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The Border Stop brings Bulgarian cuisine to Stateline

Heather Warren poses with her husband Dimitar Gerov at The Border Stop on July 16 in Post Falls. The restaurant serves Bulgarian dishes.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

When Dimitar Gerov was a boy growing up in the mountains of Bulgaria, his mom and grandma were the family chefs. He fondly remembers waking up to piles of crepes they would roll with Bulgarian feta and lutenitsa, a Bulgarian staple best described as a red-pepper chutney.

So when a restaurant space became available in the Stateline Plaza on the Washington-Idaho border, Gerov and his wife, Heather Warren, jumped at the opportunity to bring a taste of Bulgaria to the Inland Northwest.

In March, the couple opened the doors to the Border Stop, a Bulgarian bistro serving up decadent 16 inch crepes, open-face princessa sandwiches and fresh organic salads. Gerov and Warren said the restaurant is the culmination of years spent working in the service industry, and they hope it becomes a must-visit destination for foodies looking for their next great meal.

Gerov immigrated to the United States in 2014, and settled in Fairbanks, Alaska, where Warren was born and raised. He said their paths first crossed after being introduced through a mutual friend, and Gerov and Warren started dating shortly after.

“Now we’re going on six years of marriage,” Warren said.

After living together in Fairbanks for a while, the couple decided it was time to move somewhere where they could still enjoy the great outdoors, and escape from the isolation and bitter cold of Alaska winters. Gerov said they had a scare that also added to their desire to move. The couple got into a car accident with a moose, and decided it was time to leave the Last Frontier.

The couple wanted to move somewhere where they could still forage for mushrooms, go on weekend hikes and easily travel to visit Gerov’s family in Bulgaria through an international airport, Warren said. The couple set their sights on the Spokane area, and settled in Liberty Lake in 2019.

Warren said she got a job working for the family that owns the Stateline Plaza just off Interstate 90, which now houses their bistro on the second floor. Prior to the establishment of the restaurant, the space was a cigar lounge and a wine bar.

When the space became available in early 2022, Gerov and Warren decided it was time to transition from service industry employees to restaurant owners. She said they had always wanted to open a restaurant, and already had a healthy relationship with the plaza’s owners, so it was a great fit. They also liked that the location is on the Idaho side of the border, as Idaho is friendlier to small businesses, Gerov said.

Warren said they both already had plenty of experience in the industry; Gerov said he managed a large nightclub in Bulgaria before he immigrated, and Warren has worked in restaurants for most of her career. Since they do not have any employees yet, Gerov and Warren have juggled the roles of owner, chef and waitstaff since they opened.

Housed above a tobacco shop, what the restaurant’s outward appearance lacks is more than made up for on the interior. The space boasts ample seating, accented by warm natural wood and large windows overlooking the restaurant’s expansive outdoor space – complete with an outdoor bar.

When it came to deciding what they wanted to offer, Warren said Bulgarian cuisine was an obvious choice.

“That’s what we eat at home all the time so we wanted to share it with others,” Warren said.

The recipes for their Bulgarian fare, like the flaky traditional cheese pies known as banitsas, or the princessa sandwiches, were handed down from his mother and grandmother. The couple try to visit Gerov’s family in Bulgaria almost every year, but the pandemic has made it more difficult.

When they do visit with Gerov’s family overseas, he said his “baba” guides them through her process of preparing Bulgarian staples like the crepes he grew up with.

Gerov said it’s not always easy trying to match his family’s recipes here in America. For one, it can be tough finding equivalent ingredients like cheeses or the right kind of flour. It also makes it a little more difficult when the recipes are handed down by word of mouth and demonstrations, rather than exact measurements and instructions.

“Like I don’t think I have ever seen a measuring cup in my country, it’s more a pinch of this or a handful of that. Everything is just cooked to consistency,” Gerov said.

For those unfamiliar with Bulgarian cuisine, it is a reflection of the different cultures at play in the Balkan region. There are Mediterranean influences, such as those evident in a Bulgarian shopska salad, which resembles the more familiar Greek salad. Spices from the Middle East, pickled vegetables common in Eastern Europe and seasoned grilled meats like those in neighboring Turkey all meld together in a Bulgarian kitchen.

Gerov brings a taste of his hometown to Stateline literally, by importing feta cheese made from sheep’s milk from herds raised in the mountains around his home. He said he loves a good beer, and so the restaurant offers craft brews from local breweries in addition to a few European imports, like the skunky Greek lager Mythos.

Warren said she does most of the cooking at the restaurant, preparing almost every meal they have served since their soft opening in March. Gerov said they are hoping to expand their Bulgarian offerings on the menu, but the small kitchen space is a little limiting at the moment. The couple have had some difficulty sourcing some of their imported ingredients, as the conflict in Ukraine is affecting shipping and processing throughout Europe, Gerov said.

“I think I just have a little more of the passion for it,” Warren said. “But he is more than capable of doing just about anything I do in there.”

The couple said they have had a warm reception from locals as well as visitors who have happened across the restaurant on a vacation to one of the nearby recreation areas. Warren said they will be having an official grand opening celebration at 2 p.m. on July 31, in The Border Stop’s grassy, open outdoor space. The celebration will feature live music, an outdoor bar and a specialty grill menu.

“We love the area and we’re excited to keep doing our thing and see how things grow,” Warren said.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on July 27, 2022 to correct the spelling of Dimitar Gerov’s last name.