, Harbour said, “we would rather be open at some capacity than not at all.”
Whitman County entered Phase 3 – with 75% capacity and no tables larger than 10 – on June 6. After a few days of offering small bites to golfers, the public house officially opened June 9.
Seating is limited because of the pandemic. But there is capacity for about 150 people, plus 40 on the patio, when restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, to ensure social distancing, “we removed the tables. It makes it easy. There’s no confusion about where people can sit,” Harbour said.
“Eventually, as we’re able to entertain more people, we hope it becomes one of the premier destination dining and event spaces on the Palouse.”
In the meantime, Harbour said, “We’ll keep showing up, and we’ll keep fighting. All we can do is continue to operate in a safe manner.”
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